Small modular reactors have the potential to transform the nuclear-energy sector and expand the amount of carbon-free electricity available to consumers. In this episode, Robert Bryce talks with Jessica Lovering — the co-founder of the Good Energy Collective, a new organization working on progressive nuclear policy — about the challenges facing the nuclear sector, why she is working to engage young climate activists, the advantages of SMRs, and why they have the potential to be, as she put it, the “iPhone of nuclear reactors.”
Robert Bryce 0:05
Hi, everyone, thanks for listening in today. This is the power hungry podcast where we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And today we’re going to be talking about nuclear energy, which as I’ve heard, has some politics involved in it. And to talk about that we’re going to have my friend Jessica Lovering, who is an expert on all things nuclear nuclear policy, nuclear security, but particularly small modular reactors. Jessica, thanks for being with me today. Looking forward to having the conversation. You sent me your bio, which is long and impressive. And I know you’re working on your PhD, I could extol your many, many attributes, but rather than having me do it, I like to have my guests introduce themselves. So let’s pretend we’ve just arrived at a dinner party we’ve just met. Tell me who you are.
Jessica Lovering 0:54
Thanks for having me and Nice to meet you. So I worked in nuclear policy for about 10 yours now but the new thing I just started that I’m really excited about is just co founded an organization called good energy collective, with another amazing woman, Susie Baker, University of Michigan. And what the new organization is going to be doing is building the progressive case for nuclear as part of the broader us climate change agenda. And other than that, on the other hats I wear, I’m finishing up a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University in the engineering and public policy department, and I focus on very small nuclear reactors work on micro reactors. And I’m also a fellow with the energy for growth hub in Washington, DC. And there I focused on the potential for advanced nuclear in developing countries, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa.
Yeah, I think that’s it.
Robert Bryce 1:54
That’s good. That sounds great. Well, we met through the breakthrough Institute’s you were also your business. Through fellow I guess that was a long time ago. And then you became a full time staffer with breakthrough.
Jessica Lovering 2:06
Yeah, worked my way up. And eventually, when I left, I was the director of the energy program there. And they’re still doing amazing work on energy, innovation and climate. And and they’ve done a lot of work on nuclear really pushing the case for advanced nuclear over the years, and continuing a lot of that work in different capacities now,
Robert Bryce 2:32
right. So tell me about the good energy collective, when the world is full of think tanks. Why do we need another one? Tell me why this? Why is yours going to be different and good, and why should people care?
Jessica Lovering 2:46
Yeah, that’s a great question because there are especially in the last several years, a lot of good organizations working on nuclear and particularly from a bipartisan perspective which we love, but something that Me and my co founder, realized, kind of over the past year, year and a half is there’s been a ton of excitement and momentum around big climate change legislation, big clean energy legislation, but they really weren’t talking about nuclear and not including nuclear. And, and which is maybe not surprising because a lot of them coming out of the left. But when we talk to people in these groups, they weren’t opposed to nuclear, they just didn’t have a lot of expertise. They didn’t know kind of what the issues were, what the challenges were. So we wanted an organization that could really make the case from nuclear, starting from shared progressive values and sort of be a bridge between, you know, the energy think tanks that are working on Bipartisan Policy, and some of these progressive groups that are really focused on climate policy and also environmental justice, which is something that nuclear groups Haven’t really focused on and it’s something that’s a big barrier for nuclear for a lot of people. And
Robert Bryce 4:07
let me interrupt you on that. Because there I mean, you’ve mentioned a couple things that really piqued my interest there. So let’s talk about that left, right divide because, like you I’ve been following the energy business for a while, right. And one time, so long time ago now, a guy new at the Department of Energy said, Democrats are pro government and anti nuclear republicans are anti government and pro nuclear, we need politicians who are pro government and pro nuclear, right, because you’re going to have to have strong governmental support for any kind of nuclear regime, right, any kind of new even even just licensing new nuclear reactors. It’s a long way to get to this question. Why is this left right divide over nuclear so pronounced?
Jessica Lovering 4:53
Um, you know, it’s, a lot of it comes down to difference in fundamental worldviews, and that we can explore, we’re interested, but something that gives me a little hope is we have seen a lot of bipartisan effort on nuclear in the US government in the last five years. So there is room to bridge, you know that people are on the conservative side are interested in energy independence. And they like having cheap, reliable electricity for industry and for commercial applications. So that’s sort of why they like nuclear on the left, of course, the lack of emissions or lack of local air pollution. The fact that nuclear has a lot of good paying jobs, appeals, and so finding things that appeal to both is possible. But why is there this divide? I mean, why has clean air become partisan? It’s a really challenging question, I think, something that we’ve seen just in the last month. So is that you can find unity around some of these issues. But you have to start from what people value and not. And, you know, you have to stop using energy and take cold showers to fight climate change. You need to find solutions that work for people and agree on, get people to agree on what the goal is, now what the methods are. And I think that’s a lesson that we’re learning as we go. But I’m seeing a lot of progress. So hopefully it won’t be as partisan going forward.
Robert Bryce 6:32
Well, so let’s talk about the left to and in that same following on that same thing, because when you look at the biggest environmental groups, they’re anti nuclear. I mean, you look at the closure of Diablo Canyon. You look at the closure of Indian Point in Indian Point in New York. those efforts were led by the natural resource Defense Council. You look at the Sierra Club and you reaffirm their opposition to nuclear well, so why these groups who are all about climate change Why that there? This is their, you know, their key mission? How why and why the disconnect? Because this is seems to me to be one of the key obstacles. No.
Jessica Lovering 7:09
Yeah, but it’s a little more nuanced than that. And so let me try to explain. So a lot of the big fire mental groups
that you mentioned,
they have a lot of legacy concerns. And a lot of them were founded or had anti nuclear sentiments sort of core to their beliefs early on, and that a lot of that came out of opposition to nuclear weapons opposition to military industrial complex, which, you know, very valid, believes to have very valid arguments. And that’s where a lot of their anti nuclear sentiments come from. But what we’re seeing now is the groups that are really pushing on climate change or not those older environmental groups, there’s new groups like Sunrise movement and my data for progress, which are really focused on climate change. And when you look at the newer younger groups that are very focused on big action to fight, climate change, they are more open to nuclear because it fits in with their goal. They don’t have some of those same legacy concerns, they are still concerned about environmental justice and economic justice. And if nuclear can fit in with that, which I think it can, then they’re open to it. And that’s a much more sort of those are environmental groups that I think nuclear can work with. Because
Robert Bryce 8:42
so if I can interrupt there, because that to me is interesting, what you’re saying there’s even a generational divide here. Oh, definitely. We’ll explore explore that for a minute because so it’s the younger climate activists who are more accepting of nuclear. Is that a fair way to say it?
Jessica Lovering 8:56
Yeah, and I think it’s it’s not just You know, just because of age, I think it’s because of the experiences they’ve had for people my age and younger. Climate change has been really the big existential threat. And now we’re seeing more of a focus on economic inequality. And that plays into some concerns around what we’re investing in how we get our energy, but it changes so that really big driving force and so looking for solutions to it. People are a little more open minded, a little more creative, you know, want to work build a broad coalition, whereas the big, you know, existential threat of older generations were more around, you know, the Cold War and nuclear weapons conflict. And so it’s just a different of what you’re focusing on.
Robert Bryce 9:56
So then let me read back to you what I just heard you say because I think it reads true for me. No I’m part of, I guess could be considered that older generation right when I was a kid. We did nuclear fallout drills. They were the basement of the of the school and market school and Tulsa. They were, they were big signs. This is the fallout shelter. Right? So you’re saying that that for the older generation was nuclear war. Now, it’s climate change as being the big thing to worry about? I’m going to make it Yeah.
Unknown Speaker 10:20
Robert Bryce 10:22
Well, so then, what do you what about the Biden plan? What do you think? Did you look at that? Because he says things that are positive about nuclear there. But he also says he wants 10s of thousands of new wind turbines. So what do you make of that? What’s your take away?
Jessica Lovering 10:35
Well, let me start with something that came out a little bit before the button plan, which was the Biden Sanders unity Task Force recommendations, which I think is a big step because you know, Sanders was really anti nuclear coming from Vermont, but what they did is kind of go through and look at all the issues and they recommend investing in advanced nuclear and at several points In the recommendations, and so that’s a really positive and especially having, you know, Alexandria ocasio Cortez is on that task force has Sanders name on it, and yet you can find positive statements about nuclear several times throughout. So that’s a big change. And, and it has a lot of things in it that is very broad. But coming to Biden’s climate plan, which are climate and energy plan, which he just released, I was really excited about it. I mean, it’s very ambitious, but it’s also focused on different things then pass plans, it’s really about investment in a lot of new infrastructure, and has a big focus on jobs has a big focus on fine of investing in underserved communities. So people who haven’t had the benefits of, you know, a lot of energy infrastructure, a lot of the new you know, green jobs. So just trying to build out more more community buy in more support. Through that, I think it’s really great, but it does have getting to carbon free electricity by 2035, which is very ambitious.
Robert Bryce 12:09
Is that is it? Is it realistic? Because I’ve been doing some of the numbers myself on 2700 terawatt hours to 2.7, petawatt hours of fossil fired generation that we’re consuming annually now to get to zero in 15 years. Well, I won’t bore you with the numbers, but the numbers are extraordinarily high in terms of trying to change over that infrastructure is it is Does it make sense for a candidate to make something or make that kind of projection when in my view, it’s just not plausible, or?
Unknown Speaker 12:44
Jessica Lovering 12:46
I mean, it’s, it’s very ambitious and I think it’s very aspirational. And I think, to get people really enthusiastic and excited you need to have you need to have that big vision. There’s nothing Thing physically stopping the us from doing that they could build, you know, enough nuclear power plants, and battery storage if they just wanted to, I think building that political support for it is the challenge. And I think, you know, I think it’s good to have an ambitious plan out there. But actually figuring out how to make it happen is going to be a lot of work. And I think that’s something you know, our new organization wants to focus on, but there’s a lot of think tanks that are going to be working on this a lot of academics working on, how do you actually make it happen? How do you make it easier to build new infrastructure like transmission lines? How do you facilitate the closure of coal plants in a lot of communities in a way that’s equitable, and Brett, you know, doesn’t just leave these communities hanging out to dry, and that’s a challenge and so figuring out how to do that and how to really fast it’s going to take a lot of work. But I think I mean something here. It’s not just a climate plan, you know, 2 trillion out of nowhere. It’s really because of there’s an opportunity in this present crisis in that we’re going into this big economic recession, maybe even a depression, and a huge amount of unemployment. And there’s a chance here that we need to invest a lot of money to get the economy moving. Why not do that, while also working on climate change, and air pollution, public health at the same time, but let me let me pressure on one part of that, because that was the part that to me, especially because I look at a lot of at land use issues and this idea that we’re going to speed up permitting. I mean, you look you live in California, you’re in Santa Barbara, just building the one to hatchapee line, which was what 200 miles or so it took 10 years. So I mean, is the is the is the land use or the land use challenges the infrastructure challenges, because these are really Big ones. Is it over comfortable? I don’t know if that’s actually a word, can it? Can they be surmounted? Because in 15 years, even 20 years, 30 years, systems change very slowly.
Robert Bryce 15:11
Yeah. What about the land use part of this?
Jessica Lovering 15:14
Well, I mean, I think that’s one reason that there’s going to be a big need for nuclear. And in particular, something I was just talking to someone with yesterday about is that one of the really big assets that existing coal plants have is they have transmission lines going to them. And you really don’t want to build new transmission lines unless you have to because it’s very hard to permit. And you also don’t want to waste those transmission lines that are going to coal plants right now. So if you’re shutting down coal plants, which is happening anyway, because they’re on economic is could you build something at that site that can take advantage of those transmission lines. So small modular reactors is a great fit in a lot of these places in terms of And they can take advantage of existing power lines. So that’s a win win. And then also these communities are losing a coal plant, but gaining a nuclear power plant, which has a lot more jobs a lot better paying jobs. That seems like something you could get a lot more buy in. And when you have community buy in a lot of these processes are easier. You don’t have as much as push back. And Sure. So let me
Robert Bryce 16:23
let me let me follow on that. So there are a lot of different nuclear technologies out there. And we’ll actually let’s take the international view and come back to the US if you don’t mind, because I was just looking at your the article, you had an energy policy in April, you go out your co authors, Ahmed Abdullah and Granger Morgan. And the title was talking about strategies to enhance global nuclear security. And you wrote that, in the piece, you outline a set of specific strategies the US might adopt on its own or promote internationally to retain its influence in the nuclear sector. So it seems To me, the domestic I’m jumping from domestic to international, but invariably, these are going to be connected, right? We need a, we need some kind of an overarching overarching View from our top politicians on nuclear. So I outline those strategies because that I mean, we’re gonna hear your big ideas here.
Jessica Lovering 17:17
Yeah. So just that the whole idea in a nutshell, or sort of the context in a nutshell is that the US historically exported a lot of nuclear technology, both reactors and also fuel. And why it did that a lot was to a lot of motivation was to influence other countries. And in particular, the US often required a lot stricter security and nonproliferation standards in those countries. And it’s also a great way to build partnerships because when you build a power plan in other countries, sort of 100 years of collaboration we haven’t really been exporting the US hasn’t really been exporting. And we’re losing out. So the main country that’s partnering with a lot of these nuclear newcomer countries is Russia. And China would also like to become a big exporter and South Korea. And there’s guns around the sort of the US is missing out not just economically but sort of building these partnerships with new countries. And so what we were looking at in the paper is, what can you do about that, and there was a big push sort of five or 10 years ago in revamping the US domestic industry with an eye towards international competition in the export market. So what we looked at is a lot of different strategies to get the US back nimble and some of them included.
Building up us
Again, but also things like creating multinational fuel bank, expert exchanges, where you have people kind of doing posters, a lot of different strategies that the US could employ the tail end of the paper if people are interested, but there still is room to commercialize new nuclear technologies in the US that are a good fit for export markets. And that’s something that I’ve looked out for for energy for growth hub is, are there attributes of new nuclear technologies that actually make them better for these newcomer countries than existing technology. So just to go through some of those really quick, I mean, smaller size is a big one. A lot of countries just can’t don’t have a big enough grid to support a one gigawatt nuclear reactor which is the big size that you know, Russia is offering today. And they want to have more flexibility. And they also can’t afford to finance such a big plant so much smaller reactors a big one. And also you can have reactors that are manufactured somewhere else, say in the US, and then shipped to the site that gets around a lot of the challenging infrastructure issues of doing construction in country and some of these places are gonna be a lot faster. So a lot of the advanced reactor designs don’t use any water for their primary coolant or they’re making electricity so in their engine, or their steam turbine.
Robert Bryce 20:44
they’re using gas or salt.
Jessica Lovering 20:46
Yeah, for their primary coolant. Yeah. And so that can be really great for country or for regions that need a big power plan, but they’re not on a big body of water, air dryer countries. And it can also get around some of the safety issues with ensuring you have always a great access to cooling water, which can be a challenge, even in developed countries. So I think that’s a good opportunity. And there’s also a lot of some of these designs like especially high temperature gas cooled reactors can be really good for creating processing. So for us for a lot of industries, like not even really elaborate things, but like paper production, fertilizer production.
Robert Bryce 21:32
So that so the the, the outline of the strategies is really the some of it as I’ve read what back to you what I’m hearing is that the US needs the enabling legislation in Congress is going to have to do this right, that’s going to be able to set up this framework for cultivating and developing a domestic nuclear sector. Is that Is that a fair? fair assessment?
Jessica Lovering 21:56
Yeah, and I, I would say more maybe the burnout is specific. Because there are a lot of companies in the US working on over 70. And they’re moving forward. And there’s been some great bipartisan legislation just in the last five years to help them we need a lot more arm particularly around this final stage of demonstrating the reactors and, and licensing more
Robert Bryce 22:22
and banging and turning the paper reactors into real existing reactors.
Unknown Speaker 22:27
Robert Bryce 22:30
So let me stop for just a second because as I you know, you mentioned China, Russia and South Korea. And what’s interesting to me is that one, I think one of the big stumbling blocks. So just to get my bias out of the way is that one of the problems in the us is that of course, our electric grid is so diffused in terms of ownership, right? You don’t have one or two giant companies in Russia, the rasa Tom is the is the national champion, and they’re building they’re deploying these reactors all over the world, are they? Let me ask the question. What What country what company in the world is really leading the the expansion of nuclear in the international market?
Jessica Lovering 23:09
So right now it’s Russia and particularly for developing countries for newcomer countries building their first nuclear power plant. And, you know, they’re competing for sort of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, competing in the US against South Korea for a lot of these projects. And they’re competitive, not just because they have a record of building in newcomer countries, but they also offer financing. They offer worker training, Russia funds, a ton of fully funded PhDs in Russia, for students from Asia from Africa. And that’s really, you know, solidifies that partnership.
Robert Bryce 23:52
So one of the register the Russians have really been been focused on that, not just the physical infrastructure of it. Here’s the machinery, right, but at the academic and intellectual infrastructure that’s going to have to be accompanying the deployment of these reactors. And that’s, that’s one of the key reasons why and of course, the government back financing, right, that has allowed them to be the the country to beat or the lender in this in this area.
Jessica Lovering 24:20
And the US used to do a lot more of that and so to Canada and France, but as their domestic industry struggled, they also struggled in international markets. Now, here’s here’s something that I think is going to be different going forward, or that I see as a potential Game Changer is that. As you mentioned, there are these big barriers for the US exporting, you know, we don’t have a single state sponsored industry, or one vendor. We don’t have a lot of financing support, like a big export bank
to help finance these plans in other countries, but
we still do Have a good reputation internationally, a lot of friends and also the technology could be superior. So let me explain why that is. So I know a lot of people in the nuclear industry in the US complain about regulation, and it’s too strict. But it also has really helped the US reputation internationally as being if you have a reactor that was licensed in the US, it is safe, it is the best, that’s the gold standard. So if you can, if you’re exporting a reactor that was licensed in the US, it’s going to be much easier to get it approved in these countries because they know it’s really safe. And then the other one, something that seems like a detriment, but I think could be a benefit is because the US has really struggled to build reactors in competitive markets. But if you can commercialize new designs that can be competitive in liberal power markets, that means they’re going to be accurate. competitive in newcomer countries. And that’s something very different than the reactors that are being offered by Russia by China where they’re there, because there’s a ton of support. Yeah, at a loss with huge state support, whereas the US, if they’re successful, might be able to offer reactors that are competitive on their own merits. Because, you know, superior technology factory fabrication. It’s like, you know, the iPhone of nuclear reactor, it’s something that countries actually really want. Not because
Robert Bryce 26:36
I like that. I founded the nuclear reactor. Well, so then you’re saying the barriers to entry are what your argument then would be that the smrs are going to have the potential to succeed in the developing world because don’t take as long to deploy don’t cost as much, you know, aren’t aren’t too big. Okay. So I’m with you, I and I followed smrs closely as well so handicapping for me look into your crystal ball and say okay, so you have a lot of different technologies here high temperature gas reactors, molten salt, rasa Tom just, in fact deploy to a floating reactor, that one and a p vac in Siberia, they put to submarine I guess, submarine reactors on top of them on a power ship, which is the first time that’s ever been done. Well, so what chemistry? You know, I don’t want you to irritate any of your friends here. But what what, which? Which technologies do you think have the the easiest pathway to licensing because that’s the key hurdle, though.
Jessica Lovering 27:36
Yeah. Um, so I’m going to give very annoying answer and say that,
Robert Bryce 27:44
Jessica Lovering 27:47
Now, we don’t know which is going to be the best and I think there’s going to be different technologies are going to be a good fit for different markets. And so I think at this point, we want to have a lot of diversity in designs to see actually what is commercially successful. And that’s been a challenge in the past with Department of Energy down selecting the technology too soon and picking something that wasn’t actually a good market fit. And
Robert Bryce 28:14
well, people don’t know you’re hedging and I get that
Jessica Lovering 28:19
I will make some judgments. Okay. Okay. So we have to we have two reactors that are have submitted license applications. So that’s new scale, which is a 50 to 60 megawatt SMR and oklo, which is 1.5 megawatt micro reactor. They’re very different skills, a light water reactor oklo is a sodium cooled fast reactor. And and then there’s about six other companies that are in pre application activities with LRC. Yeah, some attributes that kind of I think are good for getting to that process is using materials using fuels that are really well understood that we have experienced licensing. Our experience working with using more off the shelf technologies for some of your components for your turbines, things like that. And that’s what the companies that are farthest along have really focused on getting something that can be built fast. Not on building the most, you know, perfect hypothetical nuclear machine that you could never build. Right? Um, okay. So yeah,
Robert Bryce 29:27
let me let me stop. So I’m with you, and there’s no way to, you know, be perfectly, you know, be able to perfectly predict the future. But, so, but the other part of that is, okay, set aside what technology gets ahead of the game or gets gets a lead? How soon can it be deployed, because that’s the other, we step back at the big picture and look at where co2 emissions are globally, what’s happening. Coal continues to have a big market share globally 35 36%. We need something deployed rapidly if we’re going to do something about greenhouse gas emissions. So Which how soon and give me your best case scenario on how soon one of these new technologies could be deployed at scale. by that? I mean, several in the hundreds of megawatts or gigawatt scale. Are we talking a decade? How long? How long will it take?
Jessica Lovering 30:14
So new scale is hoping to start constructions are the early 2020s. And their plan, they envision building in six packs or 12 packs. So 12 packets you have to like 760 megawatts. So that’s pretty big plan. And they have
Robert Bryce 30:31
well, and they have an agreement at Idaho national labs for a site that right so they they’ve got a lot of momentum behind them new scale does and they’re they’re basically
Jessica Lovering 30:41
people are waiting to see how successful that project is. And that’s going to be we want to make sure it goes well. But I think in terms of getting something built, the smaller it is, the faster it’s going to be to build the very first one and so OCO 1.5 megawatts, you know In two shipping containers, the whole thing. Now, they submitted their license application, they’re hoping to get it in sort of a few years and start construction on their very first plant, which will be generating electricity. And so once that’s proven, I think that can sort of accelerate things to get a lot more, you know, customers lined up and and start building out the facility to manufacture these plants. So things could scale very quickly after the first few were built in, you know, the early 2020s. And something I hear a lot because my, my thesis work focuses on micro reactors, and what I hear from big climate energy people is well 1.5 megawatts is tiny. Like that’s not enough to make any difference in the global energy system, but that’s crazy to me because that’s the same size as a wind turbine. And wind is now what percentage of the TriCity It’s actually making a big impact. And it’s not just something Yeah. Yeah. But it’s not nothing. It’s more than,
you know, Hydro and a lot of places.
And so it’s not the thinking about the single plant, it’s that you need to get these economies of volume and start mass producing them on a scale. So once you get the first few bills, that allows people to see, you know, customer, potential customers to see if this works for them, and then to start looking at it. And I think just getting the first few bill that’s going to hammer out a lot of uncertainty around regulation around how do you actually license a mass manufactured nuclear reactor, which is something we’ve never done before. How do you build them?
Robert Bryce 32:46
So, sir, if I can interrupt you again. So you’re saying that even at one and a half megawatts that that, that I mean, what is a small size right, I mean, Cummins, and Caterpillar, they make diesel engines that are that size, I mean, then and they’re very common all over the world for generators. You know, standby generation for we saw him in Beirut by the dozens, right? You know, these are very common in terms of deployment around the world. So you’re saying even that small size has an advantage on its own, because it’s so small.
Jessica Lovering 33:13
Yeah, it’s so small that you can get the first few bill right away to prove the case. And you can also innovate a lot more when you have a small design. I mean, one of the big challenges with the large reactors is, you start building the second one while you’re still building the first one, and you can’t really learn and put that learning into effect to improve the design. So you should get sort of faster learning faster improvements, hopefully faster reductions in cost. And when you have such a small design
Robert Bryce 33:44
well, so let’s talk about them were in Africa, you that’s one of your focal points of your work. So one of the things that you were in our film juice that’s out now and you talked about that the fact that we’re going to need everything but one of the things you know, all the time Different kinds of generation, were going to need natural gas as well, which I’d like to come back to in a minute. But one of the key things that I write that I wrote about in my new book I talked about in electric grids is the need for integrity. So Africa has problems with that, right? broadly and good governance is a requirement for reliable grids. So handicap Africa for me, where are they? Which countries are the ones that may be the ones that are most, uh, capable of adopting nuclear in this initial phase? So
Jessica Lovering 34:32
something that’s important to know, for context is that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is kind of the global regulators safety regulator for nuclear has a process that countries work through if they want to start a commercial nuclear power program, sort of a set of checks and reviews on you know, safety governance, regulators, everything that you would need, and there are many countries in Africa working through this process. There’s about 30 countries around the world. that are working through it. But in Africa, you are seeing a lot of sort of motivation interest from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa already has nuclear power. And they’re looking to build more and it’s more a question of financing and, you know, partnerships with the right vendor for them. But I think Ghana has really surprised people and how fast they’re moving in terms of figuring out their their infrastructure needs. Everyone’s talking with Russia about getting nuclear, but Russia is offering really large plants because that’s what they want to build. They’re sort of one gigawatt rare. And so I think if there was new offerings, like micro reactors, or smrs, that’s a lot more feasible in these countries that financial burdens much lower. And particularly for for micro reactors, something I think could be sort of the the niche market that opens up nuclear and some This country’s is having an industrial customer that actually owns and operates the plants. You know, Nigeria has a lot of oil and gas extraction, big companies that operate that. Maybe they want to, you know, get rid of diesel generators get something more reliable, top right one of their facilities. And they could actually maybe have the money to finance a project like that, or a mine and a lot of places. Right. Well,
Robert Bryce 36:27
let me interrupt you there, because that’s one of the one of the questions I had, because in talking with Todd moss, you’re at the energy for growth hub. I think that that’s one of his focal points is that electrification efforts often aren’t successful if they just look at residential electrification that in fact, it’s better and maybe faster to have a big industrial customer plopped down, say they’re going to build cars or umbrellas or something and they need a big power plant to run the factory. That if you get that in place that that can ignite the further electrification. Isn’t it? Does that ring true to you? I mean, you did mention that that Yeah, definitely. And also, why is that so important?
Jessica Lovering 37:06
And it’s important because they actually have the financial incentive to invest in reliable electricity. So
Robert Bryce 37:15
sometimes the corporate partner here, not just the government, right, yeah, it’s worth department or or the, the government’s gonna be involved.
Jessica Lovering 37:22
Yeah, definitely involved in in the regulation
in probably some of the financing, but
you know, having a customer that really has a need and is willing to pay for that is a big one. And so something to keep in mind is in a lot of these countries, industry has to have a huge set of their own diesel generators on hand for one the power or maybe they just generate their own power all the time because it’s more reliable, but it’s really expensive to do that way. And so, in a lot of cases, nuclear might even be a cheaper option for them and definitely more reliable, and so might just be a good business. In this case, and if there’s something that’s cheaper and also much cleaner, and you know, I want to work to make that happen.
Robert Bryce 38:07
Sure. So then is the competition on a fuel basis then because that’s one of the things we’ve seen here in the US natural gas, displacing coal, right, and wind and solar kind of duking it out with gas. And now the question is, well, okay, well, what about storage? And who’s going to be the winner and loser there? We’ve seen gas displacing coal in the international market. So for Africa, what fuels would nuclear be displacing? Would it be diesel gensets.
Jessica Lovering 38:34
So it’s definitely different in different countries and across Sub Saharan Africa. But I think it’s also different from developed countries in that it’s probably not going to be displacement, it’s probably going to be addition because they have such a deficit in electricity on places. So you may have industry shifting from diesel generators to nuclear, but that diesel is going to go somewhere else. A lot of areas in Africa have a lot of natural gas, but most of it goes toward export. It’s not fully taken advantage of domestically, you know, using it locally for electricity. And so yeah, there’s going to be more of everything in in the short to medium term for sure.
Robert Bryce 39:21
Well, so let’s talk about that more of everything because I’ve been looking at electricity for a while and and and looking at the growth rates in the globally This is where the electricity sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector. It’s the electricity productions fastest growing form of energy demand globally. But the coal market, it seems to me if we step back, not just looking at Africa, we look around the world where is where is the big showdown into and it’s it seems to me in terms it’s cold, and to what extent then the so here’s the question, to what extent can nuclear displace coal Particularly in the countries where coal is making a resurgence, Japan is building 22 coal fired power plants. You have coal fired power plants being built in South Asia and India, etc. can nuclear and there you could use larger reactors, right, potentially. But to what extent can nuclear erode that coal share in the global marketplace? Because coal has been entrenched for a very long time.
Jessica Lovering 40:23
Yeah. Well, one thing that’s that’s, I won’t say nice but, and a attribute of both coal and natural gas plants that makes them amenable to being displaced is that all the cost is in the fuel. That’s more true for natural gas than coal plants, but because you pay off that initial capital investment pretty quickly, and it’s more it’s easier to shut down to plan early. So
Robert Bryce 40:55
don’t want to because the initial capital costs are not as high
Jessica Lovering 41:00
And, you know, if the price of gold goes up a little bit, it makes sense to shut the plant down. Because you’ve already paid it off. Now, I don’t want to see new coal plants being built, but in places the rest lock in to the same extent that you might think for transportation infrastructure. So definitely places that have coal are going to be the biggest challenge
Robert Bryce 41:30
because those plants are going likely going to have decades left
Jessica Lovering 41:34
of the Yeah, because it’s more about taking advantage of the resource that you have places that are importing coal, that’s a much easier shift because it’s pretty expensive to move coal around, it’s not as dense as oil and certainly not as dense as uranium. So places like Japan if they want to move more towards LNG, which they already have an tonne of LNG, but that makes more sense for them than coal and nuclear. Japan has a lot of its own challenges that are understandable around nuclear. But increasing nuclear there, again with advanced designs that people are more comfortable with is is a big place for coal. The other place that I think is a big potential for getting rid of coal with nuclear is probably Australia. Because they have a lot of coal. They use a lot of coal, they also export a lot of coal, but they’re a very modern wealthy country has a lot of engineers also has a lot of uranium and they produce uranium right? And it’s really just going to come down to cost.
Robert Bryce 42:48
Right? Well, so then what about gas Where did how does natural gas fit into this? And, you know, when we were when you appeared on juice, you said we’re going to need a lot more wind and solar, we’re going to need a lot more nuclear natural gas or for going To replace coal, natural gas in terms of primary energy has been growing far faster than oil and, and, and coal on our on an absolute basis far faster than than wind and solar. So is it? Is it fair? Is it fair to look at the electrification efforts ongoing it to? Is it going to be a battle between renewables and natural gas between nuclear natural gas who, how does gas fit into this picture?
Jessica Lovering 43:27
Um, I mean, it’s cliche, but I definitely see natural gas as a bridge fuel. I think it could be, you know, bridging ridging a little better. I mean, it could be. There’s places where gas really works in the short and medium term. And I, I want to see it deployed correctly, but I think in the US, and you know, natural gas has been great at displacing coal and actually getting coal plants shut down. And just a huge boon for public health, for local air pollution, and I don’t want Wanted diminish those real benefits. You know, Europe also had a big coal to gas shift, it was just much earlier
in the 70s, and 80s. So
don’t want to diminish natural grasses role, I think where we’re seeing it now are sort of going in the next 1015 years is, you know, the US aims to get to zero emissions in the power sector. First, I kind of think of it as, as a layered, I don’t know, maybe not cake but layered system where you have nuclear and hydro at the bottom, providing that baseload and you have natural gas in the middle, kind of filling in the ups and downs, and then you have renewables or wind and solar on the top. And what we’re seeing is natural gas is really good at balancing renewables, but as renewables grow is going to start to eat more into the natural gas peaking and as we get better with batteries at smart grids, you’re going to see renewables eating more into Natural Gas share. And then as we hopefully see, nuclear grow, it’s going to eat into natural gas share from the bottom carbon capture and sequestration is something that’s also getting a lot of investment and r&d. Starting to have demonstrations. It’s a lot easier to CCS with natural gas than coal is like cheaper to do. So I think there’s an opportunity there. If we end up stuck with natural gas or we, we really need it for certain applications, whether it’s industry, whether it’s this balancing, having it have CCS, I think will keep natural gas in the system, but get rid of the negative, get rid of the emissions.
Robert Bryce 45:40
Okay. So, we talked about we’ve talked about the US. We’ve talked about Africa, we’ve talked about South Asia, we haven’t mentioned the Middle East, which seems to be another area where I mean, you have the South Koreans finished the albaraka plant 5.6 gigawatts it’s going to be the biggest nuclear plant in the world. Is that not right? Or is it But 5.6 gigawatts a very large In any case, yeah. And the new the first reactors coming online this year, is that right?
Jessica Lovering 46:11
It was just supposed to come online last year flow.
Robert Bryce 46:15
Yeah, been delayed. But there you have a case of really natural gas and oil versus nuclear, right, because the Saudis are interested in nuclear because they don’t want to and they’re, they’re ready to sign a deal or have already signed a preliminary agreement to import us LNG to produce power for Saudi Arabia, which to me is, I mean, it kind of makes my head hurt. We’re sending natural gas to Saudi Arabia. But nevertheless, how big of a market is the Middle East for new nuclear technology?
Jessica Lovering 46:42
Yeah, it’s pretty big. And there’s also a lot of movement and interest. I mean, the UAE moved very fast and starting their commercial power plant. I mean, it helps they’re very wealthy country with theirs. A very, very wealthy countries in the region that have an interest In not using oil for electricity, which is what a lot of them depend on, not for the bulk of their electricity, but oil is very dirty typically they’d rather sell
Robert Bryce 47:10
erratic, they make more money selling that, then they they’re going to import cheap gas from the US and sell expensive oil to customers elsewhere. Right? Yeah, too expensive.
Jessica Lovering 47:22
Yeah. And so you know, in the short term, it doesn’t feel great because it’s, well, the oil is going somewhere else to be used, but it does get them on the path where they have a large amount of zero emission electricity generation, and that’s good no matter what. So, you know, these plants run for, you know, 60 to 80 years now. So getting them though, is a big win for the climate. So, Saudi Arabia is probably going to be the next one that starts nuclear power plant. Jordan is another one Jordan is interested in smrs in particular, and also maybe doing some deep salination at the same time, and there’s also a lot of the countries in North Africa are probably farther ahead than some of their Sub Saharan Africa counterparts in in getting their first nuclear power plant. So
Robert Bryce 48:15
well, so let me let me let me ask the other question about Iran, the Russians are building the Bushehr plant right in Iran, and they have very young population, the growing growing demand for electricity. What’s the scenario then for nuclear energy in Iran?
Jessica Lovering 48:34
I don’t think I want to touch that one.
Unknown Speaker 48:38
Robert Bryce 48:40
We can move on. Well, so then let me ask you about the tribal divide. We talked, we started talking about that. So what’s the key here if you’re gonna tell me three things that are and now I’m putting you on the spot again, but it’s what I do. We have a left right divide right on the nuclear issue. And there’s a generational divide which we talked about. about before. So how do you bridge the divide? What do you do? What? What are the key things that you’re going to do me? If I’m a skeptic about nuclear or anti nuclear? What are the things that you can do that are going to change my mind? What are the what are the what are the keys there?
Jessica Lovering 49:16
Yeah, so I think you’re not going to convince people just on nuclear alone. If you’re arguing, you know, okay, here’s why nuclear is great. Here’s why. I’d say here’s why we needed you to change your mind on nuclear. I think couching nuclear as part of a broader plan on climate and energy and economic issues, can get more people on board. And so starting from what the goal is whether the goal is full employment, or zero emissions from the power sector, or total decarbonisation of the energy system or Eliminating local air pollution for public health reasons. Starting from that goal, and then painting out a suite of not just technologies, but new infrastructure, new economic opportunities and showing how nuclear can fit into that broader plan, working with natural gas, working with renewables, working with, you know, public transportation, and job training, sort of showing how that fits in with that and isn’t at odds with people’s values, I think is how we get it done. And that’s what we’ve seen with these recent I won’t say shoots from from folks on the green New Deal side but recognition that Okay, yeah, nuclear can actually fit in here. We’re just not sure quite how yet. And that’s what you know, we’re going to be doing with the new organization green, good energy collective is showing how nuclear can fit in with those progressive values and goals.
Robert Bryce 51:01
Well, sir, let me follow up on that, because and so what’s what do you want people to do with the good energy collective? Can they go? Did you have a website? Yeah. Do you have a Twitter handle? How do you how do you how do people find out more about it?
Jessica Lovering 51:12
So we’re just getting started, and we’re going to be launching in August, and we’re also on Twitter, it’s good energy, coal, co Ll all one word to follow us and just keep buying. I think it’s a really exciting time around climate and energy. There’s a lot of movement, a lot of policy is going to be coming out in the next year. So
Robert Bryce 51:33
I think so let me ask about well, what’s what does success look like then? And and can I ask who your who’s helping fund your your startup and what does success look like and who’s backing you?
Jessica Lovering 51:44
So we’re going to be philanthropy funded. For the most part, we’re not going to take any industry money. And we’re really going to be focused on researching policies that we think will work and fit in with a progressive agenda. So what does success look like? I think we want to get nuclear into these big policy packages that are hopefully going to become rolling out and in the house in the Senate, from the current administration, from a new administration, and just getting not just, you know, nuclear, but figuring out how how nuclear can actually work and how advanced nuclear can move forward as part of these big Climate and Energy Policy packages that are coming out.
Robert Bryce 52:35
So inevitably, what I’m hearing you say, but didn’t say is that you’re going to need some big help from Congress, you’re going to have to create some allies on Capitol Hill. And that’s a that’s a that’s a tough proposition, right? But so then or you’re looking at creating you have you calling yourself a collective, you’re going to need some some big allies who who are the people you need on your side to make this happen. You’re going to need a lot of democrats right?
Jessica Lovering 53:00
So we want to there are a lot of great progressive organizations and organizations that have gotten started, and they’re doing a lot of this work of developing policies and getting them into, you know, Representative hands, too, and a push through will hopefully be bipartisan climate legislation. And what we’re doing is providing some of the expertise on the nuclear side, what are the big challenges for nuclear? What sorts of policies is nuclear actually need? Is it tax credits? Is it demonstrations of or is it financing and getting that into into these policy proposals? So we’re not going to do the actual, you know, lobbying or advocating, we’re doing a research on sort of what policies are needed and socializing those with, with progressive groups with people working on climate energy legislation. Sure, you’d be working with
Robert Bryce 53:54
clear path third way those kinds of groups that are already in Washington that have is that fair, is that I’d like naming names you’re out of
Unknown Speaker 54:02
school. I mean, me.
Jessica Lovering 54:06
There’s a lot of a lot of groups working on energy. I think we’re interested in working more with the new progressive groups, and particularly around the climate focus groups. Because they’re the ones that have a lot of energy have a lot of people power to get new things introduced or get new ideas out
Robert Bryce 54:26
there. So does this is the the AOC supporters, Bernie Sanders, the you mentioned sunrise movement that you you’re you’re you’re looking more toward the younger, the younger generation of climate activists is that is that fair to the fans? Okay, good. And so then tell me about your PhD. And when do I have to start calling you doctor? What is the
Jessica Lovering 54:50
yeah, hopefully in the next in the next few months. I’m wrapping up. But yeah, it’s very focused on technical economic evaluation of micro reactors. How they would actually work on grids how they could balance with renewables. And where they might actually work. What sorts of markets, whether it’s off grid communities in Canada, or large hospitals and cities? Where does it actually make sense? We’ve You know, we’ve been on for about an hour here, Jessica and I it’s been great to get your views on what’s happening with
Robert Bryce 55:25
in the in the market. And I think that this is clearly one of the areas that I think is among the most exciting right, we’ve seen the the nuclear power has been with us for now, for decades. We’ll guess the first nuclear reactor was shipping port, Pennsylvania that was in the 50s in the US, right, so now we’re going on 70 years, but it’s all been a very large reactor. So now we have the potential for smaller reactors that can be deployed and as you say, in remote remote villages right now that are relying on diesel fuel for the most part, right, but that would be an option for industrial locations and then and particularly for Remote operations those, those would seem to be the some of the first candidates for those micro reactors in North America. Is that right?
Jessica Lovering 56:07
Yeah. And there’s some challenges, unique challenges are on that, but I think those might be one of the first demonstration sites in the US. The other one that I’m looking at that I mentioned is micro grids on existing grids. So having an island ID grid system within a larger grid, say for emergency services within a big city, like your hospitals, your police. Could be your fire department could be on their own grid system, and maybe if that’s has its own micro reactor that you run all the time, but if something goes wrong with the grid, you can cut yourself off. You can keep your power going for emergency services
Robert Bryce 56:50
University, University of Texas. Yeah, 30 megawatts, I think of generation capacity. That’s it’s a very big campus. So that would be another possibility. No
Jessica Lovering 57:00
Yeah, definitely and particularly as as colleges are looking at, how do we reduce our emissions? And then also how do we provide reliable electricity for all of our laboratories and research and, you know, students, those who go together and, you know, university, a lot of years already have their own micro grid system. They have their own generators and a lot of cases. So that could be also an early niche.
Robert Bryce 57:27
Well, so as we’re talking about this, I realize there is one last thing I want to talk about that because as I’m thinking about this, okay, so I live in Austin, I’m not too far from the University of Texas. What about the security for micro reactors is this is there, there’s an advantage in cost. There’s advantage in deployments in deployment times, manufacturing, etc. But what about are the security costs significantly less or do you Are you still going to need people with guns standing around guarding these facilities?
Jessica Lovering 57:55
So you know, the regulator is going to decide what’s needed from To be secure, I think if you have a requirement that you have a bunch of security guards around 24, seven, that’ll really hurt the economics. But there are some aspects of these micro reactor concepts that we’re seeing that might make them so they don’t need that level of security. And so a lot of them are sealed cores, so they come fueled, you plug them in, they run for 1020 years, and then you send them back with the fuel. So there’s no fuel handling on site and it’s really hard to get in to where the fuel is. And so that aspect could make it so you need a lot less physical security. And then also just having modern in situ monitoring and inspection capabilities. So you sort of can see and sense what’s happening at all times. My lessons some of the need for active you know, operator watching it all the time. big goal of some These designs is to have an autonomous operation. So they won’t have any people on site, operating it, which is really good for economics, but you really need to prove that safety and security case. And so that’s something that, you know, we’re going to need to be proven, but if it is, that could make them a big game changer.
Robert Bryce 59:19
Sure. Okay. Well, that was one that just popped in my head when you were talking about this, because when we went to Indian Point, in 2018, I mean, with the levels of so I think we went through three different levels of security and there were people with guns and they were all around and the security costs were one of their, you know, a major cause for their their entire operations. But look, Jessica, I’m sure we could talk for a lot longer than we have. This is a very complex and and fascinating topic. And I’m pleased, very pleased to get your your views on on SMR so thanks to you my guest, Jessica Lovering. You can sign up to follow the good energy collective on twitter at good Energy co Ll that’s at good energy Cole and you also are on the web I so you have Jessica Lovering calm. Is that right? Your website? Yes,
Jessica Lovering 1:00:09
that’s just living.com you can follow me on twitter at Jay underscore Lovering and check out good energy collective.org and yeah, thanks for having me.
Robert Bryce 1:00:22
Good. Well again so thanks Jessica. Thanks to all of you for listening. This is the power hungry podcast if you like it if you love it, go to rate this podcast.com slash power hungry. I know you want to rate this podcast.com slash power hungry. I’m Robert Bryce, you can find me on the interwebs I’m easy to find. I’m on Twitter at power hungry. You can follow our film juice. How electricity explains the world with Jessica Lovering is in on twitter at juice for all. So thanks again for listening. This has been another episode of the power hungry podcast. I hope you’ll tune in again. next time thanks again