Jesus Nuñez is a native of Puerto Rico and the CEO and co-founder of the Nuclear Alternative Project, a non-profit group that is promoting the use of nuclear energy on the island. In this episode, he talks about the $1.6M grant his group from the Department of Energy to study the potential siting of small reactors in Puerto Rico, why the island needs “dense and resilient” forms of power generation, and the pressing need for low-cost energy in the territory, where some 43% of Puerto Riqueños are living in poverty.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, and welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And we’ll be touching on all of those today with my guest. Hey, Soos Nunez, he’s the co founder and CEO of the nuclear alternative project. Hey, Zeus, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Jesus Nunez 0:22
Thank you, Robert. Thank you for the invitation. Sure.
Robert Bryce 0:25
Now, I you’ve told me you listen to the podcast. So you know, all the guests introduce themselves. So I’ve given your title. But you’re a poor Puerto Rican. Yo. So if you don’t mind giving us a short, short introduction?
Jesus Nunez 0:37
Yeah, um, it’s, it’s known? Yes. I’m Senior structural engineer, actually, for I’m working with backto my daily life, but in my non daily life as a volunteer, the co founder of the nuclear alternative project, and I work as a volunteer with them with this organization, right. And
Robert Bryce 0:57
so the it’s a nonprofit, the nuclear alternative project, and it was founded by you and other other other people from Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico, are they live? They live in Puerto Rico? They live in the US, but people interested in energy policy in Puerto Rico.
Jesus Nunez 1:11
Yes. The other co founder was Eddie era. He he actually lives in Houston, actually. And the other one is on her, right. Yes. And he lives in Maryland.
Robert Bryce 1:22
So all, obviously, you’re Puerto Rican. So you’re American citizens, but you’re living in the States now, not in not in Puerto Rico. So I wanted to do this interview, because the nuclear alternative project just in the last few days got a $1.6 million grant from the Department of Energy to study the implementation of SMRs. And in and, and modular reactors in Puerto in Puerto Rico. So let me ask this question. First of all, you’ve been working on this for a long time. I know you, we became acquainted a couple of years ago. Why does nuclear energy make sense for Puerto Rico?
Jesus Nunez 1:56
Oh, well, Puerto Rico, some people think that Puerto Rico is like the other Caribbean islands, that they just have some small energy input two years. But Puerto Rico has a big economy on pharmaceuticals and, and other you know, other manufacturing processes. And if you look at the Puerto Rico GDP is like, around 40% Plus is is in that area. So you need an energy source that is dense, and is reliable and is resilient and no green energy with this SMR. So micro reactors makes sense in that fashion.
Robert Bryce 2:36
So I you make a good point there. And I know, electronics, printing pharmaceuticals, these are all big businesses in Puerto Rico. So industrial load matters there quite a lot, then more than in other Caribbean islands that aren’t as industrialized. And that that’s due in part to tax policy from the US. But so tell me about that. And well. I’ll ask you about the industrial part of it in just a minute. Because I know when I was in Puerto Rico, we visited a printing plant. But what how much the residents of Puerto Rico pay for now for electricity relative to what we pay here in the in the continental US? Well, in
Jesus Nunez 3:11
if you look, if if people look at the report, that was it, the first report that is in our webpage, in July 2019, the price of electricity for Puerto Rico was around 1972 cents per kilowatt hour for residential. And for commercial, it was like 20 point 39 cents per kilowatt hour. So yeah, I mean, those are costs summers there, it was around 7090 cents per kilowatt hour.
Robert Bryce 3:38
Right. So roughly 2020 cents for eight cents. Yeah, but I looked at more recent data. I think it’s even higher than that. Now. I mean, it’s only higher in the US where we’re paying rough. In the mainland, we’re paying roughly 13 cents a kilowatt hour for residential. But I think the point you made in your report that that you published last year was that prices for electricity in Puerto Rico are higher than any state in the US, except for Alaska and higher than almost any other territory of the US? Is
Jesus Nunez 4:06
that true? Yes. Um, uh, you know, obviously Alaska, Hawaii, I think there are more expenses. Yeah. But is, uh, is because we use a lot of fossil fuels to, to, to provide electricity for Puerto Rico. And also, you know, on top of that, you have restructure of the depth of Puerto Rico. So, there is a restructure fee that will be charged for recurrence in the future.
Robert Bryce 4:33
And that debt is for prepper. The island utility
Jesus Nunez 4:37
and saga. Yes, that they are I mean, there are different depths but they I hide Island utility, they’re there they have a debt that will be always be shared between the people of Puerto Rico in their, in their bills in the in the future.
Robert Bryce 4:49
So a surcharge and do you know what that surcharge is going to be then on the retirement?
Jesus Nunez 4:54
If you if you look at in our in our report, the same report that we’re talking about, there is a figure In their their has like a forecast from the fiscal board. And you know it can go from 4.3 cents or not. That’s the translation sorry, in the impact for all genres unstructured Lego legacy debt is around 4.7 cents per kilowatt hour. Wow. So yeah,
Robert Bryce 5:19
it’s a lot 25% hike in in rates without any change in the dirt in the in the, in the generation structure. So Well, let’s talk about the problems that are been festering, let’s be clear in the utility with prepper in Puerto Rico for a long time. I was there in 2018 and April of 2018, six months after the hurricane Maria. So two questions why you it seems like this is the issue of nuclear is taking on more urgency since Hurricane Maria hit in in 2017 and October of 2017. But, so, let me ask you that question. I asked you before why nuclear now? And in Puerto Rico? Why does it make so much sense at this moment?
Jesus Nunez 6:03
Um, I guess Puerto Rico, obviously, we are an unincorporated territory of the US. And if you look at the strategy in the US, they they are including in some fashion, these SMR or micro reactors for the for the Clean Energy Act, kind of the future of the US. So yeah, I mean, for Puerto Rico, it makes sense to have a nuclear reactor to complement renewable source. Because the only the only other option will be natural gas and natural gas, obviously, the volatility of the of the price of the gas of the natural gas, especially for Puerto Rico, that you have to bring it on, bring it in barges, right, every two or three years. Not two or three, sorry. So it’s Tommy, it makes sense to study the possibility of nuclear reactors in Puerto Rico.
Robert Bryce 6:53
So let me back up, just wanted to make sure we you stumbled a little bit there so that the natural gas in the form of LNG has to come in every couple of months or, or more frequently, every couple of weeks. Is that right? I mean, guys, but it’s fuel oil, though, that provides a main generation in Puerto Rico. No,
Jesus Nunez 7:10
yes, right now is just, you know, it’s it’s oil, but the plan is the transition will be natural gas for Puerto Rico. And, you know, obviously, if you read the report, Puerto Rico has a law they pass a law that they will be by 2050 100% renewable that we know that’s kind of a big challenge when you have a big manufacturing kind of energy come in people taking out energy in manufacturing, it’s very hard to be 100% renewable in the future.
Robert Bryce 7:43
Well, so I forgot about that until I looked at your report which again, is available on the nuclear alternative Project website nuclear alternative project.org But I didn’t I forgotten about this renewable mandate, which seems totally implausible to me and I’m you know, you’re a native Puerto Rico Puerto Rican, you’ll I’m not Yeah, but we went in there after the hurricane and the solar panels were all blown off of the roofs they were of no value. And it’s because of the the the fact that it is subject to tropical storms wind wind turbines are not they don’t they’re no wind turbines, as I know of in Puerto Rico. Are there any
Jesus Nunez 8:17
there were storming the South East portion of Vegas? They were crushed. They were destroyed by dry. Yes.
Robert Bryce 8:25
So here’s the island when I was there, and I you know, I haven’t seen it. Well, I’ve been since I’ve been to Louisiana and seen hurricane damage but seeing the damage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria were on one side of the trees, all the you know, all the leaves would be taken off. You can see you could tell which direction the wind was blowing during the storm. I mean, it was massive destruction. I mean, Neil blue tarps over every other roof that we not every other but many, many roofs. The question is, is it has the island in the utility has the the electric system in Puerto Rico recovered since then? Since since Hurricane Maria, um,
Jesus Nunez 9:04
when you call recover, I don’t know if you mean, having having enough resiliency, but I mean, the people have electricity for sure. The reliability and resilience of the system is not is not as good as you will expect, obviously. And that’s why some modernization projects in the near future with the with the new our private public partnership, that prep that the government did with Luma for the transmission and distribution lines, but also you need new generation assets to and and that’s been part of the process too.
Robert Bryce 9:45
Well, let’s talk about that. Because you noted I think in your report that when they came out last year, that’s on your website that the generation plants that prepper owns that are on the island are far older than the average here in the US. So you have not just a problem of old infant structure you also have a problem with blackouts. I didn’t realize this that you pointed I couldn’t find that the data but the blackouts or brownouts or rolling blackouts occurred 12 times more often in Puerto Rico than they do in the US.
Jesus Nunez 10:14
Yes, they do. And actually probably worth taking right now on is having a blackout. Because there is on paper there is like around if I remember correctly, around 2000 megawatt electric, in on paper that the the paper can provide, but in reality, because there are some plants that they cannot use EPA regulations, and there are others they are fixing, because they are tool. And they I mean, just imagine you have these are so old that you have to, to order these parts to Europe, in Europe, and it takes like six months to get the part. Yeah, I mean, just that. All right.
Robert Bryce 10:55
So to backtrack for a moment, hey, Zeus, you’re saying that the installed capacity of generation in on the island of Puerto Rico is about 6000 megawatts, but But it’s but it’s not, it’s really not 6000 hours, a lot of it is just unreliable or not maintained. So that you have you don’t have as much so I’m just thinking ahead about well, if you had SMRs, and you could deploy them at 1020 3040 megawatts, then you know, you get 10 or 12 or 20 of those, then you’re in business, right? You got you know, that 30 megawatts or so you you’ve you’ve matched existing capacity. So what I mean, give me your vision for your your your native island, what do you how do you see the what’s the blue sky it for me, if you had to wave the magic wand and you went to the Department of Energy or the President’s? And when they say what do you want? This is what I want? I want it to happen in 10 years, tell me what would that what would that look like?
Jesus Nunez 11:45
Oh, our visual in the narcotic project is that an SMR or even a micro reactor? There are two visions. One is that is something extreme as a hurricane, or even a big earthquake happens in Puerto Rico, you could deploy a micro reactor and install it fast and give any TriCity to the people if you lose one of these big generation assets, right. And then you have electricity for critical infrastructure like hospitals and airports, things like that. And, and the long term kind of vision is to have some of these micro reactors to complement the renewable energy that they’re planning for the future. Because we know that for sure Puerto Rico needs a base load that is, is clean and reliable and a nuclear makes sense. On top of that Puerto Rico doesn’t have a lot of space. So you know, I mean, you do need some dense energy in order to Puerto Rico to to grow economically. Another aspect that
Robert Bryce 12:49
I can interrupt because I like that idea about it. Yeah, it’s an island and it doesn’t. I drove around a little bit. I’m no expert on Puerto Rico. I was only there a few days. But there are a lot of settlements all across the island. It’s not like they’re other wide open spaces on the island where people don’t live. So I hit follow up on that the need for dense energy because I’m in complete agreement. Why does it matter in Puerto Rico?
Jesus Nunez 13:13
Oh, well, you know, Puerto Rico depends mainly on Obviously, every every place depends on the economy, right. and Puerto Rico right now, they only they will have a big tourist GDP, a mainly, like we said before, they depend mainly on on the manufacturing process and all that. And then obviously, they get some federal funding, if Puerto Rico wants to, to grow economically, and and be part of, I guess, part of the US or Europe may not they, they need to generate some revenue in fashion. Our vision too, is Puerto Rico will be producing hydrogen or any other source of energy of the future with micro reactors, because the energy is so dense, you can generate more in that smaller space, right? And those are kind of the things that we’re bringing up to the people saying, Hey, there, there are multiple possibilities for this. And we’re just bringing information. And we understand you have questions. In India. We have. We know, we know the question, and we know what people are opposed to? And I mean, those things can be answered. It’s just that takes some time.
Robert Bryce 14:28
Will you include it in your in your report from last year that you’ve done a survey? So over 3000 people and some 94% Were open to the idea of nuclear on the island? I mean, that was a pretty high number. Why do you think that is?
Jesus Nunez 14:40
Well, it was some reasons. The main reason is a hurricane Maria, obviously, people got tired of
Robert Bryce 14:47
the hurricane, the hurricane changed people’s minds or made them understand that they need more resilient grid or is that is that fair?
Jesus Nunez 14:54
So yeah, kind of obviously that that poll was also done before the earthquake. So yeah, I mean, that will change now. Yeah. I mean, like, because people will, you know, will see that, oh, earthquakes was how this will work with the with the nuclear plant, right. But, uh, but in general people are open to listen to the ideas. They’re kind of tire of the, of prappas business, if you think about it, that’s that’s the that’s one of the opposition’s that people have our nuclear is that they don’t want prepper to manage it, because they have seen it fail. Right. Right. And unfortunately prepper was a great company, like it was the company that everyone wanted to work with in the past. And, you know, it got a got all this, you know, folly, political input into the company, obviously, it’s a public company, but you you get decisions that that are not engineering on management, and then they fail.
Robert Bryce 15:56
And prepper just to be clear, the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority, right, which, which operates all the generation and transmission assets on the on the island. I was looking up in getting ready for, and well, that was one of the questions is, you know, why is prep have been so, you know, why can’t it get its act together? And I’ll ask that, I mean, you kind of answered it before, but is it because of nepotism? Is it just corruption within prePA?
Jesus Nunez 16:22
Oh, I guess Yeah. I mean, I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know if that’s corruption. But I guess, you know, it’s one of those things, right. Like, it’s a public entity is a monopoly tool. So when you have a body, and then you have a public entity, there was a lot of interactions with, I guess, politicians during the, during the years, right. And sometimes things that have to be done, like, probably plan for a new and in and, you know, start developing new plants, and, you know, looking into the future, those plans were not done, because, you know, the politics got involved into prepper. And, and, you know, is it sad, because I’m telling you is prepper was one, the best company in Puerto Rico and, um, people wanted to work with them. And, um, the electrical system, it was designed and built, resilient, and all that, because, you know, we, I think at our peak, it was about 4000 megawatts, or around 39 megawatts electric, but they also had a reserve. That’s why they were sticking around 6000. Because, you know, you need that reserve for resiliency, right? And reliability, and it was a good system. But if you don’t maintain a system, and then you, on top of that you you have politics getting involved on engineering and management decisions, then that’s how it fails. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 17:45
So one thing I wanted to bring up so to people who aren’t familiar with Puerto Rico, and again, I’m not an expert, I’ve been there once 3.1 million people. But one of the things that was remarkable to me and it’s, as you said, an unincorporated territory in the US. So it doesn’t have a road in Congress, which is explains a lot of things about why it is under underserved or, or so on, but that the the, the the poverty rate in in Puerto Rico was 43% of Puerto Ricans are living in poverty, the median household income is about $20,500, that’s less than a third of the US average, which is around 63, or $64,000 per household. So energy costs, I’m only I’m bringing that up for this reason, what energy costs really matter to households in Puerto Rico, that this is a significant cost? And if they’re paying more than twice or roughly twice as much as, as residential users in the US, that’s a big energy burden for people who a lot of whom can’t afford it. Is that fair?
Jesus Nunez 18:43
Yeah, that’s fair. And and obviously, to add to your point, we cannot vote for the president. So if you’re in Puerto Rico, so it’s even if you move down there, Robert, you cannot vote for any of them.
Robert Bryce 18:55
I mean, even you can’t vote, I didn’t realize it. Puerto Ricans can’t vote for president. But if you’re if you’re in the continental US, you can vote for
Jesus Nunez 19:02
them both. If you move to the states, you can vote for everyone. But even someone that was born in the states move to Puerto Rico fully, they cannot vote for the president or the Congress. No kidding. Yeah. So it’s it’s one of those things that it has to be solved. I mean, I strongly believe for regards to the state, and that’s my personal opinion. Sure. But yeah, I mean, they, they need to give Puerto Ricans the option of independence or a state. I know Puerto Rico will decide for statehood. But yeah, I mean, that’s my point of view. Right. Sure. But in top of what you talk about the, our energy prices, that’s true. And that’s one of my points to some people are trying to say that yeah, we can we can electrify Puerto Rico. We just saw roof solar in all the houses in Puerto Rico. That yeah, it makes sense in terms of a point of view, right? But just think about it. Like you said, 40% of the beat, their, their average salary in a year is 20. Grand. Yeah, how much how much the system will cost you just to electrify your your house? I mean, there is no way every Puerto Rican can afford that. And then on top of that, even if the federal government pays for it, who is going to maintain your army? Like, in 10 years, you will have to redo that again? Surely, yeah. And so it’s, it’s one of those things that, you know, I don’t agree with some of the positions of some people, but But I agree that solar energy have a great potential, but not for every application.
Robert Bryce 20:36
Sure. When I saw myself, we visited a printing plant, and a southeast of San Juan, and it had solar panels on the roof of its factory, and they were all blown off. I mean, they were, you know, destroyed, many of them were destroyed. And if you’re going to build for resilience in a region that’s subject to hurricanes and cyclones, you need to have a resilient system. When that goes beyond the power plants, of course, it goes to the transmission as well. So what about the the Jones Act, because that figures into costs as well, right, because you can only use US flag vessels to carry the fuel oil, you can’t bring in foreign LNG. I mean, there, there are a number of things that are make Puerto Rico a just a, I’ll use the word weird in terms of its ability to get the energy and demand manage the trade and escape from a lot of the poverty that’s been plaguing the island for a long time. How, how big is the Jones act play in that?
Jesus Nunez 21:36
I think it has some portion of it. I don’t know, how much do we honestly give? I don’t I don’t remember if we, we touched that in the report. Right. But But yeah, I mean, if, if you go to Puerto Rico, and you look at the prices of even food, and and obviously electricity, they are way higher than even clothing and all that, because majority of the of the goods are they come from, they come from, obviously, Europe and Asia and all that, and they, they come in, and they will go to Jacksonville. And then they pay taxes in Jacksonville. And then they put them in, in a box and they send it to Puerto Rico, and then you’re paying like double taxes. Right? For good. And for goods that in the face prolly you just received and in your port, just transport them in a in a in a truck. So it’s, I mean, it gets spent, because you’re kind of double taxation in some place in some times.
Robert Bryce 22:31
I see. So tell me about yourself. Where are you from in Puerto Rico? Where and where did you What Why did you come to the States? Where did you study? You’re an engineer, right? By training.
Jesus Nunez 22:40
Yes, I’m, I’m actually from a small town called cedre CID or a rural area in Puerto Rico is maybe center east of the island of town of someone like half an hour, okay, by car. Yeah. And I study, study structural engineering in the west part of the island in my awareness. And to be honest with you, Robert, I was not thinking about going to the mainland to work, I was thinking, I will stay in Puerto Rico, I will work in there, and I will stay with the family. But then, one time, my advice, or my master received an email from one of his ex students, and he said that they’re looking for people to work in this company, and I think you are a good fit and an interview with them. And, and I like the idea of working for that company. And, and and here. Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s how I, I also got in kind of in love with nuclear energy, because that was my first project. I, I was assigned for the nuclear operating plant services in Georgia. And, and I was scared, I can tell you that I was scared because I didn’t have any milk or energy knowledge.
Robert Bryce 23:56
And this was this was at plant Vogel
Jesus Nunez 23:59
heights and has no idea Georgia. Okay.
Robert Bryce 24:02
And it told me the name of the plant again, I’m sorry, hot,
Jesus Nunez 24:05
hot, as a TA see, okay. Yep. And, and I went there, and I was here because I have never been in a nuclear plant. And I didn’t know anything about it. When I started working on the project, and I heard, understanding how nuclear energy works and how, how safe it is know, for the employees and all that then I I became a kind of a nuclear advocate for that.
Robert Bryce 24:33
Gotcha. I see. So I didn’t I wasn’t familiar with plant hatch. I just looked it up. So it’s owned by I guess it’s your other company, my Southern Company rather big. And so you worked for southern and then you went to work for Bechtel after that, is that not all I
Jesus Nunez 24:47
work? I work with Bechtel all my entire career, but we had we were providing engineering services to solid copper. Oh, I see.
Robert Bryce 24:55
Okay, gotcha. So I saw from cedre So we were in Macau. which is east of east of Cognos, which is near cedre. So I’m just I pulled up the map to figure out where where you were from. So one of the other things that I thought was interesting, and we talked about it a little bit before on the phone was that the idea of power ships would be you mentioned the idea of deploying a nuclear reactor or micro reactor in case of an emergency. Right. But one of the options that’s become I think, very attractive is nuclear power ships and rasa Tom, the Russian companies deployed the nuclear power ship in. In Siberia, a number of companies are looking at power ships using nuclear reactors, including Thor Khan. But it would seem like a power ship, like the one that was deployed in Panama, the MH, one a MH, one a That’s right. Yeah, it was deployed between 1968 1976 in the Canal Zone. I mean, wouldn’t that be an option as well, for Puerto Rico and maybe using a power ships that you could you could more offshore?
Jesus Nunez 25:59
It will be an option? Yes. We’re not studying it. But yes, it could be an option. And actually, some people have asked us about that. They ask a you. I mean, can we do like a kind of energy power suit or something? I’m like, Yeah, you can do that. Right now. I don’t think the US have any commercialized version of it. But you know, it’s, it’s something that definitely you can do.
Robert Bryce 26:24
Right? Well, and it just occurred to me as well, because you’ve got the port at San Juan, which is a big port. So you’ve got room in the harbor that could handle this. I mean, I bring it up as well, because I saw power ships in Lebanon, right off shore in Beirut, near Beirut to big power ships running on fuel oil. But San Juan, I mean, what, how much of the population in Puerto Rico lives right around San Juan?
Jesus Nunez 26:46
Maybe them? I already have it? I don’t know that number, but maybe 70% of it. But yeah, I mean, another another report that you could use is the old the old Roosevelt Roads. Plan. The Roosevelt Burroughs died. There. It was a military side in the east coast of the island. And that’s probably farther away from them. Not farther away, but as close as possible from that big population. But as far as people want get Carolina, you know what I mean?
Robert Bryce 27:20
Right? Yeah, yeah. Oh, I see. Roosevelt Roads is right on the eastern the eastern coast. Yeah, see it there? Yeah. So what? Tell me, what is this the money that you got this? I’m just looking at San Juan, just because I’m curious what that population is. Telling me right off the bat, but let me ask the question, then. So you get this grant for $1.6 million. So what do you do now? What do you what do you what’s the next step? Because you, you’ve laid the groundwork about making the argument for nuclear on the island. And now, this is more granular in terms of site assessments, etc. What is it?
Jesus Nunez 27:57
What we were going to do off sites where I’m going at the analysis? Because there is there is a lot of questions on the population and politicians and and stakeholders, you know, out there, and one of the questions is, hey, how this will work with earthquakes in Puerto Rico, right. And in this study, we are going to do we’re going to use the rig guide 4.7 from NRC regard 4.7, which kind of preliminary evaluates the sites for for a site for us for site? Indico. It’s basically a reality. And your I mean, all these questions that we had is, especially let’s say, if there is an accident, some people have questions about a What about if there is an accident? Where where is the emergency planning song going to be? How is going to be the dispersion of the particles? I mean, all these questions, we cannot answer them for Puerto Rico with these reactors, with our study like this. And this is part of why we got the funding. And obviously, I think the mission of the DOA, they want to confirm that they can deploy these SMRs or micro reactors in the island and remote areas. And our project is perfect for that. Like in terms of the study, right?
Robert Bryce 29:20
Well, that’s interesting, because yeah, I mean, this idea of new SMRs. And with the application Island applications are always among the first right that you’re mentioned when it comes to SMR is because of the constraints on transmission, obviously. So then is there your study is going to depend on or you’re going to have to do I guess, several different assessments based on the different types of SMRs. Right, because they’re all going to have a different profile in terms of the fuels used and possible, you know, accidents or whatever, which of course, everyone thinks about the accident, even though it’s going to be relatively, you know, very low probability. Does the study have to include them the different different types of SMRs
Jesus Nunez 30:00
Well, we are we’re including different types of SMR sub micro reactors. But what are the end, what we are going to develop is what they call a PPE, plant, parameter, envelope. And those are kind of envelope, the parameters that the NRC uses for an early site permit. So that’s, that will come into picture based on our studies on hydrology and geology and seismology, but then also incorporating the information from these vendors that are going to provide the information for us. So this even even though we’re doing this for a specific vendors, at the end of the day, if another burden and vendor in the future, see this study, they can probably do a minimum amount of information kind of calculations, they can either pay the reactor in our study,
Robert Bryce 30:57
I see so. So this is the stepping stone or another brick in terms of up the progression and how in positioning Puerto Rico is the one of the is it safe to say then one of the early candidates for SMR deployment? Is that what you’re aiming for?
Jesus Nunez 31:12
Um, I mean, in our organization, Robert, to be honest with you, one of the main concerns about the Puerto Ricans is that they don’t want to be the first of a kind, because because of you know, things that happened in the past between, you know, the government and Puerto Ricans. And obviously, the opposition that assists in Puerto Rico, there is a small but it says, They, that’s the first thing they bring up, they Oh, you want to? Do you want us to be like labrets? Right. And that’s why we we understand that Puerto Rico, even though you can probably do it, it will be very difficult, because this is one of the ESR positions for for the first time reactor in Puerto Rico.
Robert Bryce 31:57
So the way I’m hearing you say it is there’s distrust of the government of all kinds, right, but particularly in Washington, and in Puerto Rico, that that wants to be a candidate that doesn’t necessarily want to be first on the list
Jesus Nunez 32:08
at the federal government in Puerto Rico have a good standing in terms of what people trust. But the people that oppose people, typically the people that are opposed to these developments are people that are pro independence of Puerto Rico. So they are like a small portion of the population. But yeah, I mean, they, they can be loud. Right. And, and if they have a point, and you know, I mean, they they have a point, they don’t want to be the first of our kind, because they don’t want, you know, there have been cases in the past. Yeah. And like that, that the fair go and did some studies. And, you know, we were part of them. And, and but he was way back even I was not even bought. Yeah. I mean,
Robert Bryce 32:50
right. But I think that that’s, that’s an interesting way to present that, that there’s a lot of history that has to be dealt with here, and that they’re the independence factions who want the Puerto Rico to be independent completely of the US and others who want statehood. Right. So there are other overlapping political battles that then spill into the nuclear arena? Is that what you’re saying? Yeah,
Jesus Nunez 33:13
yeah. I mean, that’s why every presentation I give, I said, you know, in order for Puerto Rico to have nuclear energy, you need to incorporate the politics, the history, the communities and the stakeholders. Yeah. I mean, everyone has to incorporate it, because we have, you know, we have a history with the US. And people bring that into loker, too. So it’s, and that’s why, I guess we have been successful into bringing our approach because we understand how Puerto Ricans think right. And, and every time that they talk about it, like, last time, I receive a message this week saying that the same thing, this person saying, Hey, I will believe you when when they when they do the first of our kind react in the States. And then I send them him the news about a year. I mean, they’re doing some in Idaho, they’re doing some in Montana, and then the next answer was, oh, yeah, those are very remote areas. And he’s he’s right. Yeah. And then I said, well, there is another day, he’s been going to be deployed in Oak Ridge of Chris’s kind of a bigger kind of city. Yeah. So after that, you know, he, he kind of stopped. But But yeah, I mean, those are the things that I mean, even if you are pronuclear Yeah, there are good questions, Robert, I’m sure. And I think I think the common person out there, yeah, obviously they think about lower electricity, reliability and all that. But they also believe about their safety and they want this to, to be correct, right, in order to for them to say yeah, go ahead and do it in the islands.
Robert Bryce 34:49
Right. Yeah, I was looking at your report, you said that the Puerto Rico gets two LNG cargoes per month well, so is that LNG or is that LPG is that propane or butane or you’re running? LNG for power generation, is that right or
Jesus Nunez 35:02
I, I, I think it’s LNG. I don’t remember what okay, what they use? Yeah,
Robert Bryce 35:09
no problem. But I thought that was a good point about resilience that you’re only going to need to refuel the reactor a couple of times, you know, once you know, you’ll have a shipment, whatever you said shipment for nuclear fuel for each SMR will be in the order of every two years, and 10 to 15 years for micro reactors. So you’re not going to have the kind of shipping burden that with a reactor that you would with, excuse me, a fossil fuel powered plant, right.
Jesus Nunez 35:36
Yeah, that’s one. That’s one of the benefits of it. Obviously, there are some, there are some manufacturing plants that they have cogeneration already. Right. So they so they store actually, there’s natural gas in there, and and all of that, but with our conversations with with some of them, they don’t really want to be running cogeneration plants. Yeah. And they want a resilient energy. And, yeah, I mean, they, they look at our project, and they see an opportunity, they’re not going to say, Yeah, we’re going for nuclear, because they want to see all these studies. And that was one of the parts that I guess we got the funding to vehicles that are going to be integrated into the study to
Robert Bryce 36:18
the industrial plants will Yeah, kind of
Jesus Nunez 36:21
they will give us some input into the into the study.
Robert Bryce 36:24
Gotcha. And what’s the deadline for the study? You got the grant? When do you have to finish this?
Jesus Nunez 36:28
Um, it’s the estimated completion time is like a year, a year after we start, obviously, right now we are in negotiate in the negotiation process, you know, we’re given all the contract the contracts, and, and all the information that the government requests for all these, you know, to get the grant the funding money, but yeah, is back maximum a year or two months maximum?
Robert Bryce 36:53
I see. So late, late 2022, early 2023, something like that.
Jesus Nunez 36:57
Yeah, something like that.
Robert Bryce 36:59
And so, if you mentioned the, the possibilities for reactors that are, you know, at the at the tight end, you could get to maybe 75% or so of replacement of prepas existing generation fleet. The other was you said the the option of deploying one Modular Reactor in case of an emergency, but is there a reactor size then that given your knowledge of the of the scale of the grid in Puerto Rico? What would be the appropriate size of a reactor for the island to get started? 30 megawatts? 50 megawatts? 100. What would be reasonable size? Do you think?
Jesus Nunez 37:33
Oh, are you talking about? Yeah, I mean, it’s a reasonable size in terms of the grid. Yeah, in terms of the grid, what what the study found, there is a portion that talks about the greater what the study found from our our experts in PNL, the Pacific Northwest National Lab, is that if they keep the the the amount of power the system plants years, like around 400 megawatts right, the power circle and all those plants they generate beyond through 400 megawatts, they can they can be integrated with minimal amount of changes into the grid. And then for micro reactors, the same thing like if they, if they, if they are located in the high concentration areas close to where the plants are right now, then you have the minimum amount of changes into the grid. But if you locate them in areas that obviously there is not a 16 plant or assist. Interesting this. How you got there,
Robert Bryce 38:38
high voltage transmission.
Jesus Nunez 38:40
Yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. Or then you will have to spend money, but that applies for everything, right? Sure. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 38:47
So you’re saying that you could put the larger larger reactor at Pella Seiko, which I’ve been there before? I think Pelosi was 600 megawatts if memory serves, but you could put a larger reactor there, and then the smaller reactors elsewhere around the around the island? Is that Is that what I’ve heard? You say?
Jesus Nunez 39:02
Yeah, it’s got off that obviously, you have to with no color is kind of defending that you still have to consider the density of population. Right. Right. So thought that’s one of the parts I think the DOA and ourselves are interested because, you know, obviously Puerto Rico, the density of population in Puerto Rico, you compare them with other states is very high. So that’s one of the parameters that you have to account for when you’re setting a nuclear reactor. And I mean, personally, I believe nuclear probably won’t be all around the islands because of that density of population. Plus, there are some areas that they have a very high seismic song on Yemen, and that’s why in our organization, we don’t promote like, only nuclear. We said hey, you just have to have a mate that include nuclear, but it it has efficiency into the the price and reliability And we see I see. So that’s why we we said that because technically we I know personally that it will be very difficult to have more greenery all around the island.
Robert Bryce 40:09
Right? Gotcha. Well, yeah, there are constraints and I hadn’t really, I’d forgotten about you. In Puerto Rico has been through it. Right. You got hit by the hurricane, you got hit by Hurricane Rita, then you hit by Hurricane Maria. And then you had? Well, now I guess what, two years later you have the the earthquakes? So it’s been a very difficult period of time for Puerto Rico in general. But also it’s This is hell on your energy infrastructure. No.
Jesus Nunez 40:34
Yeah. And, and yeah, I mean, even the University of Puerto Rico, Maya was they, they live a story on, they need to increase the risk, the risk of seismic load into the building infrastructure. And it was kind of interesting, because we already knew that the areas that were selected, are not increasing that Marsh, because they are not that close to this new fault that they knew that they assisted by inside the island, but they are they are typically in the South West portion of the island. So yeah, I mean, those areas that were selected for our study, they’re farther away from those areas. So they hide their resource size, make it slower. I mean, it’s one of those things that all these things are integrated, like we know about this, there was a study in the 70s there was supposed to be a there was a study to put a plant in, in the south portion of the island. And then when they are doing the seismic evaluations, they found out that there will be a higher seismic risk. So they move that that plant to be built in Arecibo, they call it is lava. And and that’s one of the areas that we we kind of selected because we knew that it will be a lower seismic risk, because of these studies that prevented anyone. So
Robert Bryce 41:55
just to be clear, you were saying they were looking at a power plant site, not necessarily a nuclear plant, but just it was a nuclear plant. Oh, really. So I don’t know about this. So there was a plan to put a nuclear plant in Puerto Rico in this holiday
Jesus Nunez 42:07
they bought they bought the plant. They bought the reactor and everything.
Robert Bryce 42:11
No kidding. So this was prepper back now 50 years ago.
Jesus Nunez 42:14
Yes. Yes. It was. I think if I remember correctly around 400 megawatt
Robert Bryce 42:20
electric, I’ll be darned. Yeah. Okay. But it never never happened.
Jesus Nunez 42:24
It never happened. Because I think in during that time, you know, all these I don’t remember be my island happen about Yeah, about that time 1979. And then, you know, you’re still having issues with the financing and you know, all those things. So just so they shut down the idea. But yeah, those are the the two products that Puerto Rico have had with no berries, that one that I’m talking about in his lobby. And obviously the the reactor that is the west part of the island plant bonds that it was a Experimental Reactor. It was not a it was not an a reactor to generate electricity was more experimental. I would say that they did two they did one in Puerto Rico and one in the States. I don’t remember the state. But it was too costly. You know, when they were doing the, the cost of electricity based on that reactor, it was too costly. So they just shut down the idea of it.
Robert Bryce 43:21
I gotcha. So my guest is Hey, Zeus Nunez. He’s a friend of mine, we’ve been acquainted for a little while he’s the co founder and CEO of the nuclear alternative project, you can find his work at nuclear alternative. project.org. So just a couple of more questions, if you don’t mind his husen this has been great. I’ve been, you know, glad I’ve been following what’s been happening in Puerto Rico for you know, since I’ve been there and want to stay in touch on this. But why do you care so much about this? I mean, you’re obviously putting a lot of time and effort into it. Why?
Jesus Nunez 43:49
Well, you know, I, I was born in Puerto Rico. I grew up in Puerto Rico. And I installed in my university in Puerto Rico. I, the university in Puerto Rico that I study with the University of Maya West, it was financed by the people of Puerto Rico, I see this as an opportunity to give something back to them, even though maybe majority of them don’t agree with with what I think about nuclear and Puerto Rico. But that’s one of the reasons. I kind of do this as a volunteer as a volunteer. Also, like I wrote to you in Twitter, like, I’m a very fan of Roberto Clemente. He, he was a great baseball player. But also he was a great human being when he died helping people in Nicaragua after an earthquake. And I mean, this is something that I mean, I guess if you have met all the four regions, you have seen that like we we care about the people that that we grew up with.
Robert Bryce 44:51
And, and and Clement days as a Puerto Rican yo he’s been he’s a hero on the island right and has been for a long
Jesus Nunez 44:58
time. It isn’t that Isla is in Nicaragua and other parts of the world. Yeah, it is because he he gave his life to, to people that you I mean, he didn’t grow up with people in Nicaragua, but he gave his life flying there to bring food and, and, and things for people that that they have on oakway to happen and and he flew in there he, he he had a great commitment for for other people.
Robert Bryce 45:27
So I also asked these questions and people so you’re busy man, obviously you’ve got to, uh, you told me you’re you’ve got it. You’re married? You have a family? You have kids or no? Oh, yeah, I have three. You have three kids. Okay. Between all of these things. You’re a busy man. So what are you reading?
Jesus Nunez 45:47
I don’t actually read brawler? Well, when people ask me that question, I used to read a lot of engineering books. I’m kind of a nerd in engineering. But right now with with the work I do with the nonprofit, all the time goes with with that, you know, in between the my work at backto during the day, my work with the nonprofit and the family, you know, that all my time goes in there. So
Robert Bryce 46:16
no, no, no problem. No shame in that. But last question, then. So what gives you hope his
Jesus Nunez 46:23
what gives me hope? You know, I was really I was last week in Puerto Rico, and I was talking with this person who just last week you were there? Yeah, I was in an energy event there. And that’s where I received the news about the hour.
Robert Bryce 46:35
You were in Puerto Rico when you use about the DOE grant? Well, that’s, that’s handy. I must have felt good. No.
Jesus Nunez 46:41
Yeah, it was, it felt good. But what gave me hope is I saw, I was talking with this young person, probably in his 20s. And, and he was a bartender, in the hotel, I was staying. and I are speaking with him. And he has a good a lot, a lot of a lot of hopes for his future. You know, and I didn’t see that before when I was in Puerto Rico. Yeah. And then and I think after the hurricane people start believing more of on themselves. And and I think it’s something that move our organization to because we want the best for Puerto Rico, you know, even if Puerto Ricans are considered nuclear, we want them to have a knowledge about what what it could be or or how this will help in a in a larger future Puerto Rico if if if you know if if they asset?
Robert Bryce 47:35
Well, that’s a good place to stop. My guest has been Hey, Soos Nunez, he’s the founder, co founder, excuse me and CEO of the nuclear alternative project, you can find him and his work is a great report on Puerto Rico last year, but it’s available on nuclear alternative project.org Hey, Zeus, thanks for being on the power hungry podcast.
Jesus Nunez 47:54
Thank you for the invitation roller anytime.
Robert Bryce 47:57
And thanks to all of you in podcast land for tuning in tune in next time for another swell and illuminating edition episode of the power hungry podcast until then. See ya