Maria Korsnick holds a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland and now serves as president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that operates on an annual budget of about $50 million. In this episode, Korsnick talks about the “new paradigm for nuclear” energy, why the “urgency” for nuclear “is only going to grow,” how the U.S. and Canada are working together on approval of new reactor designs, and why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has to get more efficient. (Recorded October 21, 2022.)

In the second edition of the Power Hungry podcast, Robert Bryce talks with Michael Shellenberger about his new book, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Michael is one of the most famous environmentalists in America as well as a former candidate for governor of California. He and Robert discuss a myriad of topics including liberation theology, the roots of apocalyptic environmentalism, and why nuclear reactors, not wind turbines and solar panels, are the only viable path forward if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve natural areas for people and wildlife.

Episode Transcript

Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert rice. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to get to welcome Maria Corsa. Next she is the president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Maria, welcome to the power hungry podcast.

Maria Korsnick 0:20
Great happy to be here.

Robert Bryce 0:22
So I didn’t warn you. I don’t want some guests. But your guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So if you don’t mind, imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone, then you have about a minute or so to introduce yourself, please go ahead.

Maria Korsnick 0:33
Great. Hi, I’m Maria horseneck. I’m president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. And we’re right here in Washington, DC. And we work on the policy and influencing side for the nuclear industry writ large. And we represent the whole value chain of nuclear, from miners to enrichers, to utilities, to people inventing new things in nuclear, the whole value chain. And it’s a wonderful opportunity right now for nuclear incredible opportunity as we look over the next five to 10 years.

Robert Bryce 1:11
Well, that’s a good summary. So and I think you’re right, there seems nuclear does seem to have hit an inflection point. But tell me just a little bit more about any I and I asked because maybe I should have had this homework done. But how many members are of any i And what’s your budget? Approximately? Do you have those numbers?

Maria Korsnick 1:28
Sure. So we have over 300 members at Nei, we have not only folks here in the United States as members, but we have international members, we are represented by 17 different countries. And we also have universities in our membership. Our budget is about $50 million a year. And we have about 100 employees at nei.

Robert Bryce 1:50
Good. Well, so first question is the obvious one, and I’ve written about this, there sure seems to be a nuclear renaissance underway, not just here in the US, but around the world. Assess it for me, I handicap what’s going on? And why suddenly now, we’ve heard this nuclear renaissance story before to be clear. Why is it different this time?

Maria Korsnick 2:12
Yeah, great. Almost hesitate to call it a renaissance. Be honest with you. But we’ll talk about why that is. And

Robert Bryce 2:18
I’m just curious. I’m just sorry to interrupt. So why you know, like the word or you come back? Or what’s the right way to think about it?

Maria Korsnick 2:26
Yeah, how glad you’re asking. It just feels like a retread to me, if you will, because we had that turn back in 2008. And so it feels like when you use it, that you’re thinking again, about 2008. And I want to be in a different place. As you said, we’re at an inflection point. It’s bigger than an inflection point. It’s a sea change around nuclear energy. And it’s not just here in the United States. It’s worldwide. And we’ll get to that as we have our conversation today. But I want you to think big. I mean, really big when it comes to this. And I just think that Renaissance feels Oh, yeah, you tried to do that, Oh, it didn’t work, you know, oh, is that what’s going to happen again? And that’s just not the framing that I think this point in time deserves? Because it is so different. And let’s talk about the Renaissance before, why was that different than what we’re talking about today? Because the Renaissance before you invented a few new things. So there was new makes and models, but it was pay industry. And hey, market, if you need additional generation, you could pick this thing over here. There’s this option over here. It’s a new style of a reactor, but it was all dependent on when you have a need when you happen to need some electricity. plug this in, okay? Today, it’s a whole different conversation. It’s not just any electricity, it’s carbon free electricity. Hmm, a lot of people interested in that these days. It’s not just electricity, it’s high temperature steam. It’s not just high temperature, Steam, it’s hydrogen. This is actually the key that can decarbonize the entire economy. And there’s really no other option that’s as scalable as what nuclear power is. People are hungry today. And I’ll tell you that trendline over the next five years, 10 years, 15 years, they’re going to get increasingly more desperate, more interested, more hungry, because they want a way of life that depends on electricity depends on something that needs to be carbon free. And I think the urgency is only going to grow. So it’s big now and it’s only gonna get bigger, the driving forces for this conversation, climate, energy, security, jobs, clean energy. Those didn’t exist back in the 2008. And we call it a renaissance. This is so much bigger.

Robert Bryce 4:52
So would it bring the song I just want to press you on that. So if Renaissance is the nuclear comeback, the nuclear comeback is real or what? Or is the new paradigm And what’s the right word then here? Because I think, I think in headlines right, I’m a reporter right? What is the headline here? So what’s the headline,

Maria Korsnick 5:07
at least new paradigm and I’m appreciating, you’re challenging me to this. And throughout our podcasts, I’m going to be thinking of, of sort of words that are big enough sort of to describe this. I don’t know, it feels like a moonshot kind of thing. You know, from from where we were sort of put somebody on the moon, it feels like sort of that kind of a change, for the way that we’re going to look at nuclear, you know, over the next, you know, few decades. And so I need a word that sort of that big and expansive and bold.

Robert Bryce 5:38
I like I like I like paradigm, I think I think I miss a good word. Well, so let’s talk about that. Because you mentioned high temperature steam, and we could talk about a lot of things that have happened lately, right, with VISTA expand extending the license are expected to ask for the licenses extension at Comanche peak, you have Holtec saying they want to reopen Palisades, which I want to come back to Diablo Canyon, Byron and Dresden last year in Illinois. But of all of those, it seems it’s ice watch this, and I’ve watched it pretty closely. Dow’s announcement that they want to build an SMR and one of their Petrochem plants, to me seems there are a lot of things that are important here. But to me, that seems really important. Because here’s an old line industrial company saying we’re not going to burn those molecules to make process heat, we’re going to turn those molecules into products. How important is is how important you see the Dow announcement, right? It’s not done yet. But it seems to me that that’s that’s a step change in terms of big industry saying we’re gonna look at nuclear hard. How important is that? Do you think

Maria Korsnick 6:40
it is a big step change? And you’re reading it exactly right? Because not only, not only as dow doing it, for Dallas reasons, I’ll be honest, and I’ve talked to some folks that doubt they’re doing it for the leadership role that it demonstrates, they know that they’re the largest one of the largest sort of chemical producers, they know that them coming out early like they are for nuclear sends a tone to the broader industry. And they’re comfortable with that meat. Let me just say that, again. They’re comfortable with that. So generally, nobody wants to be first with nuclear, right? Nobody wants to be first they were like, Oh, hey, make sure somebody else is in line ahead of me, I’m happy to be second, I’m happy to be third. You know, they know their first and they’re comfortable with being first. So they appreciate the value. They’re also sending that message to their customers that carbon free matters, okay, but they’re running a business. So carbon free matters. But they got to figure out how to run that business in that reliable way that they’re known for? Well, so what do you need for that you need a reliable source of energy, and what are they looking towards? They’re looking for nuclear. So a lot of really positive messaging in in that whole story. And it’s a new sector. So we go back to why aren’t we calling this a renaissance, because it’s bigger than even what the Renaissance was going to be? The Renaissance just talked about electricity, that was not even talking about wanting this for electricity, not to say that they might not use some not to say they might not produce some, they’re calling their association with nuclear because of the high temperature steam. So it also goes through that whole messaging, you know, yes, as a country as a globe, we do need to figure out how to how to decarbonize the electric sector. At the end of the day, the electric sector is the easiest thing to decarbonize. Okay, it’s gonna be hard, and it’s the easiest part. Okay, so we still gonna have to figure out how to decarbonize manufacturing, that will be the most difficult to figure out how to decarbonize manufacturing relies on a lot of carbon intensive sources today, we still want to manufacture things, we still need to manufacture things. Okay, we got to figure out how to do it in that carbon free way. Part of it’s going to be high temperature steam, part of it likely, if you need really, really high temperatures, we’re probably gonna have to use hydrogen in some way to get that well, that’s okay. Because this thing you call that nuclear plant, it’s versatile. It can make hydrogen if you want, it can make high temperature steam, if you want. It can make electricity if you want to make electricity during the day and hydrogen at night can make high temperature steam and it you don’t even have to pick one, right? It has that versatility. It’s a matter of how do we want to use it, how do we want to position it? And that’s what makes it such a solid bet.

Robert Bryce 9:25
Well, so let’s talk about x energy because, you know, as I said, I’ve followed this pretty closely, I’m adamantly pro nuclear have been for more than a decade. But let’s be clear, there are a lot of paper reactors in the in the market right seeking approval seeking contracts ex energy’s one of them new skills and other one Zebrina Joe Hall from General Atomics had an interesting piece in The Hill a few weeks ago saying that we’re gonna have to narrow this down, right there’s just too many designs and we’re gonna have to pick two or three maybe and I don’t know if she said two or three, but as the French did, they settled on one design. How so here’s the question and I’m just, you know, kind of thinking about this as I’m talking, but how many reactor designs? Does the market need? Or what is the right number, I guess would be I’m putting on the spot here a little bit. But what what is the right number of designs to get have proper commercial adaption? Because we can’t have 60 different designs, right? We need a few that can be regulated properly. So do you agree with Joe Hall’s take that we need to narrow the field down?

Maria Korsnick 10:30
Let me say yes, and no, I agree. This pie is so big, let me just say there’s room enough for a lot of different choices in it. And I say that to say, some designs are going to be really to kind of depends on what you want. So some designs as an example, they’re going to use the same fuel that we use today. Okay, so if designing the fuel and if you’re worried about, you know, the timeline associated with that, well, you’ve kind of taken that whole risk out of the equation, if you take a design that uses the exact same style and type of fuel that we have today, some designs, you’re going to use fuel that hasn’t been yet invented, or fully designed today, that’s that high assay Leu. And so then they’re making a lot of progress on it. And there’s a lot going on. So I’m not discounting that. But I’m just saying the reactors that we have today, you know, people aren’t aren’t using that in in sort of the day to day so. So when you’re working on one of those designs, it’s an additional thing that you got to work through from a project management perspective. But the value for those is, especially those will go in some micro reactors, you might only have to refuel them every decade, well, that might be interesting to you, okay, some designs are going to have higher temperature steam than others. If high temperature steam is what you want for your process, then a design that maximizes the high temperature, Steam, sunlight, want steam for district heating, let’s say, Well, you don’t need really, really high temperature steam for some steam applications. So it really is, I would think of it more to say nuclear used to be one large design, whether that was a pressurized reactor or boiling water reactor, and it had generally very similar attributes. Now, you’re going to have not only large, you’re going to have medium, you’re going to have small, you’re going to have sort of a whole suite of tools in the toolbox if you well from a nuclear perspective, and you’re gonna be able to dial in, depending on specifically what your needs are. Some want to have a load profile that allows them to cycle up and down really quickly think of it more like a natural gas plant, which can ramp up very quickly ramped down very quickly. The Atrium reactor, for example, that TerraPower is designing is deliberately with that molten salt design that allows it to be a bit I’ll call a shock absorber. So that reactor is going to stay at 100% all the time. Meanwhile, the plant can ramp up and down, but it’s not ramping the reactor, okay, that is a specific designed to let you load follow with you have high penetration of renewables. Well, in some cases, that’s what you’re going to have. And you’re going to look at your market and say, I really want that ramping capability, I want to go from say 350 megawatts to say five hundreds of megawatts, you know, in a matter of, you know, sort of seconds or minutes, you know, okay, well, then that’s the design for you. But you know, what I’m saying is when when you have now nuclear as a tool in your toolbox for so many different ways, that’s going to beget the different designs, right, because different things are gonna bring things to you. So fair

Robert Bryce 13:39
enough. But I want to jump in. Well, let me I want to come back to the NRC because that’s the that seems to me, this is the the the gateway fright for all of these approvals. But let me just stop you for a second because I want to just get a little bit. You’re a nuclear engineer, I just want to if you don’t mind, give me a little bit of your background. And I have a specific question. So you got your degree in nuclear engineering, a bachelor’s at the University of Maryland, and you’re a senior reactor up, you have a senior you have held a senior reactor operator license. So I just to me, this is interesting. And you’re obviously in a very male dominated field. Did you grow up wanting to be a nuclear engineer? How did you come to this part of your career? Because you are some somewhat still an anomaly in the sector. If you don’t, I’m curious about your personal story. We can talk politics and we will, but and, and regulation, but tell me how you became a nuclear engineer?

Maria Korsnick 14:35
Oh, sure. Well, thanks. I am a nuclear engineer. And just for your audience, you know, I’m over 35 years in the industry, but the majority of that so you can 30 years, close to 30 years in power plants. Right. So my background is really operating these. I was an engineer. I was an operator. As you mentioned, I was licensed in the control room. I did that for about five years. I ran In individual departments, I ran power plants. I was a site vice president at the DNA plant in Rochester, New York, I ran our corporate organization, ultimately it was I was our chief nuclear officer. So I was responsible for five reactors at three locations. I did that for five years. So I’ve done the sort of powerplants side of things for most of my career. And then I came to Nei, about six and a half years ago, as a loan executive, from one of the member companies. And and then I became, they happen to be looking for a CEO about a year or so after I came. And I asked to be considered and was, you know, in a consideration of what several people but I was selected for the role. So I’ve been here now since 2017, as the President and CEO. So just to give people a bit of the the flavor, if you well, in terms of what the experience is, that I that I bring to the table, but it’s very much a hands on, I’ve been in the industry. Now your question is, well, how the heck did you land there. So I just always really liked math and science. And I just went into nuclear engineering, my minor is in chemical engineering. So it’s just sort of something I was interested to do. And you say that I’m in a male dominated field, and it is true, but I will be honest, I have always just felt like I fit in. Oftentimes, I was one of the few, maybe the only female in some particular project, perhaps. But I never felt that way. And it likely is because I’m from a very large family, there was eight kids and my family, five brothers. And so I feel like probably my upbringing being around a lot of people and particularly being around a lot of guys, I’m very comfortable in that. And I don’t feel different. I feel like I have ideas, I want my ideas to be heard, I want to chip in, I want to be a part of a team, at the end of the day, I want to get some things accomplished. And I’ve just found in my career that that has led to a very accepting of feeling and whatever I’ve been involved in, because they also feel a part of the team. And they also see that you’re making a solid contribution, and that you’re helping to solve things and move things forward. So I grew up at a time where you didn’t really talk about diversity, you really didn’t talk about the fact that there should be more women or more, you know, any any particular way that you want to, you know, analyze, folks, and in an interesting way, that might have actually been easier. And I know that sounds strange. But when I was ever put on a team, it was more boy, we don’t have very many women, she must be really good at what she does. Because she’s made it to this team.

Robert Bryce 17:41
Sorry to interrupt. But so but I think being well, I’m one of seven, I’m the sixth and seventh, right. But in a large family, if you don’t speak up, Jeff talks right, right. So this is what’s right.

Maria Korsnick 17:51
But you’re comfortable speaking up. Yeah, you’re comfortable speaking up to and sort of saying, well, here’s what I think. And here’s why I think it and sort of defending you know what your thought process, but to finish that thought, I think today if you know, if you’re potentially on a team, and maybe you’re African American, or maybe you’re female, or maybe you’re Asian, I think you know, oftentimes maybe the first reflection is, oh, that’s the diversity candidate, you know, I wonder if they’re any good. And I just said at the time that I grew up, actually, there really wasn’t a conversation around diversity. It was more of the assumption. Well, that’s an interesting candidate. And so the fact that they made it here sort of says something about in a positive way, says something about them. So I just offer that, that I think we talk about diversity in a way to be helpful. And I think it is with the best of intentions. But I do think sometimes it can actually make it harder for candidates that say, I’m not just here as a diversity candidate. I’m here because I’m really good at what I do

Robert Bryce 18:50
with your family, but just to follow up the circle your folks, were they in science and engineering, mathematics, was that part of your upbringing.

Maria Korsnick 18:57
My mom was a stay at home mom, again, raising eight kids, that was a full time job. And then some. And my dad was in, he worked for the Organization of American States and sort of the finance side. So he was, you know, more of a MBA, you know, a tie.

Robert Bryce 19:17
So you’re from the DC area. That’s why you went to Maryland and Falls Church, Virginia,

Maria Korsnick 19:20
actually go? Okay, well,

Robert Bryce 19:23
good. Well, I’m glad to have that background because I didn’t know it and why, you know, to me that story and how you came to this is interesting and contributes to you know, who you are.

Maria Korsnick 19:31
Interesting. Interestingly, I’ve just, you know, just kind of add what sort of drew me to nuclear another interesting way. So, you know, I graduated college in 1986. And so you can imagine, you know, at the end of high school, and whatnot, you know, things like Three Mile Island were happening. And so I was actually attracted to nuclear by watching the Three Mile Island happen and say, why are people not sure what’s going on? With that, why are people unclear about whether or not there’s a concern or not? It actually drew me to nuclear to say, you know, what I want to better understand that I want to understand, you know, if I lived next to that power plant, I want to understand, you know, sort of the, the, what’s going on. And so it’s interesting, I think some people, when you hear about something that you’re concerned about, maybe you shy away from it. For me, it drew me in to say, I want to better I want to better know it, and then I fell in love. I mean, I’m a part of the nuclear industry, because I think it’s good for the entire world. I’m with nuclear industry, because I have two kids, and I want the world to be a better place for them, then then I see the current trajectory, quite frankly, and I think nuclear power is that answer. So I mean, I’m not I’m not doing this. Because you know, oh, you know, here’s a job I can do. I’m doing this because I love nuclear power. And I think it’s very misunderstood. And I try very hard with myself and the rest of my team to help people better understand the value proposition here. I think it’s incredible. I think it’s very positive. And I think we’re gonna see more of it in our future.

Robert Bryce 21:12
Well, as my friend said, from your lips to God’s ears, let’s hope so. So let’s, but let’s talk about those challenges. Because one of the questions I have they’re two of them, and they’re related. And I’ve on the podcast, I’ve talked to Geraldine Thomas from the Chernobyl tissue bank, and had people talk about radiation. But this is one of the big hurdles as I look at this, right in terms of public perception, public acceptance, is this fear of radiation, irrational fear of radiation, and also the issue of nuclear waste. So how does an association like Nei, which is big and complex, right, how can any AI be an advocate to say don’t worry about radiation? Or how does any AI help the public fear of radiation? How do they help reduce the public sphere? Because that’s, to me is one of the big hurdles in in this new new nuclear paradigm? How does any AI make that happen? Or help contribute to that discussion? Because to me, that seems to be key. Do you agree? And if so, what how does any I deal with that?

Maria Korsnick 22:16
Yeah, well, absolutely. And part of that is, you know, sort of communicate, communicate, communicate, right? You know, at the end of the day, I think it’s less about pushing a message on others. And it’s more as the others are seeking that information, be that reliable information source, have folks that they can connect with and say, I want to better understand. So of course, we have a website, that’s very informative So there’s a lot of resources there, we spend a lot of time with our folks, myself included out on the road participating in conferences, as we’re talking about building new nuclear plants, many of our members are involved in communities and out in different states. And so we have lots of different sort of forums, right to interact with folks to help them better understand, but but the reality is, you know, if you had this level of inquisitiveness about radiation, for every x ray, that you get, you know, every time you went to the dentist, if you thought about it, every time you got on an airplane, and understood, you know, sort of the amount of radiation, you get flying from here to here, but you know, what people don’t seem to mind, you know, they get that airplane ticket, and they go from here to California, and they go over here and go here. And nobody really sort of gets concerned that you know, what, I’m getting a higher dose of radiation just by flying in the atmosphere, you know, however many 1000s of feet that I’m up there. So I think the challenge is the thought about a nuclear plant and the concern about radiation, it’s sort of misplaced, in that that’s the only time they think about radiation, quite frankly, I think if they would be thoughtful about sort of how much radiation, you know, sometimes people say, Well, how much radiation do you get when you eat a banana? You know, well, that’s actually radiation that you get, if you work at a power plant, you know, you start to give them some of these statistics. And they say, actually, I think it’s just a widespread sort of ignorance of, you know, sort of where radiation already is. The places I went to school at University of Maryland, the literally the buildings that I went into, and the granite that they were built out of, you know, was more background radiation, you know, then then you get working at a power plant. Yeah, we go in and out of these buildings all day, same thing for our government buildings right here in Washington, DC. So I think it’s just sort of generally a lack of understanding of radiation. We do find that the younger folks are folks earlier in their career, that they’re really they look at nuclear more as a high tech thing. They’re also very interested to, to solve climate change, and understanding that nuclear is such a big part of that solution. I actually they’re not as concerned honestly of the radiation. I don’t want to say not at all, but I’m just saying those kinds of conversations and issues and concerns. They come up much less So frequently, to be honest, but we, because

Robert Bryce 25:04
because there’s a gender, I think I’m glad you hit on that. Because I do think there’s a generational shift as well. And so I’ve interviewed Matty Healy right with the campaign for a green nuclear deal and other Chris Keefer from Canada. I mean, you know, he’s 22 years younger than I am. But there does seem to be a change in that in generations when it comes to the views on nuclear and the way forward. But let’s ship it back to the US because we’re also talking at a time when the there’s they’re beginning the fuelling of the third reactor at plant Vogel. My questions on Volvo, then are, is there this these this plan is long over budget, long overdue in terms of calendar? Is this the last gigawatt scale reactor? We’re going to build in the US? Or put it another way? Is this? Is this a learning experience for the nuclear industry? And that they’re going to have to make them smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper to use the title of my book from a few years ago? What what are the lessons to be learned from the Vogel experience?

Maria Korsnick 26:08
Yeah, so there’s a lot to unpack there. Let me let me start by saying no, I don’t think it’s the last gigawatt size reactor that we’re going to build in the United States. And probably the best thing we could do right now would be to build another one, because we now got the supply chain figured out, we now have it fully designed, we have all of the things that you run through at first of a kind, well, we’ve run through them. And so you know, we’re sort of very well positioned and well poised, that the next one would be, I’d say, you know, much more done much more efficiently. But as life would have it, that’s very unlikely to happen. And so let’s you’re asking me a question about the United States. But I’m gonna take you broader for a minute, let’s just look worldwide for a minute. And so I do think that worldwide, you’re going to see this appetite for the gigawatt size reactor, now, much more than you’re going to see it immediately in the United States. So Poland wants several gigawatt size reactors. And I know France is looking additionally to replace, you know, some of their reactors. I know Romania is looking for large reactors, Ukraine, and we can come back to Ukraine. But when we’re going to go through the process of doing more rebuilding and Ukraine, which I hope happens to us sooner rather than later, I’m sure they will be looking for, you know, for gigawatt size reactors as well. So there is a need and a business model and a hunger for large reactors now in the United States. Your question really was, I do think that what you’re going to see initially is more of the smaller whether that means small modular, whether that means micro, maybe it means a combination of SM Rs, so that you still get to about a gigawatt, you might get put three SMRs, and you’re at 900, you know, sort of megawatts if that’s what you wanted to do. So I do think we’re gonna go through a phase of it’s sort of smaller first. But think about our future, right? We know coal plants are going to close down. We know ultimately, some generation that exists today is going to go away. And I think you’re going to get to a point where yeah, you could build several or maybe just build one large. So I think you’re going to see a cycle, I think we’re going to start by getting him back into the building season with a small, and I think, ultimately, is that 10 years from now, is it you know, five years from now? I mean, I don’t know, but I think we’ll go through a cycle where it’ll just make sense, because maybe you’re replacing a gigawatt size, or maybe depending on where you’re building the market needs that size. Yeah, the reality is, as we close down some of these coal plants, the size of the coal plant is kind of in the zip code of the small modular reactors. And so it kind of makes sense as we’re closing the coal plants that we’re looking at small modular reactors to to replace them.

Robert Bryce 28:52
Sure. So then blue sky it for me, Maria, what, then I know new scale just got their design approval from the NRC, which is a milestone. So blue sky it for me, and I’m going to preface this by saying, you know, I saw some new scale folks at an event. I spoke in Idaho Falls now, seven years ago, maybe eight years ago, I said, blue sky and for me, when are you gonna have this deployed? They said, Oh, 2024? Well, we’re not too far. So I’m not picking on new scale. But these timelines, are they lag? So blue sky it for me what is the soonest then that the US will see a new SMR built and operating? And is it and that’s the second question is related to that when because I’ve talked to a lot of people in the nuclear industry who think that that the SMR is going to have to be deployed overseas before it can succeed here in the US. So blue sky and for me in the US, it doesn’t have to happen overseas before it happens here.

Maria Korsnick 29:48
Yeah. All right. So lots of really great questions. First, I just would say that innovation pipeline and nuclear right now is really chock full so you’re gonna see several different designs coming out Over the next five to 10 years, some of them are SMRs. And that’s where your question is. But I also want to share that some of them are micro reactors, and I think you’re gonna see them come out even more quickly. So I think we’re gonna see some micro reactors, you know, 2627 ish timeframe. I think for the small modular reactor, we have a couple that have dates of 2028 2029, you asked us specifically, but I kind of put us in Canada a little bit close together. And we can talk about that in a minute. And why that is, there are some designs that both Canada wants and the US wants. And so I kind of look at him as a package deal, because there’s an SMR, that Canada has said they’re going to build by 2028. And we want the same design. And we’ve already, TVA is already announced that they want the same design. So we’re kind of working together with Canada. And interestingly enough, asking our regulators to work together, and that’s really very interesting to get our NRC and the Canada version of NRC is cn SC Canadian Nuclear something commission CNSC. And to get them to work together have a memorandum of understanding. It’s one thing to say on paper, Hey, would you guys just work together? It’s another thing to say, wait a minute, you have exactly the same design in both houses? You know, can you guys work together efficiently to say that we can get something across the finish line? And they’re doing that? Now? I don’t want to say we’re done yet, because we’re not. But the fact is that there’s openness, they both of course, have their own needs as regulators to do their evaluation. But could they lean on each other a little bit for the information that’s being provided and the assessments that are being done? And at least, you know, they’ve said that they would and their their behavior to date has said that they’re very much trying to do that. So between the US and Canada right now, there’s 20 Different pilot projects, 20 pilot projects that have the intention of being completed between let’s say, Now, and 2032. Okay, so over the next 10 years, now, again, these are not all SMRs. Some of them are micro reactors. But when have we been in a point where you and I can have a conversation, and I could tell you about 20 new things that the nuclear industry is is bringing to creation in a decade, okay. When I say that we’re at that inflection point when we said, what’s that word that’s not Renaissance? Because it’s so big. It’s because we’re having conversations like this, there’s 20 different things. And it’s probably more than that. be quite honest.

Robert Bryce 32:39
It is, it is an enormous number. And there is a lot out there. But just to follow up on the Canadian. You mentioned Canada, that’s the Ontario Power Generation on the G WBW. G.

Maria Korsnick 32:54
300 300. Thank

Robert Bryce 32:55
you. So that’s in North America. And I know some companies are locating in Canada because of the regulatory regime there. They see as less onerous. And I think that’s the right word compared to the US. So let’s bring it back to the NRC then, because I’ve written several articles critical of the NRC, the Biden administration has been very slow, they finally filled the last two seats on the NRC. There’s a lot of talk by a lot of people in Washington and in the nuclear sector, about the need for reform at the NRC. What’s your take on that? What is the Rif? Does the NRC need reform? And what does it look like? What is it in particularly when it comes to permitting of new designs? Because as I see them, as I see the agency myself, it’s my opinion, they have been very slow to act. And also, in some ways, I think, anti nuclear, but that’s my view. So the question, I’ll repeat what needs to happen to get the NRC to hurry up, I guess, or reform or what did you see it as needing reform?

Maria Korsnick 33:56
Sure. So first of all, we do have now five commissioners seated. And that is actually the best situation that the industry could find ourselves in is to have a fully seated Commission. In this case, three Democrats, two Republicans, fully functional. And so some of them that have just been newly announced will need a little bit of time to kind of get up to speed and, and we’ll be hitting sort of with full force, I would say, probably beginning of the year. But they you know, it’s a great position for us to find ourselves in. your broader question is, you know, hey, what about that nrcm? What about all these new designs, and you know, who you we hear about these sorts of new processes that need to be put in place? So let me unpack that just a little bit. First of all, we need the NRC to be more efficient, there’s no question and our real push and our drive is to say, NRC is considered the gold standard of a regulator across the world. And we love the fact that they’re a gold standard. And so we want to keep that high standard, great, you know, sort of attention that they have, but they can do it more efficiently. All these new designs that we talked about all of them can be licensed under current regulation, all of them. So don’t be distracted by the fact that we are talking about new regulation. And we are. And we want that because we think it can be done more efficiently under a different framework, but we’re not waiting on it. Okay, so all these new designs that we talked about, are currently going through the processes that we have. And in parallel, we’re working to put a more efficient framing, if you will, for advanced reactors in place. And when it is finally in place, yes, we expect it to be even more efficient, but it’s not holding up anything. And it should not prevent the regulator from getting more efficient already today. So there’s enough flexibility in the regulation to to process and pass judgment on any of the designs that we have in place. And they simply cannot decide that they can be inefficient, and just hire a bunch more people to let their inefficient processes deal with the volume, the volume is going to be large. And as a result of that, what do they need to do they need to understand in their decision making, what’s worth worrying about, and what isn’t, as an industry, we call that risk informing. So you really understand this problem. If it’s a nit, we’ll treat it as a nit. We don’t have to talk about it for six months or five years or 10 years to determine that it is the NIT that it is. Okay. If it’s a big deal, then let’s work on the big deals. Okay. The problem with enraged an agency, any regulatory agency is that you can get it in process. And all of a sudden, the nits look just as important as the big deals. And that’s what we’re trying to say we cannot regulate in a way that the little insignificant, no, nevermind, take as much time on your mind. And therefore you’re asking the industry to continue to pay attention to it, because you’re asking questions about it, when collectively we could do a better job saying, You know what, that’s unimportant, it’s insignificant, it’s very, very low risk, move on to something else. Well, so that’s a very full

Robert Bryce 37:11
answer. And I’ll give you good credit for that. But when you say more efficient, what is the word that’s coming into my head is faster approval? I mean, is that am I paraphrasing what you said there, but it’s taken, it’s just taking too long that for them to new scale, what their public data is public numbers that they said it’s been something like a billion dollars to get a license. I mean, this crazytown right. So that’s the rub. Then if I read back, what I’ve heard you say is that NRC just got to pick it up. They got to be fast,

Maria Korsnick 37:45
digitalized? See, let me just give you an example, digital IMC and putting regulation in place to regulate digital instrumentation and controls digital IMC. Okay. We have worked on this with the regulator for over a decade. Okay, there are coal plants that have more technically, you know, installed control instrumentation than you have at nuclear plants. And why is that because at the nuclear plant and getting the rules and regulations in place to be able to install digital controls, and digital information has been really very challenging and really very painful. And so that’s a great example, over 10 years trying to get agreement now we’ve reached that, and, you know, hats off that we’re processing and sort of moving past that it can’t take you 10 and 15 years to put these kinds of, you know, regulations in place. It can’t. And yeah, you could have done it faster, but then the regulation was so onerous that nobody would have used it, right. And so so that’s really the challenge is, you know, gotta be able to sort of figure out, you know, how to do that now that we have, but again, it’s taken us 10 years, I’ve worked on other generic issues, over the years that have taken 10 and 15 years, you know, to work our way through, it can’t be that cannot be our sort of mental understanding an image that it has to take that long because it doesn’t have to take that long. What you need is leadership within the agency to understand the significance, appreciate, get the items out on the table, pass through them set a policy move on. And

Robert Bryce 39:20
just just to be clear, right, so I’m not from a digital IMC what instrumentation

Maria Korsnick 39:26
ship and control did. I see I am.

Robert Bryce 39:34
So well, then let me dig into this part of it because the NRC and the appointees, we saw a big change at the NRC after the Biden administration came in so my question is around bipartisanship and nuclear and long time ago, and to a guy at the Department of Energy who said, Well, the problem with nuclear is that you need strong government and you need strong political support, right? You have to be pro nuclear and pro government. He said the problem is the repub. plugins are pro nuclear and anti government that Democrats are anti nuclear and pro government. And things changed on Capitol Hill where and I’m gonna put this bluntly, because I’ve written about it and the Democratic Party for more than 50 years, had nothing to say in their political platforms about positive about nuclear that changed in 2020 20. Is there has there been a shift on Capitol Hill in terms of the bipartisan support for nuclear? And if so, who’s leading that? And I’m gonna ask specifically, I put a little on the spot here on political side on the Democratic Party, because it seems to me that’s been one of the big challenges for nuclear the nuclear industry in general on Capitol Hill is that there hasn’t been long term bipartisan support. So my question is, has that changed? Is there more bipartisan support in Congress for nuclear now? And if so why?

Maria Korsnick 40:47
You bet there is, and and that’s one of the reasons go back to when we said there’s a sea change. That’s an example. There’s not a whole lot of things people buy into here in Washington, DC on both sides of the aisle, and nuclear is one of them. We are absolutely bipartisan, we made great progress under the Trump administration, we’re making great progress on the Biden administration, two very different administrations. And the one thing that has continued to make progress is nuclear. And so why is that? Well, a couple reasons, right? Democrats are much more known for embracing climate control climate issues, climate change concerns, and you know, when you start to really look at the numbers, nuclear is a part of the solution, in fact, must be a part of the solution. It’s going to be a partnership of nuclear and wind and solar. And I think more and more the Democrats, you know, understand that and have a view of that. And so they like us for different reasons. As you mentioned, the Republicans more national security, energy security jobs, just sort of a fundamental understanding of what nuclear brings, on the Democratic side more about climate change, or climate change, also about the jobs. So you get you get for different angles. But at the end of the day, and appreciation for just how important nuclear is, what are some examples of this, the bipartisan infrastructure package that passed last year, bipartisan, right, nuclear big strides in that, right, we got the civil nuclear credit program, we got funding for the advanced reactor demonstration program, civil nuclear was to the tune of 6 billion, the advanced reactor demonstration, I think, was two and a half billion, most recently, the inflation Reduction Act that passed also a lot of very strong support on that for for nuclear. And so you know, in terms of your saying, well, Maria, you know, give me give me some names, you know, what are some folks, you know, I go to Senator Joe Manchin, I guess I’d start there. He’s become a very large proponent of nuclear energy, and he gets it and he gets it for the jobs. You know, he gets it for the impact that he knows that nuclear can make. And he’s been a big force behind some of the things that we just talked about bipartisan infrastructure, as well as the inflation Reduction Act. And there’s not even a nuclear plant in West Virginia. In fact, until recently, they had a moratorium to build nuclear which my hat’s off to West Virginia, because they’ve changed that now change that very recently. But But But yeah, I mean, there’s absolutely nuclear being bipartisan. That’s what we need for the reasons you just mentioned, because nuclear isn’t something you do in just two years. Nuclear is that long term play nuclear strategic thinking. Okay. And so, administration to administration,

Robert Bryce 43:41
and well, I think that that you hit on it, I testified before the Senate saying this that nuclear needs decadal support, right, that long term bipartisan decadal support, but you mentioned the civil nuclear credit program, and I wanted to get more specific about the Palisades plant, that plant Entergy. I’ve written about this, they closed it in May Holtec, took control Holtec and said they want to reopen it. But can Holtec do that, as I understand they don’t have a reactor operating license, the company doesn’t so and they have made noises about to try to apply for the civil nuclear credit program. So here’s the question Can Palisades be reopened? And if so, what’s the How does it happen?

Maria Korsnick 44:22
Well, my hat’s off to Holtec. Because the fact is that they want to entertain this, that they’re willing to take this journey. It’s not going to be an easy journey. Let me start there, to the points that you’re making, the operating license is no longer there. So they need to get one. They would need to have somebody familiar with operating, they would probably create a joint venture with somebody that has some experience, you know, operating plants, so there’s a lot of really fundamental groundwork to put in place. But

Robert Bryce 44:54
that would be and that would mean finding another utility that already has a license that would come in and train their people or And then people that would have to be some other some other entity that already has that license to come in. But then can they go back because this was the opposition letter from the Sierra Club and the usual suspects saying, No, we don’t want this plant to reopen, and they don’t qualify for the civil nuclear credit program. So we do

Maria Korsnick 45:16
know that that Holtec has officially put in for that civil nuclear credit program. I do know that to be the fact. So I don’t know if decisions have been made. I haven’t heard that decisions have been made on that from the Department of Energy side. But I say that they’ll just say old tech is very serious, they are putting in for it, they are asking for consideration. And when I say that they’ll partner Yes, with a utility, somebody with experience, it’s not that that utility is bringing a license with them, they’re just bringing experience on how to operate. And whoever they’re working with, they would have to get the license, they’d have to get an operating license, you know, for that asset. And it’s not going to be a quick road. We’re not talking a matter of months, we’re talking a matter of years. But again, I think Holtec is very sincere in this journey. And you know, and we’ll see how it plays out but you know, you shut the plant down so you know, operators have left many of the employees have left you know, systems need to be reevaluated. There’s there’s a lot of work but you know, whole Tech’s not shying away from it. They’re saying we want to we want to go down this path and, and they’re putting a plan together to do just that.

Robert Bryce 46:20
Well on I’ve spoken to people at Entergy who told me Well, you know, bringing that plant back is going to be hard because they knew they were going to run it, you know, run it out. And so they weren’t doing the regular maintenance along the way. So it’s not as though that car is still ready to go, it’s that the car has been allowed to deteriorate, right, and that that’s going to be other the other is that fair to say that’s the other part of the challenge is just the plant itself, that condition of the plant, in addition to these other regulatory issues,

Maria Korsnick 46:46
I think it’s safe, and I think it’s run very safely. But maybe let’s go to a car analogy. If you know, you’re going to have that car for 10 years, you know, well, maybe you would, you know, change the brakes, maybe you would buy new tires, you know, maybe you would do things. Whereas if you’re going to run that car for six months, well, you might just get, you know, a new oil change, or you know, what, maybe, you know, sort of let the let the tires, you know, go without, you know, sort of buying new or something like that. So you make decisions about how much longer are you going to operate? Do I change the pump? Or do I just refurbish the pump, you know, well, now if you’re going to go down this path, we would imagine they’re gonna want to run this plant for at least a decade, you know, if not more, and so you’d want to make some of those longer term decisions. And so yes, that sort of all comes in, you know, to it, but it’s more about sort of the upgrades I would say that you’d want to put at the plant.

Robert Bryce 47:40
Sure. So just a quick station break. My guest is Maria horseneck. She is the president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, you can find out more about, which has a lot of really good information about the nuclear sector. You know, I live in Austin, Texas. And you know, Texas has two nuclear plants here. How significant is this recent application by Abilene Christian, they they touted the university said that they will they’ve applied for a construction permit for molten salt research reactor. And the university said it’s the first application for a research reactor in more than 30 years. How I mean, I can look around the world I think Abilene, you know, is suddenly going to have this reactor, how important is that is that application and that potential for that research reactor?

Maria Korsnick 48:25
Well, I think it’s wonderful. So my hat’s off to them. But to your point, if you remember, many, many years ago, under Eisenhower, when there was this Atoms for Peace Initiative that he launched, what it actually created was research reactors, honestly, around the world. And so it created this sort of opportunity for people to understand and learn about nuclear in in a peaceful way, and to, quite frankly, brought the civil nuclear credit program forward. So it’s wonderful to think that we are reestablishing if you will, some of these research reactors, interestingly enough, we have other universities that are thinking about building but they’re building it for power. So University of Illinois is, is talking about putting a reactor in their location, I sit on a group at Purdue University, and they’re also evaluating a small modular reactor, but not so much on the research side, right? They’re building it because they want to actually use the steam and the power to power the university itself. So it’s been actually really interesting combination of events of people at university level, being interested to build either in your case from a research perspective, or more broadly, just getting the clean energy and being a part of that and the university life but lots lots of good things happening.

Robert Bryce 49:47
Sure. So we’ve been talking for close to an hour and I want to honor your time here. So what is the hardest part of your job? I mean, and I asked this because I’ve followed nei for a while you have A very public divorce, I guess would be the right word with NextEra Energy, they sued Nei, which I’m my experience in watching Washington, I don’t see many members suing their association. You’re dealing with a lot of companies with a lot of very diverse interests in particularly the utilities where nuclear may be only one of their generation assets. So what’s hardest about the job that you have? Because it seems like as I look at it from a distance, and it’s obvious, a great distance, but you’re hurting a lot of very diffuse diverse sets of cats, if I can really mix my metaphors. So what’s the hardest part? What’s the part the hardest part of being the head of your association?

Maria Korsnick 50:38
Well, I’m happy to say I have a very high favorability rating at the moment with my membership. And so you paint a portrait of my might not last year painting a time where things are a little challenging. And I would just say that, you know, we find ourselves in a very different position today. And part of that is for all that we’re talking about in nuclear, this is where you really need your trade association to be there for you, right, with all of these innovations coming out, that means there’s a high level of activity at the state level at the federal level, you know, with regulators, I mean, that’s really what we do. And so I think that the one of the hardest parts of our job is, quite frankly, the volume of things that we’re working on. Right now, let me just give you an example. If if a five or 10 years ago, you know, we had, you know, 10 bills, working through state legislatures that had anything to do with nuclear, that would be interesting. You know, over the last few years, we have more than 100 bills going through state legislatures. And and so you know, when you say what’s hard, well, I had staffing for, you know, sort of that previous version, and I have the staffing now that’s trying to keep up with an incredible volume. And on the positive end AI is looked at very much as an information source. We have folks from various states, you know, calling, wanting to have briefings and be a part of things, we are routinely working with the state of Wyoming as an example, because they’re going to be building that an atrium reactor. And my hat’s off to Wyoming, because they’re not just looking at nuclear, oh, we’re gonna build this one plant, they want to get in the whole value chain for nuclear. So they want to understand what is that value chain look like? And how can they play it? And how about getting their universities involved? And how about getting that, that workforce ready. And so these aren’t states that are just wanting a little one off, you know, experiment, so to say, they want a solid footprint on nuclear, they want to build them, they want to be a part of manufacturing on they want to operate them. So a very exciting time, I think you saw the governor of Virginia recently come out talk about the fact that, you know, there’s a great opportunity to build SMR, in Virginia. And so, you know, just several different examples of how we have states involved and engaged. So I would say right now, for all of the positives that are happening with with nuclear being in that inflection point, this sort of growing momentum, and acceptance for nuclear being part of the solution, it brings with it much higher volume of conversations, and we’re embracing new customers, right, we talked about Dow Chemical. Well, Nucor Steel as an example, they want to understand how to how to partner with an SMR. I think they talked with new scale, they want to make clean steel, and so they want to, you know, power their facility with clean electricity. So, you know, it’s not just Oh, Maria, how’s it going with those utilities that are, you know, your your member base? No, no, no, our member base is very broad, as I mentioned before, you know, the new developers, not only the current utilities, but the new to nuclear utilities. We talked about Wyoming, who is the utility there Rocky Mountain Power? Well, that’s a new member to nei Rocky Mountain Power. So, you know, it’s not sort of the same place that it always was. We have a lot of new and fusion of members. And I expect moving forward. As nuclear gets smaller. There’s many more companies that have the capability to be in the nuclear business, and they want to be and coming to nai and being part of nai is a great way for them to learn the industry.

Robert Bryce 54:07
So I can’t I have to follow up on an atrium in Wyoming because they as I understand it, nature, the company Terra, Terra power hasn’t applied for a license yet from the NRC. Right, that still has not yet to happen. Right.

Maria Korsnick 54:21
But construction permits going in next year.

Robert Bryce 54:23
Okay. But what about the mining because this was a story that was just in the paper. The other day, or one of the news outlets about Halo fuel, you mentioned is a low enriched uranium, and we’re still pretty heavily on the Russians for fuel for our reactors. Are we going to put it this way? Don’t we need more uranium mining in the US? And if so, how soon can that happen at scale?

Maria Korsnick 54:48
Yeah, so you’re using the word mining and I would just say the front end of uranium is mining, conversion and enrichment and the areas that we really have to focus on to your point that we Still get services from from Russia, or the conversion and enrichment. And so it’s very, very important. And you’re absolutely right, the United States used to be very much in this field, there’s not that we don’t understand it, it’s just that we’ve gotten out of the business, and we need to get back in the business. And you can see that we’re working very much with the hill with the administration to help get funding to get us back in the business. And it’s not just for us, it’s for our allies as well, you know, our allies, you know, over in Europe, they’re also dependent still on that Russian source. And we need to get back in the business. So we give them another opportunity of who to buy this fuel from. But it’s a combination of the mining and the conversion and the enrichment.

Robert Bryce 55:44
And so and just a few more questions, because I know where it at an hour, but so about how much what percentage of of the fuel that is used in US reactors is domestically sourced.

Maria Korsnick 55:57
We get 20% of our fuel today from Russia. So the inverse of that is 80%. I hesitate when you say domestically sourced because for example, we get some things from Canada. Some things that are not Russian, but it’s not necessarily

Robert Bryce 56:13
us. Okay, got it. So just the last few things, and again, my guest is Maria, of course, Nick Crowe, the CEO of Nai. So, what are you? Well, let me see, you’ve had an unusual career path. Who are your heroes in this field in the power field? Or who are your heroes? Who do you look up to?

Maria Korsnick 56:32
Oh, my goodness, that’s a good one to ask. Well, I, you know, some of my heroes are people like Joe Manchin, quite frankly, that have taken some really bold steps sticking up for things like nuclear power, Senator Murkowski of Alaska, she’s another big hero she has stuck up for, for nuclear and for micro reactors, and, you know, helping, if you will, sort of bring this innovation, you know, to the fore. And, and I think it’s going to be a very, very exciting time, I look back on some of the heroes and say, you know, the people that formed info, I think, you know, they’re heroes in a way, because you’re sure you’re gonna have to, you’re gonna have to explain info Oh, I’m sorry, info, the Institute for Nuclear Power operations. And so separate from the NRC. We self regulate, if you will, the folks that own nuclear plants today, we have a system in place where we go around and we challenge and judge each other in terms of ways that you could perform even better, and sort of drive to excellence. I think it’s unique to the nuclear industry. And it’s a way that really connects and binds the nuclear industry, that I think it’s really driven us to a higher level of performance, we’ve had a greater than 90% capacity factor for over two decades here in the United States. And and I think that drive in that focus for performance excellence, is is wonderful. And I think our hats off to Bill Lee as an example, I was one of the founders of sort of that idea of input was founded back in 1979.

Robert Bryce 58:08
So last two questions. So what are you reading what I know you’re, you’re a mom, you got a full time job. You find time for reading what’s on the top of your book list that you have arrived? Go ahead.

Maria Korsnick 58:20
So the book that I just finished, and I don’t want you to feel like, you know, I’m interested in death, but it was called

Unknown Speaker 58:27
no judgment where you can spit it out here. I asked this question. Oh, my guess.

Maria Korsnick 58:31
Okay. So it’s called the cases that haunt us. And it was written by John Douglas. And so when I have a bit of free time, I love forensic science. And I love to understand sort of how you can get a couple of clues and kind of piece a story together. And so this gentleman wrote a book on the cases that haunt us. So think about things like Jack the Ripper, the JonBenet, Ramsey case, Lizzie Borden, Boston Strangler. Anyway, he takes a lot of experts that go through and sort of re evaluate the information from many of these cases, and brings to the fore some sort of new insights, and I found it fascinating.

Robert Bryce 59:10
Okay, cool. That’s a new, I haven’t heard of that book. So last question. You’re in a complex industry with a lot of hurdles, a lot of opportunities, what gives you hope?

Maria Korsnick 59:20
Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited because again, I feel the inflection point that we’re at. And my children are 18 years and 20 years old. And, and I see that this next generation, they really are embracing things like climate change, and they’re open to making sort of really significant decisions to really sort of drive to do things differently. And I think nuclear is gonna get picked because the basic value proposition that it is, it’s clean, it’s scalable, it brings the jobs it has energy security. It’s sort of all that wrapped up in one, and they get it. And as a result of that, they’re really embracing it. And quite frankly, you know, they’re the generation of the future. And I think nuclear has, as a lot, a lot of progress and a lot of support. And I think you’re going to see that play out over the next decade.

Robert Bryce 1:00:21
That’s a good spot to end then. Well, good. Well, Mike, that’s great. My guest is Maria horseneck. She is the president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. can find out more about her and the NEI and a lot of good other Maria, thanks for being on the power hungry podcast. I appreciate it.

Maria Korsnick 1:00:37
Great. Great to be here. Good talking to you.

Robert Bryce 1:00:39
And thanks to all of you in podcast land, tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. Until then, see you

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