Mark Nelson managing director of the Radiant Energy Fund, joins the podcast for the fourth time. In this episode, he talks about the “clown rodeo” in Europe’s nuclear-energy sector in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the looming closure of the Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan, and why there has been a “revolution in sentiment” in the Democratic Party about nuclear energy in America.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. On this podcast, we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome back my friend Mark Nelson, I believe for the fourth time on the podcast. Mark, welcome to the power hungry podcast again.
Mark Nelson 0:20
Thanks, Robert, you have me on whenever there’s some bad crisis going. So I don’t know whether it’s bad luck when you call or we’re trying to overcome bad things in the world by discussing or
Robert Bryce 0:31
maybe I just miss you. Maybe that’s it. So you’re the managing director of the radiant energy fund. You’ve been on the podcast, you have to introduce yourself you’ve been on before. So maybe just a brief introduction. Tell us who you are, if you don’t mind.
Mark Nelson 0:43
Sure. I’m from Oklahoma. And I found nuclear energy in graduate school. And it seemed to answer the problem of what is something that is underappreciated, but potentially very important for our future. And so I fell in love. I worked at environmental nonprofits that were reconsidering the role of nuclear energy and finding that they were in support of it. And now at radiant energy fund ice tried to save nuclear plants from early closure, and then to eat. I am managing director at radian Energy Group and independent consultancy that advises governments industry and nonprofits on the energy transition.
Robert Bryce 1:24
Good. Well, let’s talk about nuclear plants that are closing or trying to stay open or and also what’s happening in Europe. It’s been about six or seven weeks since you were on we were talking then about nuclear plants in in, in Ukraine that had been taken over by the by the Russian military. But what’s happened since then what is the situation in Europe today? I know Germany has announced they’re going to close they’re going to continue the closure of their nuclear plants to the end of this year, which I find inexplicable. But there’s good news other where other places Belgium is going to extend the life of their reactors, if you don’t mind, bring us up to date.
Mark Nelson 2:03
So, in Belgium, you had one of the most comical and catastrophic upcoming energy crisis. And that comes from this. Belgium gets 50% of its power from nuclear, and by law has to get rid of all of that in two and a half years.
Robert Bryce 2:22
By law, so they passed the Belgian government passed some measure that said, we’re gonna phase this out,
Mark Nelson 2:26
their nuclear phase out law has been bouncing along for decades. And they keep they keep pushing it back. Because once it gets to closure, everyone discovers Oh, wait, there’s no actual replacement. And there hasn’t been now a real ferocious and ruthless party finally got a hold of the energy ministry. And they’re like, we’re going to straighten this out. So that’s the Green Party. And the green party wanted control of the energy ministry, because they thought only they had the spine to completely convert Belgian electricity, imported fossil fuels, which is what it takes. The Belgian energy minister said something like she said something like, well, it’s like renovating a house, you have to get dirty to get clean.
Robert Bryce 3:05
So we have to destroy the grid. In order to save it the
Mark Nelson 3:10
we have to get rid of all the nuclear because that’s renovating your house. And true, that means we have to go and get extremely expensive, imported fossil fuels from the Middle East. But that’s just what it takes to be clean. Yeah, you just have to get dirty to get clean. So that was the energy Minister’s own words on national TV. And her experience and energy has mainly been at being at a law firm that worked for Gazprom. So that was that was enough experience to make sure she knew how to build renewables or whatever. So yeah, you getting the point? There’s just a generational gap and competency and seriousness. And although other governments had kicked the can of the nuclear closers down the road, the greens helped form this current government around one compromised, they didn’t care who got what ministry, so long as they got the energy ministry for their own purposes. And that was to destroy half the electricity in the whole country. So the problems that they were having is that as natural gas has been getting more and more expensive, the cost, the apparent cost of building, getting energy companies to build natural gas facilities where your own party, the Green Party says there’s no future. So getting people to build those facilities is a little tricky, because on one side of the mouth, the greens are saying, No fossil fuels. On the other side, they’re saying, Please, we beg you to build these important fossil fuels, because it’s only through doing that, that we can truly be clean. So that you know energy companies are like, Okay, we’re going to need like massive subsidies to build a power plant that you yourselves claim you are going to tell us to get rid of as soon as you close the nuclear plants. So that was part of the problem. Then the second problem was that the cost of that replacement natural gas was going up and up and up and up and up. And then finally, Russia invades Ukraine and then it skyrockets, right. So then Belgium was facing the fact that it was going to need to get in I think we talked about this on one of our recent shows electricity at hundreds of dollars a megawatt hour to replace electricity at 10s of dollars per megawatt hour. Right? And doing that when the electricity costs were already skyrocketing. And basically, it would be the end of the economy anything even closely resembling inexpensive electric grid electricity in Belgium forever. It was just the end. And then finally, what happens? Germany Wade’s in sins, its its ministers to Qatar, the same country that Belgium expected to get a great long term LNG deal with Germany, Wades in and says, No, actually, we’d like to buy it. We’d like to buy the gas. So Belgium was facing a much more organized, much more ruthless and focused country, bidding against them for the exact same gas that they plan to use to replace 50% of their electricity in the next few years. So they couldn’t even the Greens said, we can’t do this. We’ve got to save some nuclear.
Robert Bryce 6:03
So let me interrupt and so about how much what capacity were they looking at closing but it was by the end of this year? No, it was how much capacity nuclear capacity was on the table here.
Mark Nelson 6:13
So they have two nuclear plants, seven reactors, and those reactors add up to Oh, what is it? It’s about? It’s about I think it’s about five gigawatts, I should check that they have sort of a dog’s breakfast of different reactors of different ages and sizes. It’s a really weird mix. But, um, they needed to replace something like 40. I think it was 40 or 50. terawatt hours of of electricity. So that gives you some scale, I think.
Robert Bryce 6:43
Sure, right. Yeah. So that’s roughly at height, Indian Point was producing about 15 or 16 terawatt hours. So I mean, this is a very large amount of power.
Mark Nelson 6:51
Yeah, it’s it’s about two, two and a half Indian points. Right. Okay.
Robert Bryce 6:55
So, so Belgium has turned down in about two soups and about face and said, We’re not going to close our reactors. Germany has tripled
Mark Nelson 7:02
out Belgium, not government has said that owner of the companies are barely interested. And they’re like, we’re going to demand something so steep that either you give up, and we just don’t save the reactors, or we make an immense amount of money. That’s just a cataclysmic windfall for so the government’s been telling the owner of the reactors for debt for now, a decade or more, we will destroy all your capital equipment. And then now the owners like, Wait, we already have our plants destroy the capital equipment, what do you mean, we need to save it?
Robert Bryce 7:37
So you’re saying to
Mark Nelson 7:40
be a cat catastrophic? It’s is going to be a complete and utter shit show to be a little bit crude about it? Because at the moment, the owner is like, playing hard to, you know,
Robert Bryce 7:54
now there’s voters. And who’s the owner? Is that tractor bill? Who is then?
Mark Nelson 7:58
Yeah, so the owner is the former French state gas company. Okay, we could we could have a whole show about absolutely insane energy policies that were allowed to fester in European countries because times were too easy and too peaceful. And really weak and stupid, short minded people got almost total electoral power over critical sectors like and
Robert Bryce 8:24
they were all drinking the renewable Kool Aid and thinking this was going to all just work just fine. And we could rely on Uncle Vlad forever and no problem.
Mark Nelson 8:33
Let’s try to let’s deal madness for a second.
Robert Bryce 8:37
If you’re Bellevue steel man, which is the opposite of straw man, I haven’t. Yeah.
Mark Nelson 8:41
Let’s try to look at it. Like, what did they think they were doing in their own logic, European leaders after World War Two thought that the only way to not have war again, was to tight, tie themselves together, and to have total integration. And eventually, each former country would be just kind of like a linguistic or tourist region, right, or something like that. That was the dream. And the horrors of World War Two could only truly be avoided by Europe, just not declaring war on itself again, because, you know, they owned each other’s companies and one, you know, a German company owned French power plants and a French company owned Swiss power or whatever. Like that was the dream. It turned out that national champions were able to take control of foreign sectors of other countries and that it did matter that those countries were still had their own national politics both in the buying and the selling side. So for example, the French state owns all of the British nuclear plants.
Robert Bryce 9:37
Electric Bell is the company.
Mark Nelson 9:39
So electric Bell is a is a is a subsidiary of God’s different Suez which has been renamed ng E and G ing. Right. Yeah. Okay. Gotcha, Anji or whatever. Yeah. Which is upon on natural gas in GE, right. Yeah. Anyway, so the French gas giant owns the Belgian nuclear plants and If that was shut down and it causes gas prices and gas power to go up, then that’s okay for and it makes a grid electricity and electrification impossible. That’s an amazing thing if you’re a gas company, right?
Robert Bryce 10:12
So so just to cut to the chase here, what you’re seeing is the headlines that I’ve seen around Belgium and that they’re going to keep these nuclear plants open, you’re saying Not so fast.
Mark Nelson 10:19
They’ve got to, it’s just going to be a complete clown rodeo to get there.
Robert Bryce 10:26
So okay, so that’s Belgium, so clown rodeo in Belgium.
Mark Nelson 10:31
And we’re thinking at minimum two reactors saved. But now people are saying, Oh, it doesn’t make any sense to say to if you’re already saving reactors, you might as well save, but because the because they were pretty sure they were gonna get rid of all these plants, the regulator was allowed to adopt policies that were incredibly strict about what what features of reactor has to have to get certified for longer life. So for example, even though the reactors were built back in the day, the regulator’s saying, you can’t continue operation unless you upgrade it to the standards of a brand new reactor that would be built today. You could argue that one way or another, which can definitely which can’t be done, sometimes, sometimes, yes, sometimes no. But the big thing is, this is a decadent policy for if you already have enough energy, and that’s the policy environment under which these, these various laws and regulations were adopted. When there was plenty of energy, plenty of oxygen to use it. Metaphor we’ve used in the past.
Robert Bryce 11:27
Yeah, I like that idea, decadent policy, this idea that, Oh, it’s all going to be easy and good. had Chris right friend of mine, he’s the head of liberty energy or Liberty oilfield services. We haven’t seen the energy transition, not for lack of trying, we haven’t seen the energy transition because energy is hard, which I think is just a really great way to sum up the whole thing. But this idea of times I’ve used it had been easy, so that we all have this policy tomfoolery was made when times are easy. And now suddenly there’s a crisis. Oh, now how do we move forward? So clown rodeo in Belgium? But what can you top the clown rodeo in with German policy? I mean, it would seem as if any country in Europe would want to keep their reactors open. It would be the Germans. And yet the what I’ve read is that the the two the ministries that were in charge of deciding whether the nuclear plants in Germany stay open now, or their ministry is controlled by the Green Party, and they said, Oh, no, we’re gonna go ahead and close them. I mean, is this some Emmett Penny had a really good piece and compact of a magazine about this about? What did he call it? Germany’s energy fumble? What? What is going What is wrong with these Germans that they’re going to close their plants, even in the face of this energy crisis that’s underway now?
Mark Nelson 12:40
So the German public is starting to turn, like the German public doesn’t actually seem to be quite sure, at least in surveys that I’ve seen like is, are the nuclear plants gone already? Are they not gone already? Are they could they come back? Are they not like, the public’s kind of confused and they’ve heard only weird, crazy anti nuclear stories their whole life. So for the German public to be uncertain at all is actually kind of an impressive thing. Right. But what the policymakers are doing are trying to absolutely enforce and and ensure this closure, what you said was right. A number of the responsible ministries are held by the Green Party, and the Green Party is if not completely bought and sold by by Russian interests, it’s indistinguishable, indistinguishable from doing so. I think that one of the only recent cases where you could argue against that is the denial of the Nord Stream two licensed but they could turn it back on, it’s still there. Nobody’s gone down in a diving suit when a welding torch and flooded the thing like it’s, it’s still there, Robert, just waiting for friendlier times. Right. And one of the fastest ways to get friendlier times is to not turn on the nuclear plants and have to have the natural gas and coal.
Robert Bryce 14:02
So, okay, well, so then cut to the chase here. Why are they doing this? Why? What is why are the Germans continuing? What is obviously bad policy? What Why are they doing it?
Mark Nelson 14:13
Because first of all, weakness in AI like at this point, can we even do anything against Russia? It’s not clear, but we need, America should be taking a gratuitous ly tough line towards Germany. And this is to me a mean spirited lie towards Germany, because Germany knows what they’re doing is wrong and bad. And the decision makers don’t care. They they had a fake inquiry into whether they should keep the nuclear plants bullshit inquiry. They lied to the public about it being too hard to get fuel. And meanwhile, the fuel companies are like, no, no, it’s not too hard. You just have to order our products you didn’t even ask. So that’s what the fuel companies are saying. The nuclear companies the CEOs are saying no, no, it’s just too hard because the government says it’s too hard. Even though I In the one who’s a head of my company, then the people below the heads of the company are leaking to the media and to other activists and saying no, no, the plants in great shape, we could easily keep operating. So that’s what’s going on. The plants could keep operating. We broke down the numbers on the show previously, I think, but it’s still 65 to 70 Qatari super tankers of LNG per year that’s in play with the three reactors currently on. And that three that just closed. It’s about 65, Qatari supermax, Super Q max. It’s called tankers a year, or about 10 15% of the Nord Stream, pipeline. So it’s a cataclysmic amount immense, almost nothing else compares to in size, German leadership is straight up lying about it, and they keep lying. So there’s been not enough pain to use the word of our favorite green chicken Duisburg, there’s been not enough pain, that’s part of it. Not enough force. Although there is diplomatic pressure from Washington on Germany, it’s clearly that, again, not enough pain. And the German public hasn’t spoken up enough, although several of the major German newspapers are starting to editorialize there. They’re putting out trial balloons, checking to see whether they’re going to get too many cancellations saying maybe we keep the nuclear plants. And then people are going to have an effectively a proxy discussion about the nuclear plants by asking in Germany, whether Germany should get nuclear weapons. This is the same thing to Germans, nuclear weapons, nuclear plants. It’s just one tick. It’s one thing. And so they’re having that conversation now about whether they should get nuclear weapons. So that’s partly a conversation about the nuclear plants. Yeah, it’s wild in Germany. Sorry, I wish I could say something a little bit.
Robert Bryce 16:45
No, look, I can’t I can’t get my mind around any of it. But there seems to be some case. So let’s set the clown rodeo and clown car show from Belgium and Germany aside, it seems that the French have gotten have changed their tune McCrone has changed his way at least in terms of s EMRs. And the same with Boris Johnson saying that oh, they’re planning on building what eight reactors or something like that. But contrast what we talked about with Belgium and Germany with what we’re hearing from France and the UK.
Mark Nelson 17:14
Until we hear just like mass sackings and firings at EDF until we hear how the 8 billion that was just expropriated from EDF to keep everybody’s to pay to competitors in order to for competitors to not go out of business and to keep everyone’s electricity price cheap till we learn how money is going to go back into EDF and that it’s going to be spent well, prolonging and upgrading nuclear plants, it’s really hard to take anything seriously about building new plants. The major divide between me and all the French that I talked to is they’re obsessed with getting new EP Rs. They’re obsessed with it, because they think if we can’t build nuclear plants, then our nuclear abilities will rot sorry, your nuclear abilities have already brought. The basic thing here is to operate your nuclear plants competently. And until they root out bizarre, bizarre, I don’t know if corruption is the right word. But in France, they still do this thing where they vary nuclear plants up and down to use more gas in regions of the grid. They don’t make any gas. Robert, they don’t they don’t make any gas. Why would they do that? I don’t know. And the experts I talked to can’t figure out whether it’s just a straight, straight up corruption or market manipulation on the behalf of ETFs ETFs, infamously bad energy trading division, or whether it’s some weird thing where that some some man, middle manager has made a metric that is called minimizing nuclear waste, like a lot of not a lot of nuclear institutions in France, try to optimize minimum amount of waste, and they try to decrease nuclear output to get there. Okay, well, think about this, if you’re setting metrics for the ecological transition in France, but you’re already low carbon, you don’t want to set a low carbon metric that’ll just encourage people to use nuclear, right? Because that’s bad. So what you need to do is make a metric that makes nuclear bad. And then say it’s all one ecological transition. I’m going to have an entire podcast about this coming out shortly with Chris Kiefer, we’re gonna get into the nuts and bolts of how you can have such a absolute crisis in French nuclear production and exactly the moment when it’s most needed to liberate Europe.
Robert Bryce 19:26
It is, well, okay, well, so I thought I was going to hear something positive. What’s happening? You know, I
Mark Nelson 19:31
mean, look at the point that the runoff was
Robert Bryce 19:33
the insanity of the whole thing. I mean, it’s hard to put into words,
Mark Nelson 19:37
at the point that the runoff election was Lipin and Macron. It was apparently going to be a pro nuclear thing. But immediately the conversation gets in well, LePen has these evil views and also she doesn’t want more wind turbines, which makes her a fascist, you know, that sort of stuff. I look, I’m not going to comment on my pins views. I don’t get involved in domestic politics of other countries as a sport like that. All I know is that at the point that those were the two In the runoff, it was going to be up pro nuclear result. And I it’s not certain whether either leader actually gets nuclear fully a bunch of French people are attacking me on Twitter when I expressed doubts about McCrone using a whole ecological nation language that traditionally means getting rid of nuclear, ecological to French people means getting rid of nuclear, it doesn’t even mean preserving the landscape or lowering carbon emissions or any of that. It’s just getting rid of nuclear. So French people, right? No, no McCrone has changed the definition of ecological he means actually doing more nuclear. And I’m like, Okay, so he’s as a person who doesn’t apparently have strong beliefs one way or another, but gets elected, and therefore speaks to 10s of millions of people at a time he’s using the words that mean get rid of nuclear, but he personally has redefined it to mean include nuclear. We’ll see. I can’t wait to be pleasantly surprised. under his administration fastened, Haim was closed straight into a gathering energy crisis. That was a plant that everyone agreed was ready to run for another 10 years at minimum had already been paid to upgrade. And he went ahead with its closure. A change of heart big enough to overcome what that indicates I’m ready for it. I love a good conversion story. You know, I’m from the south we we have a very Graceville brand approach towards Christianity, right? I’m ready for anything.
Robert Bryce 21:24
The altar call the altar call is underway. That’s right, is you’re doing nothing wrong.
Mark Nelson 21:31
It’s easier for Macron to do nothing to do what it takes to clean up his nuclear fleet. I expect him to just wait it out
Robert Bryce 21:41
and see which way the winds are blowing and the certain time and why act if you don’t know if you don’t have their
Mark Nelson 21:46
nuclear fleet is stumbling along at what 6768 69 70% capacity factor. And, and because there’s such an extreme energy crisis, EDF can make a lot of money that then you can turn and flip to its competitors because the energy prices are so high on the market. So you know what, why why improve?
Robert Bryce 22:07
Okay, so is there a positive story to be had in Europe as your is it in in Britain? Is there anything? I mean, you’ve given me? Yes. Okay. Please tell me I’m Belgium. I’m dying party,
Mark Nelson 22:18
Belgium. So I mean, party, having to negotiate to save nuclear plants is a great, great look for the future of nuclear in Europe. Okay, here’s another one. Almost all of Eastern Europe is 100% dedicated to a very long future built on nuclear energy. Well, it’s interesting you say
Robert Bryce 22:35
that, because I have no problems, but Right. So well, let’s,
Mark Nelson 22:39
there’s another one. There’s another one. Yeah. For whatever reason, it seems like all of Russia’s nuclear plans except for I don’t know, Finland, are rolling ahead.
Robert Bryce 22:50
Well, I want to come back to Rosatom. Rosa, Tom, but let’s finish with the European thing. Okay, Britain, talking about Britain, yes, can bring me up to date here.
Mark Nelson 22:59
different political parties are competing to see who can be more pro nuclear, that’s a really good sign it and hopefully will be combined with action to get nuclear included as as green so that the big asset managers with all the pension funds, and everything in Britain can buy slices of ready to go projects like SYSVol see, right. Okay. It does look like the Prime Minister finally gets it, it does look like there’s going to be a little bit of a hesitation on wind because it turns out that the wind got so cheap that it doesn’t make any money for the wind builders anymore. So that’s a bit of an issue is one thing to say our wind is really cheap. But if it’s so cheap, that you all go bankrupt, then that’s going to lead to a lot more focus on what’s the value proposition of one more wind farm versus one more nuclear plant. And that appears in Britain to be pointing a little bit more towards nuclear.
Robert Bryce 23:53
But let me let me interrupt gentleman wind part because to me when I look back at Europe’s energy crisis, and it’s clear that the mean large sections of the of the continent and in Britain they had a wind drought that lasted for weeks and I mean, if this doesn’t doesn’t change their mind about the the viability of wind over the long term. What does
Mark Nelson 24:14
well, no wind farms being offered because nobody can make money at the prices that governments have been led to expect?
Robert Bryce 24:23
Okay, fair enough. So that’s one okay. But so now let’s okay so you’re you’re you’re you’re encouraged by Britain and by the moves in Belgium. But one of the things I’ve also interviewed Brett Kugel, mas who I know, you know, well, he thinks that it will, as I recall, he’s pointing to Eastern Europe as where the really viable plants where the where the new nuclear could succeed. Is he right? What do you think of that? What do you how do you
Mark Nelson 24:51
right if the capital can be found, so for example, a bunch of countries say they want to build in Poland or whatever, but Poland needs money to be You know, money, talks talk?
Robert Bryce 25:15
Okay, so tell me about Eastern Europe. This is Brett GoogleMaps. And I talked about this he thinks that that’s a fertile area for new nuclear. What’s your view?
Mark Nelson 25:23
My view is that Eastern Europe thinks that it needs nuclear or it will die.
Robert Bryce 25:29
Because they don’t want to, they don’t want to rely on Russian gas, and they don’t have enough coal. What I mean, what is what is the motivation?
Mark Nelson 25:36
First of all, a number of the countries in Eastern Europe have almost, you know, half of their electricity supply coming from nuclear already. Ukraine is one of these Hungary is another, and several countries are not that far behind and percentage of nuclear and so they know damn well that this is, this is the cheapest and most stable and secure way to make energy of any type of energy, not just electricity, it’s the only safe energy
Robert Bryce 26:00
so that they’re predisposed to to add on to what they have or to build additional to keep, keep running what they have, and then add more capacity.
Mark Nelson 26:09
The trouble is that the natural partner for nuclear has been Russia for many years. And that’s out for some countries, it’s not for others, Hungary still expects to work with Russia to build this nuclear plant, for example.
Robert Bryce 26:22
Okay, so I want to come to the US and then go back to the Russians and Rosa, Tom. So there’s, I’ve seen a bunch of headlines about this. And I’ve talked to several people, including detmar Detering in New York, about what the possibility is with the $6 billion that’s available for the Department of Energy to keep existing reactors open. So the the key reactors the moment are the one that’s facing the most immediate shutdown or the closest shutdown is Palisades in Michigan. What’s going to happen there, Entergy owns that plant, they owned Indian Point and shut it down. Is palisade is going to be saved. It’s 811 megawatts, right? Is this is this plant going to be saved? Or will it shut down next at the end of next month?
Mark Nelson 27:05
So the first thing to know about the 6 billion is that indicates a revolution in sentiment on the Democratic leadership about nuclear the money is almost completely worthless. Don’t Don’t get distracted by no one. He’s got to get money from that it’s got to be completely rejigger the rules don’t make any sense. It’s clear. Almost nobody in Washington actually understands electricity, which is fine. It puts them in good company. Almost nobody anywhere understands electricity. So why should we expect it? I don’t I don’t want somebody.
Robert Bryce 27:33
That is definitely true. And it’s a complicated shape. incredibly complicated business. I mean, simple in some ways, but incredibly complicated about
Mark Nelson 27:40
this, in order to get the money, you have to prove that you’re going to lose money, which that’s difficult to do, then you only get as much causes you not to make any profit, and then you have to reapply if every year or something. It’s just it’s it makes absolutely no sense. But I love the reason why I’ve talked positively about it before is because it shows that sentiment is the right place that Congress loves nuclear that DOD loves nuclear that democratic White Houses and Republican White Houses love nuclear. And they’re looking for ways in their own love language like bureaucratic programs or subsidies or investment approaches. They’re binding. They’re expressed with their own love language, this newfound respect, and an appreciation for nuclear. That’s what that program is important about. It’s that the governor of Michigan is on the phone with her predecessor and now current Secretary of Energy who’s then the line to the White House and the mansion whisperer. It’s all together. It’s all one big thing of people trying to save that plant. All we got to do is I mean, I have my own feelings about energy. But let’s just say that energy has not been a good steward of the nation’s resources with regards to the nuclear plants they own outside of the South.
Robert Bryce 29:02
Well, fair, fair enough. And I’m not I’m not here to defend Entergy by any means but but from what you’re one of the things that’s interesting, it seems to me is that they’re saying we don’t want to operate as a merchant generator anymore and that they don’t see a future for the nuclear plants. But I’ve been told that that the plant could change hands that the money is available so that someone else could actually step in and take over the plant from Entergy and constellation has been mentioned. So there is a possibility that the Palisades would get a new owner that could then collect this dough from the DOE and keep the plant open. Is this true?
Mark Nelson 29:38
Yes, it’s certainly possible. And in fact, we have a week to have our own. I think you know clown rodeos on is fair for Belgium. We shouldn’t use it for Michigan. I think we’re going to have a very interesting month because look, I’ve been involved with trying to save nuclear plants around the world. We have never yet had a situation where a nuclear Your plant anywhere on Earth had this level of political support from local to national, and did not stay open. So we’ll see.
Robert Bryce 30:11
Okay, so you had, so you had a big win in Illinois last year, right with the
Mark Nelson 30:17
owners, the owners did want to save the plant. There was some question about whether the Governor did that’s been answered very, very clearly, in my mind, the Governor did want to save the nuclear plant. In the end, it was just about giving what us little activists on the ground we’re doing, we’re just giving the public space to find out what they believed and to express it to our local elected officials. So like a lot of stories you gave
Robert Bryce 30:45
them. You gave them cover some political cover, maybe is that I don’t know if that’s the right word. But But okay, so you’re you’re the, if I’m reading you correctly, you’re saying that Palisades is going to stay open, that you think that they’re given the level of support now that the plant will stay open is that is that my reading your correctly
Mark Nelson 31:05
if what the situation is today, today, right now continues, the plant will close. I, in the end, if the plant closes, I will have to go back to that statement of saying we’ve never seen a plant anywhere in the world with this much political support close. And I’m going to have to edit that and say, we can lose nuclear plants, even when everybody about the owner wants them to stay open. So that’ll be obviously a negative blow. I think it’s better than 5050 that we keep it because of the number of entities that are interested in it. And the current forward outlook on natural gas prices is a lot better than it’s been for years from the perspective of a competing nuclear plant.
Robert Bryce 31:45
Well, it’s interesting, you bring up that part of the gas prices, because that’s clearly one of the things that’s happened now in New York State in particular, where the closure of Indian Point made the grid in New York, much more gas dependent and electric bills have skyrocketed in New York. So they didn’t build any more pipelines. Right. And they didn’t build any more pipelines. So then they added all this gas infrastructure all these gas generation to replace Indian Point, which further strain their gas supply. So yeah, the affordability argument, I think could could help carry the day. But I think it’s interesting what you said about so you’ve got the Michigan Governor Whitmer. Gretchen Whitmer talked with Jennifer Granholm, who’s now the Secretary of Energy and they’re both saying, no, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, this is Michigan. This is our place. We want to keep this open. But the question is, how much will Entergy, the current owner of Palisades play ball? Is that? Is that a fair? Is that a fair assessment of what you know what, who holds the who holds the power here?
Mark Nelson 32:39
Yeah, so there’s questions about for example, well, if they transfer to Holtec, the great Undertaker of the American nuclear system, if they transfer the whole tech and hold texts, like Yeah, I would totally be interested in, you know, operating, if we bring in an operator, it’s not clear how practical that is, is Holtec gonna need to be paid off to go away is constellation going to need like front row seat to a lot of different subsidy programs. If this goes like there’s, there’s a lot of people who are going to need their their hunk of flash for this to happen. There’s also a lot of desire for it to be safe. So we’ll look we just have to see, we have never had a nuclear plant, lose its operating license and then regain it. This could be an interesting first test, but we don’t know for sure, we know that the plant staff is highly motivated. The plant staff is as keeping up their spirits in an extraordinary fashion and keeping the plant operating extremely well. So the plant will be in brilliant condition upon the day that its closures slated to take place on the 31st. I think we’re going to learn a lot about American nuclear in the way this unfolds over the next month.
Robert Bryce 33:58
And, and we’ll hope that it’s a positive lesson here.
Mark Nelson 34:03
As you can hear, I’m not I certainly don’t think it’s certain and it’s not the arrangement is not in place to save the planet today. But and the Illinois for example. The plants nearly like at least one of the two plants actually was its power was lowering, lowering, lowering, lowering down to zero at the moment when it got saved. And then a few days after the bill was passed, it would have closed had it not passed had to build to save it not plant passed. And with the bill passing, they ordered the fuel they announced $300 million of upgrades and renovations like it was an extraordinary turnaround and it would have shut off without that bill passing. That is the level of that’s the sort of last minute maneuvering that’s going to have to take place around palisade
Robert Bryce 34:51
you know, when you say that about what happened in Illinois, I can’t it what popped in my head was you talking about it? It’s just this ignorance and profound ignorance in the policymaking community of the the sensuality of this, these this machinery the most important is Emmett Pentacles. And what are the modern cathedrals industrial cathedrals these are incredibly important pieces of infrastructure and then just tossing them out I mean, just the you know, the the closure of Indian points still chaps my hide, there’s my late brothers and grilles forever. It just is such a terrible political move and and yet it closed and now we’re, you had to go to the the absolute Brink in Illinois. And we’re going right to the absolute Brink in Michigan with Palisades, where the the outcome is still uncertain. Okay, so what about Diablo Canyon? Now? We’re still we’re only in 2022, the beginning of the shutdown, there’s 2024. But PG and E as far as I know, their their public statements have been Oh, no, we have a deal. We’re closing it down. Several
Mark Nelson 35:53
public statements continue to say the state sets the policy, the policy says we get rid of nuclear. So because of that we’re getting rid of it. In other words, they’re willing to take the risk of blaming the state, which of course deserves blame, but that’s an advancement for me and advancement in rhetoric.
Robert Bryce 36:10
The the PG and E’s public statements are saying, blame when pointing to the state and deal with them, don’t talk to us. Right?
Mark Nelson 36:19
Exactly. And it’s in the States. So it’s pretty clear at this point that some real skullduggery went on behind the scenes to get the labor leaders to sell out their own plant. And that seems to be a really sensitive and weak spot. When you’re talking with like, the old greens, like the NGOs, the NRDC folks, they get really, really twitchy when you mentioned anything about the labor involvement in shutting down a, you know, an irreplaceable source of jobs, right. So that always in American labor history, you can really start to smell things really rapidly when, like labor leaders get involved in shutting down jobs. You think, Huh, that doesn’t sound quite like what you’re supposed to do. And then the leader of the Union, who negotiated with the NGOs, he’s just some nice old man who lives in Berkeley and has never worked to, like any kind of real job has just been a lawyer, his whole life after getting out of an Ivy League school, you know, he’s just they’re not. These are not like, serious people in terms of doing hard things are right things. I mean, I’m sure he did some good deals for his union along the way. But this was just like a going out thing. And then NRDC gave him a cool, outgoing prize and made him an honorary lifetime memory for services rendered. And then what I’m really interested in is what we can learn about Russian funding of NRDC going into the fall, I’m absolutely fascinated to see what we can learn about that, because there’s been some, there’s been some reporting, not necessarily from Pro nuclear sources, you know, but maybe pro fossil fuel sources about where NRDC was taking money and how that may have influenced their extreme focus on shutting down the most valuable infrastructure in America. Like, that’s a really weird thing to do, especially if
Robert Bryce 38:07
you tell me about this, because I’m familiar with the Russian funding of anti nuclear and NRDC was one of the leaders of the anti fracking movement, right. And particularly in New York State. But you’re saying there was your tell me more about this. This is news to me. And we don’t
Mark Nelson 38:23
know much yet just there was a, there was an organization, a family foundation in the Bay Area where NRDC is located. And when were that leader at NRDC that helped arrange the shutdown at any point, he’s located there, and that this, this Family Fund was combining its money with a bunch coming from Russian connected sources and a Caribbean, you know, an offshore account and then they use some of that to to fund in our DCS work. So that’s the sort of thing where, because it’s so devastating to American energy security and environmental things to shut down any point it makes it really clear or not just any point but also Diablo Canyon, right? That makes it really clear that it’s indistinguishable from the interests and actions of an American enemy, an enemy of the American state right so it makes it that much more interesting that they were taking Russian funding during this time period, these critical time periods that will have to be investigated by people with real investigative chops not me. And I’m really excited to see what comes out of that later this year if that becomes a priority on the hill.
Robert Bryce 39:34
So let me ask about that because you said there was one of the people within our DC was in the Bay Area who negotiated the closure of Indian Point Did you mean Indian Point or did you mean Diablo Canyon
Mark Nelson 39:43
Diablo Canyon specifically, but they definitely had New York City area people involved in
Robert Bryce 39:48
right and Kennedy was the one at NRDC was even cheering on the closure of Indian Point at were just before its closure. Okay. So let’s go back to Russia. Now we talked about we’ve talked we’ve been in in Western Europe. talked about Belgium, Germany, France and the UK. And now we’ve talked about what’s happening with Palisades and and Diablo Canyon here in the US. Oh, well, before we leave the US or I know there are other nuclear plants that are slated for closure over the next few years Palisades and Diablo Canyon, and when we’ve been talking are the ones we’ve been talking about, are there others that are missing here that are in imminent danger of closure?
Mark Nelson 40:23
At this point, not really. Okay, as far as I can tell, nuclear plants other than Palisades and Diablo are, tentatively in good shape, though I would want there to be some kind of program that could take I don’t know, an American government receivership over nuclear plants so that owners could not utilize unilaterally decide to close them if the grid operator says it’s fine, because that’s what we’re getting look grid operators. I mean, let me say something about this. So Palisades nuclear plant is part of a grid where the grid operators have been saying, No, it’s fine, it’s fine, you can lose nuclear. And now they’re like, Oh, we change your mind. Now it’s not good. Can’t even close any coal. So that is that indicates that we can’t really trust the grid operators to have their own heads screwed on, right gets back to nobody understands electricity, even grid operators. And now understand it to the level of keeping nuclear, we’ve got a program for
Robert Bryce 41:21
right, but now you’re talking about the RTO PJM. Right, the PJM is the one you’re talking about. Now.
Mark Nelson 41:29
PJM has been much more conservative than other RTOS in saving nuclear plants to be sure. But um, yeah, in general, my so for example, I don’t really trust them to know whether nuclear plants can or can’t be closed, that not changes by the minute or the wind or adds just not. I think that we just need a sort of shared American wisdom is that nuclear plants should not close if they’re safe. And we need a program to make sure that if this entity says they shouldn’t run, then that entity is no longer involved in making decisions about a nuclear if it’s not like the NRC or whatever. So for example, state regulators in California closing a nuclear plant, that becomes a national issue, and it becomes a big and important national issue. And it’s like if, let’s say California passed a law that said no military bases are allowed in California, you have one year to get them all out. That is a that is a similar sort of situation that would require federal intervention as California destroying its grid and shutting down its nuclear plants right. Now.
Robert Bryce 42:33
Well, let’s see if I can interrupt because I think you bring up an interesting point here. It’s one that I’ve thought about a lot. And we’ve talked around it. And I’ve talked with our mutual friend, Emmett Penny about this. And there was a great piece about the independence of the Tennessee Valley Authority in Jacobin. Magazine. But the just that, to me really is the key here is that the commonality is this understanding of know, the grid is too important to just leave to the market, we need a stronger hand of government. And I think it is going to require federal government intervention that is going to say no, we’re full full speed ahead on nuclear, we can’t close any more nuclear plants. This is national security now, and we got to quit fooling around and I’m now
Mark Nelson 43:11
the risk is when you have any power that can supersede decisions around nuclear that power could easily decide to supersede on behalf of closing the nuclear EU. It’s just it’s a risk we look, the flip side of France having such a powerful and effective state build of nuclear is that when the state rots, the capabilities wat rot, the leaders get weak and stupid, they can mess up the nuclear, it’s just the it’s it’s it’s the duality, it’s the duality of power power can be used to do things you don’t like, as opposed to things just things you do. We, we have to be prepared for that. But considering how bad state decision making has been going in California, in New York on energy as a whole, they just think that energy is not in there. It’s not in their wheelhouse. It’s not their competency. And if maybe the people of California had all voted to say we have a referendum, we demand this nuclear plant Vaughn, I think you’d have to be of iron, anti democratic sentiment to overrule that. But that’s not what happened. Right? It’s just a few elite Democrats decided they would kill the nuclear plant as a hobby. And they went along with the NGOs. And they and they all got together as a cute little clique to get it done. And it was like power politics made him feel like big men shoot down shut down nuclear plants. So that that’s not democratic. And so I don’t mind there being some authority outside of the state for yourself
Robert Bryce 44:36
and I’m with you. I mean, they’re it’s a double edged sword. And I, you know, to argue for more government is not a popular thing, necessarily, particularly on the conservative side. But again, I just think that the grid the importance of electricity and stable, reliable, affordable, resilient, all of these things are too important to just leave to the market and say, oh, yeah, you guys figure it out. And, and I, you know, this is really part of me. Being blacked out last February, you know, where I realized, hey, no, this is this is a government failure. But let’s switch back to enough meat talking here. What about Rosa, Tom? And I’ve heard it pronounced rasa Tom Rosa. Tom. I think Rosa Tom is the one that is the most common. I thought that after the invasion of Ukraine February 24, that now we’re seeing an inflection point where commercial business with Russian companies is going to cease or they’re going to be isolated. But when we talked the other day, you said no, that’s not the case. Not with Rosa Tom’s nuclear business bring me up to speed that they have business in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, where else and what’s the contract by
Mark Nelson 45:41
all means keep going so right, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, Bangladesh, China, Russia itself, fellow rousse. Bulgaria project is We’ll see about that one, probably on the ice. Bulgaria is helping with weapons and Ukraine. So that’s pretty much kind of select which countries are in and out of the good and naughty list to the Russian state. Hungary appears to still be in and a number of other projects are in development stages. We’ll see. So initially, experts that I trust me like, no, look, Russia promised to do all these things. But the currency issues that the ruble is going to have, well, not anymore that’s been solved ruble strong and improving compared to a number of Western currencies right now as we speak. So ruble issues, that’s not going to be it. How about this supply chains? Well, we still have to look at some of this. But if you want a great example of one of the few almost totally endogenous supply chains, in Russia, it’s the Rosatom like Nuclear Supplier network, right? Maybe you can say no way the machines that build the machines are going to need chips or replacement, maybe so but at the moment, they have an extremely endogenous supply chain for the for the minerals, materials and manufacturing that goes into their nuclear export. So that should be okay. Then there’s the question, Will countries like Egypt or turkey value Western friendship? Or having power? Well, and
Robert Bryce 47:13
I think it’s gonna be the latter myself. But yeah, so
Mark Nelson 47:15
all these countries are basically like, well, you know, what, you can’t eat friendship. You can’t power you can’t power the voters houses.
Robert Bryce 47:25
It’s not gonna. It’s not gonna cook my dinner. Yeah. Yeah. So
Mark Nelson 47:29
it’s basically a moment where we see that Rosa Tom projects are considered more important than symbolic, or even, you know, real gestures towards solidarity with the West, it’s really embarrassing for us, and we deserve to be embarrassed.
Robert Bryce 47:47
Well, so then you’re disproving what I are begging what I had thought, which was that if this invasion of Ukraine was going to accrue bad, it was going to mean bad things for Russia, across the board, particularly in their commercial contracts. And that was going to have an opening then potentially, for the US to step into the breach and potentially, now, that’s a big, big leap for the US to get into the commercial market or the Canadians or someone else. You’re saying that’s not the case that in fact that the Russians and Rosatom are going to be they’re still going to be a power player in the commercialization of nuclear power around the world, that this isn’t that the Ukrainian war hasn’t made that big of a difference. Am I hearing you, right?
Mark Nelson 48:28
Yeah, we could we could say this in all manner of cheeky ways. Here’s one, just because Russia invaded Ukraine, it didn’t mean that we could get away with being incompetent, worthless allies on energy. Here’s, here’s another way to put it. Just because Russia went to war on Ukraine doesn’t mean that other countries are putting their national development on hold. Right. Now. In fact, they may want more development to not be to Ukraine. What is that sorry. A bunch of haters jumping on you and saying You said the Ukraine which is insulting, not be the Ukraine and the next issue with a stronger neighbor, not to be the sucker not to be the weakling who, who gets picked on by a bully. I’m not saying Ukraine is weak. They’re very bar A they’re very bold, but the fact is that they got invaded, and other countries are scared to intervene too much. So if you want to not have that happen, you best get nuclear energy. Who does it best, Russia still does it best. So there you go.
Robert Bryce 49:30
And they do it best, because as we’ve discussed before, they can provide the financing they can provide the soup to nuts,
Mark Nelson 49:35
human capital, all of that the cream of the cream of the crop of Russian universities go into a rosette and for example, not that not that you only need good university grads, it’s just like the people with the best language skills, great people skills, smart technical minds. I had a fascinating chat with a with a guy from Gazprom at the UN climate conference. in Glasgow, why was Gazprom at the Climate Conference? You know, it’s just one of those things, right? So I was I was chatting with this guy. And he’s like, Well, I did really well in math and science at school. But it was a really strong school for math and science. And, you know, I just didn’t do quite well enough to work at Rose atom. And I’m just like, wow, like, most of our Ivy League engineering grads are going to go to Wall Street, not engineering. Right. And meanwhile, they
Robert Bryce 50:25
go to they go to McKinsey, they go to McKinsey or Boston Consulting or Yeah, right.
Mark Nelson 50:30
Right. Right. Now I will say that we’re on the cusp of all those consulting groups getting nuclear competency I’ve heard interesting rumors and, and sounds coming out of the consultants, the consultancy world where they are suddenly realize they don’t know anything about nuclear and clients are asking so they’re needing to get it. There’s more, there’s more positive. More of a positive message for your listeners, it’s that suddenly everybody is waking up to nuclear, even the haters.
Robert Bryce 51:00
And that’s do so well. Okay, so to close that close out that idea, then what the Ukrainian the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hasn’t necessarily isolated Rosa, Rosa, Adam, but what it has done is reignite nuclear interest in nuclear in the West. And I think that’s, I mean, there are a lot of terrible things that have happened. But this may be one of the very positive things that happens and one that could could it could last could it endure, I guess that’s gonna we’ll find out. But uh, but it’s far it’s much. It’s much overdue. I mean, we needed a shot in the nucleus, but needing a shot in the arm, a big dose of energy realism. And maybe this is the point that we finally getting that.
Mark Nelson 51:40
So nuclear is, it makes strong, independent nations. And that’s a reason why our big super brains up in Washington may not have liked it. Because if you’re a big powerful country, you don’t want to share power, right. And the more countries that have nuclear, the more power you’re sharing? Well, Russia has offered to share that power for whatever reason. And so they’re, they’re the one chosen to do it. The war in Ukraine has made it clear that countries want that power. And that our little issue with like the free world or not getting, you know, European countries invaded, and destabilize and all that other stuff. It’s not that important compared to the say, the price of bread in Cairo, it’s just not unfair. So if we’re going to respond as we should, because I think it’s bad to invade countries, like what Russia has done to Ukraine, if we’re going to respond, then we need to respond by offering a better deal. And that means being much more serious than in the past, putting real financing money putting muscle, like really big money behind our project proposals, choosing national champions in the US for each project or or offer, you know, lead offer for a nation listening carefully, carefully to nations as customers, not as little brothers and stupid little countries that have to be told to respect the power of the atom or whatever like, like, I don’t think we’re we’d know how to treat cus company or countries as customers, I just think whoever’s been involved in that or needs to be involved, needs to understand that customers have choices. They have to be respected. They have to be listened to carefully, all the all the parts of sales that make business to business transactions happen. We need that plus even more TLC to make these sales as a nuclear vendor country. And we just haven’t learned how to do that yet.
Robert Bryce 53:37
Well, let me go back to that, because I think that’s you may use an interesting term. They’re the national champions, and guest on the podcast a week or two ago was James Kennedy. And we were talking about the supply chain for rare earth elements and high strength magnets. And he was saying, China, China has has created its own national champions in that regard. But I want to combine that with what you we talked about before, which the $6 billion, as you said, the Democrats are finally on board, right. But is this going to last? And how do we what is that way that we create national champions in the nuclear sector? Do we have to wait for it going through the NRC? Or is how is that? How would that mechanism work?
Mark Nelson 54:20
One possibility is looking at the world as it actually is not the way we’d want it and seeing how are we being the end deals, and then figuring out what has to be done to win those deals. It may be that there’s a few companies that we decide are the ones that are capable, and if they get far enough along in a deal, we just say to all the other companies who want to deal with that country no, this is the national policy for nuclear for this country. We’re going in this direction. Now. That’s going to make a lot of angry people. But look, I think avoiding a situation like Well, look, UAE UAE went with the best deal on the table. Well, that was the Koreans but the US didn’t even have us had two different companies competing. And they were just, I don’t think we’re ever going to win that it just wasn’t going to be in the cards.
Robert Bryce 55:11
So sorry, I can just backup so Abu Dhabi built or the South Koreans, SK power, if I’m remembering right built for four reactors in Abu Dhabi. That’s the Al Baraka plant right here. We have one of the reactors, one of the four is already online now, and the rest of the other three are in the queue going to be brought on to power soons.
Mark Nelson 55:30
Two are online, one is coming soon. The fourth is coming next year.
Robert Bryce 55:34
Okay. So what you’re saying is what the South Koreans went to Abu Dhabi and said, We’re going to the UAE, and that was their national champion, but we’re going to have to have something similar to that. If the US is going to be playing a player in the international commercial market for nuclear that we’re going to have to adopt that kind of similar kind of national champ. It sounds right to me, but I’m just wanting to make sure I mean,
Mark Nelson 55:56
look, I mean, the US, the US doesn’t even Westinghouse is owned by a Canadian company, right? You know, just as one example, not that Canada can own good not that there can’t be amazing relationships between North and South. But like, you know, the owner of that of Westinghouse can’t even decide whether they think nuclear should be countered green or not. So there’s just all these weird, disorderly, paradoxical conflicts all up and down North American nuclear, and leadership is almost totally lacking in Canada. What about Canada? Canada’s should be the Saudi Arabia of uranium for the whole world, right. But instead, the Canadian government listed your nuclear and uranium as dirty and bad, like pornography, cigarettes, drugs, that sort of stuff. Right. So that’s this sort of absolute and total confusion, I think that we do not have to be really prescriptivist about which program is needed to make what kind of national champion to win? What kind of deal if you had leadership that less than let the best sort of, I guess, approaches that we’ve seen when nuclear deals by other countries take hold, that’s going to be a little mealy mouthed for some of your listeners, I guess what I’d say is, they aren’t asking me yet. I’m not in those conversations. I suspect, if I were in them, I would find what I’ve seen in the few conversations I’ve been involved with, which is absolute inability to think of nations as customers. And that’s how that’s happened, some dilute lack of business and sales experience in American bilateral relationships around nuclear energy. I think that can be fixed quite rapidly.
Robert Bryce 57:40
And it would be similar than as you’re saying that I’m thinking of LNG. I mean, now the US has said, Oh, well, you’re you’re up here, you can count on us for LNG. And we don’t necessarily have national champions, but it’s an American LNG companies that are providing a lot of that gas into the Western European market, which is, if you look at it, for whatever
Mark Nelson 57:57
reason, for whatever reason, the problems that nuclear has or the opportunities that gas has, it hasn’t hasn’t been quite the same private companies can can rock up to Europe and say, Let’s do deals, and then they do it and then they build the the natural gas plants and then, you know, get them financed. And like that, somehow that hasn’t worked for nuclear. Nuclear may always require more state involvement than LNG. It just I don’t know. I cannot say it should have no state involvement. I’m not confident to say that I can say that it has involved the state and our state’s not good at getting nuclear to customers. Yeah,
Robert Bryce 58:36
no, I agree. But I do think yeah, there is going to have to be more more state involvement, more federal government support, bilateral, bipartisan decadal kind of support. So let me let me just go to one other area that I want to discuss with you. What about there was a recent report it was actually carried in Stars and Stripes. It was an AP report just a few days ago, which said that the US DoD is moving ahead with Project Pele. It’s an SMR with one to five megawatts of output. That’s going to be built at Idaho National Labs, they’re saying that this is going to be the first gen four reactor to be built in the US high temperature gas cooled. And that VW X t and X energy are the two companies that they’re working with. What is this a real breakthrough is there’s a possibility that actually the DoD could be the way to commercialize nuclear in the US, or small SMRs in the US, that goes around the NRC is this, how important is this?
Mark Nelson 59:29
Now I have to chuckle a little bit about the description of this as the first gen four reactors. We’ve had generation four since before generation two, haven’t we? Since that’s just marketing language.
Robert Bryce 59:41
Water. Yeah. Okay. Fair enough.
Mark Nelson 59:43
Okay, so we’ve had commercial operating high temperature gas reactors, even on the front range of Colorado, Robert like we’ve almost every type of reactor we’ve had as a commercial plant selling electricity to American consumers, right. So I’m a little irritated by the generators. before but I’ll understand the sentiment and let’s just move past
Robert Bryce 1:00:02
it. I’m just reading from the AP story here. So
Mark Nelson 1:00:05
when you see new companies, startup and various technologies to build new big, high performance projects, nowadays, you frequently see a SpaceX alumni involved. The reason why I’m bringing that up is because there’s, there’s a power, all of its own, of just doing things, it tends to find and create the leaders who can do other things. I am for whatever projects people feel are necessary, not because that may be the right technical path and nuclear, because we need something called generation four as opposed to generation three, not even because the reactors going to operate well, but because it’s going to make an environment where doers get promoted, because they execute. And I think that’s going to be good for nuclear. I think that just moving and digging on projects, even far flung technologies is much more tolerable, and environment in an environment that is becoming more overall pro nuclear, and more money is coming into nuclear generally, Russia, I never think it’s stupid when Russia starts a new advanced nuclear project, because it’s just one small part of $150 billion order book, the vast majority of which is the reactors, they already know how to build the traditional ones, right? I get really twitchy when in an environment where there’s almost no money going towards nuclear and almost a nuclear stuck suffering from problems like not being included as green, legally in various places. When all the money that does start going to nuclear goes on to little bitty things that may not end up making a commercially competitive kilowatt hour of power. Now with Project Pele, they don’t have to make commercially competitive just has to work. I think that’s important. Russia has figured out how to make strategically small farflung, you know, remote nuclear plants work, we need the ability to do the same. I think that we know that try so fuel is manufactured on it in a timely manner that we will be able to pass hot gases over it and make power. Will the uptime of the reactor be good? Will there be issues 10 years down the line? Maybe, maybe not, we’ll see. But at least we’re doing something, I just want to see that happen in an environment where we’re doing a lot more, mostly what we already know. And if we just have to admit that we don’t know how to do anything. Well, that’s its own problem. And then I would say what is closest to what we know, in which case, that’s why I’m excited about some of the light water reactor systems that are most closely related, or have the most number of people who have last worked on successful commercial reactors of a large size.
Robert Bryce 1:02:41
Fair enough. But uh, so I’ll just ask one last thing about that, then, because, to me, it’s just intriguing that it’s the Department of Defense doing this right, and that they’re the ones that are going in in a direction that doesn’t require them to deal with the NRC. They have their own their own approval process, and that they’re saying, well, we need to do something different than what we’ve done. And we see this as an opportunity for some of our bases to run to have our own nuclear fleet, which will, you know, there was they did the same with what was the reactor they had in the Panama Canal Zone in the 60s, right, you know, so this isn’t necessarily that far out of what they know and what they’ve done in the past. So to me, that’s an important
Mark Nelson 1:03:21
that’s an important point that going around the NRC. Some of the best American nuclear efforts are also going outside of America. Because the NRC is like I’m I’m convinced by people who know, a lot of folks at the NRC that almost everybody at the NRC likes nuclear, it does not mean that they are capable of rapid action, it doesn’t mean they’re capable of individuals taking risks to make sure that we don’t lose our edge. So to say, well, that’s, that’s outdoor wood. We’ve lost our edge. And then particularly inexcusable was the arbitrary politically motivated decision to throw out the ad or license extensions, because we haven’t looked at rising sea levels. Right. Which is particularly ironic. We don’t have time to go into it fully. But it’s clear, the NRC needs some very serious shaking. Yeah. Although I’m not going to go so far as to say, you know, throughout the entire thing, all Nuclear Regulation is crap. Look at the point that this that our society really likes nuclear a lot is going to be possible. And then it will make sense to make sure that the NRC is not the bottleneck. So I think that we can, we can do many things at a time. One is to make sure nuclear keeps being more popular to the American public. Make sure it retains its popularity that it’s already gained on the hill. Make sure that anti nuclear entities are just absolutely destroyed their funding, their popularity, their legal status, whatever it takes, especially if they were found taking Russian money, and then we have to make sure that folks on the Hill who want to do things like save existing plants don’t have such a weird process completely divorced from the business demands of what it takes to save a nuclear plant. We need those same people to have a very cute clear view of what’s working and not working at the NRC. I think that there are times where senators can’t even base each other on half the issues in America, and they can have a whole evening of productive conversation excitedly looking at a nuclear future. That’s where we are that that good cooperation and sentiment across the aisle needs to be turned towards the NRC and very serious changes need to be made, especially after that arbitrary decision to reject a previous Commission’s ruling on life extensions.
Robert Bryce 1:05:46
No, I completely agree those licenses rescission or the rescinding those two license extensions, Peach Bottom and Turkey point right are the two two plants I just thought what is the word banana republic here, but let’s say the positive note and I’ll just rephrase, rephrase what you just said is that this $6 billion, whether it saves Palisades or not remains to be seen but this is a very positive thing in terms of as you put it, I think Democrats coming around and saying okay, well we got to change our we got to change our attitude here and you have a heavily in Michigan is a still a swing state. But the two Democratic governors now Granholm was Secretary of Energy. But Whitmer is the current governor saying no, we want to keep this plan. So that I think is,
Mark Nelson 1:06:29
especially because a fraction of that value could just buy the plant outright, or even force the sale outright. Whatever, give him some return, come up with some formula, hire any former consultant to just get the job done. They can make up bullshit formulas on the fly right for and then you just get the plan. And then you just flip it to constellation or whoever else that will operate it. Like there would have been a much easier way to go about this. And then weird 6 billion thing, but there we are.
Robert Bryce 1:06:56
Right. Okay, so last two things. You know, we I’ve asked you, you’ve been on the podcast before. So what are you reading? Now? It’s been a few several weeks since you were on the podcast last what’s what’s at the top of your book book pile? Or do you have a book pile?
Mark Nelson 1:07:09
Yeah, the book. I have many book piles, and I’m at different points on almost all the books.
Robert Bryce 1:07:14
This one would be at the top too, right? I mean, well, I mean, just I’m assuming but nevertheless, go ahead.
Mark Nelson 1:07:19
We say all these things about planning ahead and the need to be organized to save American energy. You I didn’t have my book right here. I, you know, I should have had my book you could have reminded me, but the book I’m looking at currently is something that I keep seeing references to is having a bit of resurgence. It’s a travel memoir, by Patrick Leigh fermor, that is a British guy who passed away a few years ago. But when he was a kid, he had trouble in school was kicked out for bad behavior and decided to walk from essentially London, he took a boat over to Netherlands and walked from there to Constantinople on foot. Right in the years before the Nazis took over Germany. Wow. So a young Brit, who had been born during World War Two World War One went to see a Europe that was about to disappear and change forever. And he walked all the way and traveled on barges and, you know, flocked to wherever you could get a room. He had, he had a lot of charm. So he ended up staying at Castles and Palaces sometimes and sleeping above, you know, blacksmith shops other time. But the book was written when he was an old man looking backwards. And it’s just a brilliant bit of writing. And anybody who traveled, when young will feel a strong tie to the adventures in that book. And the book is called a time of gifts
Robert Bryce 1:08:45
or time of gifts. Okay, well, that’s a good, that’s a great sales pitch. And so we talked a lot about what’s not going well, what makes you optimistic. Now, what gives you hope?
Mark Nelson 1:08:57
Well, I mentioned a little bit of my optimism before and that people well, people are finding themselves falling in love with nuclear, almost nobody is finding themselves falling out of love with nuclear. So there’s a continual process of building of strength, and then pro nuclear side. So that gives me a lot of hope. Another thing I think gives me a lot of hope is that out of the violence and the chaos of a land war in Europe, is coming really fast. Maturing new leaders, I hope, I mean, I suspect that people are looking at hard realities, and they’re seeing that there are only ever hard choices, and that the choice to do nothing is only easy in the short run. I think that I see a lot of silver linings coming out of Ukraine. And those silver linings point towards maybe making a lot of prosperity 15 to 20 years down the line.
Robert Bryce 1:09:58
But some pain in the In the meantime,
Mark Nelson 1:10:02
a lot of pain in the meantime, but we’ve covered that in previous podcasts now it’s about what are we going to do about it and I’m I’m hopeful that in this time good ideas and good people find each other.
Robert Bryce 1:10:14
Well, we’ll in there I think that’s a great place to stop. My guest has been Mark Nelson. I didn’t give a station break before but he is the managing director of the radiant energy fund. You can find him on Twitter at energy bands, ba n TS at energy bands is DMS are open there so you can reach him pretty easily. Mark, thanks again for being on the power hungry podcast. It’s always a pleasure. Thanks for having me again, Robert. And thanks to all of you in podcast land tune in next time for yet another episode of the power hungry podcast on this very same station. Until then. See you