Craig Piercy speaks with Mark Hinaman about the American Nuclear Society, new nuclear in America, and progress in the industry.
[00:00:00] Craig Piercy: You already see it now, right? We have, we still have a lot of people in poverty, in energy poverty. But it’s a lot less than it was 20 years ago. And if we can crack the clean energy conundrum and really be able to provide plentiful, clean energy around the world that enables all of the other technologies that make our lives better, we’ll be in a better place.
[00:00:20] Intro: Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly Soberly. And to engage people in this dialogue, those two and a half billion people that are on energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone.
If there is a single country, of course, the world cannot meet it without America that is willing to, we’re gonna need you the next generation to finish the job. Nuclear regulations, we need scientists to design new fuels, focus on net public benefits. We need engineers to invent new technologies for over absurd levels of radiation production entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.
And we’ll march towards this. We need workers to. With High Tech Zero Prosperity Football, diplomats, businessmen, and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip the development transition sources of, in other words, we need you.
[00:01:25] Mark Hinaman: All right. Welcome to another episode of the Fire2Fission Podcast. My name is Mark Hinaman and we’re joined today by Craig Piercy the CEO of the American Nuclear Society. Craig, how you doing today?
[00:01:35] Craig Piercy: I’m doing well. How are you, Mark?
[00:01:37] Mark Hinaman: Fantastic. Very excited to chat with you. We’ve got a lot to cover and a lot to talk about.
Let’s dive right in. Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself. Who is Craig Piercy? Maybe a 30 second overview of kind of your current position and then we’ll dive into some of your background and talk about how you got there.
[00:01:50] Craig Piercy: Sure. Again, my name is Craig Piercy and I’m the Executive Director and CEO of the American Nuclear Society.
So it’s a job I’ve had for a little over three years now. I started three months before the pandemic began. ANS I think is the premier professional society for people in the nuclear engineering and technology discipline. And it’s really been a pleasure these last three years to, really join ANS as the CEO go through an organizational transformation that is starting to pay off dividends for the organization.
And I think also the community at large and I’m a very lucky person to have the job that I have it makes it really easy to get up every morning and get to work.
[00:02:37] Mark Hinaman: Absolutely. You guys put out a bunch of great content as far as being an advocate for the industry and putting out great news publications and we’ll dive into a bunch of that, but give us a little bit more background on you.
Where did you get your start? How did, how’d you find your way to this?
[00:02:50] Craig Piercy: Yeah. So I am a Washington DC area native grew up here in Maryland, went to university of Maryland for undergrad. I my, really, my start in my career was on Capitol Hill. I worked for two senators and a member of Congress over about a an eight year, nine year period in the 1990s.
And culminated in a job as chief of staff to a member of Congress from the suburbs of Detroit who happened to be a member of the Energy and Water appropriation subcommittee. And and through his work on the committee, that’s really where I got to learn and got to know about the nuclear industry and nuclear technology.
They were they were dark times and unlike today where, we’ve seen billions of new investment, back then we were trying to hold on to the last, you know, $6 million worth of r and d funding at the Department of Energy. And really at that, from that point onward, nuclear started it’s long climbed back.
After I worked in Congress, I left for a few years to go work for a university and had an interesting time there. Worked on a couple of big projects and really was successful in helping get a long-term contract for a big federal contract for a big facility on campus.
But knew after four years the university world really wasn’t my It wasn’t the place where I was gonna spend the rest of my career. So I actually went out into private practice in 2002. Worked for a large firm for five years and then left to found the Washington office of another public affairs firm, subsidiary of a a law firm out of Indiana and really built.
Firm from just myself to 25 people and 60 clients, and 7 million in annual revenue. And that’s awesome. And yeah, and all through that time I of built a, I built a nuclear practice. I started representing ANS as the Washington representative in 2005 that I did on a. Contractual basis. And and, ANS came with me to the new firm, and ANS was always the client.
In the consulting business you have something called a realization rate, right? Which is, if you get paid a monthly retainer, you charge work against that retainer. And the realization rate is what you have left over and is, and the profit that you have for the firm and Gotcha.
And so my work for ANS the realization rate was always highly negative because it was my favorite client. I worked far too much on it than my, my fellow principals in the firm would appreciate, but they, they. They understood. But three years ago the leadership of ANS came to me and asked me if I’d be interested in considering, becoming the really the first CEO of ANS.
They’d had executive directors in the past. But it just seemed like something that you know, first and foremost it was It was really an opportunity to help renovate and transform the organization. And, having been at a firm for 13 years and building it up, you once, once it gets built, you start getting a little bored and looking for your next adventure.
So it was the perfect confluence of events and so here I am.
[00:06:06] Mark Hinaman: I totally understand. Yeah. There’s some people that act as builders and some as operators. And if you’re used to being a builder, then can be challenging. Exactly. Kinda, kinda boring. You’re like, there’s no fires. We built this machine really well.
It’s just running.
[00:06:18] Craig Piercy: Exactly. And I found like in that time, after I built the firm I I exercised my building impulse in other things. We have a we have a local swim and tennis club in my neighborhood. So we, I was chair of the board and we essentially built a new pool or entirely renovated the structure.
And then worked on a couple of other, other nonprofit projects. But you’re right. For me, if I’m not building something, then I’m bored.
[00:06:43] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. And you’d much rather be busy than bored. That’s mantra for me at least.
Exactly. So give me a little bit of context. How big is ANS and I mean them bringing on an executive director. Obviously has paid dividends. You went from managing a team of about 25 people, but probably working on a bunch of projects and obviously with 60 clients you’re gonna have lots of things to focus on.
But how did that experience then maybe, the role at university, that administrative role?
[00:07:07] Craig Piercy: So no, it was it was a again, a washing representative role. So I was, yeah, so represented them in Washington for for a host of different things, but it was really more focused on federal funding and federal investment.
[00:07:20] Mark Hinaman: So how did those kind of prepare you for Yeah. Coming on? So help out at ANS
[00:07:25] Craig Piercy: Yeah. Yeah. So I think that, the funny thing about it is a lot of what I do on a day-to-day basis is not too different than what I was doing before, but it’s just in a completely different area. A lot of it is just is management, multiple simultaneous projects.
Managing deadlines, recognizing when schedules change, but keep keeping things moving forward. Keeping the plates spinning, so to speak. Yeah, so a lot of what I do for ANS is a lot like, client work or, firm administrative work that I did before. The difference really is that, that, all of the work that I.
Has, feels like it has a higher purpose now, right? That we’re supporting ultimately we’re here to support every member of the nuclear community, frankly, whether you’re a member or not. Obviously we prefer you to be a member, but
[00:08:13] Mark Hinaman: I guess that’s a good segue. What is ANS? So American Nuclear Society Yeah. Was kind a good overview of mission and.
[00:08:20] Craig Piercy: So it was created in 1954, really at the beginning of the Atomic Age, right after the Eisenhower’s Adams for Peace speech. And it was really designed to be the scientific and technical town square for this growing community of professionals that were involved in the technology.
Really born out of great optimism in those early years. And it’s been through a lot of twists and turns in its time. It, you it, I, there were times and I think in the 1970’s where ANS had almost a hundred employees. But again, a lot of those were focused on manual processes that we now automate.
But were 10,000 members 10,000 individual members, roughly. 90 organizational members corporations, utility suppliers, and the like. We have 18 professional divisions. So really, the goal of the ultimate goal and the main aim of ANS is to serve the technical community, is to advance the science and technology of nuclear.
And we run 10 to 12 meetings a year, including two national conferences and topical meetings. Again, 18 scientific or technical divisions that encompass the broad range of nuclear technology. Everything from math and comp to thermal hydraulics and reactor physics accelerator applications, fusion.
All the way to decommissioning. And then we also have a young members group along with that. So we do have a a sub-structure to ANS depending upon what your field is. We we have Nuclear News, which is our magazine 40,000 people. Uh, Great publication I read every month.
Thank you. Thank you. 40,000, 40,000 eyeballs every month. A couple of years ago we launched the Nuclear Neswire, which is really of the online companion to nuclear news. I think we went from, When I started, I think there were like four or 500 downloads of the nuclear news p d f every month.
But now we’re closing in on a hundred thousand views every month of nuclear news wire content. So I think we’ve, we’ve definitely opened up a new
[00:10:29] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. New doorway. I bet that’s really impacted the industry. I get both. Publications, the week, the monthly magazine and the email.
You guys send it out every day, which I’m very impressed at the amount of content and news that you guys are able to find and generate. It’s tremendous. But I imagine having that different medium has really, Help the industry?
[00:10:47] Craig Piercy: I think so. I think that what really what we try to do is, first when I came in, nuclear news operated on a monthly editorial calendar.
They put out a magazine. So everything was, we’re working up to the time and we have to go to print to the magazine. So today we’re on a daily editorial calendar, so it gives us a much, a. Better opportunity to cover current events. Try to give a broad perspective on what’s happening in the nuclear field.
Not just the utility industry and the current fleet, and not just labs or universities but everything. And I have to say, John Fabian, who’s the director of our publications department, has really done a tremendous job in leading his team. Away, really 180 degrees from where they were operating before to where we are now.
But I think the community deserves to be informed. I There’s a lot of nuclear news or out there, there are a lot of sources out there, and what we try to do is curate the best stories of the day. So if you’re just gonna read one then, Will you should, you should be able to know everything you need to know by reading by reading nuclear newswire every day.
So it’s really been exciting. But we also do standards. We we have three technical journals. There, there are a host of things that a professional and scientific society does that we do as well about, we’re about 35 full-time employees right now. Still have a focus in the, yeah.
[00:12:14] Mark Hinaman: Within ANS about 35 full-time employees.
[00:12:17] Craig Piercy: So 30 B, roughly 35 roughly 35 employees. Of course, we have people that are,
[00:12:24] Mark Hinaman: Man, I would’ve put you guys bigger than that. For how much you guys do, but you’re, you’ve got a lot of you’re getting a lot of output without nearly as much horsepower as I thought you had.
[00:12:31] Craig Piercy: When I started, we were in the high forties. We were close to 50. And I think what we’ve really been able to do is over the last three years Automate and digitize things that allow our staff to then focus on, on, more strategic items.
And so I say we have fewer staff, but the staff that we have are probably more qualified because they’re not just doing administrative, we don’t have so many people just doing administrative things anymore. It’s really everyone that works for us is managing an effort, but they’ve got some time built in to be strategic.
[00:13:07] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. Makes. So you’re the CEO of the organization and as you mentioned, the first person in this position but there’s also a president that turns over annually. So give us some context on how that dynamic functions and the different responsibilities between those roles.
[00:13:22] Craig Piercy: Sure. You’re right, we have a w what we have in ANS in the bylaws is a one year rotating presidency. And it rotates through four different subcategories of the community. Utilities, suppliers, universities, and national laboratories. So each president each year comes from a different part of the of the, the nuclear community.
I, I think historically because the turnover was so quick, it really was the challenge for a president was. To have impact on the society or impact on the field in the time that they had as president. And and I think it, it also became a challenge to the operational continuity of ANS. And and so now I think having a, having a CEO as the sort of the lead staff person. It allows the president to focus on the statutory duties that they have, right? So they act as essentially chair of the board and run the, run the board process. But presidents also have an opportunity to engage more broadly in the in the community, right?
Yeah. And and every president gets an opportunity to. To choose, his or her agenda. Steve Nesbitt our previous president was really interested in the nuclear fuel cycle and really dev, reigniting the debate over our waste and fuel cycle policy.
That’s something he championed as president and is really still working for us on today. Even as past president Stephen Art, our current president is was in Sharmel Sheik for Cop 27 was, just been very engaged internationally and supporting and strengthening our ties with other organizations around the world.
So every president really gets an opportunity to, in addition to the statutory work that they have, appointing committee chairs and approving certain awards. To really focus on the things that they’re interested in. And generally speaking, I think all, our presidents align with what, with what’s needed overall.
So it’s I, it’s good variety, really.
[00:15:25] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. No, thanks for that context. That’s really helpful. And interesting. Yeah. Seeing Arnt at the most recent winter meeting it makes sense that, he wants to go out and engage with the community. He’s also a great dancer. Participant in that?
[00:15:36] Craig Piercy: Yes. Yes. He’s first one on the floor.
[00:15:39] Mark Hinaman: So you mentioned ANS is focused on technical dissemination, advocating for technical development in the industry. How do they accomplish that? You’ve got the news articles, but. I wanna dig into this idea a little bit more and unpack it with how that’s getting accomplished.
And then if there are other parts of the industry that ANS helps with or touches.
[00:16:00] Craig Piercy: Yeah. I think there’s, I think the way to look at it is we have a we have an internal mantra that we use, which is, Stronger science, better service, louder voice.
So for the staff, that’s great. We work to strengthen the science, through our journals, through our meetings. Better service really means our professional development activities. We operate the pro the professional engineering exam for the PE exam for nuclear engineers.
And so we strive to do you. To do better and to do more there. And then, and then there’s the louder voice part, right? Which is there’s, we’ve gone through, I think, a fair amount of refinement there because at the end of the day, What our core mission is to be the voice of the nuclear professional community.
And so that’s a different voice with a different take than say the nuclear industry or the nuclear education enterprise or any one of the other. Sets of informal institutions within the nuclear sector. And it, so what is the nuclear professional community?
It is, it’s 10,000 people. It’s spread out across Labs, universities, industry, they’re all brought together by a love and enthusiasm for the technology, right? I don’t think peop, a lot of people fall into nuclear. I think they go out there and they actively find it, right?
They go through a sort of a mental process of, how can I be most helpful to the world? And then, and then come to nuclear. It’s a common. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Everybody has a journey that they get, that they get there. And so I think that there is an enthusiasm within the community, but then at the same time, there’s also a responsibility to provide non-biased technical information to people, right?
That, especially when we get into advocacy, I always caution people. That, there are limits here. We’ve gotta be able to tell it like it is and not just, paint a rosy picture of something and then be proven wrong, prove me wrong later. If you think about what, how we operate in that space, we have a couple of areas of focus.
One is within the policy space, making sure that That people, that policy makers and decision makers have a contextual understanding of nuclear when they’re making decisions about laws or legislation or regulation. So again, okay. We’re not necessarily lobbying for, I mean we, we have some deminimous lobbying that we do on appropriations every year.
We support our university programs and have a couple of other things that we want to make sure there’s continued funding. But it’s only really a small part of what we of what we do. The bigger part is you know, having conversations with members of Congress, people in the executive agencies, bringing people together and having conversations where, when people walk out of the room, they have a greater appreciation for the nuances of the issue.
Which is, I don’t know, something you can argue that is, that seems to be an increasingly rare supply in Washington these days. Again, our goal is not to we don’t have a specific legislative agenda, but we see some outcomes. We want, yeah. Nuclear to be used in its highest and best way, and see a set of policies that match with that.
So we try to help foster those conversations.
[00:19:18] Mark Hinaman: That makes sense. That’s a fantastic description of kind of what my curiosity was and how ANS might influence policy decisions and promote the development of new nuclear. So the louder it falls under the louder voice column, so that Exactly.
That makes sense. And that voice has been getting louder, right? Or, so I’m curious on your perspective cuz I know you’ve voiced some numbers to me at the most recent winter meeting. So maybe we can combine these two questions. What are these biannual conferences that you guys host and then have you seen them.
Yes and have you seen interest in nuclear grow also in.
[00:19:50] Craig Piercy: Definitely interest in nuclear has grown substantially in the last few years. And what, what’s most heartening is that you are seeing, I mean you’re, you’re Fire2Fission, right? We’re seeing a lot of people thinking about fire to fission career opportunities coming in and joining ANS to learn more about them.
[00:20:08] Mark Hinaman: Going from fossil jobs to fission jobs.
[00:20:10] Craig Piercy: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the fossil to, the great energy transition. I, I think there’s been there’s been a lot of interest in nuclear in the last couple of years. We have seen our meeting level our meeting numbers go up. You also have to throw covid in there too, right?
So our in-person meeting, our in-person meeting total for 2020 was zero. But, I think what we were seeing before, so we so we’re unlike a lot of other organizations, we actually have two meetings that run on an annual basis. And we’ve been trying to give
[00:20:40] Mark Hinaman: And you guys characterize them as meetings, but they’re really, they’re conferences.
[00:20:42] Craig Piercy: They’re conferences. They’re conferences. That’s right. They’re conferences. So generally, I think when, in Phoenix, last November, we had about 1200 people. We I can’t I would say we were about a thousand in the summer. We have, again, we have two meetings a year. We have our annual meeting, which happens in June, which corresponds with our governance calendar.
That’s where board, board and president of terms begin and end. That’s when new committees are formed. That’s a lot of that meeting is given over to governance and what we’ve also done has been, we’ve been embedding topical meetings in those. So in a particular, a particular division may have a a biannual meeting.
We’ll put that in with the annual meeting. The winter meeting tends to be a broader one that’s more focused on the general environment. The general landscape has more of a policy focus to it Every other year we’re in Washington DC so that one tends to be our larger meeting and it tends to attract a broader audience, but for both of them anybody that’s interested in the nuclear field can come to one of our meetings, sit in technical sessions and really walk away learning from, about things.
[00:21:57] Mark Hinaman: So the annual meeting I really enjoyed them. I thought they’re structured incredibly well. I attended the one in Phoenix most recently and yeah, I’ve been to a lot of conferences in my career. All the way from, an afternoon with a small technical cohort to international multinational conference in Monaco.
And I think the way that you guys organized yours is excellent. In fact, when I was there, I remember chatting with a guy from Korea and, we said, why are you here? This is the American Nuclear Society. And he said of all the societies, even the World Nuclear Association, the I. The ANS is viewed as a premier organization and one of the best for knowledge dissemination.
So we come here to learn and network and we think it’s very productive.
[00:22:35] Craig Piercy: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think the thing, what makes an ANS meeting different and what makes ANS different is that the core unit of membership is an individual membership. People are there as individuals.
They’re not necessarily there as members of companies, or, they’re not representing their organizations when they come, they’re there for themselves. And so we’re primarily there to cater to the people and so that makes, that, that makes our meetings a little bit different, probably, maybe a little less a little less formal, a little bit more chaotic, but I also feel like it, it generates more energy than you would get in a meeting where it’s a, it’s a group of corporate types.
[00:23:14] Mark Hinaman: ANS as an organization do you guys have individual chapters throughout the country where members might meet and you have a sub president or director of chapters and if yes, then how might somebody be interested in restarting one? This kind of a leading question cuz my girlfriend’s mom was interested in restarting one in Denver.
She’s runs a consulting company here. And asking him the question for.
[00:23:35] Craig Piercy: Yeah. We do have local sections. I’d say we have about somewhere between 30 and 35 active local sections right now. Most of them are in the us they’re regional in the us but we have a few that are around the world.
We have a French section of the American Nuclear Society. We’ve um, our UAE local sections been really active as as the baracka plants have been built and brought Americans over there look, it’s fairly easy to create a new chapter. I think the question becomes, is the plan sustainable?
Because I think what we find is, I there, there are a couple of factors happening here. One is the, the growth of the virtual environment. And the, just the general expansion of digital services in many ways is taking over some of what a local section was really supposed to be.
Because in the pre-internet age, that makes sense. There was no other way to get your information than to, Go and hang out with like-minded people, whereas now, you have an opportunity to do that, yeah. Anywhere and everywhere. And so I literally do what we’re doing right now.
How many Exactly. Across the country. Exactly. And yeah, so I think that. What we’re trying to do is, we wanna be able to foster communities and wherever there’s, communities within our society and so wherever there’s an opportunity, what I’m trying to do is lower the barrier of entry so you can come in and become a local section.
I It’s as easy as adopting a set of bylaws and, we create an account for you and, every member that, that, that selects a local section, the local section gets a dollar amount there. So we, you know, I think we’ve really uh, but the goal here is to make sure that the local sections ultimately are more tied together with the national organization.
And that was, the, when I joined ANS, it was right as the board was approving something called the ANS Change Plan 2020. And the big objective of that plan was to bring all of the far flung entities of ANS a little bit closer together, including local sections.
And starting this year, if you’re a member of an ANS local section, you have to be an ANS member. You didn’t have to be before, right? You could be part of the local section and not even join ANS which is weird to me. But so I think that, the place-based groups are in this transition now, and we’ve seen some.
Have atrophied over the last couple of years, but we’ve also seen some new ones pop up too. So it’s a, it’s an interesting time.
[00:26:04] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. I wanna dive into kind of advanced nuclear and new nuclear. So I’ll preface this question with. Uh, you know, I come from the private industry side and the upstream oil and gas side specifically, which, yes.
We generate a lot of energy. And so I, I’ve got that background where We have a lot of industrial activity, a lot of effort that goes into deploying a lot of capital throughout the country and throughout the world. And when I look at the nuclear industry and trying to think about how you would develop similar projects in the nuclear industry there’s this regulatory hurdle that doesn’t exist elsewhere a anywhere else in the energy industry, I’ll say.
So the question that I have is how do we overcome that so that we can build more nuclear and build advanced reactors. And I know that this topic can be controversial, so we’ll say, this is Craig Piercy’s opinion, not the opinion of ANS. But yes I, I do wanna know your perspective cuz being at the center of this ecosystem.
I think it’s valued.
[00:26:58] Craig Piercy: Right. Look, I think that I’m trying to think. I’m trying to think where, you know where to begin here, right? Where to start. Yeah, exactly. It’s been, now we’re talking just this. Let’s start out by saying nuclear is serious business, right?
We, a big part of this business are highly trained people. Working with, you know, materials and systems that you know, that if they aren’t run properly can cause, can cause problems and hurt people. So let’s, let’s, I don’t want I’m gonna disabuse the notion that, oh, you know we all sort always talk about everything is safe.
It’s definitely safe, but it’s safe because we have good people working it, not because. Not because there isn’t, there’s an absence of danger, but I think that, that part of this is we are fighting against our caveman brains when it comes to nuclear, right?
Nuclear sort of pushes all of our dread buttons. We saw it this week, a tiny cesium source falls off of a truck in Australia. That was crazy and. Yeah. And now look, we went back and we went to our expert team to try to estimate what the radiation dose of that would be.
And yeah, it was a hundred, a hundred to 150 milam an hour. So it was a pretty substantial source. But it made the evening news, right? I mean, Nuclear, we occupy the same space as shark attacks where, the incidence is low, but the, the unusual nature of it puts it up at the top of the headlines.
And because of that, there’s a lot of fear, a lot of misunderstanding and misperceptions about the technology. And there is this larger public battle. That, that we have to fight between, what we understand as the scientific and technical truth of the matter versus, the way our brains perceive the risk of radiation that we can’t touch and we can’t smell and can’t sense.
And so I feel as though. That line is moving in the right direction and really where, as a society we’ve been engaged and really have a commitment to be more engaged in the future is providing real-time information to members of the media and reporters and producers and so that when nuclear stories break, there’s always gonna be this bow wave of concern and worst case scenario thinking, but that we can get reporters good real-time information on what’s happening and then that hopefully, provides some more grounding to the reporting.
We did this during the initial Russian invasion of Ukraine on the, and the, the Russian occupation of the Zapodisian nuclear plant. And and we were able to get reporters fairly quickly, information that, the reactor wasn’t on fire, it was an accessory structure and so forth.
We see an opportunity to continue to work with media to improve their understanding of the technology. And then it’s really about the public. And I think when we think about the public, A lot of it, a lot of that education happens in the classroom pretty early on and I think we’ve made a real commitment to be more engaged in K-12 STEM classrooms around the country and in K-12 STEM education, whether that’s in school or after school.
We’ve had programs, we’ve developed a curriculum. But it’s, what we really want to be able to do is expand outreach into the classroom. Our goal for the next couple of years is any teacher in the United States that wants to teach nuclear technology to their class in a way that’s aligned with.
State education standards. We can give ’em the kit, we can give ’em the instruction. We can put, bring somebody from the community to come into the classroom if we want to. We can serve the need of those teachers, but ultimately we have to make sure that every. Child in this country that goes to school has some basic understanding of the technology so that they’re, as adults and as voters and citizens, they’re better prepared to make decisions about these things.
So that’s really where we’re, where we’re focused on the outside. I think on the technology side. It’s really exciting times. I think that, there, there’s still large companies out there that are involved in nuclear that hasn’t changed, but these new, these new startups with venture funding and folks withs experience in Silicon Valley are breathing a new energy into the innovation ecosystem of nuclear.
And and I think it’s I think it’s really exciting. Now, you touched on, the regulatory scheme and how you came from the. The other side of the, the business and nuclear is much more tightly regulated, right? Because of the sort of the, the unique attributes of the technology.
And, but I think by getting the public fear level down, by improving understanding, we are going to, fear of radiation is the inflammation in the system that makes everything.
[00:31:45] Mark Hinaman: It’s really the root cause of, it’s really the root cause. Yes. Yes, meaning the rules are very strict for nuclear, and I’ll say unfairly and protecting against a hazard that in my opinion, the data doesn’t demonstrate exist or we, are the systems that we have in place.
Not, and I don’t wanna attribute regulation to be the cause of the systems being sufficiently safe. I think the technology and the design and the understanding how to operate these systems is the root cause. But, A perceived hazard that has been inflated. And I think that’s just, like you said, driven by the public’s misunderstanding of radiation and sp specifically radio phobia, and being fearful.
While you’re talking about that, I thought of an analogy that I’ll voice in and see if you agree. It’s kinda like people that might be afraid of flying. Even though statistically all of the data demonstrates that you’re very unlikely, it’s very unlikely that you’ll die on a commercial flight ever. You have to be super lucky for that to happen. And nuclear might be a comparable technology. But even there are a lot of people that get on a plane and they still are very nervous about it. So people might still be very nervous about nuclear. Similarly, though, you’re very likely to be killed by.
A vehicle or Right. A different energy technology like fossil fuels or coal. And yet people are just okay with it. So yeah, I think there’s this normalization effort that, you guys with ANS are doing actively and I think it’s very beneficial for society. Yeah. No. Would you say that’s a decent metaphor?
[00:33:09] Craig Piercy: I love it. I love it. And I, and actually I do use it from time to time and I use my mother-in-law as an example because she lives in the uk. She loves to, she loves to see her grandkids, she loves to see her daughter but she does not like flying. But she loves her daughter more, right?
And so she will get on the plane, she will travel, and at the end, a day later it’ll be fine. And I think, for nuclear yes we still have this aggregate fear level amongst the, amongst the public about nuclear. But at the same time, We realize we have all these challenges, right?
And we, I we care about the planet more, right? I hope we do. And I think we care about clean air and we care about having electricity available when we need it. And so my sense is that the, we are seeing the shift here, right? That it, that I don’t know that we necessarily need to, we don’t need to get everybody to love nuclear.
I think we just need to have people understand it a little bit better. And accept it enough that, yeah. That in their priorities, it’s more important that we, that we stem carbon emissions and, protect the planet than, than worry about nuclear. I agree. I look, I think the, there’s one, is one word that we really should be debating here.
That that we can boil it down to one word and that word is reasonable. Okay. And reasonable shows up a lot in the nuclear world, right? We have a we have a paradigm, as in the nuclear world called as low as reasonably achievable. Now, That makes sense.
I think everybody can agree on the concept. The question is what’s reasonable, right? Is it, do we, do we, do, does industry chase every last milam of occupational exposure, at a cost of millions of dollars? Does that make sense? How do we define reason? The NRC, the NRC’s regulatory principle is reasonable assurance of adequate protection of public safety and health.
But again, it all starts with reasonable and I think reasonable, the definition of reasonable. There’s no one person that can pull the lever on that. I don’t, I think there’s no, we’re never going to have a legal definition of reasonable broadly, but I think that we can move the needle on that public conversation about what is reasonable.
And part of what is reasonable is looking at the costs of not doing something, not developing nuclear. And so I think we have to, that really is where the conversation, needs to be.
[00:35:41] Mark Hinaman: I love the way you’ve characterized that and I. Discovered the same thing in my study of the regulations and the reasons that the industry exist as it does.
And I completely agree I, my, my opinion would be, from a utilitarian point of view, it’s maximize the benefit for humans and minimize the environmental and harm that humans experience. And if you are preventing nuclear from being built at the expense. Because you wanna protect against radiation, but then you build a different, or use a different form of energy generation and ultimately kills more people.
That’s unreasonable. And I think having that shift in mindset, and I, they, a lot of people will point, they’ll figure out the regulator, but I don’t know that it necessarily starts with them. I think it starts with the people that you’re addressing, which is the public, because then we can influence Congress to change the mandate of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which then they can form a real opinion about what’s reasonable. Yeah. Or transform the way that they think about it.
[00:36:38] Craig Piercy: That is, look I, first of all and we had a I think the Regulation always tends to be the boogeyman. And I think sometimes regulation becomes the boogeyman because companies that might be working on a license, preparing a license application, maybe don’t do their home, sometimes don’t do their homework and then blame it on the other guy.
Yeah, I do think there’s some of that, but also recognize that Yes, the NRC is a risk averse organization. And part of that is because the way the licensing process is structured, if you are looking at a part 52 license, right?
You want to use that licensing pathway to get your reactor approved. Basically what you’re asking the NRC to do is I want you to approve everything upfront, because once you approve it, then I can do it and you don’t really have much to say about it. And somebody has to sign on the dotted line of that design certification.
So it makes it a tougher process. So I think we’ve changed some of the processes around. But I do think you know that. Also some of it is because there are rules that, that apply for all of government that slow things down, right? That, that, just the internal concurrence processes that occur within government are super slow.
Anything related to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, right? Environmental impact studies the sort of the public hearing and adjudication process of those things. All of those things take time. It, it affects everyone broadly. It’s why we, we have a harder time, things are more expensive in this country because we go through these processes, but I don’t think that the regulatory process and the regulatory body is going to be, the primary determinant as to how successful nuclear is in the next few years.
I think there we have issues with fuel, we have issues with building a new supply chain, right? We have issues of financing, we have issues of siting. There are a lot of challenges that we are going to have to surmount in the next few years to really achieve success.
And when I think of success I’m thinking of a significant commercial scale up of new nuclear technology in the 2030 timeframe. That could be 28, 29, 30, 31, whatever it might be, but it’s in that little, it’s in that zone, in that landing zone right there. That’s what we all need to be working toward.
I think that’s what most people are working toward and and so let’s not let arbitrary deadlines. Put us off from what we know we need to do in order to accomplish that objective.
[00:39:15] Mark Hinaman: I love that perspective. That’s fantastic. Craig. We’re running up on our time. I can tell you and I could talk for several hours and solve many of the problems of the world, or at least come up with a strategy for it.
But g, give us to end. And this let’s get a perspective on if that became real. What does that look like? Twenty, twenty seven to 2020, call it 2033. How does the world transform between now and then that things are happening? Give us a picture of hope.
[00:39:44] Craig Piercy: Yeah, my look, my picture of hope is that if you fast forward 10 years from now we are going to be.
We’re gonna be in a society where energy is significantly, is becoming significantly cleaner but it’s still plentiful, right? I think that’s the, the challenge I, I always think about, bill Magwood, former NRC commissioner at one point was at a conference and. He was talking in the context of, geologic waste repositories and, how do we make sure that we tell the humans of the future where we buried things?
And how do you know how best to do that? And he’s, he said one thing that always stuck with me. He goes, it depends on what kind of future you’re expecting. Is it Star Trek or Planet of the Apes? And so I, I feel like in the next 10 years we’re gonna be much more, we’re gonna be moving toward more of a Star Trek model of, better living through and better and wider prosperity through technology.
You already see it now, right? We have, we still have a lot of people in poverty, in energy poverty. But it’s a lot less than it was 20 years ago. And if we can crack the clean energy conundrum and really be able to provide plentiful, clean energy around the world that enables all of the other technologies that make our lives better, we’ll be in a better place.
I do believe that. There’ll be pandemics and there’ll be wars but society is marching forward and we’re increasingly realizing that we can’t power what we need for our future without cracking the atom, right? Whether we’re splitting them apart or pushing them together. We need the power of the atom to get us where we need to go.
And so I’m really optimistic about the future and and I think we’ll be driving some cool cars in 10 years, and there’s gonna, we’re gonna have some great tech in our houses and life will be better.
[00:41:32] Mark Hinaman: What a fantastic way to end. Craig Piercy, thanks so much.
[00:41:35] Craig Piercy: All right, thanks Mark. Take care.