Joe Miller describes his background in the Navy, BWXT’s Project PELE mobile microreactor, manufacturing of TRISO fuel for the industry, and the future of nuclear.
[00:00:00] Joe Miller: Yeah, we’re looking at high throughput manufacturing of nuclear reactors, which I don’t think anybody strung all those words together and made it real.
[00:01:11] Mark Hinaman: Hello everyone. Welcome back. We are super excited today. We’ve got an awesome guest. We’re very happy to have him on the call today. So his name’s Joe Miller. He’s the president of Advanced Technologies with BWXT. Joe, how you doing?
[00:01:24] Joe Miller: I’m doing great. Yeah. Thank you, Mark. Thank you having, having me on the podcast.
[00:01:28] Mark Hinaman: Absolutely. Yeah, we we’ve got a lot to cover today, so we’ll, we’ll try and jump right in you know, BWXT Project PELE, kind of the broader energy industry. But before we get all to that, I’d love to kind of cover just you and, and your background, where you come from and how you got into the industry.
[00:01:44] Joe Miller: Excellent. Yeah. So out of high school I joined the Navy and when I was in the Navy, I enlisted as a nuclear machinist mate. So went through bootcamp in Illinois, went through some PowerSchool classes in. Orlando, Florida. Then spent some time in Charleston and then finished the Navy nuclear pipeline up in New York, qualifying as a machinist mate and engineering laboratory technician.
So essentially I didn’t know much about nuclear when I was 18. Joined the Navy, was exposed to the engineering and the science and the operations behind nuclear and became fascinated with it right off the bat and really started to enjoy. What it takes to operate a nuclear power plant and also understand the, you know, the cause and effect effect relationship of an engine room, of a nuclear system and and all the physics and design parameters that go along with that.
So while I was in, I was deployed on a fast attack submarine, the USS Norfolk really enjoyed my time going to see and, and just being part of that important mission and as I was getting close to concluding my sixth year enlistment, I decided to get back into school and got my, my bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering technology.
And from there, I was honorably discharged in late 2003, early 2004, I started working at the shipyard in Newport News, Virginia, building new construction submarines at Virginia Class submarines. It was pretty interesting for me and, and the theme of my career has been starting from operations, really the end point of a system and and understanding how they operate and understanding all of the complexities and interfaces that are required to create nuclear propulsion and nuclear power.
And then I’ve worked way, my way, you know, almost backwards from the shipyard through some high tech industry experience that I had in semiconductor manufacturing. And then here at BWXT understanding more about the thermal hydraulic tests that are required to be able to qualify nuclear systems and then back into research and development.
And as advanced technologies grows in my business unit, what I’ve been able to learn is being able to use that operational experience that I have. Has been instrumental when you couple that with research and development and product development to be able to get back into prototyping and then eventually go full circle into production and manufacturing and ultimately operations.
[00:04:17] Mark Hinaman: No, that’s, that’s awesome. That’s incredible. I, I think starting at the end, use and starting with the customer in mind is always helpful. And having folks that have actually been present and been hands on and seen kinda the whole process from start to finish yeah is invaluable experience, so.
Absolutely agree. Yeah. Looks like you got a master’s in radiation health physics also. I mean, talk to me a little bit about that. What was the motivation behind that?
[00:04:42] Joe Miller: So when I was working in semiconductor manufacturing, I decided, you know, I had two, two choices at the time. Look at different master’s degree programs in business or focus more technical just based on what I really enjoy.
I was able to find a program that was highly technical offering some distance learning. This was in the early days, especially in technical distance learning. . So I found the program at Oregon State was able to interface with a few of the professors there before I joined that program. And really, really thought it was well constructed. So being a couple that, with what I wanted to do in my career moving forward, we thought was a, was a good step and really enjoyed my time at Oregon State.
[00:05:26] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. So, Joe, talk to us about BWXT, I mean, high level, kind of what, what do you guys do? How many different business lines do you have besides the company? I’m sure many people listening to this are familiar with nuclear and BWXT as a company, but some people may not be. So give us kind of a high level overview.
[00:05:41] Joe Miller: Absolutely. So BWXT has two major segments. We have our commercial operations, which is headquartered out of Cambridge, Ontario, and we have government operations, which is headquartered here in Lynchburg, Virginia. So in total we have roughly about 6,700 employees on nearly 7,000 employees in North America.
We also have operations in the UK and operations in Los Angeles and operations really throughout. The United States for different management and operating contracts that we have through our government ops group. So BWXT. Our, our focus is on the the Naval Reactors program, so manufacturing naval fuel for those reactors for both submarines and aircraft carriers.
In addition to that, we manufacture specialty nuclear fuel for research and test reactors, and then we have a lot of environmental cleanup in management and operating. Contracts in the US on the Canadian business. It’s mostly commercial nuclear work for the can-do reactors, and then also producing large components for a variety of different reactor types, both for pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors.
Also in Canada, we have a, a strong focus on. Ramping up our efforts along with small modular reactor vendors to be able to provide them the components they need to, to launch those different products into the marketplace. And then in Canada, we also have BWXT medical that focuses on radioisotopes for the medical industry.
So cancer fighting drugs and, and detection and therapeutics and diagnostics is the range of products that we are producing today. And also ramping up in commercialization. .
[00:07:27] Mark Hinaman: Nice. Such then your primary customers might be governments utilities, research institutes. I mean, you guys covered kinda the whole ga gambit of the industry.
[00:07:36] Joe Miller: That’s right. In advanced Technologies, we, we focus on everything that’s new and different in nuclear, and primarily our customers are nasa the Department of Defense and also the Department of Energy. So we we. Each one of our designs through the development process with a focus on getting into prototyping and eventually producing each one of these units.
At the heart of BWXT. We’re a manufacturing company, so our goal is always to, to manufacture the highest quality products we can for our customers and, and meet those delivery timelines that they require.
[00:08:10] Mark Hinaman: Got it. Makes sense. How’s your team thinking about Trio Fuel? Are you guys dabbling in that?
[00:08:16] Joe Miller: Absolutely. So we’ve been manufacturing Trio Fuel for over 15 years and when the National Lab System, both at Idaho and Oak Ridge were ramping up their laboratory scale capabilities in Trio Fuel over almost two decades ago. BWXT was there to help with the industrial scale up of that application.
So being able to manufacture Trio fuel was developed by the Department of Energy at the labs, and we worked in collaboration with them to scale that up to an industrial scale. And so we have a trio manufacturing facility that can produce the type of quantities that are required for the strategic capabilities office payload program.
And then we also have the ability to ramp up that production as the market requires in the future. So, yeah, TRISO is very important to us, and it’s not just TRISO for BWXT. We also, historically and currently make a variety of different coded fuels, both for my Advanced Technologies Advanced Reactor demonstration program through the Department of Energy.
And then we’ve also been coding different fuel forms for nasa, nuclear thermal propulsion, all within that, that tric. So fuel factory.
[00:09:24] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Do you see anything that distinguishes BWXT’s TRISO program from like X-Energy’s or UNST’s? I mean, any, and I, I know , you may not be super familiar with them, but just curious.
You know, there’s a lot of people that are working on kind of vertically integrating the supply chain.
[00:09:41] Joe Miller: Right. No, that’s a great question. I would say the biggest distinction is the fact that we make the fuel today and we can make it large quantities. So yeah, manufacturing the fuel is a bit of a science and, and it’s also a bit of an art, a lot of technical know-how that’s required.
A lot of background and, and staff. You know, the, the staff that we have that have been manufacturing this fuel for several years, Have been able to apply that resource to making Trio fuel. But in addition to that, the the Nuclear Regulatory Commission license that are required and all of the accountability material, accountability, criticality, safety, the infrastructure, the security, everything that’s required to manufacture.
High assay LEU Fuel, especially trio, requires a very complex set of infrastructure and resources and, and that’s where we have that distinction right now in the marketplace. We can produce the fuel now, we can produce it in large quantities in an industrial scale.
[00:10:36] Mark Hinaman: So if there’s a micro reactor developer or SMR developer that wants to use your guys’ fuel as a staple to their business, you think if they place an order far enough in advance, the, you know, you guys be able to service that request?
[00:10:49] Joe Miller: Without a doubt. And, and that’s a lot of the conversations that we’re having in the marketplace, we feel like the asset that we have in manufacturing, trio fuel is open for the entire marketplace. And so we’ve had, yeah multiple conversations over the last several years and how we can use that asset to, to help kickstart some of the, the trio needs and other coated fuel needs and all in a variety of other fuel needs within the country.
[00:11:11] Mark Hinaman: No, I, I think that’s super helpful from kinda an industry wide perspective because it’s often touted as like there’s no trio supply chain yet, and the fact that you guys have capability, it’s presumably licensed or, you know, will be capable of being licensed through the nrc. Yeah, it’s a tremendous service to the whole industry.
[00:11:26] Joe Miller: No, I totally agree, mark. And, and I would also say that from a BWC standpoint, we’re just hyper focused on delivery of fuel delivery of reactors. We’ve been doing it for, for six decades plus. And in doing so, when when that market is real, when those orders are placed, we have all the, we have the infrastructure and we have the ability to ramp for whatever it’s required.
[00:11:49] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Well, we had listed on our kinda list of questions, is there anything in nuclear that BWXT doesn’t do? I’m inclined to say no after your brief, brief description there, but I’ll, I’ll ask the question anyway. Is there anything you guys don’t do?
[00:12:03] Joe Miller: Well, there’s some parts of the fuel cycle that, that we’re not focusing on.
So mining and resource extraction, especially raw uranium. When we, we don’t participate in that currently. And, and then also on the spent fuel processing side, we, we don’t have a lot of effort there specifically focused out of. Out of our core businesses now spent fuel processing and other fuel processing that occurs to the national labs.
We do have multiple joint ventures and management and operating contracts where BWXT employees are there. But yet we, we, we, we try to stay focused on the designs in advanced technologies, the new designs. , but each one of our designs is, is coupled with testing and coupled with manufacturing development, right?
So it’s, as a manufacturer, if we can’t build it, we’re not going to make it very far on the design. And and having that interplay is something that we really pride ourselves on.
[00:12:58] Mark Hinaman: Now, the NRC has kind of the operating license, the construction license, but then also a manufacturing license for, I think these micro reactors are, are you guys.
Looking at getting one of the manufacturing license or just having a construction permit or how, how do you guys think? So if you don’t know the answer, we didn’t, we didn’t prep you for that one.
[00:13:17] Joe Miller: No, it’s okay. It’s a good question. I, I’ll say a little bit about what our license is. So we have a category one license, which allows us to handle large quantities of, of a variety of enrichments.
So our license allows us to do that. The, the other part of construction that’s important from an NRC standpoint is they do a very good job of coupling their requirements to a s e require. And so we have we’ve been working with a S M E to get the credentials and qualifications required to be able to construct high temperature gas reactors and, and build those out.
So right now our primary program, program in advanced technologies is the PELE program, and that micro reactor will be licensed through a DOE authorization basis. So the, the beauty of that is we can stay super focused with the Department of Energy providing all the inputs required to get that authorization basis.
And then the NRC and the DOE are working together to understand those inputs and understand how that could be used in the future to license through the NRC route. So, so I, I just see it as stepping stones right now, being focused on what’s immediately in front of us, but then using that as a stepping stone to go commercial in the future is, is is how the program has been set up.
And I think it’s been a big benefit for the government to have that broad view.
[00:14:32] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. Yeah. Yeah. So let’s dive into PELE. This is an awesome project. I think it’s a monumental step forward for the industry. It’s super exciting. I, I’ve been following it for years. Yeah. But I think there was a paper published in 2016 by the Army that was touting the need for a system like this that could be taken to the front lines and eliminate diesel supply chains.
And, you know, the government put together a contract for it and you guys eventually won it. So But I’m, I’m curious on your description of the history and the background of the project, what the goals are and where you guys see it.
[00:15:04] Joe Miller: Yeah, absolutely. And I, and I think it’s it’s an awesome project as well.
I totally agree and I feel fortunate to, you know, to be part of BWXT and, and being able to cite this reactor. So that’s not something people have been able to say in a very long time. You know, citing a brand new reactor design. It’s, it’s historically based on a lot of other reactor designs, but as an advanced nuclear micro reactor in the.
Size and mass restrictions that would be required by the Department of Defense is just provides a whole new set of inputs into that reactor design. So being able to work through that over the last two and a half years, it’s been very rewarding. And then being awarded the contract mid-year, last year has, has allowed my organization and really the industry to be able to pivot, not just from a design standpoint, but now we’re getting closer and closer to delivery and testing of a new nuclear system. And so it’s been extremely exciting and and I think the, the outcomes of having this system available are really important for tactical capability, especially when we are so heavily reliant on the supply chains that are required for diesel and uh, and other attribute for producing electricity abroad.
So maybe not in the, in the forward operating base standpoint would be the first use case. But having that capability in the US government to to deploy megawatts on demand would just be an enormous asset. And it kind of goes back to. How nuclear became so prominent in the United States, having a de deterrent capability and then also having a tactical capability to keep peace throughout the world is, is extremely important.
So that, that kind of mission resonates very well with B w XT and my staff and advanced technologies.
[00:16:46] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that, that makes a ton of sense. So talk to us about the distinction and if there’s any distinction with the NRC licensing process. You know, you mentioned the DOE certification. Let’s, let’s dive in a little bit more on trying to understand that better.
[00:17:00] Joe Miller: Yeah, so they’re very similar, right? And in both regulatory bodies, the Department of Energy and the NRC really just need to understand the entire safety case. And with the dimensions and the geometries and the nuclear physics that go into this reactor design, there’s just a a lot of input that’s required for the DOE to do their job.
And so what we have set up and through Idaho National Labs done a really good job of setting up all the input parameters that are required. We’ve been able to tie that to all of our activities and our design schedule, and then we’re able to, to start working very smartly through. Finalizing all of the design inputs for the authorization basis and then couple that to some of the procurements, long leave procurements that we have to make to be able to, to get those components in and start the assembly process.
So as you can imagine, there’s a lot of activities happening in parallel and the doe having an authorization basis process that’s already been established to this design, especially through the collaborators that we have at Idaho National Lab has has starting to hit a stride. And from an NRC standpoint, you know, they have very similar input requirements that go through the regulation and, and um, the certification process. And so what they’re looking at is how does that compliment what they currently know?
How do they need to, you know, alter or customize the NRC specific licensing process to what the DOE is doing. And then I think the outcome, like you mentioned at the beginning of the podcast is, is an establishment of what new nuclear is gonna look like in the future. So all of that put together is a lot of activities, , a lot of work happening simultaneous, but it’s been pretty well orchestrated and I think the, once again, the government’s done a really good job of making sure that it’s orchestrated in the right way.
[00:18:48] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that’s incredible. I, I’ve managed a bunch of large projects before in my career, so I won’t hold you to this, but what’s, what’s your guys’ current timeline for kind of the first prototype being completed or, or tested?
I know timelines can slip and there’s delays all the time, but what, what’s your current forecast?
[00:19:04] Joe Miller: Yeah, so we have two separate contracts within BWXT. The, they’re both competitively awarded. The fuel will be delivered. In in 2024, the reactor system will be delivered late in the year. 2024 is the timeline, and then there’s a, you know, a fuel assembly that has to occur at Idaho.
And then the test series starts in, in 2025. And then if you could, you know, think about it right now, mark, it’s the beginning of 23. A lot of the end users are becoming more and more interested in this product. So the type of testing schemes and, and how that’s integrated into the end user is still being established.
So I would say that. The test program will, will be heavily dictated on what the end use case or the immediate use case would be, and then what the customer’s really looking for. So the obvious commissioning and shake down and, and all that test engineering that I, that I knew and love when I was performing that for about a decade in my career early is gonna be important.
But then when we take the, that unit through its spaces and really understand the operational and performance capability, I think will be heavily dictated by the the customer.
[00:20:08] Mark Hinaman: So who do you anticipate to be some of your first customers or who’s expressing interest in this so far?
[00:20:13] Joe Miller: Just based on our current customer strategic capabilities office, I anticipate the armed services picking it up.
Right. So in that report that you made
[00:20:21] Mark Hinaman: the military right there, engaged with the contract, like, Hey, “can we have one of these things we wanna buy one!”
[00:20:27] Joe Miller: that’s right. That’s right. And, and it’s, it was it was rewarding to be back and talk to the military folks. It brought me back to my early days in my career just to understand what they’re hyper focused on.
What is it gonna take to operate? How hard is it to set up? , what are the maintenance requirements? You know, what does training look like? All of those things that, that are really important. But there’s a variety of customers within the government and, and you saw in that report in 2016, I think a lot of that holds true.
And then you start to extend that to disaster relief and off-grid applications and, and things like that. So I do see there being a big need, especially with energy security being such a prominent topic now and, and will continue to be a prominent topic in the government moving forward.
[00:21:07] Mark Hinaman: Are there any non-government customers that have expressed interest?
[00:21:11] Joe Miller: Yeah, so we have a variety of industrial customers that have asked us, right? So we have, we have the contract to cite one of these reactors. There are a lot of designs out there, there’s a lot of designers out there, but BWXT and our, in our ability to deliver nuclear systems.
Plus the fact that we have this contract with SCO has brought a lot of customers to us and we’ve had a lot of meaningful conversations with them. So mostly industrial applications. A micro reactor is is, is really best used, especially as a high temperature gas.
Micro reactor is best used for industrial applications where. Electricity prices are really high. Thermal energy prices are really high and also you need to have some robustness that would couple well with an industrial system. So we’ve been talking to a variety of customers and we expect to continue that in, in advancement of kinda the offshoot after we finish the PELE program.
[00:22:03] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. Do you guys expect there to be kind of a ramp up period? I mean, getting to the first prototypes one thing, but then having an ENT of a kind. You know, and scaling up and being, being able to get these out the door. How are you guys forecasting that?
[00:22:17] Joe Miller: Yeah, we’re looking at high throughput manufacturing of nuclear reactors, which I don’t think anybody strung all those words together and made it real.
[00:22:26] Mark Hinaman: A lot of people dreamed about it, but yeah, , that’s, that’s right.
[00:22:30] Joe Miller: And, and. That’s, that’s where you get the economy of scale, and that’s where you can drive the cost down, and that’s where you can propagate the technology in a very meaningful way. So we are looking at that. And we also have a commercial advanced reactor demonstration program.
It’s the, the reactors called Banner. It’s a different size. There’s some design features that are different. They’re, it’s based on the commercial marketplace, but. Focusing on what it’s gonna take to get to end of Akin is extremely important because that’s the next question that all of our customers are gonna ask.
They’re gonna ask how it works, what is it gonna take for me to operate it? And then the third, and probably most important question is, how many can I get and how much do they cost? And being able to answer that responsibly just requires a lot of legwork. So we are focusing on that and, and what that ramp looks like over time.
And, and we know we owe it to those customers to have a good feeling for what it’s gonna cost if they wanna make a, a large order. And I think that. that behooves the whole industry to have that right the first time.
[00:23:26] Mark Hinaman: Absolutely. Makes sense. Are there any high level technical details you can share? I mean, anything that would come from kind of cut of a cut sheet or stuff that you find on your website.
[00:23:36] Joe Miller: Yeah, well, for the PELE Reactor, it’s, it’s really what Jeff Waxman, the, the program manager has been talking about the design features that are most important. So having one to five megawatts electricity on demand, being able to cite the reactor rapidly, being able to shut the reactor down, have it effectively cooled down and transport it within a week.
Things of those na of that nature is, is really important. And, and it’s funny because. Classically nukes, nuclear trained people like myself and my staff don’t really think in those terms. It’s typically, yeah. How, how can you extract as much energy out of a given design, P W R B W R design to increase profitability for the utilities, which is very important for the tax, for the rate payer, important for the utilities and everything in between.
But this is more of a tactical machine, so the requirements of being able to deploy quickly. And then remove quickly and, and not have any you know, remediation that’s required in the site in which it was operated are all extremely important. So that’s been a lot of the driving focus for my design team and ultimately with the operations team that we’ll see in the government.
[00:24:39] Mark Hinaman: That makes sense. The, you know, the transportation of spent nuclear fuels. , it’s certainly a problem. Are, are you guys thinking about addressing that? I’m, I’m, you know, the, this reactor’s kind of meant to be mobile and transporting fuel. Or spent fuel. Or fuel that’s been radioactive that has its own set of hurdles.
[00:24:58] Joe Miller: Mm-hmm. ? Yeah, I think so. So that’s part of the scope is understanding. The end of life containment that would be required within the, the iso container Conex box. And then what are the design attributes of the reactor pressure vessel that will help that get through the licensing case for the NRC and other department transportation licensing requirements.
So we, we have been thinking about it. I think that’s something that’s just been running in parallel to us being hyper focused on. Finalizing all the design inputs, getting through the licensing basis and, and ultimately building a unit. But you’re right, I mean, that is something that will have to be addressed, and it’s something that has been addressed in a variety of commercial and in government applications.
We just have to be able to take the, you know, lessons learned from that and apply directly to the scope PELE program.
[00:25:46] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, there’s DOT approved containers that we can move these things around the country, but they, if if it doesn’t fit in that container, then you’ve got a problem or you’ve gotta figure out a different set of rules.
Right. So That’s Right. Exactly. So what, what are some of the other hurdles or challenges, roadblocks that might delay the project? I, I know it’s, it’s a tough question to answer, especially publicly, but, but I mean, is there any, any risk to the project that you guys see Right.
[00:26:11] Joe Miller: I would say any first of a kind project has risk.
And if you think about it, in, in every industry right now, there’s risks in supply chains. There’s risks in, in being able to deploy, you know, first units with the supply chain difficulties that have been stimulated by Covid. But, you know, I don’t see any huge hurdles. It’s just work and activities and there’s nothing standing in our way.
The, the government did a really good job of being able to supply. The input feedstock material for the fuel we’ve been able to. Go through our design and have that design reviewed by the customer at a very frequent basis. So there, there are very few unknowns. It’s just roll up your sleeves, get the work done type effort.
And so as we go through that program, understanding the risks and communicating those risks is something that is very important in our program management evolution. But yeah, I don’t, I don’t see any huge hurdles, but only time will tell and we’ll continue to work the problem. And I feel very confident we’ll be able to deploy this unit and have it operating.
In in the very near, near future.
[00:27:15] Mark Hinaman: So do you think the system will be feasible to be licensed and sell the customers both in the US and out of the us?
[00:27:23] Joe Miller: I think so. From a commercial variant of this, right? So there’s a tactical variant of this that the government will, will control as a commercial variant of this, having power on demand in remote locations.
high, you know, high priced locations is always, it’s super valuable. . Exactly. That’s awesome. Exactly, exactly. And so it’s a little bit of, if you build a they will come type scenario. And I think that’s why it’s so important for s sco to be that pathfinder for new nuclear. And, and they’ve done a good job of just keeping their eye on the prize and, and, and understanding.
Being able to show that the technology works in a small mass, in a small volume as compared to existing nuclear systems, that is a huge hurdle for us to overcome as an industry. So the, the commercial, the commercial customers will come and I, and I think the commercial customers throughout the global come and it’ll help, it’ll be a part of how we address the, you know, the energy issues that we currently face right now as.
You don’t want Earth .
[00:28:25] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. And, and I’ll admit ignorance, you’ve said SCO a couple times. I am not familiar with the acronym or the word .
[00:28:32] Joe Miller: Oh yeah, sorry. SCO is the Strategic Capabilities Office. That’s our customer, customer for project PELE.
[00:28:36] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha, gotcha. Yeah. Cool. Okay. But any other thoughts on PELE or any, any other things that you wanna cover?
[00:28:41] Joe Miller: I think we covered everything. It’s, it’s really just what we talked about. The development phase is concluding. We’re getting into the build phase and the prototype demonstration phase will happen next. And like you mentioned, it’ll be a great win for nuclear writ large, and I’m just excited to be a part of it.
I’m excited that BWXT could be in the lead for it and, and really exciting to see how this stimulates the entire industry.
[00:29:07] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. Well, let’s, let’s zoom out a little bit more and kind of focus on the broader industry energy industry. So how, how do you view the market for advanced nuclear changing in the coming years?
Do you think it’ll grow?
[00:29:19] Joe Miller: I do think it’ll grow and it’s,
[00:29:21] Mark Hinaman: it’s a softball for you, right? Like ? Yeah. Mark. I’m working to develop an advanced reactor of course, with it’s,
[00:29:28] Joe Miller: that’s right. My, my, my organization’s literally called Advanced technologies. And, and so, but it is a good question cause there’s a spectrum of.
of work that’s out.
[00:29:36] Mark Hinaman: Maybe, maybe the question is how, how does it grow and how fast?
[00:29:40] Joe Miller: Yeah. I think it grows in two ways. In, maybe in three ways. So the first is what Ge Hitachi is doing in, in Canada, right? So that commercial market is being really. Start restarted in Canada through their SMR design so that SMR being built in Canada is gonna be a huge win for nuclear in a commercial sense and Absolutely right.
And And they did a very smart thing in the way they chose that program because they have an existing technology that they’re customizing for small modular reactors. So there’s a lot of known. and what they don’t know, they’re probably pretty familiar with. And so that gives a very high probability of success of that program.
And then that’s on the commercial side. We talked a lot about pay and the micro reactor side. So being able to start that, that part of the industry up and provide that tactical capability and then have commercial offshoots is gonna be very important. And then you think about space. , right. So a large fraction of my staff focus on space applications, both propulsion and power.
So we have contracts from nasa, we have contracts for fission surface power and nuclear thermal propulsion. And so I, I see the space domain becoming extremely important, both from an industrial side and from a military department of defense side. So, I think if you couple all three of those things, there’s been an enormous wave of new activity in nuclear and all three of, even though all, all three of those applications are different, we have a society of nuclear engineers and, and other engineers within the US that are becoming hyper-focused on each, each of those three activities.
And I give all of them very high probability of success just based on the need. There’s a strong desire and that’s, that’s really important.
[00:31:24] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. And you guys are certainly a front runner in advancing and changing that technology, so I commend you guys on that. Yeah, thank you. Take taking a step forward and this is yeah, certainly will pontificate about this but do you think nuclear ever outcompete fossil fuels?
[00:31:42] Joe Miller: I’m not, I’m not sure about how compete it, it may be. When I think about fossil fuels, I think there’s always gonna be a need, right? There’s always, there will always be a need in hydrocarbons in, in fossil fuels. One of the things that I think will be most. interesting would be how do we distribute energy in the future?
Do we distribute energy like gas stations and with electric vehicles? Is there a new distribution of energy that that will be required? I do believe that solar and wind and nuclear can work harmoniously together to be able to offset CO2 substantially in the future. I also think all three of those applications, especially nuclear, can make s.
Fossil fuels, which will help with carbon emissions and things of that nature. So I really don’t even think about it as a competition. I know it’s the easy answer, right? It’s all about energy mix. And that’s, that’s a bit of a buzzwordy answer, but it, it . But it’s true. You can’t, you, you can never replace immediately any of these technologies, but the market in the way that the integration of the.
Especially with energy distribution and all of the different energy supplies that exist right now. How all of that gets matrixed in the future will be pretty interesting to me. But nuclear U2 35 energy density is a very, very strong case. Right. So it wins in a lot of different applications. So-
[00:32:59] Mark Hinaman: The underlying fun metals of, yeah, the physics and how much energy’s encased in the raw material makes it very attractive.
That’s right. That’s exactly right. So in, in your perspective and your experience, I mean, you’ve got a big team working for you. I’m sure many of them come from the nuclear industry. Some, some perhaps don’t. They come from other industries. What kinda opportunities do you think exist in the nuclear industry for individuals or even companies that are looking to, to pivot and add to this space and add to the work that’s being.
[00:33:27] Joe Miller: That’s a great question. And staffing is always something that we’re focusing on much like many employers in the, in the US and abroad. So there’s just, there are huge opportunities in being part of a new engineering project. You know, it is a nuclear project, which I think uh, provides an additional desire for many folks.
And it also, it also provides a new entry into a new field for a lot of engineers. from the spectrum of engineers that we hire, only maybe 25% of them are nuclear trained. We hire a lot of material scientists and other engineering disciplines. And so we’ve been attracting a lot of talent outside of the nuclear the normal nuclear pipeline.
And I think most of that staff has been extremely excited about what’s happening in space, what’s happening in the micro reactors. And it, it provides some robustness in my organization too, to get those get those ideas from different. Industries and be able to apply those ideas to some of the big engineering projects that we have within BWXT.
So, so there are a lot of opportunities and we’re looking, we’re looking across every industry that understands high consequence design and high consequence manufacturing. A lot of that exists in medical. A lot of that exists in aerospace. A lot of that exists in civil applications of, of engineering.
So I think if coupling those resources and. And attracting that talent is, is been pretty rewarding for me just because of the feedback that we get from that staff when they join Advanced Technologies.
[00:34:53] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. I was gonna ask, what skillsets do you think are helpful, but you said high consequence industries, so I imagine people that
have motivation for excellence and understand that the work that they do needs to be correct the first time. Am I thinking about that correctly?
[00:35:06] Joe Miller: Yeah, absolutely. The quality assurance aspects of it and just, you know, the integrity that goes into engineering is very important. And when you apply that to something high consequence, like nuclear becomes even more important.
[00:35:17] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, absolutely. Any other key skill sets that you can think of that would make folks successful in the space?
[00:35:25] Joe Miller: Well, I think systems engineering and project management, right? I mean, like you mentioned you’re familiar with, with managing big projects and having that ability to orchestrate across the variety of disciplines and meet customer requirements and, and work with our subs. We have two fantastic subcontractors on pay and Northrop Grumman and.
And roll Royce Liberty works. And so having that skillset too is also extremely important. Most of all of my project managers are engineers that buy background in training, but being able to apply that engineering mindset into managing programs and, and things of that nature has become really important to us as well.
[00:36:02] Mark Hinaman: Absolutely figuring out how to motivate people and hold them accountable and yeah, hold, hold contractors and subcontractors accountable and not from like an, you know, iron stick and whipping people into shape, but rather motivating them to do excellent work. It’s a continuous challenge, but some people excel at it.
[00:36:18] Joe Miller: It is, yeah. And it’s, there’s that balance, right, of when does engineering need to wane and when does procurements need to ramp up? And so, you know, having. Understanding of engineering is the fundamental that’s required, but then being able to orchestrate, like you said, is, is a skillset all into itself.
[00:36:35] Mark Hinaman: Absolutely. Cool. Joe, we’re coming up on our time, so I, I wanna ask you kinda our final question. What gives you hope? Leave us on a positive note about the future of energy and where you see all this going.
[00:36:46] Joe Miller: What gives me the most hope is the conversation that has been started over the last couple of years, specific to energy.
Right. It, it become, it’s be, it has become a very meaningful and honest conversation. There was a lot of political conversation that I think has happened over the last several decades, but the conversation has become very honest on what does that. Energy mix need to look like and how does nuclear play a part in that energy mix?
And so that has allowed us in the industry, in the nuclear industry to reemerge with some very, very interesting ideas. And so the, the fact that the universities are continuing to turn out really great talent, I’ve seen that from a dozen universities that I’ve interacted with over the last five years, plus that honest conversation in energy gives me a lot of hope and.
being able to look at the spectrum of different applications of nuclear. I don’t remember a time, at least not in my lifetime, where you had such a fast ramp in new nuclear technology for the government, for the commercial industry, and then also for space applications all happening simultaneously. So, That my hope is really in the opportunity that we have in front of us as part of the nuclear industry.
And and I see that every day in, in the conversations that I’ve had inside and outside of BWXT. And it really feels good to know that we’re on a, a path to success.
[00:38:11] Mark Hinaman: I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s a fantastic note for us to end on. It’s, it’s gonna be a super exciting next decade, you know? We’ll look back and say 2020, 2022. 2023 of you is kind of a launching point for restarting this.
So Joe, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.
[00:38:28] Joe Miller: Yeah, thank you Mark.