Kyle Frazer chats with Mark Hinaman about his time in the Navy, his role with Xcel, and the future of nuclear in Colorado.
[00:00:00] Mark Hinaman: We talk about just transition, right? We’re about to mandate that we shut down these extraction facilities, extraction industries that have built entire towns and communities for decades.
Yeah. And now we’re coming in as a society and saying, Nope, you’re not allowed to do that anymore, as though it’s like a drug deal happening that we’re gonna shut down. And then provide them no other jobs. I mean, wind and solar projects aren’t gonna be just No, it’s to, to put in place of a coal mine. Right?
[00:00:25] Kyle Frazer: It’s not even close. You’re from Rangeley? Yeah, I’m from Steamboat. We know Northwest Colorado. For anyone else listening, there are two coal plants in northwest Colorado. One of them’s in Craig, that coal plant and the mine and the revenue from the plant keep the entire town alive.
The other is Hayden. Hayden Power Plant provides a lot of really high quality jobs for Hayden, and then it also provides a massive portion of the tax base to keep the schools open. Yeah. The Hayden Power Plant is a huge part of the community of Hayden. If we were to close those plants down without a viable way to replace that source of revenue and source of jobs for those communities, the communities are gonna be devastated.
Yeah. And that, it’s bad, right?
[00:01:12] Mark Hinaman: Generally ceased to exist as they exist now?
[00:01:14] Kyle Frazer: Oh yeah, they won’t exist in any way the way they do now. They’ll figure out what to do. But It behooves us as citizens of the state to try and help other parts of the community. Right. And for Craig, for Hayden, especially Craig, there’s very little else there.
Yeah. So ideally we’d be able to build a nuclear plant there cuz with the closure of the plant itself and the mine, there’s gonna be a lot of good labor. The coal plant workers who work at the coal power plant, they have the exact same skills that you need to work on a nuclear plant.
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[00:02:56] Mark Hinaman: Welcome to another episode of the Fire Division podcast. I’m joined today by Kyle Frazier. We’re here in person and the XL Energy Offices here in Denver. Kyle’s super excited to chat you. Excited to be in person and do one of these in face to face-to-face, so, yeah,
[00:03:09] Kyle Frazer: me too. It’s nice to, uh, actually see people except the little screen, right?
[00:03:14] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. So we gonna chat across the table and, kyle, for the audience, do you wanna give a little bit of background in yourself? Maybe 30 to 60 second intro about Yeah. Kinda who you are and what you do.
[00:03:23] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, so right now I’m the director of, uh, nuclear Strategy for Xcel Energy.
My background, I started in the nuclear navy operating reactor on the submarine. Got out of the Navy, went back to school, uh, the Global Energy Management program right here in Denver. Uh, while I was doing my master’s program, Fukushima happened. And so that sort of changed my trek trajectory away from nuclear.
And I didn’t know what I was gonna do, but I got into management consulting, did a lot of work in, uh, north America. Went over to Europe, opened the European office. I did some work in the North Sea for about a year. Then we did a chemical plant in Le, uh, did some work in Norway, supported some analysis in the Middle East, Southeast Asia.
Then did a fold analysis in Austria, and then a project in Paris. Uh, moved back to the US in 2016. Did a few more years of management consulting in the us. A little bit more in chemical plants and then consumer package goods. So Coca-Cola, Victoria’s Secret basically a company that makes all everything in your bathroom, toothpaste, soap, conditioner.
Then I wanted to get off the road, so I started with Xcel in 2019. Started in our internal management consulting team, and was supporting Nuclear the entire time. And then, Officially in 2022, switched over full-time to nuclear to this position. Nice.
[00:04:57] Mark Hinaman: That’s, uh, broad. We’ll, we’ll dive into a bunch of it.
I can’t wait. Yeah. You know, we’ve talked, we’ve met several times and I’ve seen you speak on a panel before. So e excited to learn about your background and kind of dive into some of the current issues. So, let’s start kind of with the submarine, right? Being in the Navy, what was that like? What was it like being, uh, underwater?
How long were you in to give, give some background perspective on that.
[00:05:20] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, so, I think about half the people in the country who work at nuclear plants came from the military. Cause that’s our biggest pipeline for nuclear training. Yeah. Being on the submarine is, it’s different obviously. There, uh, this room is much larger than anything that we have on the boat.
[00:05:39] Mark Hinaman: What? It’s probably like, uh, 20 feet by 10 feet in this room. Yeah.
[00:05:44] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Yeah, our, uh, our mess hall’s probably similar, but the ceilings are a lot lower than where you, where you eat on a fast attack submarine. But, you know, the, uh, it takes a certain mindset. I think that a lot of people who run submarines get used to it very quickly, but then if, if you’re not comfortable with that, it can be intimidating.
Yeah. Everyone wants to know, were there windows on the submarine? No, it’s a, it’s a war vessel, so no, there are no windows that’s, it’s designed to take hits.
[00:06:17] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, right.
[00:06:17] Kyle Frazer: That’s actually the most common question you get. So, no, we, we do not have any sub, uh, windows on the boat. Uh, the longest we stayed underwater straight was 49 days during mission.
Wow. The longest out of home port was six months. That’s just Westpac and it’s pretty normal. I think every boat does about that. Sometimes they’re longer. Uh, so yeah, six years I got out as soon as I could. Uh, I’m very glad that I did my service. It benefited me a lot, but I was ready to get out. Yeah.
[00:06:47] Mark Hinaman: Well we’re thankful for your service. It’s incredibly helpful. Yeah, but I mean, they’ve got, everyone talks about SMRs and micro nuclear reactors. These things exist on submarines. Absolutely. They have for decades, for 50 years.
[00:06:59] Kyle Frazer: Right. Yeah. The entire model of SMRs is basically based on the idea of what we do on submarines.
Every Los Angeles class fast attack has the same reactor, it’s the same valve, it’s the same setup. The entire thing is the exact same. So if you go from the USS La Jolla, which was my boat to the USS Cheyenne mainstream, same system. In fact, the numbers of the valves are the exact same, so that you know exactly what you need to do.
Yeah. There will be some minor tweaks, but overall easy to change out parts.
[00:07:31] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:07:33] Kyle Frazer: And that’s the idea of the smr, it’s modular. It comes off of the assembly line. There isn’t just one valve in the entire world that’s gonna work. You have hundreds of valves because you have hundreds of submarines in the fleet and they all require the same valves.
Yeah. Uh, it’s to the point where naval reactors can say, oh, we have had issues with, uh, main seawater, 10, it has incursion, so we’re gonna change it, uh, to this type of valve, and then they’ll just make the change in the entire fleet. This exact same idea will happen with SMRs, where you come up with one design, you build it all over the country, and then you have centralized warehousing.
So if you need something, you can get it there, get it to where the SMR is located very rapidly, and if you come up with, hey, there is a design improvement, you can do it to the entire fleet.
[00:08:26] Mark Hinaman: Okay. That I was talking with a colleague about this recently. Are they predominantly PWS or BWS or pressurized water or boiling water?
[00:08:35] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, so all submarines are pressurized water reactors. Okay. Yeah. And then there’s fast attack is the old traditional type the most basic pressurized water reactor you can think of. Whereas ballistic missiles or boomers, they actually have natural recirculation where you’re not running the main coolant pumps.
So you can actually make the boat even quieter for when they’re on mission. Got it.
[00:08:59] Mark Hinaman: And everyone says that nuclear makes great base load because it’s not optimal to load follow, but I think about submarines in, they’re essentially a load following all the time. Yeah. Am I the correct in thinking that, or
[00:09:12] Kyle Frazer: you’re spot on?
So the, the difference between commercial, nuclear and uh, nuclear that you functional, right? It’s wildly, yeah. The. The type of enrichment and the design of the core is very different. The commercial leading in the US it is optimized to just go up to power and stay there for two years basically. Yeah. Uh, whereas, uh, enabled submarine that’ll go from zero power to a hundred percent power in a matter of minutes if need be.
Yeah. Well, not zero. You need to get it up and running and then Right. You know, three power to a hundred percent power. You can do that in less than a minute pretty easily. Yeah.
[00:09:56] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. Okay, so getting out of the Navy, I mean, you commented on it a little bit. It sounds like you traveled a lot.
What were some of the most interesting things that you worked on before coming to Xcel?
[00:10:06] Kyle Frazer: Oh, man. Working in the North Sea was a, an interesting experience.
[00:10:09] Mark Hinaman: Was that for oil and gas in the North Sea?
[00:10:11] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, I was consulting for, uh, talisman cip who is uh, it’s Norway, right? No, it was actually Aberdeen. Oh, okay. Yep. Yeah. But going to a platform is a pretty unique experience.
A lot of people will never imagine what you have to go through to do that. And having been in the military, it wasn’t that big of a stretch, but you know, you put on a suit that keeps out cold water. Cause if you fall into the North Sea, your chances of surviving are pretty low. Uh, and then you get on a helicopter, you fly out to the rig, you get on this little rig and there are hundreds of people out there.
It reminded me very much of being in the military cause you have a teeny little room. I had a lot more space on the rig than I ever did on the boat. Uh, but it was a unique experience. And you can bond with the other people that are out there on the rig very quickly. Same way you do on the, on a, on a boat.
On submarine. Yeah. Or probably on a carrier as well.
[00:11:09] Mark Hinaman: But being in that environment and being in in submarine gave you exposure to a lot of technology. Lot of absolutely. Experience. I mean, you can see how all these tools are used. Yeah. All these different energy systems, right?
[00:11:19] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. And that’s, so there are two parts.
There’s the cultural aspect that’s really intriguing because the North Sea is, that’s where everyone wants to go if they’re from a poor neighborhood in Scotland. Yeah. Cause that’s, the people there are very well paid. And so there’s an entire culture around going offshore that I had never experienced.
[00:11:41] Mark Hinaman: It’s kinda like a right of passage. Like people are, it’s competitive. Right? Absolutely. It’s one of the best jobs.
[00:11:45] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Yeah. And, uh, coming in as the, the American who had to go through bok, which is the training to go offshore, and a lot of people wait for years to get the money to then go to Boza to get training.
In the hopes that they can go offshore. Yeah. And they’re saying, I’m hoping that one day in the future I can do this. Whereas, you know, I showed up and I said, I have to pass this training cause I’m going off in two weeks. So, uh, you know, it’s a completely different situation. Yeah. But then you go out and you have, I was on Piper Bravo, which was made directly after the accident at Piper Alpha, which is probably one of the most famous disasters in off sea or offshore production.
Right. What, what happened? I’m not familiar with that. Uh, so before anything in the golf, and before, you know, the, the BP incident in the North Sea, Piper Alpha had an explosion and killed, uh, hundreds of people. And the people who survived, you know, a lot of ’em were stuck in the water for a long time. And some of ’em, even if they made it off the platform, died in the North Sea, which is just a terrible.
Terrible situation. Yeah. And that was because they had lack safety standards. There’s a a documentary called Fire in the Night, which gets into the exact cause and all the detail, and it’s, it’s a very interesting story, but the Piper Bravo was the first platform that was built with all of the increased safety measures built right away, so.
Gotcha. The, uh, the housing and the, where people live is a separate structure from the actual production floor. Gotcha. So you have your kitchen and your offices and where people get ready and where they live. And then there’s a fireproof wall between that and the actual production floor. And then you have these massive, well, well bores and, you know, you drill your, it’s offshore drilling, so it’s, it’s pretty intense.
But you also have the swells of the North Sea. It’s cold. It’s a, it’s a very interesting environment.
[00:14:00] Mark Hinaman: I think that’s a great example of how, you know, we designed a system, it was very dangerous, people died, but then we innovate, iterate, make it better on the next, next go round, right?
[00:14:11] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, yeah. Like all engineering, right?
Yeah. You, and you can see this history in nuclear. We’ve, we’ve made a lot of mistakes in the early days, and a lot of the really early nuclear innovation led to some pretty bad results. A lot of this stuff was all DOD stuff, so it’s not public information. But, uh, going through nuclear power school in South Carolina, we learned about a lot of it.
And then if you go to Idaho National Labs and you can go and work at the labs themselves, you can go out and see where, oh yeah, this, uh, this reactor, we were gonna try and put it in a plane. One of the nuclear instruments had an un uh, recognized saturation characteristic. And so the, the reactor thought power was going down and in fact it was going up and it just melted the core and shot core material out into the desert in Idaho.
And so it’s, it’s an interesting history.
[00:15:07] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. I love reading about all that stuff. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s fantastic. So, I mean, what, what led you to Xcel? I mean, you said you started in 2019. What, uh, what got you interested in joining?
[00:15:18] Kyle Frazer: So management consulting, the, at least the, the consulting I was doing was a hundred percent on the road.
So I would be, uh, I would leave Sunday night, come back, uh, Thursday night or Friday morning, and my wife said, Hey, if we want to continue to have a relationship, I need to see you more often than two days a week. Right? Yeah. And so I started looking for opportunities that would keep me in Denver and Xcel happened to have just finished.
Its, uh, First round of, we call it XE one. That’s what my, my shirt says. It’s the XL Energy one way. Okay. And that was, uh, we hired McKenzie on the, one of the floors above us to come in and help with productivity improvements and just trying to help us cut costs and improved performance. And our CFO at the time, who’s now our ceo, he said, Hey, why are we paying all this money to McKinsey when we could just build our own team internally to do it?
And so, gotcha. The gentleman who hired me at the time was building that team, and they hired me to do exactly that. So we, uh, we had about a six month turnover while we still had McKenzie in house doing some of the work. And then we slowly eliminated the McKenzie support and did a lot of the work internally.
[00:16:38] Mark Hinaman: Okay. And you weren’t working for McKenzie as the consulting firm, right? No. But you, you found Xcel job. They had an opening here
and Yeah. Part of it was building that
[00:16:46] Kyle Frazer: team and then, yeah.
Yeah. And I had worked with McKenzie when I was in Europe. Okay. So they were doing a reorg at Talisman Zak when I was in the North Sea.
And so I knew, you know, I had done that work before, worked with them. I knew all the methodology, everything was, uh, it’s, it’s fairly easy once you’ve done it a few times with different organizations. So it was easy to sort of say, Hey, I, we can do all this internally builder, right. Team.
[00:17:10] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. That makes sense.
So about six months turnover and, uh, I think everyone should know who Xcel is, but maybe if there’s international guests, just kind of maybe give an overview of the, the utility. Yeah. So what are you guys, what do you do where, where are your service areas?
[00:17:29] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Xcel energy we’re, An investor-owned utility.
We operate in eight states, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, north and South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Right. And that’s, uh, Xcel formed when multiple utilities that existed before were joined together under Xcel. So Pico Public Services Company, Colorado is, that’s our Colorado branch.
That right. Turned into a subsided area that, yeah, yeah. Yep. We operate two nuclear sites in Minnesota. There’s Monticello and Prairie Island. So Monte is a boiling water reactor, about 600 megawatts, and it is northwest of Minneapolis Prairie Island. It’s actually two pressurized water reactors right outside of Red Wing, which is southeast of Minneapolis.
They’re both on in the Mississippi. River.
[00:18:26] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So large service area, uh, is each, I’ll ask this out of curiosity or ignorance, is, is each state function independently and you have to get plans approved, uh, in each state? Sort of have generation capacity?
[00:18:42] Kyle Frazer: We have, it’s not, well, Colorado is by state, but Texas and New Mexico, they both underrate or operate under the same group, s sps.
And so we do the same with Minnesota, Northern South Dakota, that’s, uh, Northern States Power, Minnesota, NS p and then Wisconsin and Michigan or Ns p w for Northern States power Wisconsin. Yeah. So it’s four operating companies together under Xcel Energy.
[00:19:14] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. Okay. Well we’re in Colorado, so let’s, uh, let’s zoom in on Colorado.
Yep. There’s, uh, A lot of policy right now being discussed and tried to be implemented about, you know, we’re the state’s trying to be 80% carbon free by 2030 and a hundred percent carbon free by, what is it? 20 40, 20 50 timeframe, sometime after 2030.
[00:19:36] Kyle Frazer: So you’re, you’re, uh, you’re conflating two different goals here.
So Xcel as a corporate entity has a stated goal. We were the first utility to announce that’s, yes. 80, 80 by 30. So 80% carbon free by 2030. And then the second part of that is a hundred percent carbon free by 2050. Right. Now, those are Xcel’s objectives. That’s Xcel’s Right. Objectives, right? Yep. And we’re going to figure out how to do that in our service territories.
Right. However, since we announced those goals, uh, the state of mini Minnesota has said, Hey, we’re gonna be a hundred percent free by 2040. So their goal is even more aggressive than our original goal. And we’re gonna have to figure out how to actually meet that goal. There is a similar effort in Colorado.
New Mexico has a similar effort, but they’re approaching it a different way by saying there will be no new carbon emitting generation installed in the state from now on in New Mexico. Yep. Okay. Yeah. So that’s confusing. Well, there are some off ramps, uh, based on price. Okay. So if the price is well outside of the range of reason, then they’re gonna allow carbon.
But this was an incentive to try and build carbon free power.
[00:20:48] Mark Hinaman: Got it. Generation. Okay. So Xcel has goal, those goals. Yeah. Uh, can you speak to Colorado’s or how they mesh with kind Colorado’s policies? Absolutely.
[00:20:59] Kyle Frazer: So Colorado recently has taken more of a, uh, aggressive approach trying to reduce carbon emissions. There is a little bit of.
I don’t wanna say conflict, but there are, you know, a, a lot of Colorado is oil and gas friendly specifically. Sure. Northern area around Greeley, weld County down south around Trini it,
[00:21:30] Mark Hinaman: the sixth largest, uh, oil producing state in, in the nation. Yeah. So, yeah, absolutely. Lots of oil coming outta the ground.
[00:21:35] Kyle Frazer: And then on the, the Western slope, obviously around rifle there’s, yep. And historically, Colorado has had a lot of oil and gas production as well as coal. I mean, we’ve been an energy center for a long time, but with, you know, a lot of people want to move to Colorado to enjoy the mountains and enjoy the forest.
But with climate change, we’re seeing that we’re having a negative impact on the environment by having the carbon emissions. So a lot of people are trying to increase our reliance on carbon free generation. Yeah. Uh, now, Where that ties into nuclear is that Colorado had a nuclear plant, Fort St. Vain.
Yep. It was a, uh, helium cooled reactor. They burned thorium in the core as long as well as uranium. Uh, the, it, it shut down cause it did not operate well and the cost was going to be very high to make the required repairs. There are a variety of reasons,
[00:22:32] Mark Hinaman: but that was a commercial utility scale plant was It was, yeah.
[00:22:35] Kyle Frazer: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. It was operated by a public service company, Colorado on the mighty Fort St. Vain river just north of Denver. Uh, we converted it over to a coal plant, so it’s still operating as a energy center. It’s not coal anymore. Now there’s natural gas facilities there, but you can still go and actually tour the visitor center if, for example,
[00:22:57] Mark Hinaman: there’s, there’s a group of us actually gonna go and at the end of the month and tour.
Yeah. So we’re, we’re excited with that, with Doug. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:23:04] Kyle Frazer: I’ll be there. Xcellent. Can’t wait. Yeah. So when we look at generation right now, Xcel has four coal plants operating in Colorado, uh, in 2020. State of Colorado said you need to figure out how to, this was through an EPA rolling clean air.
We need to shut down all of the coal plants by 2030. We need to come up with a plan to do that. So right now, Xcel’s planning to shut down all of our coal plants by 20 end of 2030. Uh, the only one that’s going to make it into the 2030s is Comanche three down in Pueblo, and it’ll be closed by the end of 2030.
So January 1st, 2031, there will be no coal operating in Colorado that’s owned by Xcel.
[00:23:57] Mark Hinaman: That’s, uh, Fascinating to me.
[00:24:01] Kyle Frazer: And it’s, it’s fascinating to a lot of people. Yeah. Because that’s, it’s firm dispatchable base load. It’s, it can be relatively inexpensive. And so that, that is the conundrum. Yeah. Because we’re trying to replace it with wind and solar and wind and solar as you know, are intermittent sources.
So in Colorado, especially on the plains on the east side of the state, we have a lot of wind in the middle of the night, but it’s not consistent. Yeah. And if you have a heat dome in the summer, you may have multiple days with no wind whatsoever. Uh, in February of this year, 2023, we went from a very windy day to basically no wind in a matter of hours.
And that knocked a huge amount of generation off of the grid. And luckily we were prepared, we were able to ramp up and cover the. Uh, generation decline of the wind with natural gas and coal, but if we close down all of our, uh, coal plants, we will not have that ability in the same way that we have in the past.
[00:25:07] Mark Hinaman: Do you know if the cuff, what percent of generation the coal plants are, are they like 10%, 20%?
[00:25:13] Kyle Frazer: I, I believe they’re closer to 50%. I don’t know the specific numbers. I have ’em at my desk. Yeah, we can look ’em up and we’ll put ’em the show notes. Yeah. Yeah. They’re it’s pretty significant. Yeah. Especially because you have, so Craig Station, that’s three actual coal plants.
It’s one site, but they’re three plants, right? Three generators that are, yeah, they’re probably the two ones, probably between 600 and 1200 megawatts each. I don’t know the specifics, yep. And then Hayden is two coal plants and I think they’re around 500 each, so it’s around a thousand mega.
Watts. Uh, and then we have PK out in brush, and it’s a coal plant that we’re gonna be switching over to natural gas. And then Comanche, which is Comanche one, two, and three. Comanche one and two are both relatively small, but Comanche three is a big unit, right? So it’s, it’s gigawatts of power that we’re gonna be taking off the grid.
[00:26:07] Mark Hinaman: So what’s, uh, what’s the current strategy for that?
[00:26:10] Kyle Frazer: Right now we’re planning on replacing as much as we can with wind and solar, and hoping that battery technology improves over the near future to the point where it becomes cost competitive and we can build some sort of long-term storage. So that would be, uh, right now the idea is batteries.
Do you know what Cabin Creek is? No. So Cabin Creek is a pump storage unit, which is up near the top of G Gu Pass. Okay. So, during, during the middle of the night when there’s a lot of extra wind, we can. Pump water from the lower reservoir up to the upper reservoir. And then when there’s high load, we drain water from the upper reservoir to the lo or we drain it and the sleuth goes right next to a turbines, you’re actually spinning a turbine with the water from the upper reservoir into the lower reservoir.
So it’s basically a huge battery. Right. There are a lot of pumped hydro projects that are in consideration around the world. They are extraordinarily expensive. Uh, environmentally they, that’s it’s very expensive storage. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They can be devastating environmentally because, you know, you’re, you’re creating a reservoir and to make them big enough to have significant storage, you can make absolutely massive reservoirs.
Yeah. So, uh, that one is an idea that people are pursuing. We floated that idea internally. The cost was just way too high, so we’re not, As of right now, planning on any, any more pump storage in the US There’s a lot in, uh, Norway. Yeah. So they have a lot of excess energy and with hydro
[00:27:48] Mark Hinaman: and a lot of elevation gain that Right. Absolutely. Canyons and, yeah. Optimal, yeah.
[00:27:53] Kyle Frazer: Fjords with lakes and lots of different train changes over very, uh, short distances. So it’s optimal, like ideally suited for that sort of energy storage.
[00:28:05] Mark Hinaman: Colorado, even though we have lots of mountains, it’s, the landscape is different and we’ve, I mean we’ve built a lot of reservoirs already in kind of the best spots to build them throughout the state.
[00:28:14] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. And then your, your problem is, is that you do not have, uh, ideally located reservoir that is relatively close to another, ideally located reservoir, right. With a connection between the two. I mean, it, it’s a absolutely massive cost to build the infrastructure, to make that realistic, right.
[00:28:33] Mark Hinaman: To have these huge transport canals or pipelines that you gotta pump the walker back up.
[00:28:37] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Uh, Australia’s in the middle of building one of these things. That is the, the cost is in the billions and they’re dramatically behind schedule on the project. Uh, yeah, I would encourage you to look it up if you have the time. It’s, it’s interesting. But so that’s one battery option. We’re looking into a lot of advanced battery technologies.
I mean, most of the batteries that exist right now are just regular lithium ion batteries. On the way out to Dia people have seen the huge Panasonic building that’s actually a demonstration battery to figure out, Hey, is this thing,
[00:29:11] Mark Hinaman: how long is it gonna last? What’s work? What’s the actual Yeah, the real capacity factor, the real lifetime.
[00:29:16] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, absolutely. So that was sort of a, a prototype, a pilot prog project to see how batteries would integrate into the grid, what is value they add. And, you know, they do have a value. There’s no doubt. The, the problem is you’d have to have an absolute. Massive build out of batteries to truly make up for your reduction in other firm dispatchable.
Yeah. So if you get rid of all of your coal plants, that’s gigawatts of generation that’s coming off the grid, you then have to replace that with gigawatts worth of storage capacity, and then you have to have the means by which to charge that storage capacity. So if you were to build a 500 megawatt wind plant, one, the capacity factors probably around 20%.
I mean, we’ve seen 17%. There are some that are low twenties.
[00:30:13] Mark Hinaman: Is that typical in Colorado then? Because I, I hear wind is often 30 to 40%, uh, capacity factor and there’s some offshore projects that tout above 50% or even close to 70%. But there,
[00:30:25] Kyle Frazer: I don’t think there’s anywhere in Colorado that’s gonna be over.
Especially right now. I mean, we’ve already built in a lot of the really great places. Yeah. So now, so additional in capacity. Yeah. Yeah. And of course once you get to a threshold, every next location you build on is going to be worse than the one before. Yeah. So we’re to the point where we’re starting to see diminishing returns for our wind generation facilities.
In Colorado, at least right now, if you go to the Dakotas where it is more consistent wind, uh, less concerned about population impact, cause there’s a lot of just open land, you might be able to get higher capacity factors. Right. But back to the the point, you need to massively overbuild out your renewable capacity to then charge the batteries as well as maintain the grid.
So hypothetically we’d say we only need five gigawatts of power in Colorado. So we could build five gigawatts worth of generation, but with wind, because it has low capacity factor, you have to build significantly more nameplate to cover your load. And then if we have firm dispatchable that is in the form of battery, you then have to charge that battery as well.
So you have to build more wind to charge the battery to help maintain the grid when there is no wind. Yeah. And same with solar. So during the day you have a lot of extra power.
[00:31:53] Mark Hinaman: I mean, back in the envelope, solar is pretty simple. I mean, if it was sun, sunny every single day and you had a 40 to 50% capacity factor, you’d have to build at least two x solar Right.
To, to charge at night. Yes. All right. Pretty simple to think about that. Yeah. And then have enough battery capacity to last through the night. Yeah. I mean that’s like the bare minimum, but of course we know it’s not. And so it’s the inverse of,
[00:32:16] Kyle Frazer: and that’s in an ideal world, right? Yeah. Assuming, you know, uh, it’s summer and you get lots of sun and there those bad.
The wind, the solar panels are not covered with snow or dust or you’re not having a cloudy day. That’s what’s interesting about solar facilities. We have some graphs that sort of show, oh, you have your, your days and nights, right? But then if a big cloud rolls in front, you’ll be up at the top of your peak, boom, straight down to almost nothing, and then the cloud goes back, boom, back up to where it was.
Yep. And that in maintaining a grid is really hard to account for. Yeah. So hypothetically you’d be able to have a battery that would help even out some of that in reduce that and they’d say, okay, this battery can pick up this dramatic drop. But, you know, cycling batteries too often is bad for the batteries.
Yeah. And we might get to the point where some of our batteries are better, but right now we’re still struggling with rapid change in discharge rate or charge rate or whatever. It’s.
[00:33:24] Mark Hinaman: So I, I think these ideas can be summarized succinctly, right? Everyone says renewables are very cheap, levelized cost of electricity is very low, but that’s not taking into the consideration the system wide cost, right?
So Right. Levelized systems, cost of electricity, right? Or Yeah. Is there a better acronym for that?
[00:33:42] Kyle Frazer: Uh, I don’t know if there is a, there should be, right? We should be, yeah. And, and that’s on Tuesday. We were talking about the transmission part of what our grid will look like in the future because yeah, there is a lot of wind in the Dakotas where there’s not a lot of population.
Wyoming has a lot of wind and not a lot of people. So we could in some idealized future have windmills all over the state and we would have sufficient generation capacity to be able to provide this. But, but we’d have to get that power. To the population centers, and it’s a long way from North Dakota to California.
Uh, and transmission losses are built in. You have competition for those transmission lines from other sources of generation. The grid is a very complex system and the amount of investment involved to get a grid capable of moving a generation from the center of the country to the coasts or to where the load is, is very, very, very expensive.
[00:34:55] Mark Hinaman: Well, and I think a huge piece of that cost is the land use. Absolutely. Just getting access and permission to build these lines and getting right away to do it costs a lot of money. And there’s a lot of people that don’t want ’em. Right. There’s, so there’s nimby, I think that’s on. I don’t think we talk about that often. No. Transmission, nimbyism and nimbyism for not in my backyard, uh, against transmission lines is, is a huge problem.
[00:35:19] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Uh, I would say, In, in the Dakotas where it’s relatively flat and it should be fairly easy to build transmission lines, the majority of your cost is going to be acquiring the land to build the corridor.
Right. Whereas in Colorado, going over the mountains, you’re probably gonna have a lot more cost associated with building transmission over the continental divide and through the mountains to get where it needs to go. But everywhere it’s expensive. Now if you want to say, Hey, we’re gonna just claim eminent domain and take away farmer’s land to build transmission, I mean that’s possible, but I don’t think that’s nationalizing the energy system that Exactly.
Yeah. You run into issues no matter what you do. And the amount of cost that’s gonna be required is probably more than people are comfortable with right now. Yeah.
[00:36:16] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So Xcel has this goal, 80% current free by 2030. You know, the, your plan for batteries, or you’re hoping the batteries are gonna get better to provide this backup generation and storage ability during the troughs of intermittent power sources.
But hope is not a plan, so, or it’s never a very good plan. Right. And so I’m sure you guys will be looking at other options. What, what else, uh, could, could be built or could be done that’s not coming from these intermittent sources?
[00:36:46] Kyle Frazer: The majority of our other work is in either hydrogen, which hydrogen can act as a battery.
Mm-hmm. Uh, or in geothermal. And we’re, we’re looking into biogas, we’re looking into all sorts of different options, but probably our biggest effort is in hydrogen. Okay. So the, the interesting part about hydrogen is that as. The electrification of our homes as well as the grid occurs. So right now, most Coloradans use natural gas for heating in their homes.
Their furnace is natural gas powered. Uh, one of our goals is to require more electrification or figuring out a way to not use natural gas in the traditional natural gas sense. Maybe it’s biogas, maybe it’s hydrogen that you can burn in your furnace. And central natural gas that’s going to significantly increase the requirement for hydrogen.
So in that use, you’re directly burning hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in cleaning for homes. Uh, the other side is you can burn hydrogen in some of our natural gas, uh, turbines. So we have combined cycles, simple cycle turbines that burn natural gas. They’re the other form of, uh, fossil fuel generation on our grid.
Uh, most of the turbines that we have can burn some percentage, low mix of hydrogen, but right now I don’t think we have any turbines on our system that could burn 80% hydrogen. I mean, I don’t think they can even go to 50% without significant modifications. Yeah. Furthermore, hydrogen is very slippery molecule and hydrogen will brittle steel.
It will have impact on different metals that we don’t fully understand. In a system that was built in some cases hundreds of years ago, uh, I don’t think there’s much left that’s that old. But, uh, Denver, we have our Denver steam plant. Denver Steam provides a lot of heating for a lot of the buildings in downtown Denver.
That’s a very old system and it still works, but it’s very costly. If we were to replace that with electrification, if we were to heat all the buildings with electricity, Well, then you’re increasing your electrical demand. Yeah. So there’s gonna have to be a way to balance our generation demand and the increase due to electrification and figuring out what to do with hydrogen, because it can’t go only for heating.
It also has to go for generation. Yeah.
[00:39:28] Mark Hinaman: And I, I always think it’s important to highlight hydrogen isn’t an energy source, just energy carrier. Right. Right. It’s essentially a battery. Yeah. Or it serves the same purpose as battery. Yeah.
[00:39:38] Kyle Frazer: And in, in the, well, if we’re burning directly in the homes, then it’s actually an energy source if we’re, you have to source the hydrogen from somewhere.
Yes. Yeah. So, uh, hypothetically if we have a bunch of wind Yeah. In the middle of the night, so let’s say in the middle of the night is usually when we have the lowest load. So, and these are made up numbers in the middle of the night, we’re only using one gigawatt of power in the state, and we have five gigawatts of generation.
You could take four gigawatts of generation and turn that into hydrogen production. Right? Wild amounts of electrolysis, you’re gonna have a lot of losses in the electrolysis itself, but you could end up with two or three gigawatts worth of hydrogen that you’re producing overnight that you could then deploy during the day.
Right. So in that case, it is acting as a battery because you’re creating it and then you’re gonna use it at a later time.
[00:40:33] Mark Hinaman: Right. But you had to have the excess generation built and have, have it available when it’s not being used. And that, and when I’ve studied this, the roundtrip efficiency of hydrogen is often like it’s pretty sub, sub 50%, sometimes down to 10 or 20%, meaning like, oh yeah.
For every unit of energy you put in, by the time you finally burn the hydrogen or turn it back into something useful, you’re only using, you know, some small fraction of what energy you actually originally put in.
[00:41:01] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Depending on hundreds of factors, it can be very low. I mean, ideally we would be able to get it up so it was significantly higher.
But you already called out, you get back to the base case that it’s just a battery and you have to significantly overbuild your generation capacity to charge that battery. Whereas if you had firm dispatchable base load, you’d say, okay, well I don’t have to wildly over bill to charge the battery cause I’ve got the baseload already.
So right now, today we have the base load in the form of coal and natural gas. Most of our natural gas acts as peaking units to help cover the gap when we don’t have renewables. But our coal very frequently is a base load. Uh, and that’s where obviously nuclear can come in. So nuclear is a spectacular base load.
Uh, most of the reactors that are currently operating, that’s all they are. They’re just base load. Yeah. Uh, they, some, some people are, uh, evaluating, turning. Nuclear into a little bit of a flex unit by using nuclear plants to do the electrolysis to create hydrogen. Right? When there happens to be a renewable, but at that point electrons are electrons.
So if you have extra capacity from your wind and you have your nuclear, you still have extra capacity somewhere. It doesn’t matter if it’s from the wind or the nuclear. So yeah, it just happens to be convenient to cite it at the nuclear plant because you already have people, you have infrastructure, you have what you need.
[00:42:34] Mark Hinaman: Well, and you could existing already. I, I, I think there’s some thermodynamic advantages to if you’re using high, high temperature systems, if
[00:42:41] Kyle Frazer: you do high temperature steam, right. For the electrolysis. Yeah. There is built in efficiency that way. Yeah. Uh,
[00:42:46] Mark Hinaman: the wind couldn’t necessarily supply right here. Right. I mean, the electrolysis wouldn’t be as efficient No. As that.
[00:42:51] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. If you do electrolysis from low temperature water, you have to add in more energy to get out the same amount of hydrogen. Whereas if you have high temperature water or steam, you can do the electrolysis with lower energy input. It, right?
Because a lot of your energy’s coming from the temperature, which is just the same.
[00:43:05] Mark Hinaman: So from that perspective, the calculus could be more beneficial for a, uh, thermal plant that is carbon free, like
[00:43:12] Kyle Frazer: absolutely. Plants. Yeah. And that’s Xcel happens to be, uh, we were, we are building a pilot for high temperature electrolysis.
I believe we’re one of the only plants that’s doing actual pilot work on Right, on that right now at scale. Where’s that? In Minneapolis. Prairie Island.
[00:43:32] Mark Hinaman: Okay, cool. Well, we kind of beat around the bush covered a bunch of the other, energy generation sources to get there. Right. But this is, generally nuclear podcast.
So, what’s Xcel’s view on nuclear? I mean, it, it seems like it has a lot of the advantages for being a replacement for some of these carbon sources that are shutting down. But how’s it fit into your guys’
[00:43:51] Kyle Frazer: calculus? And I can’t speak for Xcel on this. I can, I can tell you my opinion.
Sure. Uh, yeah. So we’re going to need more firm dispatchable power in the future. Uh, I, I think everyone sees the writing on the wall as we get closer to this date. We’re, we’re not where we need to be in terms of having a really solid plan. I mean, we are still hoping the batteries are gonna get better to the point where they can help us solve this gap.
But I like you don’t think hope is a reasonable plan. You know, I think that we need to actually increase our use of nuclear. And I don’t think that there’s anyone who has a good understanding of how the grid works, that thinks we can do this without nuclear. A lot of other utilities are including nuclear in their resource plans, and they’re including significant additions of nuclear to make sure that they can meet the demands of the future.
We talked about electrification earlier. Another big part of that is EVs. If we significantly increase the amount of EVs that are driven and used, then we’re gonna have to come up with generation to charge those EVs. Right now there is a gap between where we are and where we need to be in terms of powering those EVs.
Yeah. Now if we were just generation capacity Yeah. Straight up nameplate generation capacity, we don’t have enough to meet EV goals that Right. Our policy makers are setting. Absolutely. Yeah. Whereas we know that if we had more baseload generation, that would be a little bit more achievable. Yeah.
[00:45:33] Mark Hinaman: Interesting. So, do you think Xcel would ever consider building a nuclear power plant in Colorado?
[00:45:39] Kyle Frazer: Uh, I would like to think so. That’s a big part of my job. So like,
[00:45:43] Mark Hinaman: yeah. I’m currently being paid to scope it and figure it out. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:45:47] Kyle Frazer: Uh, Obviously there’s risk as an investor owned utility, we are very risk averse people.
Investors enjoy utility shares and utility stock because they are stable. Yeah. Steady. Yep. They’re gonna stay in this band. Almost never go outside of that band. If they go outside of that band, that’s a problem for a different conversation. But, uh, that means that we’re very risk averse and nuclear based upon the last decade or two in the United States is risky no matter what.
Yeah. Uh, look at Vogel. I mean, that’s about the worst case scenario for utility executive. Yeah.
[00:46:33] Mark Hinaman: I think Summer might have been worse for they guys went to jail for that one. Yes. Yeah.
[00:46:38] Kyle Frazer: So that’s true. But, but it’s something that was actually built. Yeah. Right. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, summer absolutely a huge problem.
On the other side, you know, if you go to France, they’re building, they’ve been building nuclear for a long time, and a, a massive amount of their long-term plan is going to continue to rely on the existing nuclear plants. So they were at times 85% nuclear generation for their electricity. That is amazing.
Yeah. So we know that it’s possible, and granted, they do have higher electricity costs than we do, but they also have other systemic differences in their system, which some of them would say, okay, now you can see why they’re gonna have a higher cost. Because they just have a completely different sort of system.
Right. Others would say, Hey, a big part of the increased cost is that they’re majority nuclear, but in fact they are providing electricity for other countries at a lower cost than those countries can do coal in their own country. So yeah, it’s, it’s a much more complex problem than I think a lot of people.
[00:47:44] Mark Hinaman: So let’s highlight some of the risks and kind of take them, take them head on and what, what are they and how could they get worse and how could they get better? Or how could they become mitigated or Yeah. How could they be spiraled outta control? And the two that I wanna focus on are cost and regulatory.
[00:48:02] Kyle Frazer: All right. So you’re, you’re skipping the biggest risk, which is the, the risk of meltdown. Right. A nuclear accident.
[00:48:10] Mark Hinaman: Okay. I, I generally don’t view that as a risk. Uh, and meaning there’s, yeah, there’s a, you should bring data that demonstrates for decades, for half a century, we’ve operated these things and we’ve killed almost nobody.
Right? Right. So, I mean, that’s not a risk in my mind,
[00:48:24] Kyle Frazer: and it, it shouldn’t be, but it is, and that is part of the problem because it’s not a true risk, but it’s perceived as
[00:48:33] Mark Hinaman: it’s a perceived risk. Perception is not no biggest risk. Nice sense reality.
[00:48:36] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Right. So, uh, China syndrome, Cher Noble, any movie where there’s a nuclear disaster, All that does is increase the perceived risk of a nuclear accident.
So in the United States in commercial power, we’ve been very lucky. We have not had any serious meltdowns outside of Three Mile Island. And that, that was a serious meltdown that was also not as bad as it could have been. No one got extra radiation. No one outside of the actual power plant itself got any radiation beyond what you just get from living your normal life.
Right? So that was blown out of proportion from a public safety standpoint, but it still captured the imagination of people due to the unfortunate release of the China syndrome, the movie with Jane Fondo, where a reactor melts through the center of the earth to China.
[00:49:26] Mark Hinaman: Well, that’s, you know, that’s really part of this podcast effort is to change the perception, right?
Change the hearts and minds of the people that we care about, that we wanna build power for. Yeah. And let’s, uh, let’s help alleviate some of those fears.
[00:49:36] Kyle Frazer: So, yeah, and I, I think. Not only have we proven the United States that we can operate reactors safely, but with the advances in technology, it almost becomes a non-issue because most of the, so let’s, let’s talk about the three big accidents that everyone knows.
Three Mil Island, that was basically a Gen one reactor. It was a Gen one reactor. I mean, this was the very start of nuclear power. Yep. A lot of the naval nuclear design took the lessons learned and then applied it to advanced reactors in the Navy. And they’re not even advanced reactors in the way we say advanced nowadays.
They were just slight improvements on the sea wolf. Right. The next one after that, Wascher Noble. Now Cher Noble was a serious, terrible accident. A lot of people died, no operators died, but the core was open. First responders died from acute radiation sickness. Right. People who were flying directly over the court and helicopters were getting ridiculous doses.
[00:50:42] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. I do think it’s important to qualify. When you say a lot, when I’ve looked at the numbers, it’s about 50 to 200 would be a reasonable estimate for first responders. Oh, yeah. You know? Oh yeah. These, as far as total people and then the excess cancer is, and excess deaths still.
[00:50:56] Kyle Frazer: Oh. That, that’s hard to really quantify. Kind of. So 500 to a thousand maybe, like, I would say less than that.
[00:51:02] Mark Hinaman: You would say less. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. The, the, I was, I was being generous. Right. Yeah. Right.
[00:51:06] Kyle Frazer: No, that, that makes sense. The first responders, it was less than a hundred people. Yeah. Uh, we know by name about 36 people who died from acute radiation poisoning within the first 24 hours.
Yeah. There are other people who died shortly thereafter, most likely due to a radiation exposure. Beyond that, it’s, it’s almost impossible to tell. Yeah. Uh, did the. Released radiation exposed a lot of people. Absolutely. But was that radiation exposure enough to significantly increase the risk of cancer?
Probably not. Yeah. Uh, Cher Noble right now is actually thriving because people have stuck away from it.
[00:51:51] Mark Hinaman: The biodiversity is phenomenal. I mean, some of the,
[00:51:55] Kyle Frazer: we haven’t destroyed the forest. We haven’t gone in and hurt the animals. I mean, the, the wolf population is one of the strongest in the world, so, yeah.
Yeah. Obviously the long term effects of that, as terrible as it was, are not as bad as a lot of people like to think. Right.
[00:52:11] Mark Hinaman: Well, just to put in perspective, maybe a couple hundred people died from, uh, the world’s worst nuclear power accident versus the offshore platform accident. You referenced earlier in our conversation, several hundred people died.
Yeah. And I’m sure if you normalized on units of energy generated like one is significantly worse than the other. Meaning Cher Noble, even with all the death. Produced way more energy. And you know, energy for deaths is much, much higher.
[00:52:37] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Right. Yeah, no, and that’s an interesting, if you go all the way down that rabbit hole.
Yeah. And you say,
[00:52:44] Mark Hinaman: which I have many times, it’s,
[00:52:46] Kyle Frazer: if we look at all of the power production on earth. Yeah. And then we say, uh, let’s look at the entire chain. So we’re gonna go mining of coal, mining of uranium, mining of silicon to make, or, you know, I mean it’s probably not mining, but creation of silicon for solar panels.
And you say, we’re gonna compare the number of deaths compared to the power output. Nuclear is by far the safest By far. By far. So I mean, the amount of people who die in coal mines every year is absolutely mind blowing because it’s. Especially outside of the United States. Yeah. We have minors die in the US every single year.
Yeah. Uh, I would challenge you to find how many uranium mins have died in the US in the last 50 years?
[00:53:38] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Probably very few. I don’t wanna say zero, but I can almost guarantee you very few. I think
[00:53:46] Kyle Frazer: the answer is zero. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I’ve never, I’ve never heard of a single one and I’ve looked into it. Yeah.
Now, whether or not, I mean, if you go to Russia where a lot of the uranium is being mined right now, I don’t know the conditions of the mines in Russia, but I would imagine that they’re not good. Yeah. I also think that the amount of power you’re gonna get from the uranium that you mine is still significantly higher than the amount that you’d get from the coal mine.
Oh yeah. Percent. Significantly lower deaths. So,
[00:54:16] Mark Hinaman: okay. So that’s the first risk or risk of meltdown, but really it’s a risk.
[00:54:20] Kyle Frazer: Hold on. So now we, we have to go back to Fuku machine. Okay, so that’s the third big, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re walking through each of these. Yeah. So Fukushima was a gen two reactor.
Uh, it was a good design, still is a good design. It was designed with a massive earthquake in mind, or it was designed with a massive tsunami. It didn’t account for both, and in fact, the earthquake that they had was the largest they’d ever had. So they, they were not expecting the largest earthquake in the history of the island with modern technology to actually, yeah, determined that it was the largest and an absolutely massive tsunami at the same time, even with both of those, the plant shut down.
It was relatively safe for a few days. The problem was they couldn’t get diesels flown in and the tsunami swamped the diesels that they had on site, right. It swamped the batteries, and so they were not able to get power back to the reactor to continue cooling the reactor in time. So it was obviously a huge problem.
They’re still dealing with some of the impact, but it took a lot more than most people would ever imagine to get there. Yeah, and that’s still a Gen two reactor with minor modifications. We’re up to gen three plus. That’s our lightwater reactors. The SMRs that are being built by NuScale, GE hol tech, those are gen three plus.
Then we get to advanced reactors, which are some of the Gen four s, which are Xer energy, Terra power, Cairos Fly. But, and you’re talking about reactors that are so inherently safe that it’s almost hard to come up with a way there could be an accident. Yeah. With a molten salt reactor, it’s not pressurized, so it won’t blow up.
If you have a meltdown, the the salt drains out of the tank and then cools the ambient pressure. There is no such thing as. You know, a core meltdown cuz there is no core. Yeah. So the, the concern about nuclear safety, the perceived risk is dramatically higher than the actual risk. And as we get into more advanced technologies, the actual risk goes down to almost zero.
Yeah. But the perceived risk is still gonna be very high. So that is the one risk that we’re struggling the most with. It’s perceived. Perceived risk. Perceived risk
[00:56:47] Mark Hinaman: because it impacts political risk. Yes. Before we move on from Fukushima, I, I do want, just wanna comment. My, one of my mentors was over there actually, she’s a nuclear safety engineer.
And, uh, we were having lunch one day and she told me, uh, when she’s on the ground, you know, they had, they had these huge, uh, walls that were acted as barriers for waves if there was a tsunami. Yep. Right. And they had done the calculations of how tall do they need to build these walls?
[00:57:11] Kyle Frazer: Yep.
[00:57:12] Mark Hinaman: And they literally had a line on the plant at the level that they should have built to that. They’re like in the, if, if the horse, uh, earthquake tsunami ever came in at, at the magnitude that it did Yeah. Uh, then they could built, they would’ve protected it. Yeah. That they just built the walls a little taller. Right. And they’d, they’d actually calculated it and had it, but they’re like, no, this, this is tall enough.
You know, it’s like, that is just one anecdote. And the other thing is, you know, we’re the nuclear industry protects against radiation.
[00:57:44] Kyle Frazer: Yep.
[00:57:44] Mark Hinaman: But nobody died from radiation at Fukushima. No. There wasn’t a single person. And I mean, you go back, watch the videos of the plant after the, the qum Malta down and hydrogen accumulated the building and the roofs blow off.
Mm-hmm. It’s, it’s terrifying. And there was, there was a release variation. Mm-hmm. But nobody was hurt from it. Right. You know? Yeah. That’s, that’s, I, I don’t think that’s highlighted enough. And yes, 2000, about 2000 people died from the evacuation, but they didn’t have to be a. Evacuated, there was no hacks
[00:58:14] Kyle Frazer: or a lot more people died from the tsunami in the earthquake Yes.
Than from the evacuation. 20,000 people died. I mean that’s, yeah. I mean, that was a massive disaster. Yeah. There’s no, there’s no getting around that. Yeah. And a lot of people, when they think of Fukushima, they don’t think about the tsunami, they think about the nuclear plant. Right. And the, the tsunami itself was absolutely devastating.
[00:58:35] Mark Hinaman: And so when I’ve done the math, even when I include the deaths from the evacuations Yeah. Right. From the plant. So that’s deaths from radio phobia and not from radiation. Right. Nuclear is still safest. Yeah. So you, some could make an argument that solar could be safer. Uh, just a little shade safer, but Yeah.
[00:58:53] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. So it’s hard to, hard to come up with specific numbers on that, but Yeah. Yeah. So then let’s get into your other two risks. So, because when you get into. The cost risk and the regulatory risk, those are both tied with the perceived nuclear risk. Yeah. Yeah. Great point. Uh, so way back in the day before Three Mile Island, before nine 11, before she noble the cost to build a nuclear plant was still high, but not astronomical as things have happened.
[00:59:28] Mark Hinaman: Well, it was one of the cheapest actually, right? That you look back at the data, there’s, they’re building plants for less than a dollar per wa in 2023 dollars. So they’re doing it for like 80 cents a wat, right?
[00:59:37] Kyle Frazer: The the build out long term cost. Absolutely. I mean, you’re upfront, capital cost is still high because there’s a lot of steel and No,
[00:59:43] Mark Hinaman: that’s, that’s the, that’s 1968 plants.
If you go back and look at the actual cost that estimated costs, like they were below a dollar a watt to build, right. In 2023 dollars.
[00:59:52] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. What I’m saying is, so yes, absolutely the. Capital cost for the power output, that was great. But the long term cost is really where, cuz we always, uh, we always operate on LCOE, right?
And so that is, that takes into account the cost to operate, which is headcount, fuel maintenance, all of that stuff. And yeah, there, there were still expensive, but there were much better than a lot of the other options. Then the regulators got involved and they said, oh, well we’re gonna come up with a regulation to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.
And so then they build in regulation and then the next thing happens, they build in more regulation. Nine 11 happens now all of a sudden you have to have a small army protecting every reactor. So all of a sudden that’s a much higher cost to operate. So the regulatory body has never actually decreased the cost of operating reactors.
Mm-hmm. And have they increased the safety incrementally? Absolutely. Has it matched the increase in cost? Absolutely not.
[01:00:59] Mark Hinaman: Meaning the best metric I’ve seen for this is, uh, dollars invested per life year saved. Right. And safety improvements, uh, to increase safety at nuclear power plants is some of the worst investments that we can make.
Right. To save more lives.
[01:01:17] Kyle Frazer: Absolutely. Well, there is no real way to make this measurement, but that’s part of why we want to reduce carbon. Cause we know that the more carbon there is, the worse the atmosphere is going to behave in the future. And the more lives are at risk, the more powerful storms are gonna be the worst.
Droughts are gonna be, the worst floods are gonna be. So by reducing carbon, you’re actually making the world a safer place, which is exactly what we want to do with nuclear. So if you’re saying, Hey, we’re gonna invest money to reduce carbon, then nuclear’s the best way to do it. But. My favorite example of the regulators going overboard is aara.
So as low as reasonably achievable. What does reasonable mean for cost to reduce radiation? Uh, in Colorado, because we’re at higher elevation, we have less atmosphere between us and space and the sun’s radiation. Also, we’re closer to granite, which has natural radiation. We have more radon, which is just a byproduct of where we live, Colorado.
We get a lot of radiation, a lot more radiation they than say Floridians or you know, people from North Carolina. But that doesn’t factor into aara. And the Aara principle is, Hey, we’re gonna reduce at almost any cost the radiation that RAD workers get while working at the plant. But if you fly from your plant to Washington DC to meet with the nrc, you’re gonna get a huge dose of radiation that you wouldn’t have gotten had you just stayed where you are.
And that isn’t accounted for in Malara. If you had to take your dosimeter with you when you were flying or when you were doing all these other activities, you realize that there’s a lot more radioactivity you’re gonna get from day-to-day life than you are from working on a nuclear plant. Yeah. So the regulatory burden has significantly increased the cost operator plant with almost no benefit.
[01:03:25] Mark Hinaman: So those, those two risks, regulatory and cost to summarize, you’d say originate in radio phobia. And if we correct radio phobia and say it’s not as dangerous and, and we understand it, we understand radiation, how to protect against it. So let’s. Scale backs on the regulations and make these plants cheaper to build.
[01:03:48] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, that’s, that’s spot on. So if, if the regulatory burden were not so severe, you wouldn’t have to overinvest your capital costs could come down. Your o and M cost could come down, your levelized cost of electricity. The L C O E would be significantly lower in the future. Cause right now when we’re talking about high L COEs, it’s because you have a massive capital cost to build these things and you have a long, longer term high o and m, but then just more people, right?
Yeah. More. I mean a lot of that’s the people in the plane. The security force is a huge one. Yeah. Right. Uh, our plants have security force, you know, I can’t get into the specifics, but it’s a lot of people. Yeah. And people doing jobs that’s expensive. Now, are they adding the value that you would want them to add for the cost?
I think that’s the question. And with advanced reactor design and with a more inherently safe and impenetrable design, you don’t have to have that level of security. Yeah. Even after nine 11 where everyone was concerned about terrorist targeting nuclear plants, I mean, that was the big push for increased security.
If you have an inherently safe design where you can’t have some of those same incidents, you don’t need that security force because you’re not gonna have any threat of a plane running into your plant and causing a massive core meltdown. So, like I said, if you don’t have a core, you can’t have a core meltdown.
Yeah. So that’ll take care of a big portion of the cost if the regulatory burden were lighter. And then also, right now, with the high interest rates, the high overnight capital cost means that you’re gonna have to borrow a lot more. With the interest rates as high as they are, that’s having a massive impact on the long term cost of the plant.
Yeah. If the doe
[01:05:46] Mark Hinaman: it’s like 50 to 60% of the cost. It’s just the interest that you’re gonna pay while you’re building it.
[01:05:50] Kyle Frazer: Absolutely. Yeah. And then for the next 40 years. Yeah. Right. If, if the DOE wanted to do a massive push to build new nuclear in the United States, they would provide low interest guaranteed loans to anyone who wants to bill, and that would be probably the biggest impact they could have.
Well, loans program office is kind of doing that, right? They’re
yes and no. Okay. The, the intent is there, the actual execution is where, I think the reason it has not been utilized is that trying to get where you need to go is a lot harder than it needs to be. Okay.
Okay. So it sounds like there, these problems exist. Uh, you’re certainly aware of them. I’m sure I’m aware of them.
[01:06:37] Mark Hinaman: I’m sure Xcels as an organization is aware of them. And I, I assume, you know, these come into play when thinking about when and if and how we could build new nuclear plants in Colorado. And I know you probably can’t speak on behalf of Xcel, but would there be a chance that we might convert some of these coal plants to nuclear plants in Colorado?
[01:06:57] Kyle Frazer: I would really like to think so. Uh, that’s certainly what we’re looking into. Yeah. There are many benefits to converting existing coal plants to nuclear, the biggest being the continued existence of the community, right?
[01:07:09] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. We talk about just transition, right? We’re about to Yeah. Mandate that we shut down these extraction facilities, extraction knit industries that have built entire towns and communities for decades.
Yeah. And now we’re coming in as a society and saying, Nope, you’re not allowed to do that anymore, as though it’s like a. You know, drug deal happening that we’re gonna shut down, you know? Yeah. And then provide them No other jobs, I mean, wind and solar product projects aren’t gonna be just No, it’s to, to put in place of a coal mine. Right?
[01:07:37] Kyle Frazer: It’s not even close. Yeah. I You’re from Rangeley? Yeah, I’m from Steamboat. We know Northwest Colorado. For anyone else listening, there are two coal plants in northwest Colorado. Uh, one of them’s in Craig, that coal plant and the mine and the revenue from the plant keep the entire town alive.
The other is Hayden. Hayden Power Plant provides a lot of really high quality jobs for Hayden, and then it also provides a massive portion of the tax base to keep the schools open. Yeah. The Hayden Power Plant is a huge part of the community of Hayden. If we were to close those plants down without a viable way to replace that source of revenue and source of jobs for those communities, the communities are gonna be devastated.
Yeah. And that. It’s bad. Right.
[01:08:25] Mark Hinaman: Generally ceased to exist as they exist now?
[01:08:27] Kyle Frazer: Oh yeah,
they’ll, they’ll certainly,
they won’t exist in any way the way they do now. They’ll figure out what to do. But
it behooves us as citizens of the state to try and help other parts of the community. Right. And for Craig, for Hayden, especially Craig, there’s very little else there.
Yeah. So ideally we’d be able to build a nuclear plant there cuz with the closure of the plant itself and the mine, there’s gonna be a lot of good labor. The coal plant workers who work at the coal power plant, they have the exact same skills that you need to work on a nuclear plant.
Right. Secondary is the same.
A lot of the electrical skills that the workers there have are directly transferrable to a nuclear worker. The only difference for a few people is the actual operators for the core itself. So that is something that we’d probably need to import or maybe train, but it’s a small enough portion that you could save a community by building nuclear there.
And I mean, you and I are biased, right? You, you said I’m from Rangeley and you’re, you’re from Steamboat with these, these towns, uh, straddle Craig and Hayden, right? Craig and Hayden. Right in between sandwich, right? Yeah. Sandwiched in between Rangeley and Steamboat. And so it’s very close, close to home for us.
Yeah. Being from there and we’re both engineers, we’re technocrats, we think that we, any problem can be solved with technology generally. Yeah. Uh, I, I do at least, I don’t wanna put words in your mouth, but I, from what I know of you and getting to know you, you share some of these opinions what would be the process then to, to do this?
I mean, it takes a long time to build a
nuclear plant, right? Absolutely. So both, like I mentioned earlier, all of the coal plants are gonna be shut down by 2030. Yeah.
[01:10:18] Mark Hinaman: And it’s 2023 now, right? Yeah. In the spring of 2023 and, yeah. Yeah. What’s, what’s gonna happen?
[01:10:23] Kyle Frazer: So let’s, best case scenario. The, the state tomorrow would say, Hey, we want to build nuclear to replace the coal plants.
We would go out and figure out which technology we wanted to build. We would start the site evaluations, we’d start the early site permitting. We’d do all the upfront work that you have to do to get your license. And then we would start construction within a few years. Now, if we timed it well, the, the down ramp from the coal plants would be caught before it got too low with ramping up for construction of the nuclear plants.
There’d be a little bit of a valley in there, but we could figure out ways to make it work. And at the end of that process, in 10 years, we could possibly have nuclear plants operational. Now, I don’t know how much to believe out of all of the prognostications about the time to build some of these plants.
But Terra Power is building their camera plant. They’re supposed to have it up and running by 2031. Yeah. That means that it, the construction will be complete in 2030. There’ll be testing, there’ll be all the stuff that you need to do, and then cod commercial delivery, that’ll be 2031. If we were to go a few years after that, we would be catching the curve on the coal plants going down with construction on the new plants, just in time to save a lot of those jobs and actually keep the communities robust and healthy.
There’d also be an influx, cuz we’re doing construction. These are major construction projects. Yep. So you’d have construction crews coming in. It’d be temporary, but that would probably help maintain, it’d be a lot more people than billing renewable projects. Absolutely. Yeah. Those come in relatively low.
Number of people they leave and then, Your projects. I mean, if it’s solar plant, it’s people to wipe down the, the panels. Yeah. That’s not a very high paying job for these communities.
[01:12:20] Mark Hinaman: Scrap off snow on panels during the summer, right? Yeah.
[01:12:23] Kyle Frazer: Or during the winter. During the winter, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So the best way to save the communities that are going through the coal transition is to find other high quality jobs that are similar skill sets, similar skill sets to replace those coal jobs with.
And that happens to be perfect for nuclear.
[01:12:41] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. But the, the time piece is interesting to me, you know, wind and solar generally. I mean that you, we can’t do wind and solar overnight either, but I think most people,
[01:12:53] Kyle Frazer: it’s a few years
[01:12:53] Mark Hinaman: have a perception that it’s faster that you can Yeah. Build these things faster.
But back to the beginning of our conversation, it doesn’t really solve the problem of having power when you need it.
[01:13:03] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Right. And, and in reality, I mean, there’s a cue to get. Trend to, uh, for the transmission and the building and all of the stuff on the front end. Grid, grid s right? Yeah, absolutely. In the ISOs, the, uh, miso, s p p, these are the, the big grid operators for multi regions.
Right. The queues are years long Yeah. To try and bring these new projects on. In Colorado, we don’t have an iso. We’re part of an independent ISO that we sort of help run as Xcel energy, but you still have to go through this entire upfront process to make sure that when we bring power onto the grid, it’s the right place, it has the right timing, that we’ve had enough time and cost to do the upgrades.
We need to bring that power on. You don’t have to do very much of that if you’re gonna build nuclear. Yeah. If you’re gonna build nuclear on an existing coal site, you can basically just do a sw, a swap out, say, all right, 600 megawatt of coal. We’re going to shut that down. We’re gonna bring back on 600 megawatts of, of nuclear.
You don’t have to go through the queue. You can just bypass that line and say, this makes it easy.
[01:14:18] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. So the permitting process might be longer, but the actual getting tied into the utility and going through some of the, we’ll say operations of –
[01:14:27] Kyle Frazer: the upfront permitting process is longer, the actual construction process is longer, but because of the cube waiting for the transmission and the approval, the actual delivery of the electrons from when you start to say, I’m gonna do this to when it’s actually on the grid.
It could be similar times.
[01:14:45] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. And you said, if we started tomorrow, your estimate would be 10 years before we have a plant on. That’s just, I mean, yeah, this is probably, maybe group think in the industry that it takes 10 years to build nuclear power plant and I think Vogel, depending on how you count it was like 11, uh, from,
[01:15:04] Kyle Frazer: well, Yeah.
Depending on how you count it. If when, if you go back to 1990 when they started and said, Hey, we’re gonna these Yeah. Yeah. Uh, but when they actually said, okay, this is official. We’ve got the site permits submitted to the NRC from when they broke ground. Yeah. It wasn’t that long. Yeah. And the vocal plants are huge, right?
Yeah. They’re bigger than what we need in Colorado. Right? Yeah. So now we get back to the, the benefit of SMRs. So small modular reactor. Once you’ve done a few of these things, building the next one is easy cuz you already know how to build. So first of a kind, there are going to be challenges no matter what.
Which is why a lot of the companies are trying to build prototypes as fast as they can. Mm-hmm. So they can get that learning. In the second one, it’s gonna go better than the first one, but there’ll still be hiccups. Same with a third after the second. By the time you get to number five, you’ve ironed out a lot of the wrinkles.
You’ve learned what you need to learn and you should be able to dramatically increase your rate of building new reactors and reduce the time it takes to do that. So we call that nth of a kind. So the, the 12th reactor in a series should be much lower cost, much higher speed, much more reliability. Yeah.
So that’s what we need. What we need to do is go back in time, five years, build the first prototype so that now we’d be on the fifth one and we’d be able to crank out that fifth reactor in much less than 10 years. Right. Obviously that’s not where we’re at. Right, right. I mean, so this is, this goes back to the old saying, the best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago.
The second best time is today. Right. Yeah. So that’s where we are, we’re today. If we want to actually build nuclear, we need to get going on it because it is a long process due to the regulatory environment. And I mean, it is a complex construction project no matter what. Just building a coal plant, that’s a long process cuz it’s a complex plant building a nuclear plant is very similar, slightly more complex, only due to the, the nuclear island, the core.
[01:17:09] Mark Hinaman: So we know, or I know that several communities in Colorado, Weld County and Craig, uh, are very interested in building plants.
[01:17:20] Kyle Frazer: Absolutely.
[01:17:20] Mark Hinaman: What is the process for them? I mean, like, if Weld County wanted to build a nuclear power plant, uh, how, how could they do it? And that certainly that’s different than Craig.
So let’s, let’s start with Craig actually. Yeah. If tomorrow they said, yeah, we want to actually convert and we think it’s a great idea. Like who makes that decision? What’s the process?
[01:17:37] Kyle Frazer: There are multiple different ways that it could happen, but what they would need to do would be start with their local politicians and say, Hey, we think this is a good idea.
Get that elevated to the state level. Get the state behind them to say, Hey, from a state legislative and puc, Level, we think this is a good idea and it’s something we want to do concurrently goes to
[01:17:59] Mark Hinaman: the state legislators and then they influence the Public Utility Commission puc. Yep. Uh, okay.
[01:18:07] Kyle Frazer: Uh, concurrently, tri-State is a majority owner of Craig, right?
[01:18:12] Mark Hinaman: Tri-State Utility. Yep.
[01:18:13] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, tri-State is utility. There are multiple owners of Craig Power Station. Xcel owns a portion PacifiCorp owns a portion powder River project, and then I think Plat River Authority and then Tri-State. So five owners. The only of tho the only one of those owners that has experience operating nuclear plants is Xcel.
So we’d have to figure out how to get ownership issues ironed out. There’d be a lot of legal wrangling and cost recovery concerns, but we could hypothetically build an operator reactor at Craig as Xcel Now, Obviously this is Kyle Fraser speaking instead of Representative Xcel energy. But it’s possible, and that would be some of one of the things that the community would need to work on concurrent with the regulatory process, the state regulatory process.
[01:19:06] Mark Hinaman: I see. So actually working with the owners and the utility that has the authority to generate power and sell it to the state. Right. Yep. Yeah, you gotta get them on board too. Yep. Yeah, absolutely. Okay. So yeah, you, I mean, Xcel’s a current operator of nuclear. What, and you guys are involved with Carbon, carbon Free Power Project Yep.
Right up in, uh, I Idaho. So, uh, let’s, let’s pivot to that. What, what is it, how’d you guys come about getting involved? What’s the project working on? What’s some of the technology? Yeah,
[01:19:35] Kyle Frazer: so the Carbon Free Power Project is the company in Idaho that is building the nation’s first commercial smr.
It’s a NuScale, Voyager six pack. UAMPS is the Utah Association of Municipal Power Suppliers. That is a, it’s a group of, uh, munis and co-ops in the west, I would say Utah. But there are people from New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, I think even California as part of UAMPS. Correct. So UAMPS members said, Hey, we want to build an smr carbon free power.
Uh, they partnered with NuScale, which is right now the, probably the farthest ahead SMR technology as of April, 2023. Uh, and they decided they’re gonna build the first SMR on Idaho National Labs and then deliver electricity to the grid. And then, you know, the states, the Munis and the co-ops. Yeah. Uh, Xcel became involved in 2021 when I think UAMPS reached out and said, Hey, we’re looking for someone with operating experience to help us.
Create the operating plan for this reactor. Uh, so we partnered with UAMPS to create CFPP. They did that. We partnered with CFPP, NuScale, and we’ve started to work on what it’s actually gonna look like to create the procedures, uh, come up with a lot of the ways to take our operating model or our management model and apply it to the reactor, how we’re gonna train operators, how we’re going to actually get people to the site because the location is farther away from Idaho Falls than a lot of the other facilities.
So trying to figure out where people are gonna live, uh, and all of the different factors that go into building a plant. For the most part, Xcel is providing the operating expertise since we are expert operators. And then NuScale is providing the oem, the manufacturing expertise. They’ve partnered with Floor, who is an epc, uh, and the.
Engineering, engineering, procurements and construction firm. And then Fluer has, you know, subcontractors who do other aspects. But overall, we’ve come together and we’re working on what it’s gonna take to actually build the world’s first commercial modern smr.
[01:22:01] Mark Hinaman: Which is awesome. And I mean, it’s a, it’s a big project. See? Yes. Carbon Free Power project as a company, but it’s really like a consortium of multiple utilities and project developers and engineering construction firms. Right. Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of people behind this project.
[01:22:15] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. And, uh, a lot of people want to see it succeed and the DOE is very involved.
The NRC is making sure that we’re trying to keep up to speed on everything, donning the ice crossing into t’s, giving the sport that we need. Uh, so there are a lot of different parties trying to make this work.
[01:22:33] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. What’s the estimated timeline for when that’ll be commercial? 2031. 2031 now. Yeah. Okay.
Yeah. And the NuScale voyager technology is awesome. Uh, fascinating. Yeah. They’re doing more than just this project, right?
[01:22:51] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. They have projects in Romania. They have a lot of interest from all over the world. Uh, I don’t know what I can share under the on, but everything that is, there’s a lot of public information, people, commercial, public information.
So go and find it publicly. Romania, uh, there’s interest from other European nations. There’s interest in Asia. There’s interest from a lot of other, uh, American utilities. So the design is, I mean, it’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s, it’s revolutionary in that you have multiple small reactors that you can, uh, modularize, reduce the cost for every next reactor that you build.
And they’ve gone ultra small. A lot of the SMRs are in the hundreds of megawatts, electric output for the entire reactor, whereas NuScale went really small. And they said, all right, we’re gonna build a bunch of really small units, and together they’re gonna have a few hundred megawatts output. So if you get six units together, it’s around 500 megawatts.
So you can say, all right, well the cost for each unit is gonna be even smaller than building a 300 megawatt unit. And it’ll be faster to get to the point of end of a kind with a NuScale than it would be with a 300 megawatt plane. Yeah. The second part is that it, the cores themselves are in pools of water.
So the, a lot of the issues that you have with a current reactor is that it’s above grade and it’s not sitting in a pool of water. So if you have. A meltdown, you have to pump in external water with a NuScale design. The thing is sitting in a pool of water, so if anything happens, you have cooling to the core cuz it’s sitting in that coolant itself.
Now that coolant, the pool that it’s sitting in isn’t part of the primary, it’s just an immediate safety case for the actual reactor. So something bad happens, you have a massive leak. The water that’s just in the pool around the core is going to continue the cool, the core for a long time to the point where it’s completely walk away safe.
Right. In the Navy when you have, let’s say a scram, right? There are immediate actions you have to take. What, what is a scram? Oh, A scram is a, it’s an emergency shutdown of the reactor. Okay. It actually stands for super critical reactor X Man. Just back in the day, and this is, I’ve heard this enough that it, there’s some validity to it.
There was a guy with an ax who would cut the rope and that would drop the control rods down in,
[01:25:36] Mark Hinaman: that was like Chicago pile one, right? Like the, going back to that, I think there was like, that was their safety system that,
[01:25:43] Kyle Frazer: so that, I mean it was the same sort of system. Yeah, I think the actual word scram came from Idaho National Labs with some of the tests.
But, but yes, so that’s, it was a guy who inserted rods manually. Right. So when you scram a modern reactor, it’s usually a combination of gravity and springs and jamming those rods into the core. But uh, on the submarine, when you scram the reactor, you have immediate actions you need to take to keep the submarines safe mostly.
But in a modern nuclear plant, if there’s a scr, there are other things you need to do, right? You’re gonna have a bunch of extra hot water. You’re gonna need to make sure that you’re con going to continue circulating water cuz the plant is now in a situation, in a state that it’s not used to being in.
Right. And a lot of the advanced reactor designs, all your immediate actions are do nothing. Sit on your hands. If the reactor slams, you sit back, you don’t touch anything. You say, okay, I’m gonna let this thing go through its process. Because a lot of the safety is engineered into the actual design. Right.
And that’s exactly where we want to be with these advanced designs. Gen one required a lot of manual intervention to keep the reactor safe. Gen two, little bit less, but still quite a bit. Gen three, where we are now, you can shut down the reactor fairly safely. There are a few things that we want to do, but for the most part, you don’t have to do anything too crazy and the reactor’s gonna be safe.
Gen four, there’s nothing to do. Yeah. And sit back and you say, okay, I’m meaning the AP 1000, right? The, yeah, the AP 1000. Well, I think the AP 1000 is technically a Gen three plus. Okay. But yeah, the, when we get into the Gen four s, there is nothing. And the NuScale is also a Gen three plus, but they’re to the point where there are no immediate actions, do nothing is what you need to do.
Yeah. So if something bad happens, sit on your hands, do nothing.
[01:27:45] Mark Hinaman: So, the NuScale project’s awesome Car, carbon-Free Power Project. You mentioned the Terra Power Project in Wyoming and I know that you’re apprised of all the, generally all the technologies and vendors. Is there a system that perhaps is, and not to demonstrate Xcel’s bias, but just like Kyle Frazer’s uh, per perception, and maybe the right way to ask this, is, uh, what are some of the characteristics about systems that you like more than others?
And which would be potentially most useful or easy to deploy in Colorado?
[01:28:17] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, so that’s. And again, this is maybe a big question. Yeah. It’s your, this is Kyle Frazer’s opinion, not xcel’s official opinion. Yeah. I really like the molten salt reactors. The molten salt reactors, from a physics standpoint, they are inherently a better design.
So if you were to create a matrix of enthalpy versus pressure, you want low pressure because the more pressure you have, the more likely things are to explosively release. Right? Yep. So that is why current reactors are problematic with water, because when you heat water, if you keep the pressure the same.
It won’t boil. If you reduce the pressure at the higher temperature, it will immediately, immediately boil, which is the explosive release of energy, right? So all of the pressurized water reactors, it’s right there in the name, they’re under very high pressure. If you’re to release that pressure, go atmospheric, all of that water boils away, right?
So low pressure is great. Now water’s bad for that. Yeah. Water also. Water boils right? Yeah. Water. Water boils right There are liquid metals, right? Liquid metals, you can have that low pressure, so that immediately leads you in that direction. But now you get into enthalpy. So enthalpy is the ability of a material to, uh, conduct and hold heat, right?
That’s not the scientific definition. And I’m sure my physics teacher from 20 years ago would probably be slapping my hands. But if you go to the enthalpy of some of the materials, The metal’s not as good as molten salts. So you get to molten salts and they’re low pressure, high enthalpy. That’s the ideal state that you want.
So there are a few molten salt designs out there that are great. I don’t, I don’t think that any of them are bad. I think there are better of those. My personal favorite is flybe. We can burn thorium, which is much more plentiful than uranium on the earth. It’s low pressure. They have a few other design elements that are already built in there that, uh, you know, I think anyone, everyone should learn about Flybe on their own because they’re an awesome company.
But you have a lot of really cool stuff in there. And also we’ve run the same sort of reactor in the United States. Alvin Weinberg loved the, the design of a liquid fluoride thorium reactor, right? Yeah. It’s, he’s one of the nuclear pioneers. He loved this design because it was simple, it was easy and it had a lot of potential.
This was in the sixties and seventies. We ran one for years down at Oak Ridge. Yeah. So the United States was the leader in liquid sodium and liquid fluoride and liquid salt reactors for years and years and years. And then we stepped away from and went over only to water. So now we’re actually behind.
[01:31:22] Mark Hinaman: So, which is really peculiar to me being, coming from an oil and gas background where we test everything.
Yeah. And I understand how groupthink works and standardization and there’s a lot of merit to that. But yeah, moving away from kind of,
[01:31:34] Kyle Frazer: well, at the time, part of the reason that molten salt reactors, especially thorium reactors were not popular, is that you can’t turn them into weapons grade material.
Right. So at the time, most of the reactor research was to create weapons. So Teller who took over a lot of the. Nuclear project after, after the Manhattan project, there was teller, he was the one who promoted the hydrogen bone. He said, I don’t need a reactor unless it’s gonna make weapons. Grade phy material.
If you have a reactor that’s not making me fissile material, I don’t want it. And that was the molten salt reactors and a thorium reactors. There’s just too much work to create pH material to this. So the funding was pulled and we went with the other reactors.
[01:32:23] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, yeah. But Flibe’s not the only, there’s Kairos, right?
Yeah. There’s TerraPower. Part of their design is, or utilizes salts for anything.
[01:32:31] Kyle Frazer: So they’re the, so the natrium, it’s liquid metal, but they’re right storage. Their uh, they’re secondary. Their thermal battery. Yeah. That is assault. Then there’s terrestrial, which is also salt. Right. And then there’s some of the micros that use salt, but I don’t know much about the micros cause we’re, we’re staying away from those.
But yeah, chiros. I love, I love the stuff that they’re doing. Their vertical integration model is spectacular. I like what they’re doing and they’re in our service territory and we’re trying to work with them to figure out if we can make something happen.
[01:33:03] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Yeah. That’d be awesome. Okay, so we’re coming up on our time.
Kyle, this has been awesome. I’ve just got a couple more questions for you. So, all right. We’ll race through ’em. If, if we had to deploy nuclear tomorrow, how would we do it? Uh, I know we talked generally kind of how, how would we do it? Maybe what, what are the number one or two things that we could do or improve on or take action on that could help nuclear get built?
[01:33:30] Kyle Frazer: The biggest thing is to educate people so there’s less fear about nuclear. That, that’s it. Education from that, everything else is a domino right now. If we get down to the second level, we can reduce the regulatory burden. We can promote some more dollars going into research to get more prototypes built.
We can have a little bit more support for, uh, individual companies that need that support to actually start doing some more of the science. Right. I nl they have a lot of support. They’re doing a huge amount of work, but that’s mostly in nl There are many national labs that are doing a lot of individual work projects.
We could bring all that together and go after an effort a little bit more cohesively and that would probably help the entire industry. Yeah. Nice.
[01:34:22] Mark Hinaman: The other question I had was, uh, how can we make it more investible? But I think if we educate people and then we perhaps peel back some of the regulations, you know, that would, uh, help a lot.
But is there anything else that comes to mind?
[01:34:33] Kyle Frazer: There are, it depends on what sort of investment you’re thinking about. If we’re talking about someone who’s trying to get payback in three to five years, that’s, that’s, it’s not gonna likely with nuclear.
[01:34:44] Mark Hinaman: At scale them. We’re thinking for utility scale,
[01:34:46] Kyle Frazer: for utility scale. I mean, you could say, Hey,
[01:34:47] Mark Hinaman: I think there’s some micro reactors that are going to get payback in that amount of time, but there might be.
[01:34:52] Kyle Frazer: Yeah. Well if they start with a huge pile of D O E D D O D funding to get them to where they need on the maturity level, then probably but nuclear can do medical isotopes.
There are companies out there that are doing medical isotopes that’s a revenue stream. So you could invest, get a prototype built. Instead of using that to reduce power, you could produce medical isotopes and then use the research from the prototype to then help get your license and help accelerate the entire program.
You could also figure out, and I think a lot of large investors are doing this, not only the United States, but in the world, there is a very evident lack of generation coming onto the grid and people are saying, all right, this isn’t a short term investment. This is long term investment. I know. In 20 years, there will need to be a lot more nuclear power.
So they’re making long-term bets. Right. And those kind of the state, right? Well, I mean right now it’s coming from individual philanthropists. Bill Gates, were in Buffet. I mean, that’s where Tara Powers getting their funding. So Bill Gates said, I’m gonna invest a lot of money to make sure that we have sustainable carbon free generation in the long run.
And that’s where power power is getting his funding.
[01:36:10] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So leave us on an optimistic note, Kyle. Where, where do you see all this going? 2033. What? What’s the world gonna look like?
[01:36:16] Kyle Frazer: 2033: there will be new nuclear operating. There will be a lot of new nuclear being built in the construction phase. And there will be enough technology advance and enough extra effort put into this that it won’t even be a scary conversation anymore.
It’ll be a normal part of planning for future cities. Oh, are we gonna cite an SMR near this new development to provide power for this community so that we don’t have to build excessive transmission? Uh, there will be micro reactors operating in places like Puerto Rico and Alaska and places where you, you want a reliable source of power that doesn’t have to be shipped in, or isn’t susceptible to hurricanes or, is a little bit of a safer battery solution.
What else will happen? I mean, the cost of electricity will have gone up and would that may, that makes it such that nuclear will be a lot more competitive. Uh, by investing early in nuclear, the long term cost will then go back down, but to get there, we have to deal with some of the pain up upfront.
[01:37:32] Mark Hinaman: I see what’s gonna drive electricity cost.
[01:37:35] Kyle Frazer: Uh, or right now the cost is we’re shutting down coal to replace that, as we talked about earlier. You have to build batteries, then you have to overbuild the generation side that’s gonna drive up the cost of electricity. Yeah. We’re not gonna be able to build nuclear in time and get it to the Nth generation in time to start bringing the costs back down so the cost will go up over the next 10 years. Yeah. Uh, by the time we’ve starting to get, we’ve started to get nuclear on a smooth runway where the costs are gonna start, come down, the costs will already be up. Yeah. So it’s inevitable,
[01:38:09] Mark Hinaman: but more nuclear being built everywhere, which would be good long term.
[01:38:13] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, absolutely.
[01:38:14] Mark Hinaman: Great. Kyle, this has been great. Really appreciate it, man.
[01:38:17] Kyle Frazer: Yeah, my pleasure.
[01:38:18] Mark Hinaman: Cool. Thanks. Great talk to you.
[01:38:21] Kyle Frazer: Thank you.