Judi Greenwald describes her career in energy, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, and how we need to innovate on more than just technology.
[00:00:00] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, for advanced reactors to succeed, we need technology innovation, which is, you know, a lot of what people assume you mean when you say innovation, but we also need regulatory innovation, which is essentially what is happening in, in all of this NRC work.
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[00:01:18] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Welcome to another episode of the Fire2Fission podcast. My name’s Mark Hinaman, and we’re joined today by Judi Greenwald, Executive Director of Nuclear Innovation Alliance. Judi, how are you doing?
[00:01:30] Judi Greenwald: Good, how are you? Thanks for having me.
[00:01:33] Mark Hinaman: I’m doing great. Judi, for the audience sake, why don’t you just go ahead and give them a 30 to 60 second intro and then we can kinda dive more into your background.
[00:01:41] Judi Greenwald: Sure. Judi Greenwald, I’m the Executive Director of the Nuclear Innovation Alliance, or NIA. NIA is a little think and do tank. Our mission is to help create the conditions for success for advanced nuclear so that it can be part of the climate and clean energy solution.
[00:02:00] Mark Hinaman: Excellent. Okay. Well, Judi where, where’d you get your start? Surely, this isn’t your first rodeo. So Yeah, tell us a little bit about how you got into the nuclear space.
[00:02:09] Judi Greenwald: So it’s a very long story, so it depends how far back you wanna go. I’ve been doing energy and environmental policy for quite some time. My career has been about half inside the government and about half in the non-profit sector working on energy and environmental policy.
Mostly climate as it became the more central issue in both of those spheres, but also other environmental issues and other energy.
[00:02:37] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So what kind of organizations did you work at?
[00:02:41] Judi Greenwald: So, let’s see. I’ve been kind of everywhere in the federal government that does energy and environment. I’ve worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Department of Energy, the White House, the US Congress.
And in the nonprofit sector, I was at the Pew Center for a Global Climate change, which later became the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. And I’ve also been, most recently at NIA and I also did some consulting over the years between these various jobs.
[00:03:16] Mark Hinaman: Wow. Yeah, so definitely plugged in in the DC energy space. Has it been in DC the whole time or elsewhere?
[00:03:24] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, yeah. I actually came here right after college and then I went to night school here and got my master’s actually while I was working at the Environmental Protection Agency. So my undergrad is a Bachelor of Science and Engineering from Princeton University.
And I have a Master’s in public policy from, and science, actually the program was science, technology and Public Policy at George Washington University.
[00:03:50] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. Since you were at the EPA have you seen it change or when you were there, did you see it change much?
[00:03:56] Judi Greenwald: I think it has changed. You know, when I was there, it was a relatively young agency, although I was also there during the Reagan administration, which was a difficult time for EPA or I was actually there, like at the end of that when Bill Ruckelshaus returned for after this was his second stint at the Environmental Protection Agency and he sort of revitalized it again. So I actually was at EPA at a very interesting time.
[00:04:24] Mark Hinaman: And I guess I’m not familiar with Bill or, or the background from that, so for, forgive me.
[00:04:30] Judi Greenwald: Oh, so Bill Ruckelshaus was the first EPA administrator way back when it, when the agency started. And then under the Reagan administration, that agency went into sort of a crisis.
There was an administrator named Anne Gorsuch, who was very controversial and the agency was mired in a lot of scandal. And then she left and Bill Ruckelshaus came in and was, you know, it was almost like a guy coming in on a, riding on a white horse and got to work with him, which was very exciting.
[00:05:02] Mark Hinaman: Excellent. You know, on, on the show and on previous episodes we talked a lot about the NRC and, there’s perhaps a lot to unpack there, and so we don’t have to dive deep into it, but I’m just curious on your perspective. You, you work there? Did you miss that?
[00:05:16] Judi Greenwald: Yes. Also earlier in my career. So it’s been a while. Yeah.
[00:05:20] Mark Hinaman: Sure, sure. I, I guess, do, do you have perspective perhaps on the NRC from your time working there? And then maybe we could dive in a little bit more later too, from your work with NIA, but, and I, I can follow that question more, provide more context, but I’m just kind of interested in asking it open-ended.
[00:05:36] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, a, a little bit. I mean, I, I would say that having worked at DOE, EPA and NRC, I mean, among other places, but sort of three federal agencies, they all have their, or they each have their culture, which is kind of interesting, which seems to persist despite change over time. NRC tends to be for, especially in comparison to EPA, more hierarchical.
I do remember at NRC, you know, it was very much, you know, you went through your boss and your boss’s boss and your boss, you know, it was definitely a very clear hierarchy, whereas EPA was more fluid, a little bit more interactive and just a, a feel of a, a little bit of a less rigid place.
The thing that was sort of nice though about NRC and you know, every culture has its sort of pros and cons, is it had a bit of a military feel. There were a lot of ex- nuclear navy people at NRC. I think that’s still the case. And so there was this sort of hierarchical issue, but there was also a lot of the, the good side of the, in my view, the military culture, lot of emphasis on training and keeping your skills.
And and a, a real sense of mission and purpose the, the clear idea that you are really protecting the safety. And then you had that similarly at EPA, a really clear sense of the environmental mission. I do think that at both NRC and DOE I found there was more. On the technical side, that that was sort of the feels both places had that feel, whereas EPA was a little more lawyerly.
There was a, at EPA there’s always the fear of there, there’s so many opportunities to sue. EPA gets sued all the time. So there was much more of a sense of the, the lawyers having a lot. To say, and what I’ve heard is that NRC has actually become more like that over time, which is not ideal.
And and EPA I believe has become a bit less so like that. So it’s kind of interesting that there are shifts over time, but also these sort of basic feels of the places.
[00:07:54] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. Okay. Well, I’m, I’m sure we’ll talk a little bit more about perhaps each, but I do wanna talk or pivot to your current day job Nuclear Innovation Alliance.
What’s the objective of the alliance? What are your guys’ goals? How big is it? Give us some perspective.
[00:08:10] Judi Greenwald: Well, as I said, so our mission is to help create the conditions for success for advanced reactors so they can be part of the climate and clean energy solution. So we have a public interest in advanced nuclear energy, and this is a bit of a shift in the I’d say in the nuclear energy world, historically, there was really more, there were anti-nuclear public interest groups and and pro-nuclear industry.
And that was kind of the way it often got framed. And now we have this third voice, which is ours and, and a few other folks who have a public interest in it, in the success of advanced nuclear energy. And that’s kind of an interesting new voice. You know, we have an interest, for example, in more efficient regulation.
We don’t wanna cut corners. We believe strongly in the safety mission of NRC, but we think we have that they have to do their work more efficiently because we’re in a hurry to protect the climate. So we really think that it’s very important that NRC do its job well and also do it in a timely way so that we can get all of the clean energy we need.
This is actually part of a broader issue in the entire clean energy space, you know, for everything: renewables, hydro, you know, all of the, the non the non emitting energy sources. We really have to get good at actually building them. And historically, it’s been much more tolerable for it to take a really long time to build anything.
You know, that the idea, sort of the implicit assumption of a lot of our processes, licensing, permitting, siting, et cetera, was that it was sort of okay if it took years or even decades to build new infrastructure. And actually now that we know we’re in a hurry to change out infrastructure because we have to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we really have to get more efficient at siting, permitting, building infrastructure. And that’s important. And probably, in retrospect, that was always important. And now that we’re in really faced by this, this dire threat of climate change it’s becoming obvious that we have to get more efficient putting up infrastructure and changing it out.
[00:10:26] Mark Hinaman: So I, I like the way that you contrasted this, you know, thing historically that there’s been public anti groups and private industry pro groups. What does it mean for a public group to be pro and, and perhaps we can define the word public, is that kind of where your funding’s coming from? Is it crowdfunded or volunteer rather than
[00:10:44] Judi Greenwald: Oh, yes. Good question. Yeah, it’s a good question. So, public interest group you know, we’re nonprofit. We don’t have a commercial interest in advanced nuclear energy. We have a public interest. We’re primarily funded by philanthropy. Okay. And that’s sort of typical of NGOs in, in this country.
Interesting. Not, not everywhere. There are a number of countries where NGOs are primarily funded by government. And there definitely are NGOs who have a mix of funding industry, government, and charitable foundations. But generally we are primarily funded by charitable foundations, and that’s pretty typical in the nonprofit sector.
[00:11:23] Mark Hinaman: I’m curious, why do you think historically there, there wasn’t a pro-public group.
[00:11:29] Judi Greenwald: I don’t know. It’s a good question. I think it kind of grew up that way and I think maybe nuclear power was in that sort of paradigm, which started to emerge, I guess in the sixties and the seventies of the small is beautiful.
And yeah, nuclear power was definitely not small. And so
[00:11:50] Mark Hinaman: it was still beautiful. It’s very beautiful, right, but still beautiful, right?
[00:11:53] Judi Greenwald: Yeah. And so I think I think it just sort of, it evolved that way. And I, I also think, well, I think a couple of things. I think a lot of what we thought we knew about nuclear power, we were wrong about, and we can get into that.
And also I think with advanced nuclear energy, a lot of things that we were worried about with nuclear power are actually much better with advanced nuclear energy. What advanced nuclear energy does is it gets at a lot of the things that, that were problematic for the conventional nuclear space. And so I think it’s, it’s two things.
It’s realizing or learning what nuclear power actually is and its advantages as well as this new generation of advanced nuclear energy that actually solves a lot of what people were worried about in the past.
[00:12:42] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. From my perspective, if, if I could pontificate, I’d say there didn’t have to be a pro nuclear group.
I mean, it was a service that was provided and I, I don’t know, I could be wrong.
[00:12:54] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, it’s a good question. Whether people felt there was a need before. Yeah, it’s a good question.
[00:13:00] Mark Hinaman: Sure. So your team publishes a lot of excellent reports. I’ve I’ve read many of them. I’ve, I think I’ve provided small amounts of feedback to some of your team members about some of ’em, but I, I really, really enjoy them.
I think they’re excellent. Can, for the sake of our audience, can you kinda describe what, what these are and what you guys, what you’re trying to accomplish?
[00:13:21] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so we’re, you know, as I mentioned, I probably have said this a couple of times now, you know, we’re a think and do tank. So we do research; we dig into what we see are the key issues for advanced nuclear energy; and then we make recommendations for how to address those issues.
So our reports are about research and analysis, but also about finding solutions. So we’re very solution oriented. So a typical report for us will be a really deep dive on a particular challenge, and it ends up with recommendations about how to address that challenge. And then this is sort of where the do part comes in from our think and do mantra is that then we try to turn our recommendations into reality.
And that involves working with stakeholders and of all types, policy makers, any type of decision maker, to make things happen that will help advance nuclear energy succeed.
[00:14:17] Mark Hinaman: That’s awesome. What, what kind of things do you guys focus on, or how do you decide what is report worthy?
[00:14:24] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so the, the sort of core of our agenda is laid out in two papers that we did in the past few years.
One was in early 2021, it’s called the US Strategy for Advanced Nuclear Energy. We did that jointly with the Partnership for Global security or PGS. And if your listeners are interested, you can find that on our website. And then we also did a piece that’s a sort of shorter version of that with a few updates called Fission Vision that we produced in April of 2022.
And both of those reports sort of lay what are the conditions for success and then how do we actually get there? You know, what are the, the things that civil society, that industry, that government, that private investors can do to help create those conditions? And so that’s sort of our overarching strategy. And then we delve in deeply into particular issues that where we think we can make a difference.
We’re, you know, a small organization, there’s only six of us me plus five staff. And so we can only do so much, but we partner with other organizations. We also leverage other people’s work and if somebody else has covered an issue, then we can work on something else. So we really try to be part of the advanced nuclear community more broadly and really hone in on where we think we can make the biggest difference.
Maybe an example from the past couple of years is we did a report on Nuclear Regulatory Commission fee reform. As you may know, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is primarily funded by fees on the part of licensees, people who have some form of, of license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, either materials or power.
And that’s how, that’s primarily how the agency is funded. And we did a deep dive on that model of how the NRC is funded now, and also looked at other agencies who were funded differently. And it turns out NRC is quite unusual. In the extent to which it’s fee funded. There are other agencies where their fees are part of their funding stream, but in the case of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it’s about 90%.
So it’s, it’s a very high fraction is fee funded, which is unusual and it ha creates some interesting problems in our view. Particularly it’s a bit of a disincentive for innovation if you have to pay a lot of fees to get licensed. So that’s, that’s unusual in, in both here and abroad.
[00:16:54] Mark Hinaman: Well, I’ll say that back. Make sure I heard it correctly. 90% of the NRCs fee or funding comes from essentially fees from industry. Correct. So they’re, I mean, from that perspective, they’re not incentivized to expedite getting new designs or doing things quickly, because I mean, they’re paid $290 dollar dollars per hour, right?
Every hour that they work.
[00:17:16] Judi Greenwald: Yeah. It’s, it’s an interesting question about how the incentives actually work, right? Because every agency, you know, you have your budget and so it’s, it’s, there aren’t a ton of efficiencies in, in government in general. So there are pros and cons about that. But yes, that’s our view is that it’s not sufficient incentive to be efficient.
[00:17:39] Mark Hinaman: Well that, that’s, that’s a great example. And I mean, we can dive into more opinions on that, but I’m curious about the do part first so that when you guys are making recommendations or say you, or let’s just use the NRC as an example, right? You say, well, this is different than many other organizations.
Who do you then take some of those findings and recommendations to, or how do those get proliferated and distributed?
[00:18:02] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so, so in at NRC, I guess the history going back, and so I’ve only been at NIA since 2020, but NIA’s been in existence since about 2015. And one of their earlier reports was on Nuclear Regulatory Commission reform in terms of making licensing work better.
And the early reports that NIA did contributed to a piece of legislation called NEIMA, which is the Nuclear Energy Innovation Modernization Act, which required NRC to create a new rulemaking for how they license advanced reactors. Historically, conventional reactors were licensed for many, many years, and conventional reactors are different from advanced reactors.
So a lot of the rules that apply to the conventional reactors may not really apply to advanced reactors, and you can license an advanced reactor under existing rules. And in fact, about a dozen advanced reactor developers are in the process of either pre-engagement with NRC or actual formal licensing applications with NRC and are working under existing rules. So it is possible to license an advanced reactor under existing rules, but it’s complicated. You have to ask for a lot of exemptions because there are a number of rules that don’t apply. You know, it would be like applying to meet standards for a combustion vehicle if you’re an electric vehicle.
There are many things that do apply, but there are many things that don’t. So, Congress told NRC to do this new rulemaking to take a different approach. It’s referred to as the Part 53 rulemaking, and it’s supposed to be a risk informed, performance-based, technology inclusive approach to advanced reactor licensing.
And the agency is working on that now. The, that legislation passed in 2019 and they gave them, I guess seven years, depending how you count. And their deadline is to be done by 2027, although they’re trying to do it faster.
[00:20:08] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. To, to clarify, what was your guys’ role in helping with that?
[00:20:11] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so we did this report that informed Congress. We also advocated for it. And similarly now at the NRC, we produced comments. The rulemaking is a little bit complicated for Part 53. They’ve been in informal rulemaking for the past couple years, but they’ve asked for public comments, so we submitted public comments on the rulemaking just a couple of weeks ago.
We did a brief on Part 53 saying how we think it ought to be fixed relative to the preliminary draft that’s that’s out there, and also basically advocating that the commission should fix it. What happens at NRC is that the staff submits a proposed draft rule up to the commission. There’s five commissioners at NRC.
It’s a little bit like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It’s an independent commission. It’s got five commissioners and they make the decisions. And this piece basically advocates to the commission that we think they ought to fix it. And also it would be relatively straightforward to fix it. And so, it’s both a hopeful brief and also quite a specific in terms of what ought to happen.
So we develop very specific views about what we think ought to happen, and then we try to make it.
[00:21:29] Mark Hinaman: I love that. That’s a great anecdote to kind of demonstrate your guys’ process. I do wanna ask one more follow up question about it. From what I’ve heard of Part 53, or perhaps it’s just getting the executive summary of your guys’ recommendation, but I’ve heard that it’s going slow and there’s some people that think that the NRC isn’t going to make this NEIMA objective or goals at the timeline. I tried to do it faster, but curious on your guys’ perspective and perhaps what your recommendation.
[00:21:54] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so the timing issue around if Part 53 got sort of complicated. So the original statute said I think seven years. I guess it depends what you count from cuz it was 2019, maybe it’s the end of 2019 cause they’re supposed to be done by 2027.
So seven or eight years depending on how you count, so. So I think. It’s certainly doable for them to be done by 2027. They had thought a few years ago that maybe they could go faster, and in fact some members of Congress wrote to the NRC and asked them if they could go faster, and then they set a schedule to be about two years earlier, sort of to be finished in 2025 or at 2024.
And then they were trying to do that faster pace and, and now it looks like maybe they’ll be late for the 2024, 2025 deadline, but they’ll still make the 2027 deadline, you know, as, as many times occurs in public policy. That sort of conditions on the ground changed during the whole time that we’ve been working on this since nema.
So when NEIMA was enacted in 2019, It was not at all foreseen that there’d be a dozen advanced reactor developers trying to get licenses at the NRC. I think we thought we had a lot more time. We thought that advanced nuclear reactors would be coming, you know, later and the decade. And what’s happened is that, that they’ve gone faster and they’re now starting to get licensed, but under the existing rules.
And so there was some thought, well, maybe if we hurry up with Part 53, we could catch this first wave of advanced reactors. But I think most of us now think the first wave is gonna be under existing rules. And it’s really the next wave that we’ll hope to be licensed under Part 53.
And so we think of our work, our licensing work, on NRC licensing at the NIA. So, so we think of NI’s work on, on NRC licensing as divided essentially into three parts. One is to make licensing go well under the existing rules. And we actually did a report about a year and a half ago on licensing efficiency under the existing rules. And that had recommendations not just for NRC, but also for applicants.
And we had a number of very specific recommendations for how both applicants and the NRC could make the processes go better under existing rules. And we also did a workshop in the fall Chatham House Rules Workshop to, to work through a lot of those issues. Cause a lot of them are quite detailed and actual processes that are internal to the NRC and the applicant. And we’re gonna do a public version of that actually at an NRC public meeting sometime this spring. So that’s that’s sort of one big work stream for us to help make things go well under the existing rules. And then the next work stream is to help Part 53 be a good rule.
And that’s something that we’ve just been talking about. And then we have a third piece of work that’s, that’s just in its infancy, which is high volume licensing or what we’re calling high volume licensing. And this is envisioning a time further out in time when the NRC might be getting quite a large number of, of applications.
And, you know, this is something that we hope will happen to help solve climate. So this is, you know, 10 years out at least. Or longer where you have lots and lots of applications coming through. And that would require a more fundamental change in how NRC does its licensing and would also probably require a fundamental change on the part of applicants because we’d have, we’d probably need a lot more standardization of designs in order for NRC to really rapidly license advanced nuclear reactors.
[00:25:44] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. So we’ve focused a lot on the policy space, and I, I gathered that that’s where a lot of your guys’ work is. But the innovation alliance, I, I assume covers some technology, some people, processes. What, what else does, do you, do you capture, I mean, help, help me understand how innovation falls into this.
I mean, innovation’s pretty broad and it can be many things.
[00:26:07] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, for advanced reactors to succeed, we need technology innovation, which is, you know, a lot of what people assume you mean when you say innovation, but we also need regulatory innovation, which is essentially what is happening in, in all of this NRC work.
You know, we need innovation to make the current rules go better. We need innovation to have a new rule, and we need innovation over time to make the, the high volume licensing work. So we need regulatory innovation, which at the moment is kind of a, a mutually hopefully reinforcing process that is both inside the NRC as well as by the applicants.
So that’s something that’s happening now and almost in a one-off way at these first set of applications, and then hopefully will happen through this. And then some kind of new set of rules in the, in the future. So there, that’s another whole piece. So our innovation work is related to our regulatory modernization work.
And then we also need business model innovation, which a lot of the companies are working on. And this is actually probably good for us to get into a little bit about what’s one of the things that’s super interesting about advanced reactors, is that they come in a much broader range of sizes than conventional reactors.
Conventional reactors tend to be quite large, you know, in the order of a thousand megawatts, and you can have advanced reactors that large, but they tend to come in smaller increments. And when they are, when they do get to that very large size, they tend to be modular. They sort of come in in modules, and that really helps because one of the huge challenges for conventional reactors over the past decade, couple of decades, has been that they turn into these really large, these mega projects, which are very hard to manage, and they’re prone to cost overruns and delays. And so if you can build these reactors in smaller increments, either modularized or just smaller plants, they’re much less financially risky.
They’re much easier to manage, and so you can get much greater confidence that they’ll come in on time and on budget. And that’s really helpful for getting them financed as well as getting them built. And also for them to compete against other forms of energy that come in these smaller or mids sizes, so that that whole size issue and, and the way you fit into the power system is really important.
The other thing that is exciting about them is this modularity allows you to make more of the plant at the factory as opposed to onsite. A lot of the reactors, most of the reactors we have now were essentially stick built onsite, and they’re, they’re basically bespoke. And so if you can have a sort of standardized design or a more standardized design with components that can be built at the factory and shift, and then you just assemble them on site.
Then the construction times are much shorter, and you also get maybe not the economies of scale at the plant level, but the economies of production. So you can produce a lot of the same modules and then you can get the economies that way. So it’s a really different model of how we built these, how they fit into the power system.
And that, that’s a very exciting development. The other thing about conventional nuclear energy is that they generally had been what used to be called baseload. The term baseload is sort of losing favor at the moment, which is essentially they’d be running all the time, which made sense because once you built a very in capital intensive plan, which, which nuclear plants tend to be, you’d wanna run them all the time.
And in the grid that’s emerging where we have a lot of variable renewable energy, you actually need more flexibility in your power plants because if there is additional solar or wind on the grid, let’s say it’s sunny or or windy, then you might want the nuclear plants to back off and not produce as much power.
And that is something that can be done. But another way to deal with that is that you would still have them produce energy, but they wouldn’t put that energy on the grid. They’d put it into storage. And that’s one of the interesting things, for example, about this TerraPower project that you may have heard about that’s being planned for Wyoming.
It’s one of the advanced reactor demonstration programs projects. This is one of the DOE premier demonstration project programs for advanced nuclear energy. And one of those projects, which is this Terra Power project is is gonna be coupled with storage so that it can run all the time.
And sometimes that power goes to the grid and other times it goes into storage so that it can be used later when the grid needs the power.
[00:30:58] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. All of those projects are excellent. They’re, they’re super cool. So what you mentioned, innovation has kind of stagnated in the space and, you know, having heavy regulatory burden could be a factor in that.
Do we think nuclear innovation is stagnated? I mean, I know there’s a bunch of advanced reactors coming out. You’ve mentioned a couple times there’s 12 that are coming out or that are in the licensing process right now. But how can we help innovation move forward and, and foster it?
[00:31:28] Judi Greenwald: So I think innovation did stagnate and that now at least technology innovation did stagnate and that now it’s back. You know, we have, I mean, we have a dozen developers who are trying to get licenses, but there’s many more developers who are working on various stages of technology. There’s essentially a blossoming now of advanced nuclear technology innovation, which is super exciting. And this is not sort of your grandfather’s nuclear industry. This is a lot of people coming into the space who are much more entrepreneurial, which was traditionally not the culture of the nuclear industry. So there’s both a cultural change and a innovation change where you have a plethora of designs coming out.
So it’s very exciting what’s going on on the technology front on. Nuclear energy and what we need is the regulatory side to be able to innovate to match that. And we also need public and private investment to help translate these technology innovations into actually working power plants that can help us meet our climate and energy challenges.
I think historically advanced nuclear energy was not sufficiently valued for its climate benefits. And now as more and more as we realize that we need those climate benefits, I think people are coming around to the idea that we really need nuclear energy and we have to make sure that it works and that it’s safe, but we really need it.
[00:32:58] Mark Hinaman: Got it. It’s funny not everyone agrees that it’s clean. I have direct exposure to that being in Colorado, the state senate just voted down a bill, but, you know, claims that, that nuclear shouldn’t be included in the definition of clean. I think you and I would absolutely disagree with that.
And so I’m curious on how, how we can convince key stakeholders otherwise.
[00:33:21] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, so I do think it’s shifting. You know, I’d say within the environmental community there’s a bit of a generational divide. I mean, it’s not completely easy to categorize that way, but I’d say generally a lot of environmentalists who grew up being anti-nuclear are having trouble change their minds.
Whereas a lot of the younger environmentalists who are coming to environmentalism primarily through the climate, find it much easier to embrace nuclear power and they don’t have sort of this history of being anti-nuclear. I mean, I’d say everyone agrees cuz it’s just a fact that nuclear power is low carbon.
I mean that, that’s definitely true. It’s, you know, a zero carbon emitting energy source. And, and that is clear, you know, the issues that that arise are around questions about the waste and safety. And you know, that is something that, you know, our view is that these plants are actually quite safe. They of course have to be heavily regulated to make sure that they’re safe and also that the waste issue is important and has to be managed.
But actually, nuclear waste is relatively easy to manage compared to waste streams from, from other energy technologies. The volumes of nuclear’s waste are quite small compared to the volumes of waste from other competing energy technologies. And they’re actually very it’s easy to detect radiation, so you, you know, that you can keep the radioactive waste away from people. And so the waste are, are relatively straightforward to manage and the industry and government have done a good job over the past several decades of keeping the waste away from people. You know, one of the things you learn if you take a toxicology class is that the dose makes the poison.
And if you keep the waste away from people, then no one will get exposed to it. And it’s, it’s, it’s it’s not gonna impose any risk on anyone, but you just have to carefully manage it. And the, the industry actually, the, the standards and the requirements and actually the practices for managing nuclear waste are, are really better actually than in any other waste stream.
So we’ve done a good job managing the waste. We have to make sure that we continue to do a good job. And we do need to find a permanent solution, which has thus far alluded us in in the US, but we are managing it well. As an interim basis on most of the waste now from commercial nuclear energy is on site at the nuclear power plants around the country.
When it first comes out of the plant, put in concrete casks that are quite safe and keep them away from, from anybody getting exposed.
[00:36:08] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. So what, what are some of the major risks that the nuclear industry faces moving forward?
[00:36:16] Judi Greenwald: So probably it’s, it’s this on the business side, and it’s really up to the industry to make sure that this becomes viable commercially, you know, it’s, it’s gonna be primarily their responsibility to make sure the technologies work.
That they come in at a, at a reasonable cost that they can compete with other forms of energy. And so that, that’s, it’s mostly gonna be on them. Public policy though, can do quite a bit. You know, if we value the benefits of of nuclear energy as we do value the benefits of other zero carbon energy sources, that makes a huge difference.
Just in August of 22, we enacted in this country the Inflation Reduction Act, which included clean electricity tax credits, which for which advanced nuclear energy is eligible. And that’s huge. So actually having tax credits available for advanced nuclear energy helps a lot on the financing side.
And also is a statement from our government and, you know, us as a society that, that this is valued. And so that makes a big difference. And then we have these public-private partnerships like the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, which are very important where you have the federal government cost sharing with the private sector to demonstrate these new technologies.
And you need both. You really need the public policy side to make sure that the public benefits are valued. And you also need the commercial side where you have a business case that these plants can ultimately be commercialized and survive on their own. The government policies. So that’s that’s kind of the mix of policies and commercial activity that we need.
We also need private investment. That’s another work stream. That’s something we spend a lot of time on at the Nuclear Innovation Alliance. We do a lot of education of the financial sector, of private potential investors. We did a couple of papers. One was a due diligence guide for potential private investors in advanced nuclear.
We also did a paper on why advanced nuclear energy ought to be considered an ESG investment environment, social and governance friendly investment. And we also co-sponsored a, the first advanced reactor finance conference last year in New York City. We co-sponsored that with Guggenheim and several other organizations.
And we’re actually gonna have the second what’s gonna become an annual event of advanced nuclear reactor finance conferences in New York at the end of this month. We also have a stakeholder working group on advanced reactor finance that we convene, and that’s a mix of NGOs and companies and potential investors.
And we have weighed in, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission had a rulemaking on the definition of sustainability that we commented on and said basically that we thought zero carbon was the primary measure of sustainability in that therefore advanced nuclear reactors would meet that criterion.
So we do a lot of work on, on educating that sector, but we definitely need private finance as well as public finance in order for this to be successful. Oh, I should mention one other thing. The loan programs office at the DOE, Department of Energy is actually quite an important program. They have a lot of lending capacity.
They’ve got a lot more lending capacity as part of this inflation reduction act legislation. And so they are open for any type of clean energy investment, including advanced nuclear energy. And the head of that office, Jigar Shah, is very interested in investing nuclear energy as, as long as he gets the right kinds of applications.
So there’s a lot of potential for getting federally backed loans for advanced nuclear.
[00:40:04] Mark Hinaman: There’s so much there, Judi. It’s really awesome how much work you guys are doing and how you’re so involved in everything. It’s incredible. I can tell we, we need, I mean, trying to just capture kind of what you and NIA holistically through, through this conversation, but I can tell that, you know, we, we need to have you back on anytime that you guys release a report and just to talk about your work that you’re doing. It’s really, really phenomenal.
[00:40:28] Judi Greenwald: Yeah. You know, and advanced nuclear energy is definitely having a moment, and so I feel lucky that I’ve got to work on it. Right now there’s just so much going on on multiple fronts and it’s kind of like popcorn, where all of these things are mutually reinforcing.
You know, the, the government incentives are encouraging the private sector, the private sector innovation is encouraging government to pay attention and, and incentivize it. So it’s a lot of mutually reinforcing stuff that’s happening. And also civil society is getting more and more excited about advanced nuclear energy as it seems to be more and more viable as a way to help solve our climate problems.
So there’s a lot of mutually reinforcing activity and we, you know, try to get involved in as much of it as we can. I should say that, you know, my career has mostly been in climate and energy solutions. Not necessarily nuclear energy. I’ve, I’ve done some on nuclear energy over the years. But what I’ve tried to do in my career and what I’m doing now is try to pick spots where I feel like I can make a difference.
And so it’s, it’s a really exciting moment to be working on advanced nuclear energy, and that’s why I’m working on it now.
[00:41:36] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that, that’s awesome. While I think that all of your guys’ work that you’re doing is making a huge difference, I’ve got two more questions for you. First is shameless plug for you guys, you know, you’re publicly funded or public think and do tank, but where can people find more information about you?
How can they support you? I assume you guys take donations by, you know, being nonprofit. Let’s yeah, give, give you the chance to promote yourself.
[00:41:58] Judi Greenwald: Sure. So our website is http://www.nuclearinnovationalliance.org. Sorry it’s so long. And you just have to spell out all three words, no spaces or anything.
And if you are interested in our work, you can look at our website. All of our publications are online. All of our comments that we make to various agencies or congress are online. Our press statements, a lot of videos of our events are online. And you can find out, for example, we have something called an Industry Innovation Leadership Council, which is about a dozen I think maybe at, we’re up to 14 now, advanced reactor developers, and they provide input into our work. They’re independent of us, we’re independent of them, but we do value their input. And so you can learn about them and also you can learn about our staff and our various events and activities. There is a donate button, as you know, many nonprofits have on our website.
And there’s actually two options under the donate button. You can donate to our organization overall and, and fund all of our activities. We also have a Danielle Emche Memorial Fund, which is specifically a fund to support interns and fellows who have promised to make contributions for nuclear innovation. And that’s in memory of a member of our staff named Danielle Emche. So that’s a, a way to do it.
Oh, I should also mention bootcamp. I forgot to mention that. So we run something called the nuclear innovation bootcamp. Which is a two week summer experience for students and young professionals who are interested in nuclear entrepreneurship.
And last summer we did it at the University of Wisconsin. And then this coming summer in 2023, it’s gonna be in Japan. And as part of our two week experience, they’ll learn about entrepreneurship. The typical way that bootcamp works is you divide everyone into groups and then they have to basically develop some type of enterprise.
And then at the end of the bootcamp it culminates in a pitch competition with judges and, you know, they figure out who’s got the best entre entrepreneurship idea. So it’s a really fun as well as intense and exciting experience. And this coming summer it’s gonna be in Japan and for part of the bootcamp for a couple days, we’re gonna go see Fukushima.
So it’s a very, gonna be a especially interesting one this summer.
[00:44:20] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that sounds super fun. I wish I could participate. Okay. So Judi, if, if you had to do one or two things to help us build, say a thousand times faster you know, wa wave your magic wand you know, and it’s a loaded question, right?
But with your breadth of experience and the industry and all the work that you guys are doing, I am curious on your opinion on, you know, what are one or two things that we could change to to really build more nuclear.
[00:44:48] Judi Greenwald: Yeah, I, I, unfortunately, I don’t have one or two things. I think it’s this whole ecosystem of interacting and, and mutually reinforcing activities.
It’s, it’s gonna take a whole of society approach. And so I think all of the things that we’ve been doing are really helpful in this sort of recent state of public policy is gonna make a huge difference. We just have to implement it. Well, I guess maybe that’s, that’s a response, although it’s a little bit of a cheat because that involves a lot of activities.
But I, I think if we can implement successfully this set of tax credits that we just enacted under the Inflation Reduction Act, there’s also funding for something called high assay low enriched uranium, which is a fuel form that advanced many advanced reactors need, that conventional reactors didn’t. And there’s a, a significant funding for that under the Inflation Reduction Act.
But that program has to be implemented well, the tax credits have to be implemented well. The IRS has to write guidance that’s easy to understand and effective. On the HALEU front, I should just mention why that’s so important. Is that at the moment the only commercial supplier of HALEU is the Russian state-owned enterprise Tenex, which was problematic before, but is now hugely problematic.
So we really need a domestic supply chain for high assay low enriched uranium, and that’s what this policy is about. And we really have to do that with all deliberate speed. So I think it’s a lot of different pieces and I guess. I should make a real point about the communities who host these reactors.
It’s really important that the developers work with the communities to make sure that the plant is something that works for them and that there are community benefits. And I, I think this is another shift that we’re seeing in the industry is that they’re much more about working with the community.
To make sure that they’re wanted and that the that the plant has community benefits. Certainly conventional nuclear plants always have had community benefits. They tend to create good jobs. The nuclear energy workers tend to be highly union unionized. A lot of veterans get jobs in nuclear energy.
So it has had historically a lot of benefits, but there’s been in the past much more about that. It’s the industry who decides where to put a plant and then, you know, they try to talk the community into it. And now it’s really changing. And if you saw what happened with the TerraPower Project, for example, they talked to lots of communities in Wyoming until they found a place that really wanted them.
And then they can work with the communities as partners. So I think having successful partnerships with communities who host nuclear plants is a huge part of the success as well.
[00:47:42] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. Good, good policy. Successful partnerships. Yeah. Full, full court press is how I like to characterize it as. Yes.
Right. So if there’s one thing we can do’s, work, work really hard all the time.
[00:47:53] Judi Greenwald: Yes. Yeah. That’s the goal.
[00:47:56] Mark Hinaman: Well, Judi, this has been great. Really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. Like I said, we’re gonna have to have you or one of your staff back on to talk about some of the specific issues I can tell.
It’d be make for really great content and probably be enjoyed by all our listeners. So thanks so much for your time.
[00:48:10] Judi Greenwald: Thank you for having me.