Christine King speaks with Mark Hinaman about her diverse background in the nuclear industry, her time at EPRI and Nucleation Capital, and the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) at Idaho National Labs.
[00:00:00] Christine King: I think there’s two things that we can do that are most important. One really is we have, we have to build them. We have to operate them. There, there’s no two ways around that. We also can’t wait. You can’t wait until we’ve built the first two. Right? So I think the challenge we have in front of us now is how do we get 3, 4, 5, or six built right?
As a sector, as a new market, yes, I think we’ll be wildly successful. Certainly our power plants today… Think about building an asset that when you originally built and financed the project, you said you were gonna run it for 40 years. Now we’re gonna run it for 80.
[00:00:53] Intro: Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly, soberly. And to engage people that are in energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone. If there is a single country.
Of course the world cannot meet it without America. That is willing to. We’re gonna need you. The next generation to finish the need scientists to design new fuels. And focus on net public benefit. We need engineers to invent new technologies. Over absurd levels of radiation. Entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.
And we will march towards this. We need workers to operate a. Assembly lines that hum with high tech, zero carbon components. We have unlimited prosperity for all of you. We need diplomats and businessmen and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations skip past the dirty phase of development and transition to sustainable sources of energy.
In other words, we need you.
[00:01:58] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Welcome to another episode of the Fire Deficient Podcast, where we talk about energy dense fuels and how they can better human lives. I’m joined today by Christine King, the director of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear, or as we affectionate affectionately like to call it GAIN.
How you doing, Christine?
[00:02:15] Christine King: I’m doing well. How are you?
[00:02:17] Mark Hinaman: I’m fantastic. You know, I know Emmett Penny’s gonna love that. I’m gonna say this, but GAIN is making GAINs in the nuclear industry.
[00:02:25] Christine King: Oh, like, oh, that, that’s, that’s pretty bad for a nerd joke, but, okay. We’ll take it.
[00:02:34] Mark Hinaman: I like it. So, Christine, why don’t you give kind of a 30 second intro to yourself and then we can dive into some of your background before getting into GAIN.
[00:02:41] Christine King: So academically, a long, long, long time ago, I was trained as a chemical engineer. I’ve worked for 30 years now in nuclear energy. So clearly I like energy dense technologies. And you know, on the personal side, I’m married. I have a 15 year old so three years left of high school and live in San Jose, California.
Most of my career has been spent. With the commercial domestic fleet in the United States, I’ve specialized on pressurized water reactors. About three and a half years ago, I decided to join Idaho National Laboratory and take the, the leadership of GAIN primarily because I think there’s an important role that the federal government needs to play in the deployment and scale of these new technologies and sometimes they don’t necessarily have the commercial background to hit the market windows and move as quickly as we need to move. So that’s what made me jump to this, to the dark side, so to speak.
[00:03:45] Mark Hinaman: I like it. Well, we’ll dive into a bunch of that. Before we do, I wanna touch on some of your background. You’ve talked to it a little bit before on some other podcasts and so we’ll try and not repeat too much, but.
You spent a lot of time at EPRI or the Electrical Power Research Institute, right? Yes, I did a little bit of a, but let’s talk about that briefly.
[00:04:04] Christine King: So, EPRI’s a, a unique uh, has a unique relationship in the industry. They do independent peer reviewed research and as a nonprofit though, what they’re, they, they focus on doing big science as well as the national laboratories.
And by pooling and bringing consortiums of folks together, you can look at bigger problems. A lot of my time there was spent focused on maintenance guidance, so especially around how materials degrade, degrade over time and power plants. So I spend a lot of time thinking about what we learned in the laboratory and how you apply that to an operations and maintenance strategy.
So I think we’re in similar space, right? With advanced nuclear. As we think about what we’re designing on a piece of paper, we also need to be thinking in the same time period how we’re going to operate the technology, how it’s going to be used, and how that might impact our design. What’s exciting is compared to when we designed these.
30, 40, 50 years ago. Right. The technology has come so far, so we really can imagine different operating strategies and maintenance strategies that will directly impact the long-term cost of the plant.
[00:05:26] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, that’s really cool. I think pulling resources is really productive and I appreciate the perspective of If you build something and operate it, you know, that is going from design to operation.
Often there’s this feedback loop that is challenging and not always appreciated by the designer. Then sometimes the operators don’t appreciate how hard it was to design things and there can be this conflict, right? So
[00:05:48] Christine King: yeah, I, I mean, any good design involves a significant amount of collaboration and what I have found throughout my career is people.
People tend to get stuck in their own world, right? And they, and they don’t think about, well, what does the next person down the line need? You know, how, how can I get my project and my work closer to their transition point? And I think that’s where it’s important as we’re doing these things, that we have diver diversity in the conversations.
We can’t wait until we’ve designed and built a few of these. To engage the end user community, you have to be having that conversation today. Right. So it is an iterative process, but sometimes people need like the somebody who’s actually manning the bridge and making sure that you don’t just keep circling back.
Researchers, I love researchers, but they tend to have never ending questions, right? Yeah. Well, at some point you have to put the pencil down. And you have to push your technology over the bridge to the next, to the next stop, you know? And so I think that’s a big part of what we think about, you know, is are we bringing the right information forward?
Are we introducing the technology to people that might be interested in using it? And then helping be that feedback loop to the developers.
[00:07:20] Mark Hinaman: Got it. I’ve heard you talk a little bit about kind of welding and nuclear operations and project management, and you’ve had some experience in that. Do you, can you chat a little bit about that or do you have a favorite story to tell?
[00:07:31] Christine King: The first 10 years of my career I spent in the field you know, it’s one thing to be in a male dominated field as, as an engineer anyway. But there weren’t many women turning wrenches in the field. Yeah. So, probably one of my favorite things was the first power plant I got to work on was Pal Verde in Arizona.
And what I didn’t know, I specialized in steam generators. I was doing chemical cleaning of steam generators when I first started. What I didn’t know is the steam generators at Palo Verde were the biggest ones in the business. So everything was downhill from there. So, you know, once you run cables, you know, you scurry up the side of that steam generator, like that’s the biggest one
[00:08:17] Mark Hinaman: for folks that are maybe ignorant, what, what does a steam generator look like?
How big is this? Compare this piece of machinery to Oh,
[00:08:24] Christine King: else comparative piece of machinery.
[00:08:27] Mark Hinaman: Is a, is it a building? Is it, is a pot on the stove? Is
[00:08:31] Christine King: it, yeah. It’s probably the size of a two story building when you think about all the scaffolding and things that are around it. And for a 1000 megawatt plant in their particular design, they had two.
And the steam generator basically is your heat transfer that creates the steam comes off the top, that goes to the turbine, that spins the generator, that creates the electricity, right? So, It is your primary heat transfer, but yeah, they’re, they’re pretty big. And yeah, most of the time when I was in the field, so that was my first job outta school.
And what I loved is that most of the craft guys knew, like, I’d only like drawn a pump on a piece of paper and things like that. So, one of the, one of the millwrights we worked with a guy named Tiny. Who wasn’t tiny, you know? And he, he’d always come and find me. He’d like, Hey, we’re gonna, we’re gonna rip apart this pump and replace the internals.
Do you wanna help? And I’m like, yeah. You know, so I was like, for, for like the first two years, I was just like the little puppy sidekick, you know, running around with these guys that have been doing work in the field for. 20 years. I learned, I learned so much in my, my time in the field. And you just can’t replace that.
Do you have advice? It’s just nothing
[00:10:00] Mark Hinaman: like advice. I, I guess, do you have advice for other women or young professionals in the industry that maybe intimidated by that?
[00:10:09] Christine King: Oh, well, it, look, if you’re intimidated by it, then you’re in the right place, right? Because that’s where you learn, right? I mean, you learn when you’re out, I don’t think can say that loud enough.
That’s that’s entirely, yeah. When you’re outside your comfort zone, that’s where you’re learning and that’s where it’s the best. What I would say is don’t get too full of yourself. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself. I know a lot of people tend to think to look at me and say, oh, you’re the director of GAIN.
It’s not about me. It’s about what we’re trying to accomplish. And I think if you go into every job, not trying to make it about yourself, but plusing the project, then it’ll, it’ll serve you well throughout your career.
[00:10:54] Mark Hinaman: I like that. Okay, so let’s, that’s a good segue into kind of how you got to your current position.
Again, I guess immediately before GAIN, you were with a venture capital group, and I imagine that helps you see a bunch of kind of startups and folks in the industry. Oh, yeah. I mean, do, do you wanna talk a little bit about kind of your exposure there and then how, how you came to this program?
[00:11:17] Christine King: So I, I met up with Valerie Gardner at a Stanford conference.
So, Valerie is the founding the founding member of Nucleation Capital. And she had come, she’s an environmentalist that was interested in doing something about climate change and she honestly came to nuclear power and was just perplexed as to why more people were not. You know, pushing for this tech technology and investing in it.
So, I didn’t know anything about venture capital, but I knew some things about nuclear power. So we made a, a good partnership. Leslie Dewan was also part of our, our initial team, and it gave me the opportunity to understand and see how investors think about projects that they might invest in or companies that they might invest in, and the wide variety that you have in private investment in terms of the number of different investment vehicles you can bring to any one project.
Which I was just completely oblivious to that before. And I think probably the most important thing that I learned, I. Probably new, but I’ll just say really made an imprint on me: these are very dispassionate decisions.
[00:12:44] Mark Hinaman: They’re not falling in love with the people. Well, sometimes.
Sometimes they are, but it’s, yeah. How, how?
[00:12:49] Christine King: Well, so they’re, yeah. So let’s talk about that. I think it’s kind of interesting when we were doing pitches I notice there’s, there’s two things, right? They’re listening to what you’re talking about. They’re listening to your proposal. They’re listening to your project and your technology.
They’re also looking at you as a team, right? And without the right team and without the right skillsets you won’t win the investment. Yeah. And, and so I think. I think it was really an important aspect in, you know, coming outside of the nuclear industry and kind of looking back at it through a different lens.
That, that I really carried out of that job into this one. I,
[00:13:36] Mark Hinaman: yeah, I imagine it gave you perspective that when you see teams now, or new entrepreneurs or folks that you’re trying to help. You, you might see some deficiencies, but then rapidly recognize like, oh, man, we can help you in this way or that, and bring skillsets.
[00:13:52] Christine King: Well, it also helps me think about exactly how we, as we, as we tour the laboratories, as we meet the scientists inside the national house, we go, oh, Did, you know, like so that’s where the matchmaking, right, that’s where that matchmaking magic happens because we see it from a commercial perspective.
Something that a researcher may not even recognize the value of what they’re doing.
[00:14:19] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. So let’s dive in. What, what is GAIN? What is the gateway for accelerated innovation? Nuclear, I love the word innovation. What is,
[00:14:28] Christine King: I, I guess what I had, you know, I really wish they had named it something a little shorter.
Very, you know, that’s such a mouthful. It’s pretty short. Well, game’s pretty short, but man, every time you have to say that whole thing. Right. But each word means something. Right. And the gateway was really about being the front door to the laboratories being one place to call. The labs in the Department of Energy are confusing and complex and difficult to navigate.
And so that was part one. One-stop shop. You ask us a question, we will go find the answer, which I really like that I’ve, I’ve been in service my entire career, so I love the fact of, of being in that role inside the government. The second piece, the accelerated piece. Clearly near and dear to my heart, right?
Like, what’s the market window? Right? How, how do we move fast enough and ensure that we’re gonna hit that market window? And it’s not moving faster than the labs normally do, or the d o e normally do it. It’s matching pace. You have to match pace with your entrepreneurs. The innovation part I think is clear, but I think the other thing is recognizing that innovation is not just in our technology.
Innovation is also in how we think about capacity planning, how we think about outreach to people that might host a project innovation in our contracting and our terms and conditions. One of the things I like, so one of the more popular programs we have in GAIN is our voucher program. You write a work scope for National Lab staff to execute, I pay the bill.
The results are protected to the private company for five years. That’s direct recognition of the commercialization and the need to protect those results and respect of your business approach or commercialization strategy. And the, the, I think the other key aspect is maybe we have a large reputation.
I, maybe that’s a fair thing to say. We have a large reputation, but we’re relatively small as a team and we’re, we have a relatively small budget and I aim to keep it that way because it keeps us nimble and responsive and flexible and all the things that we need to be to continue to be successful in this space.
Got it. We get too big then, then you, you know, you lose all of those attributes.
[00:17:09] Mark Hinaman: There is a significant advantage to being lean and nimble. Decisions get made faster and information flow happens faster. The people have all the, the decision or the information they need to make the right decisions.
Right. So I totally recognize that.
[00:17:24] Christine King: Yeah, and what I, what I like about that, what that looks like on our team, right, is nobody gets to say, it’s not my job. Even me, right? I mean, some days I’m doing a podcast. Yeah. Some days I’m taking out the trash. Right. Or ordering lunch or, you know, it, it, and that, again, being service oriented my entire career, I like that.
I, I’ve never been a, it’s not my job kind of person. Yeah. And then having a team of people with the same philosophy. We have bench, you know,
[00:17:56] Mark Hinaman: So, so I wanna, I wanna try and frame this to make sure I understand it correctly. For folks it, I mean, the Department of Energy is this massive government complex, right?
That, I mean, follow what it is, it exists and I think it’s really helpful, but, you know, it can be challenging to navigate. I mean, there’s what, 40 entities or national labs that fall kind of underneath the umbrella of the Department of Energy.
[00:18:19] Christine King: Right. And it’s a lot. Yeah, it’s a lot. Yeah. It’s, it’s amazing all the scope and it depends on how you define it, how you count it, all those types of things, right?
[00:18:27] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, absolutely. And so, I mean, this, this need was identified that man, if we had a liaison that could interface with the public and be help demystify this complex for folks and then
[00:18:39] Christine King: and it came from a real desire. To make sure that everything the government has invested in, in nuclear energy and the production of power from nuclear energy is used and useful as we imagine a new fleet of reactors.
We should not waste the, the millions and billions of dollars that have been invested in the research and the laboratories. And that’s a big part of what we do too through our legacy program, which is getting, it’s not just that connection to the experts or to the facilities, it’s the legacy data that we can unravel the red tape around and make available to entrepreneurs so that they can be using that in the design and development of their reactors.
[00:19:27] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, I think that’s sometimes hard for people to actually understand. I, in, in my mind, before I really dove in and I began to understand kinda the lab program and everything that existed, It was like, well, of course there’s, you know, people that are doing these things and this knowledge is captured somewhere and it’s well documented.
And I think especially in the era of ai, it can be easy to assume that, oh, someone’s just working on that. You know, and it kind of is this ethereal thing that’s happening. But realistically, I mean these, this knowledge and this These projects and technologies and information flow that has been built up over decades can be lost.
I mean, I’ve seen that in industry. Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. I’m sure you’ve seen that. Right? And so if you don’t have somebody actually paying attention and. We’ll say, stewarding it along then yeah, there’s a real risk of losing a lot of that potential, or certainly it takes, there’ll be a, a, a loss in the amount of time that it takes to rediscover it from somebody.
[00:20:24] Christine King: Right? Yeah, and I think the interesting thing is sometimes what you discover is the gap is not associated with the nuclear part of it at all. Sometimes the gaps are, Operating having materials that can operate at higher temperatures, that’s not a nuclear problem. Right, right. That’s, you know, lots of industries are trying to operate at higher temperatures and they’re driving materials harder and harder.
So yeah, I, I think sometimes I’ve been surprised by looking back at not only what we designed and built. From an experiment per perspective, but the demonstrations and the demonstration scale reactors that were built and operated, right, that operating experience, that startup experience of a new reactor is going to become very, very valuable.
And unfortunately, you know, what happened with nuclear technology is we marked it all applied technology and it stayed on this side of the fence. So one of the very first things that Rita Reinwald did when she was the director of GAIN was help to make sure to, to get the ruling that we could take a, the applied technology stamp off, and then it was just a matter of reviewing the information for export control.
Hmm. And then, you know, we had to sit down and really think about, okay, so how do we, how do we digitize the information? Put it in usable formats, right? Because, I mean, just scanning a logbook in, in, as a very helpful, it’s, it’s a file title, right? And what
[00:22:13] Mark Hinaman: do we do with it? Right.
[00:22:14] Christine King: You need to actually, so, so there’s an aspect here of thinking about how the information’s gonna be used.
We’ve developed a number of databases. So I think the legacy part is a tremendous value as well, that that’s not well understood. Yeah. I think really where we are also is as we get questions in, we might get a specific, Hey, we’d like to see these drawings. Now as we’ve been working more and more with this legacy data, we can say, did you know this also exists?
Right, so we’re almost becoming a little bit of the public librarian to the National Lab experiments.
[00:22:53] Mark Hinaman: Well, I, I mean, your guys’ website’s vast. For, for such a spot.
[00:22:57] Christine King: It’s a little dense. It’s, it’s, it’s information dense. Just like our, our technology is energy dense.
[00:23:04] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. I, I mean, you just go onto the game website and I was like, this is a full-time job for somebody to like dive into this.
Yeah. Which is cool. I mean, it’s, it’s inspiring. So, I mean, you guys have to capture, you have the voucher program that you mentioned, right? Yeah. This is where people can get access to national labs and typically the public has to pay a fee to get access to these resources. Am I correct in understanding that or
[00:23:29] Christine King: if, yeah, so normally, so there’s a couple of different ways.
Like if you you can be win a funding opportunity and. Be, do a contract directly with the Department of Energy. Many times, some of the larger funding opportunities end up with partnerships with the laboratories. In those cases, you, you’re pro, you’re using your award money to also pay for, you know, working with the laboratory.
The difference is I think the real difference is many of the funding opportunities that give you access to lab resources are things that are only open once a year. Maybe not on a regular schedule. You don’t know if this is ever coming back again. Right. It might be a one-time opportunity. GAIN vouchers are open every quarter, like clockwork.
We make decisions in six weeks. We announce in six weeks from the time that we close. And we finish the work in a year. Yeah. Right. So those, those values being consistent with the entrepreneurs that we’re working with as well. We have a contract that we don’t negotiate Got it. So that we can get to work faster.
Right, right. And so far we have, we have awarded vouchers to over 50 different companies. I. Wow.
[00:24:56] Mark Hinaman: That’s a lot. This is, it’s a lot. But it’s, you know, I remember listening to Titans of Nuclear episode to you a couple years ago, and I, I don’t think you were, that had nearly that many then.
[00:25:06] Christine King: No, and what’s interesting is over time, you know, primarily it used to be our developers, now we’re seeing folks come in, in supply chain.
We’ve seen utilities come in. We have folks that are interested in. Screening sites to host nuclear technology. Dow Chemical right, has a voucher with us to look at how they might use nuclear for their industrial processes. But the, I think what’s most surprising is it’s not for, it’s actually not a whole lot of money.
It’s less than $30 million. Yeah, so we’ve been able to help, they average reward sizes
[00:25:43] Mark Hinaman: between what, half a million and a million dollars?
[00:25:45] Christine King: Half million is our top. Okay. You can have up to a million dollars of active voucher at any one time. Gotcha. Yeah, and we do have frequent flyers. I don’t give out points, but we have frequent flyers.
So clearly. So clearly there’s something about the program that works.
[00:26:06] Mark Hinaman: That’s. And ideal partners. I mean, it’s not just like the biggest players or the smallest players in the industry. It’s, you know, all, all sizes.
[00:26:15] Christine King: It’s all sizes. What is the most important is you have a vision for how the work that you want done leads you to the next step of commercialization.
Yeah. If you, so you cannot, if you cannot articulate that, you can’t be successful in voucher space.
[00:26:35] Mark Hinaman: Well, and you probably won’t be successful in business or in your,
[00:26:39] Christine King: well, that’s not for me to judge, but I, I can judge on the voucher side of things. That’s, that’s critical to understanding, you know, because we don’t have a significant amount of dollars to, to give out.
Right. But I will also say that for, for those that listen to this, if you are thinking about a voucher, call us first. We’d love to help you be as successful as possible in your first application. I. If you’re not successful in your first application, they will also give you feedback. Not the thank you very much, you weren’t successful feedback.
We give you real feedback and we’ve also seen folks that have taken that feedback and come back a second time and been successful. And again, it goes to that being service oriented to the larger mission of commercializing the technology.
[00:27:32] Mark Hinaman: Do you have an example of a voucher that, that someone’s come with?
Or is that confidential?
[00:27:37] Christine King: Oh, they’re confidential. Yeah. So the reports are confidential to the companies. Okay. Okay. But we put out a one page abstract when we kick off the projects. And at the end we put out a one page. So this is what really happened. Okay, so we have a abstract, right?
Sometimes, sometimes it matches, sometimes it doesn’t. But what I like is it’s written, it’s not written by the national lab researcher, it’s written by the company. So what I find most exciting is talking to them about, so what are you, what are you going to do next? What did this open up for you? Right. And, and all of those summaries.
Once, once a project’s completed, those summaries are available on the website too. Awesome. And I, I am very passionate about also not putting out 200 page reports. That’s why it’s only one page. We we, when the d o e did their advanced class patent waiver, One of the things we did was put together a one page that said, what is it really?
Who does this benefit? Right? The who, what, why, when and how. Right? Yeah. We try to answer those que questions in one page when we communicate about something.
[00:29:00] Mark Hinaman: Got it. Okay. So let’s zoom out a little bit, Christine, I mean, to the kind of broader energy industry. You’ve, you’ve been traveling a lot. I saw you in Colorado earlier this year.
And I also loved your in intro to your discussion at, at the event that we’re at you, you said, I’m, I’m from the government. I’m, and I’m here to help, which I know is a little tongue in cheek, right? That’s what they all say, but yeah. What, what have you been working on?
[00:29:24] Christine King: Well, personally I. Okay.
This year alone, we have been in virtual conversation. We have been in person. We’ve testified to different legislators in 32 states. Yeah. That’s what’s going on with nuclear for the first time.
[00:29:45] Mark Hinaman: And you say we, it’s mostly you. I mean, you’ve got a small team that kind of supports you. Well, I, I, am I right in that
[00:29:53] Christine King: it has been me.
Yeah. And, and others. And some others. We are working right now to expand the people that are, are talking in those forums. Gotcha. And it’s not something it’s, it’s definitely, I’m always going into those. I’m outside of my comfort zone. I’m an engineer. Right. And you put me in front of a group of people that don’t carry as many decimal points as I do.
I get nervous. You should get nervous, right? I come from an industry that speaks in acronyms. It doesn’t sound like English, right? So I have to actually remember not to use all of that stuff. And I think the, the other thing is not to get defensive about our technology nuclear period.
Has different experiences for different people. Not all of them are positive. When, when you’re working with a technology that came from the development of nuclear weapons, it’s not, it’s not fair to just be dismissive of someone’s concerns. It’s not easy to understand the difference between using the technology.
In a weapon space versus using the technology for the production of power. Right. So there’s no reason to get defensive about that, but you can have a conversation about it. We can have a productive conversation about waste. Right. And I do think that’s the thing is that you have to go out into those forums, not scripted.
[00:31:39] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Right. Able to talk off the cuff like an actual human being. And it
[00:31:43] Christine King: talks like a human
[00:31:44] Mark Hinaman: being. Great humility and yeah,
[00:31:46] Christine King: be able to and be willing to hold the tension, right. Hold the tension in the conversation and not be dismissive of it. It’s uncomfortable, right? But if we can’t have forums, especially in places like where we were in Colorado, where they may deploy the technology. These are hundred year relationships these communities are gonna have with these plants that we intend to build. You want them to be confident in that decision. You want them to welcome the technology and, and I think that’s, that’s why we need more people.
Nuclear has been an insulated industry. Right. As you know, right. It was hard to break. It’s hard to like find a nuclear friend right now. You have a whole lot of ’em. It’s true, right? Yeah. Yeah. But you put a lot of passion and energy into that. So there’s a lot of a, a lot of folks that are interested in nuclear, and what we’re working on is giving them that baseline lingo.
And enough knowledge about the technology demystify it enough so that they can come to the table and confidently participate in the conversation, especially in like any kind of decision around hosting, hosting a project or things like that. Yeah, I want people to be ready to be good nuclear customers, and that means saying no.
Also, that means I have heard everything that you said. Great for you. Not for me. That’s okay.
[00:33:33] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Again, it’s okay not to buy. Yeah.
[00:33:36] Christine King: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:33:38] Mark Hinaman: So, and when you say people, I mean these are communities, stakeholders, individuals, elected officials, right? I mean, you’ve been speaking to a lot of, a lot of different kinds of people.
Oh, all of that. It’s really just an awareness that you’re trying to say, Hey, like this capability exists within our existing system, like, And let us help.
[00:33:56] Christine King: Well, and it’s, it’s not necessarily like we like to, okay. You can cut this out later if you want to, but I always think that people tend to, they tend to be like, “so it’s a dark and stormy night in the lab. Let me tell you about my reactor.” Right.
You know, and if you’re in a community, right? Think about a mayor. Think about a community planner, an economic development team. Do they start thinking about the technology they want? No. They think about what they need to do for their town, right? Their community, their region, their state.
What is our governor interested in or not interested in? Right? How do I, how do I secure the dollars to do the things we wanted to do for our town? A lot of these towns, these smaller towns, they want there to be viable jobs so that their kids stay, right? Yeah. And so you have to start there.
Okay. Not with what we love, right? We’re like, oh, let me tell you about this really cool reactor. Like, yeah, it’s really cool. It’s great stuff. Don’t you also love physics and chemistry? It’s really awesome. Yeah. I mean, yeah, absolutely. I do want to, I do want to talk about some of that, right? But there’s a time and a place, so instead of talking about the reactor that we’re designing, it’s about talking, in my opinion, it’s about talking about it as a cornerstone.
To what these communities are trying to build as they transition away from fossil fuels. I see. And in many places that centers on economic transformation, and that’s a whole different way to look at things, right?
[00:35:45] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Pe people want jobs. Have you seen the reception towards nuclear or maybe curiosity change over time? Has that, has there been more positive reception or is the promise of more jobs the kind of best thing or most exciting thing to most people? What, what’s been your experiences? You’ve, so
[00:36:09] Christine King: I do think there is increased interest, absolutely. And I do think it’s trending neutral to positive.
And I think that comes from a reality that the transition is going to happen, right. I think for a while. I think you can almost set aside whether you want to believe climate change or not. I think for many of our fossil fuel dependent states, the reality is setting in that these, that these plants are going to close.
Yeah. And that immediately starts to transition into. What about, what about the people? And I think in many cases, if you focus on either the workers that are being potentially displaced or communities or companies not having reliable power, then you, then you get upset. Then you get upset. Well then, then you start, then you really start to go, okay, so what?
What does a responsible transition look like? Yeah, and, and I’m not here. Nuclear technology, like I said, it doesn’t have to be the answer for everyone. And actually I think it’s a good partner to renewables allowing us. If you are living in an area where you can deploy a lot of renewables, do it right, but ensure you have the right partner to handle the intermittency.
Every technology has its pros and cons. We have to build systems that balance that.
[00:37:57] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Christine, you’re, you’re a force to be reckoned with. Every time I’ve, every time I’ve talked to you, you know, you’re, that’s scary. You’ve got this excellent balance between being a great storyteller and having a a level of humility that I really appreciate, but at the same time, like, you’re gonna get stuff done.
You know, I can just tell that about you. Right. Hard driving when you need me. So, what advice might you have for well, let’s just say young people are entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs in the industry.
[00:38:25] Christine King: I’d say two things. First and foremost, leadership is not what you think it is. Leadership is not, Hey, I finally got the big title and I get to tell everybody what to do.
It’s not how, that’s not,
[00:38:40] Mark Hinaman: it’s often just a lot more work, right?
[00:38:42] Christine King: Like no, it, it’s leadership is, is, and, and in my world starts with it’s not about me. If. If you’re, if you’re doing it to just elevate, elevate a title, achieve the next thing, whatever, I think you miss sometimes what you’re trying to achieve in the job that you have.
So my advice to to anyone is focus on the job that you have and do it excellently and do it with empathy and vulnerability to the team you’re working with. What happens sometimes is when you see when you see leaders that you admire, you tend to only see the glossy side of them when you’re working with them on a team like you mentioned earlier, like Christine, “I’ve seen you everywhere. You’ve been very busy.” Yeah, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
So that also represents the, Hey, you’re redlining yourself. Yeah, and we had to have that conversation with our team. Like, okay, I get it. How do we build bench? How do we help other people come out and be just as comfortable, comfortable having these conversations?
So just so to me, I think in many, many cases, if we focus on the people, the teams that are executing things, how we treat one another. And focus on doing the job in front of us excellently and I think finding a way to say yes to the person that’s in front of you, many times we listen to, to tell our side of it right.
To, you know, listen, listening with that idea of yes and right. It’s a, it’s a different, it’s a different way to approach things. And, and I do think that you’ll probably find more satisfaction in your career as well. At least I have.
[00:40:59] Mark Hinaman: I like that. I think that’s great advice. Okay, so what, what do you think is one of the most impactful steps that we can take to build more nuclear, A S A P?
[00:41:09] Christine King: The most impactful step? Finish one. 2, 3, 4, 5.
[00:41:16] Mark Hinaman: We did! Vocals online.
[00:41:18] Christine King: It’s Well, Vogtle is online. It’s, and, and, and, yes. We should be very excited about that. I’m, I’m not, it’s happening. Absolutely.
I think there’s two things that we can do that are most important. One really is we have, we have to build them. We have to operate them. Yeah, there, there’s no two ways around that. We also can’t wait. You can’t wait until we’ve built the first two. Right? So I think the challenge we have in front of us now is how do we get 3, 4, 5, or six built right?
Are there different financial instruments that are needed? To de-risk saying yes to those types of projects. So when you think about like, you, you know, we need early adopters and we need fast followers.
[00:42:14] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. I, I think that’s a great point. I, I wanna zoom in on that a little bit. Okay. We need to build them.
We talk, we’d mentioned this briefly and, and I talk about this a lot, but people learn by doing, Especially with hardware, right? Like if you have a bunch of software and not a lot of hardware, then you don’t really know a lot. But if you had a, if you have a lot of hardware and a little bit of software to like augment your hardware, then you can learn rapidly and until you actually screw stuff together and turn it on and see if it works and runs, like, you’re not actually gonna know how well it works or not.
So I think that’s a great piece of advice.
[00:42:50] Christine King: Well then I think that’s how humans build trust with inanimate objects, right?
[00:42:55] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Yeah. What I mean, able to touch, feel it. Use it.
[00:42:59] Christine King: Yeah. I mean, the first time, well, I don’t know, I’m, I’m probably dating myself here, but what the hell? Let’s go for it. I mean, how long did it take me to trust that I could trust the mapping program on my phone and not have printed out instructions?
I mean, I’m of the error when you went on a business trip. You, you had printed maps. Yes. Your folder and that’s, you knew where you go. Yeah. You had your folder, right? Exactly. You had your folder, you had instructions from the airport to the hotel and anywhere else you needed to go.
[00:43:33] Mark Hinaman: Oh, and God bless the cross country family vacations for that, right?
[00:43:38] Christine King: Yeah. Did the family, the family trip to AAA to get your, your, your trip? Planned out,
[00:43:45] Mark Hinaman: right? Yeah. But then actually trialing it and using the new technology.
[00:43:48] Christine King: Yeah. So there, there absolutely is something that we have to remember along the way. And I, and it, when I was at Texas a and m in the new scale simulation laboratory, it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks.
So just for fun, because you can, you’re with a simulator, we were like, Hey, let’s do an earthquake. ’cause that’s, that’s what nuclear nerds do. Yeah. And you know, having come from the existing fleet, you’re used to there being human interaction when you’re in an accident scenario. So we started running the simulation and, and basically right, you go to your procedure and it says, don’t touch a thing, and here’s why.
Here’s what the system is doing. We have to build trust in that. You can only build trust in that, with it being not that, not that we’re gonna build these and earthquake them. Please don’t take that away, but Right. We need to build them and run them and build confidence in these new systems that we’re putting in place.
[00:45:05] Mark Hinaman: You mentioned financial instruments. I think that’s another point to highlight. Well, there’s, there’s just so much to talk about and I know we’re kind of running on time here, but that’s another piece is building trust that these things are gonna make money, that they’re actually gonna work. Yeah.
Right. And like, there has to be someone that’s gonna dive in and, and make that leap of faith, and I think they’ll be handsomely rewarded when they do. But that, that’s certainly another piece.
[00:45:27] Christine King: But not everybody will be winners, right? I mean, that’s the nature of innovation. That’s the nature of, of.
People will fail being, being a first mover, right? Yeah. However, as a sector, as a new market, yes, I think we’ll be wildly successful. Certainly our, our power plants today. I mean, think about building an asset that you, when you originally built and financed the project, you said you were gonna run it for 40 years.
Now we’re gonna run it for 80. Yeah. And not to say that you’re not investing in improvement can work there, right? Yeah. You’re, you’re investing in improvements, but it’s not the same thing as building a whole new plant, right? So as the life cycles are longer as well, right? You have more time to have that return on investment.
Unfortunately, as you know. We like to have a quicker return on investment in the United States, and I do believe that’s a big challenge for nuclear is the need for patient capital. Yeah. And that’s where it’s important that we think about going back to those, those early adopters and fast followers. How do we potentially use the public dollar to reduce the financial uncertainty?
In doing those projects, and I know those conversations are underway with the loan programs office and I think they’ve been incredibly creative thinking about what it takes to commercialize these technologies. So, I don’t know that they’ve settled on any particular instrument as of yet, but I know they’re listening, which is great.
[00:47:18] Mark Hinaman: So, Christine, how can people help?
[00:47:21] Christine King: How can people help? Yeah.
[00:47:23] Mark Hinaman: I mean, if we wanna build more of ’em, if we wanna make ’em cheaper, if we wanna build trust, I mean, what, what can people do?
[00:47:29] Christine King: So let’s talk about just what can, what can I do? What I do with my girlfriends and I, they, they must love me ’cause they tolerate it, is I tend to say.
So this is what you need to know about nuclear today. Right. If, if there’s something exciting that’s happened in nuclear, I share it and sometimes I’ll get a question like, so what does that really mean? Or why are you excited about that? Right. But I think bringing nuclear more into our common lingo mm-hmm.
As a society is definitely something that we need to be doing in the United States. And it’s gonna take us a while because we don’t teach it in our schools. Right. We barely teach it in our colleges outside of nuclear engineering degrees. Right. So how do we, how do we as a society talk about nuclear more openly
[00:48:23] Mark Hinaman: normalize the conversation, right?
[00:48:26] Christine King: And then I think, I think inside the industry, right, is challenging each other to not do Me Too work. So let me explain what I meant. There’s plenty to be done. Plenty to be done to realize these new technologies and to scale and deploy. So try to find a gap and fill it. We, we should, we need to stop the duplicative work that’s going on.
[00:49:08] Mark Hinaman: I like that. I’ve, I’ve got a lot of ideas about those.
There’s a bunch of holes that I see.
[00:49:15] Christine King: Oh, absolutely. And we should, and, and we need to get over ourselves that nuclear people are the only one that can fix those holes. Right. Yeah. There are plenty of other industries people to do it, right? Yeah. There’s plenty of other industries that have figured hard stuff out too.
Right. We need to make friends with them, so interesting. Yeah.
[00:49:37] Mark Hinaman: Great, great pieces of advice. So, well, Christine, leave us, leave us on a positive note. What’s, what’s your vision of the future? What’s the world gonna be like in the next 10, 20 years, and how are we gonna help get it there?
[00:49:48] Christine King: So, in 10 years, what I hope we have is we have one or two dozen sites that are breaking ground and building. Across the United States, and I also hope that what we’ve done is enough to be signing international agreements and helping countries establish nuclear or build nuclear in in their countries. One of the things I think we do that is our responsibility at GAIN is to make sure that we are wildly successful on the domestic front.
Such that we can export the technology with confidence. And that goes to the challenge, you know, the global challenges that we have around energy security. Mm-hmm. 20 years from now. Right. What I’m hoping is we see diverse energy supplies or diverse energy systems coming online. We need to not put all of our eggs in one basket.
Diversity is going to be a key to success for any, any new energy system. But what I hope is that the things that we do in the next 10 to 20 years really provide an exciting platform for industrialization going forward in our country.
[00:51:17] Mark Hinaman: I mean, it’s literally going to shape the future. Right.
[00:51:21] Christine King: Like yeah. These are, these are generation changing conversations. Yeah. And I really hope those folks that are interested in doing something about climate change lend their, their time, their leadership, and their knowledge to the energy transition. It’s not just about the electric transition. We have to think about how we use energy in a sustainable way.
I think that’s the best thing we can we can leave the next generations, because you know this, I mean, think about the systems that we’ve built that we’ve lived with for a hundred years. Yeah. Transmission. Our hydroelectric plant plants, right. Ev
[00:52:05] Mark Hinaman: every fueling station on your corner.
[00:52:08] Christine King: Right. Our, our rail lines.
Right? Yeah. So you don’t come back to these kinds of investments often. Right. So, you know, we have the chance to really, really leave excellent infrastructure for the next few generations to benefit from.
[00:52:28] Mark Hinaman: That’s wonderful. Well, you say dozens. I’m gonna say thousands. I may do. Oh, wow. Okay. More optimistic or more naive, or maybe both, but, yeah.
[00:52:37] Christine King: Well, I, I, you know, I. Maybe I’m just a little more pragmatic. Fair. But but no, I’d like to see, I’d like to see us past I’d like to see us in a place where there’s lots of projects going in parallel. Yeah. That’s what needs to happen next. We’ve got to get away from the singles.
[00:52:58] Mark Hinaman: Christine King, this has been wonderful.
Thanks so much for the time. Really appreciate it.
[00:53:01] Christine King: Alright. Thank you so much. It’s good to see you.