Northeast Ohio Chapter of PMI

Chapter News

Message to the Membership

Greetings to our Members and Friends,

It is time for our annual PMINEO chapter elections again, when we seek nominations for positions with our Board of Directors.  We have several Director positions open this year and we encourage you to consider running for the board!  These are rewarding opportunities where you can impact our strategic priorities and improve upon our 2015 accomplishments as a volunteer chapter leader.  Winners will join an elected 5 member governance board that is augmented by an appointed 3 person Operations Board to help run the chapter.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of PMINEO Feature NEWSFeature NEWS is the first-of-its-kind blog designed to focus on the practical applications of project management within the Northeast Ohio region. 

Feature NEWS will provide offering up a wide range of original and reprinted-with-permission thought leading content for the benefit of our members and other stakeholders.  Here are examples of the categories of content that we are seeking for Feature NEWS

  •             Mini- project management case studies
  •             Interviews with individuals important to or advancing the profession of PM within our region
  •                  Articles

o   Submitted by Members

o   Submitted by “Thought Leading” Speakers

  •                  Reprints of “Thought Leading” content published by others

Anyone having questions and / or who may be interested in submitting content for publication in PMINEO Feature NEWS should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

We have two articles to present to our readers for this first edition of PMINEO Feature NEWS.

Both articles have been authored by fellow PMINEO member, Dan Yurman.  Dan is the publisher of the website https://neutronbytes.com/about/   In 2016, Neutron Bytes had approximately 63,000 visitors and is well regarded within the nuclear industry. (see bio at end of this article)   Both articles are republished here by PMINEO with permission from Neutron Bytes.

As you read through the first of these articles, New Paradigms Emerge for Innovation and Investment in Advanced Nuclear Energy Reactors, please consider the following.

                                                                                       g3The challenges of marrying innovation governance to project management principals are oftentimes the most difficult for even the most experienced project managers. There are significant risks which include business losses, reputational damage or weakened competitive position, deadlines not met, higher costs and poorer quality than expected, loss of competitive position / loss of business, and failure to realize project benefits are among the many risks.

It is interesting that in the article New Paradigms Emerge for Innovation and Investment in Advanced Nuclear Energy Reactors Dan Yurman begins by defining the core issue faced by project sponsors, nation-states, government owned entities, utilities and other stakeholders is that

… “there is no center or cohesion to this collection of innovation efforts. The many different types of technologies, each with their respective technical and economic drivers, remain to be proven through testing and the rite of passage of safety review by regulatory agencies.” 

The article goes on to state that: “The “ecosystem” of capabilities and services needed to support developers of a new reactor type and bring it to market is very significant in size, complexity, and geographic scope. All this innovation work to build new types of reactors needs help, including but not limited to;

  •  Engage public/private partnerships to establish patient, long-term funding and support for the life cycle of the project from conceptual design to first sale to a customer.
  •  Hire highly skilled nuclear engineers, materials scientists, and fuel experts.
  • Obtain access to computational power and test facilities, and especially leverage new types of digital sensors and controls.
  • Develop reactor-specific fuels and fabrication of fuel elements,
  • Complete designs reviews with nuclear safety regulatory agencies,
  • Create a roadmap to move from stick built to factory built fabrication of major system components and establish an NQA-1 certified component supply chain,
  • Gain utility acceptance of the new designs.”

While firms like Terrestrial Energy and TerraPower are developing their roadmaps to success, the Third Way, a think tank in Washington, D.C., with an interest in energy policy, has made deep investments of its own to help the U.S. support innovative nuclear technologies.  In a white paper recently posted on the Third Way web site, Allen and his colleagues write that the nuclear energy industry “must adapt” to create a “culture of innovation” which will accommodate a new “range of new nuclear technologies of varying size and purpose.”

How can project managers address so many uncertainties using standard PMBOK method?. What needs to change. Does technology innovation in the nuclear industry require new methods of project management or new ways of using existing tools?

g2

In the second article, Closing the civility gap at NRC public meetings, Dan Yurman shows how public opposition to any development in the nuclear industry can be so disrupted by even a small group of people bent on stopping even the most basic discussions relating to nuclear energy.   

Project managers have lots of experience with stakeholder communications involving internal groups. Things can get messy when the public gets involved. The questions for project managers are where to go for expertise to manage these kinds of stakeholder communications challenges and how do they determine that the quality outcomes they want to achieve will in fact take place?

Virtual Workshop

All aspects of the innovation process—ideation, evaluation, validation, and execution—are important. Still, research organizations such as Booz & Co., the Boston Consulting Group, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers continue to produce studies showing that execution performance is the most critical component of innovation. 

For example, the Booz & Co. 2012 Global Innovation 1000 study found that those companies that described themselves as highly effective in the early stages of innovation reported that being highly effective at idea conversion is more important to financial success than being highly skilled at generating ideas.

This finding demonstrates that innovative ideas must be transformed into some end that drives business strategy to be of value to organizations. Organizational project management—which includes project, program, and portfolio management—is the system through which innovations are transformed from ideas into actions. (Source: PMI.org, https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/strategy-leading-companies-enabling-open-innovation-5819 )

This above referenced PMI article goes on to state:

“An effective innovation process is one critical delivery component—it is the life's blood of an organization's competitive capability. Project, program, and portfolio management are the circulatory system that helps the innovation process to produce the outputs that achieve organizational strategy and deliver the intended business results. Organizations that couple the two together effectively greatly increase the likelihood that they will remain viable, competitive players in today's unpredictable business environment.”

As you read though these articles, we suggest that you put yourself in the role of a project manager charged with managing one of these new paradigm advanced reactor projects.   We thought as part of your project initiation strategy it might be an interesting exercise to consider the issues, risks, resources requirements, scope definition (illustration provided below), stakeholder needs among the many other challenges that need to be addressed with your innovation project.

g1

We also invite you to join in on the dialogue with Dan Yurman, author of these two articles, to be held at https://www.linkedin.com/groups/47526/47526-6161619872758382593.

 High Level Project Scope (illustrative)

Project

To achieve success, the design effort must cross a gap between media hype and prototype to get on the road to completing a unit that can be sold to customers

Project Description

Develop an open innovation roadmap for development of a new technology nuclear reactor - - create a system of mechanisms to align goals, allocate resources and assign decision-making authority for innovation, across the project team including external parties

Project Budget

Competing for a share of approximately about $1.3 billion in impatient investor money. Total future funding from government and private sources could be as much as $1-2 billion/year over the next 10 years.

·         http://www.energy.gov/seab/downloads/final-report-task-force-future-nuclear-power

·         https://neutronbytes.com/2016/10/25/the-case-for-a-nuclear-energy-investment-bank/

 

Timeline

INDETERMINATE – ASAP as there is strong competition from more than three dozen firms. See a directory in spreadsheet table form at this link. https://neutronbytes.com/advanced-reactor-development-projects/

Also, there are significant differences in the time lines and prospects for success between developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) based on conventional light water reactor technologies (sooner), and those efforts that are based on fast neutron reactors that don’t use water as a moderator or coolant (later).

Environmental Factors

·         Creating a “culture of innovation” globally will be necessary to create the “ecosystems” of capabilities and resources needed for these new nuclear technologies to achieve market acceptance and to have on impact on decarbonizing electrical generation.

 

·         Start-up models adapted from Silicon Valley are being used to organize the efforts with venture capital funding in the mix.  Understanding the interaction and requirements from these key stakeholders will play a major role both in defining success and in the pace of development.  Investors will be more likely to commit if there is assurance that a reactor can obtain an operating license and, because of the NRC’s status as an international model for regulation, this new process will facilitate the deployment of advanced reactors outside the United States as well.

 

·         Public/private partnerships with government agencies, labs, private firms, and non-profit R&D centers are the key to access to test facilities, advanced computing capabilities, and support for development of advanced materials and new types of nuclear fuels.

·         Development of roadmaps by independent developers to achieve commercial success of advanced nuclear reactors are the primary objectives as compared to the past where R&D milestones met by scientists inside government funded national labs were what counted.  Some reactor design efforts will stop at the stage where intellectual property can be licensed by a developer to a deep pocket reactor vendor or state-owned corporation. See this report: https://neutronbytes.com/2016/05/04/nuscale-announces-roadmap-to-smr-operation-at-idaho-site-by-2024/

 

·         With the signing of the Paris Agreement earlier this month and many other U.S. and international efforts aimed at limiting carbon emissions, policymakers must make their commitment to carbon reduction a reality and soon. Additionally, the United Nations is calling for universal access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy by 2030 in its Sustainable Development Goals.  Next generation reactors can make important contributions to both of these objectives.

 

In-scope

 Traditional project management methods from PMBOK

 

Out-of Scope

Adaptive project management processes that do not constrain technology innovation, but which also support engineering governance, project controls, and management

 

 

 

Dan Yurman – Dan serves as a Volunteer for Marketing Strategies for PMINEO. 


Links

·         For breaking nuclear news he can be followed on Twitter @djysrv or http://www.twitter.com/djysrv

·         Welcome Page for Neutron Bytes Blog https://neutronbytes.com/2014/08/31/welcome-post/

·         Email Dan at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ~ Mobile via Google Voice 216-369-7194 ~

 

 

 

We have two articles to present to our readers for this first edition of PMINEO Feature NEWS

  • The first is a commissioned work for the American Nuclear Society on civility at NRC meetings.  A calamitous meeting in Vermont in February is the basis for the article.
  • The second is a commissioned article for the World Energy Council in London. This is the long version that appeared on my blog. The WEC editors chopped up the original to fit the space available.  This article has received wide circulation in the nuclear industry.

      Both articles have been authored by fellow PMINEO member, Dan Yurman.  Dan is the publisher of the website https://neutronbytes.com/about/   In 2016, Neutron Bytes had approximately 63,000 visitors and is reported to be well regarded within the nuclear industry.   Dan suggests that for breaking nuclear news he can be followed on Twitter @djysrv or http://www.twitter.com/djysrv ~ Welcome Page for Neutron Bytes Blog ~ https://neutronbytes.com/2014/08/31/welcome-post/ Email Dan at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ~ Mobile via Google Voice 216-369-7194 ~

Dan also serves as the volunteer Marketing Strategies for PMINEO. 

Both articles are republished here by PMINEO with permission from Neutron Bytes. 

-By DanYurman

Designers of advanced nuclear reactors seek to bridge the gap between concept and prototype. While it is early for investors and potential customers to easily pick winners from an increasingly crowded field of advanced reactor projects, new patterns of investment, including public/private partnerships, are creating opportunities for entrepreneurial developers.

Note to readers: This blog post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the May 2016 issue of World Energy Focus, the flagship online magazine of the World Energy Council. Readers can also download a PDF file of the long version posted on this blog.

 

Summary

In the U.S. and Canada more than three dozen firms, representing about $1.3 billion in impatient investor money, are currently pursuing technological innovations in nuclear energy. These firms include large, big-name projects, with deep pockets, like Terra Power, and small startups like Terrestrial Energy with Series A funding.synergy

All of them are placing their chips on a comeback for nuclear energy driven by the need to decarbonize the generation of electricity needed to power the global economy.

While large, light water reactors will continue to be significant players in the mix, the bet is that there will also be market opportunities for reactors based on new, unproven technologies, and sooner rather than later.

  • Development of roadmaps by independent developers to achieve commercial success of advanced nuclear reactors are the primary objectives as compared to the past where R&D milestones met by scientists inside government funded national labs were what counted.
  • Start-up models adapted from Silicon Valley are being used to organize the efforts with venture capital funding in the mix.
  • There are significant differences in the time lines and prospects for success between developers of small modular reactors (SMRs) based on conventional light water reactor technologies (sooner), and those efforts that are based on fast neutron reactors that don’t use water as a moderator or coolant (later).
  • Public/private partnerships with government agencies, labs, private firms, and non-profit R&D centers are the key to access to test facilities, advanced computing capabilities, and support for development of advanced materials and new types of nuclear fuels.
  • Creating a “culture of innovation” globally will be necessary to create the “ecosystems” of capabilities and resources needed for these new nuclear technologies to achieve market acceptance and to have on impact on decarbonizing electrical generation.
  • Some reactor design efforts will stop at the stage where intellectual property can be licensed by a developer to a deep pocket reactor vendor or state-owned corporation.
  • The problem for a Chief Nuclear Officer at a major electric utility is that there is no center or cohesion to this collection of innovation efforts. The many different types of technologies, each with their respective technical and economic drivers, remain to be proven through testing and the rite of passage of safety review by regulatory agencies.
  • Eventually, to achieve success, the design effort must cross a gap between media hype and prototype to get on the road to completing a unit that can be sold to customers.

 

A New Paradigm for Nuclear Technology Development

What’s different this time is that there is a profound shift taking place from government-led, and funded, nuclear R&D to private sector-led efforts by people with strong entrepreneurial goals linked to a social purpose. These developers want to make money from their inventions.

They also want to see nuclear energy used in place of fossil fuel power stations to curb the growth of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. Writing in the New York Times last November, venture capitalist Peter Thiel explains that their vision to succeed commercially with the technology is driven by a desire to save the planet, and the place of the human species on it. In 2015 Thiel backed a Cambridge, MA, startup called Transatomic Power with $2.5 million.

 For quite some time most of the global spending internationally on advanced nuclear R&D has been taking place under the umbrella of the GEN IV program which centers on six advanced reactor types. However, most of this work has been housed at various national laboratories functioning as sandboxes for scientists.

The business model the new developers have adopted comes out of the Silicon Valley model of development of innovative computer hardware and software. The idea is to pull together a small team of world class experts to create new technological advances that can find acceptance in the market.

Unlike the Silicon Valley model, developing a new nuclear reactor design is not a one-to-two year rush similar to creating a new computer chip, mobile device, or platform for software as a service.

To use a cooking metaphor, if the time frame for the silicon valley concept is near instant gratification symbolized by the cooking directions of “add water and microwave,” the model for creating a new nuclear reactor is add the ingredients slowly and bake ideas for ten-to-15 years.

Impatient venture capital money has always gravitated to the first model. It is still a question of how much patience these or other investors will have for a much longer time to market.

Many experts in the nuclear field agree that the time to market for a new reactor design, even one like NuScale’s 50 MW small modular reactor, based on mature light water reactor technology, is in the range of a 10-15 years.

Because of the differences in time frames for entrepreneurial models, it is not clear that all of the aspirations of the new class of nuclear design teams are sustainable in the near term unless there are changes in how their designs can be tested, certified as safe, and brought to market.

Another problem for the innovators may be that there are too many designs chasing a dream. With multiple designs in play, the market simply isn’t able to decide at this early stage which one(s) to back. It could take some time, perhaps several years, for a clear set of winners to emerge.

 

An ecosystem for innovation

The “ecosystem” of capabilities and services needed to support developers of a new reactor type and bring it to market is very significant in size, complexity, and geographic scope. All this innovation work to build new types of reactors needs help, including but not limited to;

  • Engage public/private partnerships to establish patient, long-term funding and support for the life cycle of the project from conceptual design to first sale to a customer.
  • Hire highly skilled nuclear engineers, materials scientists, and fuel experts.
  • Obtain access to computational power and test facilities, and especially leverage new types of digital sensors and controls. · Develop reactor-specific fuels and fabrication of fuel elements,
  • Complete designs reviews with nuclear safety regulatory agencies,
  • Create a roadmap to move from stick built to factory built fabrication of major system components and establish an NQA-1 certified component supply chain,
  • Gain utility acceptance of the new designs.

A big problem for these developers of advanced nuclear technologies is crafting the public/ private partnerships that will give them access to the expertise, including high powered computers and simulation software, to solve difficult engineering design problems.

National laboratories, and other R&D organizations, have started to move in this direction, but they still have a way to go. Another issue is that the costs of getting regulatory approval for new advanced reactor designs could bankrupt a start-up’s investors without government support.

 In the meantime, mature light water reactor designs, scaled down to SMRs, are far more likely to make headway in the market because they can leverage all the existing resources that are out there for the conventional 1000 MW units.

 

SMRs v. Advanced Reactors

David Hess, an analyst for the World Nuclear Association, says that of the advanced nuclear concepts being developed, “it is fair to say that the small modular reactors (SMRs) look likely to be commercialized first.

” SMRs are generally 300 MWe equivalent or less and are expected to be built using modular factory fabrication techniques. This approach to SMRs is expected to result in economies of scale in terms of production and offer significantly shorter construction times than the larger (gigawatt scale) established nuclear technologies.

Hess emphasizes that SMRs also have an advantage in that they “introduce a greater degree of flexibility into nuclear technology.”

He lists their advantages as being transportable by rail or even mountable on a ship. This means the SMR can be delivered to operate in places where the large units are not feasible or practical.

“SMRs should present lower barriers to entry nuclear for developing or emerging countries. The small size of SMRs also makes them suitable for use in smaller networks or places where demand is flat or growing slowly. They could also be used for the incremental replacement of smaller fossil units.”

SMRs will be easier to finance even if the cost per kilowatt isn’t much different than larger light water units. At 50 MWe, a unit might cost $200 million assuming a cost of $4,000/kW.

The first unit can pay for a second with its revenue and so on. As demand increases, the installed based can increase on a pay-as-you-go basis avoiding the huge debt and finance costs associated with a 1000 MW unit.

The other major arm of advanced reactor research continues to focus on developing more efficient technologies. Fast reactors, high temperature gas cooled reactors and designs based on alternative fuel cycles (notably thorium) are all examples of this activity.

For a few countries like Russia and China, fast reactors are central to these countries’ long-term nuclear energy plans. Hess cites the advantages of theses designs in terms of sustainability, in particular how they use nuclear fuel. Examples include MOX from reprocessing of spent fuel from commercial reactors and depleted uranium from enrichment plants. By putting the material back into useful nuclear fuel, it reduces the volume of material that has to be sent to be managed at the reactor or in an interim storage facility.

“These advanced designs can dramatically increase the useful nuclear fuel resource and offer a way to reduce the existing volumes of used fuel, including depleted uranium from enrichment plants, which might otherwise be disposed of as radioactive waste.”

According to a World Nuclear Association report on the organization’s website, fast neutron reactors are more than just concepts. Many countries have built and operated fast reactors in the past with mixed degrees of success.

Hess notes that, “Russia connected a new 790 MWe fast reactor to the grid late last year. There are a huge number of potential configurations to a fast reactor.”

Hess feels there are “reasons to be confident that one or more will be found which overcome the technical problems of earlier designs and offers economics comparable to non-fast reactor alternatives.”

So far the emphasis has been with state-owned corporations like those in China with their work on high temperature gas cooled reactors (HTGR) that use pebble bed fuel with helium coolant, and Russia with its work on the sodium cooled BN-600 and 800 fast reactors, have committed the money to take these design concepts, and the fuel to burn in them, to the working prototype stage.

In the U.S. the Next Generation Nuclear Plant Alliance (NGNP), a business consortium, selected a conceptual design developed by Areva for a high temperature gas cooled reactor. The alliance estimates that its first prototype could be built in the mid-2020s at a cost of $2.3 billion.

The Alliance says the plant would be competitive with $6 to $10/MMBtu natural gas for process heat and electricity. It would support manufacture of synthetic transportation fuels competitive with oil at ~$70 to $140/bbl.

 

 Advanced Reactors in North America

A report of new innovative nuclear reactor designs published in June 2015 by the Third Way, a Washington, D.C., think tank, lists five major reactor design types of advanced with several variations for each of them.

The projects listed in the Third Way report include small modular reactors of the light water type, more advanced types such as molten salt, liquid cooled metal (sodium, lead-bismuth), high temperature gas-cooled reactors using helium, and thorium-fueled reactors.

A likely path to market for some of these advanced reactor projects will be to develop just enough intellectual property in terms of design details to license it to a major nuclear vendor or state-owned nuclear corporation. This strategy will meet the demands of their venture capital investors for a cash out strategy within five years. This timeline is at least a decade short of actually building a working prototype.

 However, it has the practical objective of handing off the design work to entities which have the deep pockets to build, test, and commercialize these designs.

Two firms that are deeply committed to bridging the gap from media hype to prototype for advanced reactors are profiled here.

  • In terms of small start-ups, Terrestrial Energy is developing a proprietary Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR) in Canada. The key design feature is the that coolant is also the fuel so the reactor cannot melt down. The firm says the design will be ready for commercial customers within the next decade. The firm has two small Series A type funding events which taken together represent less than 10% of the money needed to complete the design work, much less to build and test a first unit. The firm has no deep pocket partners. Its CEO is irate about subsidies provided to solar and wind projects to the neglect of nuclear work like that being done by his firm.  
  • On the other side of the innovation spectrum, in terms of size, Terra Power, supported by Bill Gates, is developing a 1150 MW “Traveling Wave” reactor which will rely on depleted uranium as fuel after being “lit” like a cigar with 12% U235 fuel. It uses liquid sodium coolant like the Integral Fast Reactor developed and built at the Argonne West site in Idaho. In September 2015 the firm inked a deal with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a half-size first-of-a-kind unit in China and then manufacture and export a full-scale version.

 

 Terrestrial Energy

Terrestrial Energy’s IMSR is a small, modular design, but comes in three models from 29MWe to 290MWe. The firm claims the units are suitable for industrial operations, and can support on-and-off-the-grid power and process heat applications.

According to CEO Simon Irish, the IMSR represents a completely new paradigm for civilian nuclear energy. He calls it a “cost-competitive, scalable, grid-independent energy source” and touts its innovations in terms of safety and proliferation resistance.

 

imsrinfo-graphiccolored

Terrestrial Energy’s ISMR concept

Customers could include remote communities, such as those in the far northern provinces of Canada or island nations in the vast Pacific ocean. Other potential customers include factories for ammonia, fertilizer and hydrogen production, mining operations, petroleum refining, and desalinization to name a few.

So far the firm has start-up funding commitments for $10 million and another for $5 million. Given that success to complete the design will require a great deal more money, CEO Irish says that what keeps him awake at night are disturbances in the policy environment among governments for support of innovative nuclear technologies.

“The biggest challenge we all face is that today’s market and policy realities disadvantage all baseload technologies. Ten times more tax-payer’s dollars in 2015 flowed into support renewables compared to nuclear. By comparison, nuclear energy provides two-thirds of current clean power. History clearly shows it can provide close to 100%.”

 Irish does have praise for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which he notes “uses a graduated risk assessment model.”

“It creates less work for use, Irish said, and he added, “it helps us address a lot of the realities of meeting regulatory requirements in the shortest possible time.”

 

TerraPower

On the other side of the innovation spectrum, U.S. company TerraPower, supported by the Bill Gates as a private investor, has developed the traveling wave reactor (TWR) with 1150 MWe of power. It uses liquid metal sodium as a coolant and depleted uranium as a fuel. Like the IMSR, the reactor’s fuel cannot be used to make materials for atomic bombs.twr-p

 In September 2015 TerraPower inked a deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a half-size, firstof-a-kind unit in China. Once testing of the prototype is complete, the two firms will collaborate to build and export full-size units for customers worldwide.

The timeline is that the prototype will be completed between 2018 and 2023 and the commercial units come to market within the next 15 years. It is plausible that some U.S. firms could be part of the supply chain for the exported reactors.

 In addition to the partnership with CNNC, some of the intial funding cames from the Gates Foundation. Gates is now involved as a private investor. Some $35 million in second round private venture funding is also in the mix.

According to John Gilleland, Chief Technical Officer of Terrapower, when the firm first got started about ten years ago, its founders were not sure that the technical concepts they were investing in could be taken the distance to a complete design much less a prototype.

To achieve its objectives the company worked with Department of Energy national laboratories and several dozen other commercial and research centers. The firm has invested heavily in computer modeling and simulation. It’s ability to leverage public/private partnerships is a key to access to these capabilities. Without the project would have stalled out at the talking stage.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Gilleland says that the supercomputers, and their in-house developed software applications, are “critical enablers” of the firm’s design work.

 “The supercomputers, and the code we wrote for them, allow us to solve in a few hours might what have taken weeks or months to address with desktop engineering tools.”

TerraPower now uses the models as the point of departure for engineering design work, CAD drawings, development of lists of components and their specifications, etc. CNNC teams work with the tools as well.

Examples of key partnerships in the U.S. include work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on advanced materials that will stand up to being inside the reactor for at least 60 years. Fuel fabrication work is being carried out at the Idaho National Laboratory.

 

Third Way Seeks a Culture of Innovation

While firms like Terrestrial Energy and TerraPower are developing their roadmaps to success, the Third Way, a think tank in Washington, D.C., with an interest in energy policy, has made deep investments of its own to help the U.S. support innovative nuclear technologies.

Todd Allen, , the former deputy director of the Idaho National Laboratory, and now a senior visiting fellow at the Third Way offices in the nation’s capital, says the key to success for the new breed of nuclear energy entrepreneurs is to engage with public/private partnerships.

There are different types or arrangements that run the gamut from cost sharing funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to cooperative R&D agreements with national laboratories, universities, major nuclear reactor vendors, and not-for-profit technology labs and think tanks.

In a white paper recently posted on the Third Way web site, Allen and his colleagues write that the nuclear energy industry “must adapt” to create a “culture of innovation” which will accommodate a new “range of new nuclear technologies of varying size and purpose.”

The federal government needs to share the road, so to speak, with nuclear innovators because it is no longer the only source of new ideas. Allen writes,

                                                                                                                                                                                   

“Today technology is developed through competition of ideas from many companies and institutions.”

 Allen says dozens firms working on new ideas for new reactors, “the federal government needs to catch up.”

Public/private partnerships, and the creation of federally funded “innovation centers,” are especially effective, Allen says, as a way to do this because they help get access to materials testing facilities, and in developing and testing new nuclear fuels for innovative reactors.

 He cites the recent site permit granted by DOE to a consortium of utilities in the western U.S., and to NuScale, to build up to twelve 50 MWe small modular reactors on the site of the Idaho National Laboratory.

 While neither NuScale, nor its customer UAMPS, have formally committed to using the site, the permit is a clear signal from the government to the nuclear innovation community that it is changing its ways to make a difference for developers of new nuclear technologies.

Allen says the government’s efforts are moving in the right direction. A new initiative, called the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation In Nuclear (GAIN) was announced at a Third Way sponsored nuclear summit held in Washington, D.C., in January.

It’s primary objectives are to provide nuclear innovators with technical, regulatory, and financial support necessary to move new nuclear reactor designs towards commercialization. GAIN is intended to provide a single point of access to a broad range of capabilities in these areas include the expertise of nuclear scientists and engineers at DOE labs, the agency’s supercomputers like the facility at Oak Ridge, and use of secure sites with established infrastructure to build and test their designs.

 Led by the Idaho National Laboratory, in partnership with the Argonne National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, GAIN will work to integrate and facilitate efforts by private industry, universities, and national labs to develop, test, and demonstrate innovative nuclear technologies and to accelerate the licensing and commercialization of these systems.

Additionally, the Obama administration has also opened a $12.5 billion loan guarantee solicitation for advanced nuclear technology projects including covering the costs of design certification by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

 A key element of the advancement of GAIN, Allen says, is that it will conduct outreach to nuclear technology innovation firms to learn more about how public/private partnerships can meet their needs.



DanYurman (<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>) is the Publisher of Neutron Bytes, a blog about nuclear energy (). He has been a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe since 2010

 

 

- By DanYurman

The legitimacy of the agency and the diligence and compliance of the nuclear utilities it regulates are being challenged by people who disrupt its meetings

On February 19, 2015, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting held in Brattleboro, Vt., descended into chaos. Protesters who were bent on disrupting the proceedings bullied and threatened people who wanted to speak at the meeting. The disrupters’ tactics included shouting at speakers, thereby interrupting their remarks, and making verbal threats against those who sought to speak in support of either the NRC’s proposed action or the utility that was the subject of the meeting. The objectives of the disrupters were to prevent the NRC from having a credible public process and to attack the diligence and compliance of the nuclear utility, which is regulated by the agency. The facts are not open to debate. The disturbing details of this meeting were captured on video and were broadcast the next day on a local cable TV channel. Ineffective outreach and failure to control large public meetings aren’t a new problem for the NRC. In May 2014, a group of protesters at a meeting regarding Vermont Yankee interrupted the session by shouting that the NRC officials at the meeting were “lying and incompetent.” Considering the technical credentials of the staff and their extensive experience as nuclear regulators, these assertions were unfounded and insulting. Why hasn’t the NRC taken a more proactive approach to preventing its meetings from running off a cliff? The issue is that like ill-informed parents deciding not to vaccinate their children against the measles virus, this kind of antisocial behavior could spread to public meetings and licensing hearings across the country. In fact, a pronuclear group in California raised exactly that issue in a recent letter to the NRC about public meetings on seismic safety at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plan.

NRC task force report

So how much of a problem does the NRC have and what does it intend to do about it? It turns out that the NRC appointed a task force to look into the problem. The task force produced a report on the issue in late January 2015, just weeks before the public meltdown that occurred at the Brattleboro, Vt., meeting. The task force report (ADAMS citations ML15029A460, ML15029A463, and ML15029A465) acknowledges that the NRC is“inconsistent” in its efforts to conduct public outreach. Further, the report notes that there are problems with the “attitude” of the NRC civil servants who conduct the public meetings about how useful the meetings are to the agency. The report states that leaving the management of public meetings to technical staff not skilled in the subject of managing public meetings is a problem, and adds that the NRC’s engineers and their managers have given public meetings a low priority relative to their other safety-related regulatory duties. The report provides a number of recommendations—some useful, and some just wishful thinking—to remedy the situation. Nowhere in the document does it commit to providing funding to carry them out. Without hard dollars behind the recommendations, this report could wind up keeping company with prior versions just like it that hark back more than a decade.

We’ve seen this movie before

What’s astonishing is that the task force decided not to ask the public what it thinks of the NRC’s performance in regard to the conduct of its public meetings. This seems to be clear evidence of the “attitude” problem cited in the report summary. According to the report, NRC management does not believe that the meetings do any good, which means that those running the meetings have no incentive to do much beyond the bare minimum. The result is that where there are large crowds and a controversial issue is at stake, NRC technical staff are frozen in place on their chairs and are unlikely to say anything beyond the most basic statements about the meeting process. People who are determined to disrupt these meetings say and do outrageous things, taking advantage of the staff’s obvious reluctance to assert control over the process. Examples include throwing what they claim are organic waste products onto the podium, and brazenly and repeatedly interrupting speakers. The report cites several models of successful public engagement. Clearly, the task force understands what constitutes effective outreach and management of these meetings. What the NRC needs more than practical advice on techniques is a cultural shift, and it needs to hire people who are expert at dealing with large public meetings on controversial subjects. The agency gets a plus for its candor in the report, but the space it must travel—the delta—to close these self-reported gaps remains as wide as the Missouri River in flood stage.

 

Why utilities should care

One of the issues that seems to fall by the wayside isthat the nuclear utilities regulated by the NRC have sometimes taken a hands off approach when it comes to maintaining control of public meetings about their licenses or operations. Part of the problem is a desire to hold the regulator at arm’s length, and part of it is a view that the control of a public meeting is the NRC’s problem. Here is why change is needed.

 To respond to disruptions, bullying, and threats at public meetings, both the NRC and the nuclear utilities it regulates must change the way they communicate and collaborate. Neither can limit their engagement with the public to the single channel of a public meeting.

The following are some of the reasons utilities should care about civility issues:

  •  A public meeting is one of the few places where the public can interact with a utility’s managers and the NRC’s engineers and hear what they have to say. A disrupted meeting casts a negative shadow over the utility’s message, however positive that message may be, about plant safety. The reason is that people will remember the disruption and not the safety message. The news media will certainly report the disruption first, and the substantive issues that are at stake second, if at all.
  •  A utility’s brand value depends on a positive view of the utility by the public. An NRC meeting that becomes contentious will color public perceptions of both the utility and the NRC, even though both are blameless regarding the cause of the disruption. When the NRC and the utility do nothing to stop disruptive tactics, they become passive enablers of the disrupters’ objectives.
  • While publicly traded nuclear utilities have significant fiduciary responsibilities to stockholders that limit what they can say and do in public, informing the public is never a poor choice, and that action goes along with its branding and marketing strategies to boost the value of its stock.

 

Good dialogue good for business

The NRC and the nuclear industry need to collaborate to find new ways to ensure that when people show up at a public meeting, they can feel safe and secure, knowing that a civil process will take place. The utility needs to conduct outreach to the community no less so than the NRC when it comes to these kinds of public events.

This advice is counter to the current practice of some nuclear utilities that counsel their employees not to attend a meeting unless they are assigned to support it. Or, if they do attend, they are instructed not to speak on the utility’s behalf.

Utilities say that they don’t want the appearance of “packing” a meeting. They may also feel that one or more employees, speaking on their own responsibility, may reveal information that will be misunderstood, will be deliberately misconstrued by antinuclear activists, or that may confuse the NRC staff. What the utility misses is that its employees and their families and friends are already communicating about the plant on social media. Anyone who has watched a Twitter message or YouTube video “go viral” readily understands that an enormous audience can develop over a short period of time and can be drawn into a report about a specific event, even if the report doesn’t have the facts right.

For example, in June 2011, despite the NRC’s successful efforts to get the Fort Calhoun nuclear station to develop flood abatement measures, Business Insider, a major social media site, published a report saying that the plant had blown up. This produced a brief but intense frenzy in the mainstream news media, resulting in the dispatch of helicopters to take photographs of what they expected to be a nuclear disaster. Instead, the pilots had their knuckles rapped for violating the Federal Aviation Administration’s Notice to Airmen not to fly over commercial nuclear power plants.

 And yet, the answer to problems with communication at public meetings is more communication. A utility that views social media as a liability, or as just a new set of outlets for its press releases, will fail to satisfy its outreach objectives.

Using social media prior to public meetings, along with mass media channels, can do a lot to set public expectations and perceptions and to “inoculate” the public against individuals’ efforts to disrupt these meetings.

Social media, with its instantaneous feedback loops, is about dialogue. Mastery of social media means engaging in dialogue in social media channels.

This is a daunting challenge for some utilities, which already have executives, legal counsel, and the chief financial officer all scrutinizing even the most routine of press releases. Asking some utility executives to consider dialogue on Twitter or Facebook is simply an invitation to seeing them, metaphorically speaking, blow their gaskets.

The urgency of the problem of disrupted meetings requires that the NRC and nuclear utilities spend less time trying to control the message—for example, via one-to-many PR methods with the mass media. They need to spend more time engaging in dialogue with various “publics” in many-to-many social media channels. The payoff is that entities with the best ability to mediate dialogue and participate in it effectively will make far more progress in getting their message across than those who don’t do these things.

While it is true that some people seem to think that political theater is a substitute for establishing a meeting record in a regulatory decision-making process, the fact is that the NRC knows that it is likely to be challenged in court. That’s why its rigor in establishing a meeting record matters. People in the nuclear industry know that, but the public isn’t always cognizant of the boundary between protest and process.

Meeting records and hearing records are equally important elements of the public’s input to the NRC’s decision-making processes. While NRC public meetings are less formal than its quasi-judicial hearings, both types of forums have suffered from problems caused by a lack of civility and engagement, especially when they have been conducted away from the agency’s White Flint headquarters building in Rockville, Md.

People who opt for protest may feel powerless, and that fuels disruptive behaviors. People who feel that they are being heard are not as likely to create distractions at a public meeting.

Civility and safety in public meetings, or on social media, still depend on appealing to reason, engaging respectfully with people who hold divergent views, and recognizing that the public brings all kinds of perceptions about power and persuasion to social media forums.

The more dialogue there is that is civil and safe, the less influence people with an agenda to disrupt public meetings will have over the outcome of the meetings.



DanYurman (<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>) is the Publisher of Neutron Bytes, a blog about nuclear energy (). He has been a contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe since 2010

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