1) From Indiana Jones to Chief Executive Officer
Bret Kugelmass: What made you get into mechanical engineering and the nuclear industry? How did you end up as the Chief Executive Officer of Framatome?
Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna started out at the College of William & Mary with the hopes of becoming Indiana Jones, however, his interest in physics and math led him into mechanical engineering. He then did the co-op program at Drexel University where he got an internship with Babcock & Wilcox. Ultimately, Gary joined Areva (now Framatome) and has been there for 40 years, rising to Chief Executive Officer. Gary credits constantly moving up in the organization to going to where the need was. This includes being able to adapt to the changing environment, such as the shift from new plant designs to lengthening current plant lives that he experienced in his career. Put the customer first and surround yourself with great people and you’ll always do well. As Framatome Chief Executive Officer, Gary hires the best employees he can find, focusing on skill sets, regardless of whether they’re difficult to manage. The most talented people are sometimes the most difficult to integrate, making for an exciting challenge.
2) Overcoming Challenges
Bret Kugelmass: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?
Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna managed to build new businesses based on innovating to address challenges. This includes adjusting the company’s business of making parts to repairing parts that help make plants safer. Such was the case with repairing parts and fixtures that contain alloy 600. Figuring out how to go in and make those repairs have required innovation. One of the biggest issues is that when the market is good, innovation is hard because current products are selling. Down markets force you to innovate new products that will help companies stay competitive. The key is to always be innovating to stay ahead of the competition. Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna and Framatome are working on safer and more reliable fuels. This includes a partnership with LightBridge, where the two are working together to introduce solid metallic fuel. With these metallic fuels, the fuel itself can operate at a lower temperature. This innovation improves plant economics and safety.
3) Innovation in the Nuclear Space
Bret Kugelmass: What are some other areas of innovation that are happening in the nuclear space?
Gary Mignogna: When it comes to looking to expand the life of nuclear plants, Framatome is working on improving digital controls for plants as analog systems become obsolete. That includes the purchase of Schneider Electric’s instrumentation and control business. Framatome has come together with regulators such as the Nuclear Energy Institute and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to help clarify digital control regulation, making the shift to digital more streamlined—an absolute necessity for plants to be able to expand their life. Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna understands that nuclear remains one of the most effective forms of energy. That’s existing nuclear, not new nuclear, however, given the state of the industry and issues at Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer. Renewables are just now getting down to the level of nuclear cost-wise. Anywhere you look that nuclear plants shut down, electricity prices rise by 30-60% and carbon emissions spike. Renewables just aren’t as efficient as nuclear, yet. There are not enough renewables available to make up for the loss of nuclear plants. But right now the costs of building new nuclear plants make it not feasible so we have to find a bridge to get us to that point.
4) Future of Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: How do we bridge the gap from now to building out full nuclear plants? What’s the future of full scale plants look like?
Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna knows that it takes a lot of infrastructure and support to build new nuclear plants. In the U.S., we’ve lost our ability to produce large nuclear plants, and although we’re getting it back, it’s cost prohibitive. Thus, we need to focus on small modular reactors [SMRs] as a bridge to support the electricity grid until we can build generation IV plants. SMRs are simpler and can be moved quickly and easily, which makes them more cost-effective than even the large generation III plants being built today. Once the SMRs are completed at Idaho National Labs and TVA’s Clinch River site they’ll gain more momentum as a whole. And that gets us to the future, where we can build gen IV plants, such as the high-temperature gas reactor that Framatome is working on today. Gary Mignogna believes energy policy is a big step in pushing nuclear ahead. Right now, it’s just the states that are really pushing policy forward that supports nuclear. Such as the case with New York and New Jersey, which realized that nuclear is very beneficial to their respective states. Gary believes the reasons these states chose to support nuclear with legislation is that it’s needed to hit carbon emission targets, generate high paying jobs, keep employment high and generate solid tax revenues—all while helping keep the electricity grid stable.
5) The Federal Government’s Nuclear Policies
Bret Kugelmass: What does it take to get the federal government on board with nuclear?
Gary Mignogna: Gary Mignogna realizes that there’s a large inconsistency in how federal regulation supports nuclear. The differing opinions and influx of new policymakers every few years, such as the case with the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, make it tough to set a consistent long-term view. Meanwhile, other countries succeeding with nuclear, such as China and France, have governments that support their nuclear infrastructure. The Department of Energy should be supporting new technologies, where we as a country we have the technology, but we need the support to bring it to fruition. Politics will eventually have to come around, but in the meantime, companies like Framatome can help with bridging the gap. Gary Mignogna feels the urgency to bridge the gap, where we’ll need SMRs in the U.S. by the late 2020s and then by the 2030s and 2040s gen IV plants will be ready. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing, we have to innovate by making nuclear more affordable, with lower upfront costs and reduced complexity. Meanwhile, China is indeed bringing new nuclear technology to fruition faster. They’re not better at innovating or designing than the U.S., but the government support in China is allowing the country to beat the U.S. to market with advanced nuclear technology. To keep up, the U.S. needs the Department of Energy to pick a few “winners” and then support the development of their technologies. WIthout the government’s support, gen IV plants just won’t get to market fast enough to keep up with other countries like China, but also Russia.
6) Nuclear’s Impact on Society
Bret Kugelmass: Why is nuclear important for the future?
Gary Mignogna: Nuclear power provides an on-site, five year supply of fuel in the reactor so the power system is not dependent on transportation to bring the power source. These plants operate through thick and thin, such as weather at other events, and at a 95% capacity factor. Society thrives on relatively inexpensive reliable energy and clean water. Generation IV reactors lend themselves well towards desalination plants, which can be an important part of the future as well.