Ian Hore-Lacy

Senior Advisor

World Nuclear Association

October 20, 2021

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Ep 335: Ian Hore-Lacy - Senior Advisor, World Nuclear Association
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today on Titans of Nuclear with Ian Hore-Lacy, who's the Senior Adviser to the World Nuclear Association. Ian, welcome to Titans.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Thanks, Bret. Good to be here.

Bret Kugelmass
Listen, you're a bit of a legend. I feel like whenever somebody goes to answer something about nuclear on the internet, they inevitably end up at a page that you've written. So you are like the internet's knowledge of nuclear. Is that right?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh, well, I have taken great pleasure in just collating information. Having a brain that doesn't retain a lot if you will, but collating and organizing it, so that's resulted in the information papers, the big range of them on the World Nuclear Association website.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's just so funny, because whenever I'm talking to a lay person and they want to ask me something about nuclear, sure enough, they reference- that page is like their bait- when they Google like, how much uranium is there - or whatever it is - it's like they always end up on one of those pages. But maybe we can just kind of take a step back. I'd love to just learn a little bit about you. Where did you grow up?

Ian Hore-Lacy
In Australia, near Melbourne, mainly. And then went to university at the University of New England - which has nothing to do with the United States, but this is in the northern part of New South Wales - and did a science degree and got hooked on environmental stuff. And then I spent two to three years doing various youth ministry type of things, then a Master's. I was a senior biology master at school for three years and then I saw this magnificent- and got very much involved in environmental education at that point. I saw this fantastic ad in the newspaper for a company I'd never heard of, but turned out to be one of the two biggest mining companies in Australia wanting an environmental scientist. The job description was about twice as good as anything I could dream up myself, so I applied for it and somehow got it.

Bret Kugelmass
And what mining company was that?

Ian Hore-Lacy
It was called CRA, Conzinc Riotinto, but these days it's just known as Rio Tinto.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, world famous.

Ian Hore-Lacy
It was the Australian arm of Rio Tinto and I was the first environmental scientist head office role. Let's just say processing information rather than out on the ground making things grow. And so I got involved with a whole lot of stuff about, well biological area, which of course is my own, for revegetation, but also pollution control. And I was so excited by all this, so I wrote a book called "Mining in the Environment" which was a huge success. Many copies printed and sent around to shareholders, in particular. About an 80- or 90- page book. And then the chairman, the chief executive of the company called me and said, Look, this book's been a great success. But look, the nuclear debate in Australia - and this was 1978 - nuclear debate in Australia is going nowhere. People are talking past one another for me to decide. I want you to write a book on nuclear power. And chapter one will be about energy. Chapter two will be about electricity. Chapter three will be about this. And he sort of laid it out and I said, that's a great idea, Rod. But he wanted to sort of be comprehensive, so that anybody looking at arguments for one side or the other can relate them to some facts. And I said, That's a great idea, Rod, but I don't know the first thing about nuclear power. And he said, Well, that's alright, Ron Hubery over here - who had been with the company for some years - knows all about it - he had been at the uranium mines and also with the Atomic Energy Commission - he'll help you. So we teamed up and became firm friends and the first edition of a book called “Nuclear Electricity” was published in 1978. And the 11th edition of the same book, but with a new title was published in 2008, 40 years later. That's nuclear power in the world today,

Bret Kugelmass
And how much of what went into these papers and this book, how much of it was just kind of pulling out of your colleagues head, versus you having to kind of pressure test what you heard, and fact check? And how did you fact check? What was your research methodology?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, the first edition of the book mainly came out of Ron Hubery's head, with a bit of research. But subsequent editions- he was a co-author for about the first three editions. After that, he then retired and I was in on my own, so I just learned to survey the literature and work out what was going on. You soon develop a sense of what's reliable and what isn't. And you follow up smoke down to the fire and other stuff you completely ignore. So you get a sense of how to research. And that's, of course, then flowed on into later on. I stayed with the company in other roles on the environmental role for some years. But then, in 1993, I think it was - or '94 - I took over the running of the Uranium Information Center in Melbourne. That was an Australian entity which was set up and funded by the uranium mining companies, but its focus was on nuclear power. In other words, it was just to sort of show what the stuff that was being mined in Australia was actually used for and sort of part of their social license, I guess, to have this information publicly. And I then sort of focused on that strongly and increased my personal research abilities. Then in 2001, I sort of had more and more to do with the Uranium Institute in London, which is now known as the World Nuclear Association with John Rich.

Bret Kugelmass
That was the history of WNA, interesting.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh, yeah. It changed its name in 2001. John Rich took over in 2001. It had been staggering a bit up till the last few years, up till then. And John conscripted me and said, Look, how quickly can you move to London, basically? And so my role with the UIC in Australia sort of progressively merged with a role based in London for the World Nuclear Association. And to some extent I continue in that, except that I've sort of really retired about three or four years ago and handed over to a successor, but I'm still part time.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, that's the thing I was gonna ask you. How much of like, if you were to think back to your environmental scientist days as you start to pick up the nuclear information aspect of your career, how much of it was your day job over the course of your career? Did it start off as like 10% and then became 100? Was it ever your full-time thing just looking into nuclear information?

Ian Hore-Lacy
The last 25 years has been, yes.

Bret Kugelmass
Just nuclear, not environmental.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah, it's been full time. But before that it wouldn't have even been 10% on average.

Bret Kugelmass
And how many things- after you became full time, how much of this stuff did you have to go back and re-address? How much stuff that you originally had written about it or originally thought about it when you were only part time on it, as you became a world expert and had decades to acquire more information, how many things had to be changed? And what were they?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Nothing had to be changed radically at all. But everything was sort of updated and upgraded as my understanding progressed. For instance, I started out with no knowledge of nuclear physics and had to get my mind around that as a biologist.

Bret Kugelmass
What about radiation? I'm very curious about radiation, because this seems to be an issue of huge contention within the nuclear space, how people feel about either the linear no-threshold, ALARA, and its role on the industry. What about that topic?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, right at the outset that was an issue. One of the three or four sort of issues, I guess, that people were concerned about with nuclear power. So yes, I've got my mind around that pretty much. Again, my understanding hasn't changed- since that first edition of the book worked 45 years ago.

Bret Kugelmass
What is it? Maybe just you can kind of weigh in on the whole debate for me about linear no-threshold versus a threshold? Are the radiation standards appropriate or inappropriate?

Ian Hore-Lacy
I think they're over the top in many cases. I mean, we're all subject to radiation in small amounts naturally. And in some parts of the world, people are naturally subject to vastly more. If you live in Colorado, I guess, in the States, also in certain parts of India and Iran and South America, you're subject to almost 50 or 100 times more. And there's no adverse effects from that visible in epidemiologically. I think that the figures sort of suggested by people who studied this carefully, up to about 100 millisieverts per year is not going to hurt anybody, whereas we're mostly subject to 1/50th of that.

Bret Kugelmass
And as a world expert, I mean, have you ever been called in to meet with the regulators or international radiation standards bodies to explain this to them?

Ian Hore-Lacy
No, because I'm not an expert. I'm a scientific generalist and I'm a person that writes about these things, so I don't profess any personal expertise in relation to any of the things I write about.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, but as being one of the most well read and well researched, first, I have to call you an expert. I mean, maybe you didn't conduct scientific studies yourself, but I certainly put you in the category of people who are most knowledgeable on the sector.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, the most knowledgeable is one thing. May be. But that's because I'm drawing on experts and collating and assessing what they say and writing, which is a different thing.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. Okay. Let's shift gears to Australia a little bit. What's going on in Australia? Why is nuclear a debate, especially if there's a healthy uranium mining industry? How come they haven't been able to lobby for better public opinion?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, a good question. Australia has no nuclear organizations that are capable of lobbying for nuclear power. It is the only country of its size and kind, I suppose, without a nuclear advocacy organization. Now, that is partly filled by the Minerals Council. And the Minerals Council just today, for instance, is releasing a small book on small modular reactors, which is quite expertly written by a fella named Ben Heard, whom I'm sure you've heard of-

Bret Kugelmass
Of course, Ben Heard. A former Titan on our show.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yep. He's a very capable guy. Again, he's not an expert in the sense that we've just been discussing. But he is a very, very knowledgeable guy who's done a fairly expert job in writing this book and researching all the economic as well as other aspects of it. So the Minerals Council is the only body and, of course, there is the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, which is a government body, but it is forbidden to be a lobby group. But just going back beyond that, the reason that nuclear power hasn't come to the fore in Australia is mainly that we are very well endowed with high quality coal, which is very conveniently situated around where it's needed in terms of the capital cities. I guess I'd say in Victoria it's low quality brown coal, but the point is, there's plenty of it. And it's cheap and there are no sulfur emissions hardly from it. And therefore, this has underwritten our prosperity to a very large extent. There has been no reason until concerns about global warming to go nuclear.

Bret Kugelmass
How are your energy costs? But I thought I heard sometimes that there are blackouts, or is this just a recent thing? What's the energy infrastructure like today in Australia?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, about two-thirds of our electricity comes from coal, nationally. South Australia is has not got a lot of coal - in fact it's not got any and stopped mining the rubbishy stuff that they were using - and it's tried to sort of go very renewables and it's had a statewide blackout a couple of years ago. But otherwise, we've done better than most people with regard to blackouts. But of course, we can't rely on that, because national policies are subsidized renewables, intermittent renewables. We've got very little hydro. And to close down coal progressively is going to put us in a horrible dilemma, unless somebody bites the bullet on developing nuclear power here. And that is getting close, I think.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. I want to get to that and your take on where things are headed. But before that, I just want to come back to why no nuclear to begin with. I understand you have coal and that it was easy and cheap and reliable. Okay. But that's still not a reason to forbid nuclear in the law, right? But there is a law against it isn't there?

Ian Hore-Lacy
There are two laws that bear upon it. And that just comes down to political laws trading in Canberra. You hear that, Yes, we'll - with Greens pressure, of course - yes, we'll put this in because it doesn't matter in the short term, in order to get something else through on some other industrial relations, I think was the trade off.

Bret Kugelmass
But why were the Greens even- like why was that even an issue for them? If the country has never had it, there aren't even that many countries- I don't think there any countries around it that have really had it. I guess Japan is close-ish maybe? Why was it even a card for political horse trading at all?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Good question. It's an ideological question. It's partly related to anti-weapon, nuclear weapons. But not as closely related as say it is in the UK. And it just got- I mean, the Australian Conservation Foundation is the largest green group in Australia, and actually, I've briefly worked for them. But early on in the 1960s, they published a booklet advocating nuclear power. But by the 1970s, that had changed and they became strongly anti-nuclear, but it's an ideological question, basically.

Bret Kugelmass
I guess I'm afraid that's true. It's just that simple. It's ideological. There's no real rhyme or reason for it. Okay, so let's talk about the future. Okay, so Ben Heard's out there fighting the good fight. There are a couple other entrepreneurs I've even heard in Australia that want to make something happen. What's created this shift? I mean, I guess climate change. Obviously, you look at the solutions. Then you say, Well, we need stable baseload dispatchable power that's carbon free. Oh, I guess there's really only one option. That's one thing that puts on the plate. But what has to happen now like, literally, logistically to get the country on board? Does a law need to be passed? How do you even pass a law?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, two federal laws need currently changing, very minor change, just deleting about one line of text in each. That's the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act, and also one on environmental protection. Those are the two federal laws which forbid any government body seriously looking at nuclear power, basically. That's in one sense of detail. And there is starting to be public opinion in Australia which would definitely support that legal amendment. But I think that the general feeling on the sort of conservative side of politics is that this has to be a bipartisan exercise. And the current leader of the opposition is the strong left side of that party, and he is trenchantly opposed. Although he did concede the other day, when this new pact, Australia, UK, USA, Aukus defense pact, which involves nuclear submarines, nuclear-powered submarines. He was brought in on that and he said, Yes, look, that's okay, just on a couple of conditions. And one of the conditions was that it didn't mean that the country would embrace nuclear power. We still got to come down from that. And so until he moves on or changes his mind, I don't see the government finding an easy path forward. On the other hand, may decide to move regardless - in the light of emerging or evolving public opinion - may decide to move in a way that sort of wedges the opposition, because there are plenty of people in the Labour Party who are pro-nuclear.

Bret Kugelmass
And what is causing a shift in public opinion? Is this global public opinion that's shifting more positively towards nuclear? Or is it Australian public opinion, for some reason, it's shifting more positively towards nuclear?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, I can't speak about global. I'm not tuned in enough. But it is Australian public opinion. I think it's mainly driven by the strong popularity in Australia of doing something about global warming, about reducing CO2 emissions. A lot of discussion about this sort of net-zero by 2050 type of idea. And while you in the US and the UK can talk about perhaps net-zero by 2050 with a good deal of optimism, but you're both starting with 20% nuclear. Australia's starting with 0% nuclear, so we have absolutely zero chance of getting anywhere near net-zero by 2050 without a large slab of nuclear such as you've got.

Bret Kugelmass
And so is that really it? Is it really that the climate-oriented policymakers are looking at the energy landscape and actually just coming to the logical conclusion, hey, we need nuclear. Because sometimes in the US I feel like some people, at least in my community, say, Yes, we need nuclear, it's a no-brainer, obviously. But a lot of people just say, Well, we'll just do wind and solar and we'll just make it work. We'll just add as much storage as necessary. Well just make it work. We'll imagine that storage will become cheaper. We'll imagine it'll be easier all around. We're just gonna imagine by 2050 it'll work. How come your policy leaders just don't imagine?

Ian Hore-Lacy
They do. The policy leaders are exactly on that wavelength. It is pure fantasy, it's pure fantasy and that's why-

Bret Kugelmass
But you're saying that the average person is actually coming to the conclusion that nuclear is necessary looking at the climate situation?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah, well, I think people are seeing that there have been some big batteries built in Australia and they've been very successful, but mainly in frequency control ancillary servers. Not in storing energy. They're hoping to make the intermittent renewables work. But they're very expensive and to think of storing a week's worth of electricity for the country in those is just pure fantasy. So I think the penny is dropping them, but officially, the expert bodies in terms of running the energy policy have not articulated the nuclear word yet. But I think it'll come.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so talk me through the progression. First, the politicians have to be convinced. Then they have to vote and change those- delete those two lines in the laws. And then what needs to happen? Does the government need to get involved in procuring nuclear infrastructure? Do private companies just jump in and deploy small modular reactors or something else? Or what? How do you see it playing out?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, I think that the government is not going to invest in energy plants, in electricity generating plants, because, virtually, the whole of the electricity provision in Australia is privatized. So it's a question of the government's making available whatever incentives it may to encourage private investment. And that may be- that thing gets complicated, because it's really the same situation. In the States, you've got sort of half your states that have merchant plants, sort of selling into a liberalized market, deregulated market. And the other half, of course, are cost plus arrangements. We're in the first category. So you've then got to look at some way of having some long-term assurance through electricity prices. And this is exactly the same problem that the UK Government is wrestling with. They've tried to do it one way with the Hinkley Point plant on contracts for difference. That's produced a rather high and forbidding figure. And they are right now looking at regulated asset base, so that you actually share the risk around everybody. That's the other thing, there's got to be some modification of the electricity marketing in Australia to allow for investment in fairly high capital cost plant.

Bret Kugelmass
And then what about selling straight to industry? Is it possible to skip over the electricity market reform and just have, the same long-term price guarantee, just with a private company, perhaps even a uranium mine site?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh, yes. Well, that's definitely possible, but probably not so much uranium mine site, but the bigger iron ore mines which use a lot of energy. But yes, look, there are those possibilities there. There's a lot of talk at the moment about hydrogen production - and of course, that's green hydrogen - but once you start looking at that green electricity anyway, which is intermittent and then applying that to expensive electrolyzers producing hydrogen, using nuclear power for that makes a lot more sense. Yeah, but there is a lot of sort of visionary discussion or rhetoric about exporting, Australia becoming a hydrogen exporter.

Bret Kugelmass
Very interesting. And then tell me more about how you've seen kind of the various technologies playing out. If you were to be on an advisory panel of some sort as to who should be coming into the into the Australian market with what nuclear technologies, what would you advise?

Ian Hore-Lacy
I'd say it's very confusing. I mean, there are just so many designs for small reactors out there. But look, all the discussion in Australia at the moment is around small modular reactors. All of it.

Bret Kugelmass
Small modular reactors... is this of the standard light water reactor variant or could this be an advanced new moderator, new coolant technology as well?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yes. It doesn't get that specific, but I wouldn't rule out some large plants. It's just a question of siting them. And the "not in my backyard" syndrome loud and clear. But there's certainly scope for some larger plans. The main thinking is under 300 megawatts.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. Where are your coal plants located right now? Are they close to the cities? Are they kind of a little further inland?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh no, they're mostly within 100 kilometers of the cities. And they're on coalfields.

Bret Kugelmass
They're on coalfields, yeah. But are they- I guess, how close are they to the city? Could one make the argument that you could just kind of replace coal infrastructure with even large scale nuclear and it's just not in the middle of the city, so that gives people a little out from the "not in my backyard" perspective?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yes, you could do that and that's certainly been talked about. And it would do that. But the logic- Australia has got a lot of coastline, as you would have observed, and most people live near the coast. So it would make more sense into my way of thinking to put any large plants - or even small ones for that matter - on the coast and using water cooling through the condenser circuit. At the moment, nearly all the coal-fired plants - all but about two, I think - use potable water for cooling. They're evaporating a vast amount of water for cooling. And the reason that they do that is because they're not on the coast, they're on the coalfields. But the point is, if you replace those with plants that use seawater cooling, you'd save about two-thirds of Melbourne's water supply in effect. And Melbourne's a city of about four or five million.

Bret Kugelmass
How come they use potable water and they don't use like wastewater? You know what I'm saying, like the planets in Arizona do where it's just, instead of the sewage kind of going into the ocean or wherever people dump sewage, why don't they feed it over to the wastewater treatment plant right next to the power plant and use that water to evaporate?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, I think it's just that there is potable water available for each of these and putting the city's sewage in that direction would be quite a major exercise. And nobody's, I think, really thought about it. And they're certainly not thinking about it now, because all the thinking and discussion is about closing these plants, coal-fired plants, down anyway.

Bret Kugelmass
It's funny, because I'm a big fan of small modular reactors. I think that's probably how the industry is gonna have to rebuild itself. But I'm a little conflicted also, because I look at the history of how we used to build the large plants. And they were so cost effective and they built them so quickly, on time, under budget. When you go back far enough, when you go back to the 60s - not to the 70s, 80s, we're going back to the 60s in the US, at least, maybe 70s in France and Sweden - how do I reconcile this, the fact that- why can't we just do what we did then? Build 100 gigawatt-scale reactors, or half a gigawatt scale, like 500=megawatts, let's say. Why can't we just do exactly what we did then? I still don't know how to answer that question. What are your thoughts?

Ian Hore-Lacy
There's an MIT study, which is interesting, and it shows over 25, 30, 40 years the relative costs or the relative labor productivity between factories and large plants being built on-site, like those big plants. And the graphs have diverged. The labor productivity in factories has gone up over that period and the labor productivity on-site has gone down. And that's why those plants are less commercially, economically viable to build today, according to this study.

Bret Kugelmass
And how is that possible? I know now we're getting out of nuclear world, but how is it possible that labor productivity in the field goes down when I see really sophisticated modern equipment on construction sites today? Like I bet that the computer controls and the extra instrumentation and the tablets that the construction guys have that they're communicating with each other, I bet that stuff should make them more productive than it made them in the 1960s, not less. So what's going on there?

Ian Hore-Lacy
I don't really know.

Bret Kugelmass
Everything should be cheaper too, right? The cost of a like a Bobcat or a crane, all of those things should have gone down over time, not up. The equipment usage should be cheaper, too.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah, I think it's probably related to unions. It's partly related to OHS. It's partly related to-

Bret Kugelmass
What's OHS? Occupational health and safety?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Occupational health and safety, and also the amount of regulation, particularly in the States. I mean, the contrast between now and 40 years ago in the States, I gather the proportion of people on the staff of a nuclear plant - and this presumably goes back to also building it - who are purely sort of filling in paper in terms of regulatory sense, rather than producing electricity, it's changed remarkably. I get it. But just come back to the small modulars. If you've got a factory, there's often more flexibility with regard to the labor that you can employ. And all those sort of technological gizmos you've just mentioned apply even more so in a factory. And this just comes back to the earlier question about where we might go in Australia. This little book produced by Ben Heard - or produced by the Minerals Council and written by Ben Heard - looks at three possible reactors. You asked about what type. One is the NuScale, which is a PWR. The other is the BWRX-300 from the GE Hitachi, which is a boiling water reactor.

Bret Kugelmass
They've got to get better at naming stuff.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah. Then they got the IMSR, which is a molten salt reactor.

Bret Kugelmass
From who? Who makes the IMSR.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Sorry, I can't I can't remember off the top of my head. Terrestrial I think, might be Terrestrial. Anyway, it's much more innovative, whereas the NuScale and the BWRX are very well proven technology.

Bret Kugelmass
But I feel like none of those are very small. This is the other thing that really kind of bugs me about the nuclear industry is, I feel like they understand the advantages of making something small and modular. They articulate it perfectly. They get the theory, but the products that they're delivering oftentimes are neither small nor modular in reality. Do you feel the same way?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yes, there is a there is a question there. I mean, the NuScale units are 77 megawatts and the idea would be-

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, but even so it's like- okay, so they say, Here we are, we have a modular reactor. And what they mean is, the reactor comes in a module and it's like an integral reactor. It's got the steam generator, everything built in. But the building isn't modular. The building is like the largest pool ever known to mankind. That has to be a custom on-site construction. Okay, you got the point on the nuclear side, but you seem to miss the point where most of the construction costs are.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh, no, I don't think it is most of the construction costs. I mean, pouring the concrete to build a big pool is no big deal out in the bush, or anywhere you'd like to put it.

Bret Kugelmass
But then why does Hinkley Point C cost so much? Because it's like-

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, because it's a huge reactor. It's the most complicated, over-engineered reactor design being built anywhere in the world. And that's why even the French are peering it down and simplifying it for the EPR 2 or whatever they're calling it.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so this is good pushback. What you're telling me is, hey, Bret, pouring that concrete pad and the giant pool for NuScale is actually not a big deal. And they really did address the modularity issues by making the reactor module, more modular itself. That's where you're coming from?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah, well, that's the 77-megawatt units and they're probably transportable on a train or truck or barge. Your BWRX is a much larger unit, it's 300 megawatts. And your IMSR units, those two together, you put together and they're about 195 megawatts each. They're also quite big. So you do raise the question of what modular means there, and we'll leave somebody else to work that out and expand it.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it's like, I see people build fossil plants that are, let's say 50 megawatts. And these are small buildings, small operations, not much going on, pretty simple. And their capital cost is very low. And I find myself asking, I'm like, well if you can do that, why not just shove a small reactor in a building next to it and that should be cheap and easy, too. What's so hard about it?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Sorry, I lost you there, Bret. You were off for about 30 seconds.

Bret Kugelmass
I've seen some of these fossil plants come together that are let's say 50 megawatts or 100 megawatts. And they come together fast and cheap and it's mostly the same stuff at the end of the day as a nuclear plant, except for your boiler. So I'm wondering why nobody just does kind of like the old school construction, the old school style plant. Don't get fancy with the integral stuff at all. Just build your 50- or 100-megawatt power plant for a fossil plant and then put a nuclear building next to it that's going to be comparably small as well.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yeah, well, I mean, the conventional island - that is the steam turbine generator for these plants - I think is fairly conventional. And all you're looking at with each of these plants is the nuclear end, the steam producing end. And just going back, the other thing about small modular reactors- I've mentioned those three are the ones that feature in this book, which will presumably now be a focus of attention in Australia, but you've got two other rather important innovations overseas. One is the Russian RITM-200 reactor, which is a 50-megawatt unit, basically, and that does come integral and that does come as a unit from the factory. You can look at a photo of it on railcar.

Bret Kugelmass
I think it's genius. I think they're pioneering one of the best paths forward. Why aren't other countries doing that too? I guess China maybe is, also.

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, China- the ACP100 is possibly similar. I don't know enough about. It is relatively similar. But the other thing interesting one in China is the one that started up about two weeks ago the HTR-PM. That's a high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactor that sort of comes in two parts from the factory. The reactor unit which is- it's actually two 200-megawatt reactors driving a 200-megawatt turbine. I think- again, the photographs I've got of the actual hardware suggests that it would fit on a railway wagon quite happily, all the separate pieces, and just have to be connected on-site. So I think that's going to be a modular thing in the same sort of way as we're talking about. And then the ACP100 which is a pressurized water reactor.

Bret Kugelmass
I love the Russian design, the kinda barge design, I guess because they had the icebreaker thing already which was kind of similar, too, just kind of like a small pressurized water reactor Why don't the French just copy that? Like shouldn't EDF just look at it, copy it? They invest so much in these giant projects. They need an export economy anyway. They can't sell you guys submarines, because you know, we won. Why don't they just build a bunch of floatable little nuclear stations copying the Russian design?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Well, there is a French design that is comparable. I've forgotten what they call it at the moment, but there is one, yes.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so they do have something?

Ian Hore-Lacy
No, it's related to their naval reactors, but not the same. It has a particular name, but I just can't think of it at the moment.

Bret Kugelmass
Interesting. Okay. So we've covered a few different technologies. We've got your perspective now. You think that SMRs are kind of dominating the Australian talking points and stuff, but you're not against the big ones either. Wait, so you're pretty optimistic about things changing in the next couple years?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Yes, I think I am, now, much more optimistic than I was six months ago. And mainly because of this deal with nuclear powered submarines. That's suddenly I think broken people's- taken people out of the rut they've got into in thinking their way. And look, if we're going to have nuclear powered submarines, why on earth are we rabbiting on about net-zero by 2050 and not having the appropriate technology to get there in terms of power generation?

Bret Kugelmass
That makes sense. Okay, so you think that's what's gonna switch the narrative. That's pretty interesting. What else would you like to see people do? People who are listening to this, other your fellow countrymen, what do you want the average person to be doing on a day to day basis to help bring nuclear to Australia?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Look, I think just looking at the other applications for industrial heat. And the whole question of hydrogen I think has a big question mark over it in terms of its viability, and cost, not to mention the difficulties of transporting it. But that's all a very, very interesting question and that's something I've given a bit of time, because this is the sort of way in which I'm backing up my successor in London -who you probably should also interview - Alec Mitchell, but where there's a need to pull together a whole lot of information into a fresh information paper, and with hydrogen there's a lot of stuff to pull together. That's the sort of task I've been able to devote myself to and distracted by the routine updating that Alec does. I mean, of those 160 information papers, probably five or 10 are updated every week, to some degree. Now, I don't mean wholly rewritten. I mean, just up to date information dropped into them. And that's a big job for him. So when there's something extraneous like the new hydrogen paper, that's the sort of thing that he will chuck to me, which was a very interesting challenge. Because particularly, it's not just a matter of how you generate your hydrogen, how you produce your hydrogen, and also the many, many ways in which you can use hydrogen in a sort of a zero carbon environment, and also the different ways of transporting it, making it into ammonia for it, particularly. And you will then burn the ammonia as a fuel or you sort of crack the ammonia or after it's been transported halfway around the world, back into hydrogen, feed into your guest network, or whatever you want to do with it.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I think hydrogen is also very interesting. I'm wondering, has he done your research- have you found- okay, so let's say that you're creating it through electrolysis. You've already got the advantage of doing it from nuclear instead of intermittent sources, because you get to run your equipment full power, same rate all the time, so there are huge cost advantages there. But then, what about the heat? Because nuclear energy starts off as heat before you even create the electricity, can you use that heat at a higher efficiency to get the water molecules to a better state to break them apart? Is that part of this? I've heard of high temperature electrolysis, but I don't know, has anyone actually done it? Does it work? Does it make sense?

Ian Hore-Lacy
Oh, yes, it does, it does work. But it's only really laboratory scale so far. And you've got the solid oxide sort of catalytic thing, so you're actually electrolyzing steam in effect. So yes, that's imminent, I would say, an imminent commercial technology. But you then of course go from there and you've got direct thermochemical production of hydrogen using… process or a couple of alternatives, but the … is the front runner at the moment. And that that means you need heat at about 950 degrees Celsius. And you directly produce hydrogen from water, mechanically, without that electrolysis. The intermediate stage is high temperature electrolysis.

Bret Kugelmass
Got it. Okay, very interesting stuff. As we wrap up here, are there any kind of final thoughts you want to leave our audience with?

Ian Hore-Lacy
No, just that I think, to be just very optimistic about having nuclear technology is there. It has so many applications and to just work away at calming people's fears and misapprehensions down and working against what is really a campaign of misinformation about it that is really insidious and really damaging. And you get that turning up in all sorts of places, just making sure it's really good people's rationality in terms of listening to it or publishing it.

Bret Kugelmass
Well, I'm with you. I think nuclear's got a very bright future. Ian Hore-Lacy, thank you so much for joining us today on Titans of Nuclear.

Ian Hore-Lacy
My pleasure. Thanks so much for your time.

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