"1:53 - Early Nuclear Experience
Bret Kugelmass: Tell us how you got into the nuclear space.
John Kotek: John Kotek grew up outside of Boston and was surrounded by controversies about the startup of the Seabrook plant and the PIlgrim plant, not long after Three Mile Island. Kotek had a physics teacher in high school who talked about nuclear and Kotek’s counselor encouraged him to pursue nuclear engineering. Kotek started out at the Department of Energy (DOE), right before President Clinton cut nuclear energy R&D spending. At the end of the Clinton administration, there was a recognition within the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that nuclear belonged in the federal R&D portfolio. By this time, Kotek was working at Argonne National Laboratory and he worked with some colleagues to come up with the idea for a Generation IV nuclear technology roadmap. Kotek spent some time on Capitol Hill as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional fellow through the American Nuclear Society (ANS). He later returned to the DOE as the deputy manager of the field office during the merger of Argonne National Laboratory West and Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) into the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). After three years, John Kotek transitioned into the private sector but kept getting drawn back to nuclear, eventually getting involved in the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC). One thing the bipartisan BRC worked on was alternatives to Yucca Mountain for nuclear waste management. The BRC recommended building storage capacity into the system to allow the government an opportunity to make good on its commitments to plants and communities to move waste sooner. In late 2014, Kotek got the call to return to the DOE and had the privilege of working with Secretary Moniz.
9:03 - Energy Policy and New Nuclear Technology
Bret Kugelmass: While working with Secretary Moniz, what were some things you learned and what were some challenges you took on?
John Kotek: John Kotek was heartened to see the amount of interest that had grown around advanced nuclear technology. The companies trying to innovate in the space, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and NGO’s came together to create an ecosystem around advanced nuclear. Looking back at the history of nuclear technology development in the U.S., there are examples of everything being developed today that was tested years ago. By taking a different approach, the need for backup systems or required staff may be eliminated to come up with a more economic system overall. In the early days of nuclear, facilities were built in a lot less time than it takes to build them today. These new technologies with different fundamental underlying physics and thermomechanical characteristics may provide an opportunity to get to a system that is faster to deploy and less expensive to operate. The faster you can get your asset from construction into revenue production, the better it will be for the bottom line.
12:52 - Nuclear Energy Institute Initiatives
Bret Kugelmass: What does the Nuclear Energy Institute do?
John Kotek: The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) represents the nuclear industry, the vast majority of power producers and companies that are suppliers of power plant components. NEI is in the business of trying to get to a greater recognition of the value nuclear brings to the electricity markets and to society as a whole. There is no other technology that offers the combination of resilience, cleanliness, fuel assurance, and price stability that comes with a nuclear plant.NEI’s National Nuclear Energy Strategy has four components: preserve, sustain, innovate, and thrive. The Nuclear Narrative explains the benefits of nuclear to try to bring a broader awareness of the technology. Nuclear power plants are in economic stress in competitive electricity markets, driven by low natural gas prices and renewable portfolio standards. Sometimes it is still profitable for renewables to sell their electricity at a negative price because they make more money from the tax credit. This has been an effective incentive in promoting renewable energy growth, but the unintended consequences of that haven’t been reflected in the way markets price electricity. NEI advocates for a market that values everything that’s being delivered into that market and many attributes of nuclear are not currently reflected in the way nuclear is compensated. For developed in advanced nuclear, technology is important, but the policy framework must be right in valuing low carbon energy. NEI also focuses on delivering the nuclear promise, which is looking for ways to increase the efficiency on the operation side and share lessons learned and best practices across the industry. Part 3, innovate, focuses on advanced reactors and how new technologies can get through the development and licensing process and into commercial use. The fourth parts of NEI’s strategy, thrive, is centered around getting back to the place where the U.S. is competing and winning in world markets against state-owned enterprises such as Russia and China. When you build a nuclear power plant in another country, you start what could be a century long relationship with the country and is an opportunity to spread U.S. safety practices and proliferation standards. Russia and China are viewing the nuclear industries as very strategic. The U.S. needs to ensure their companies compete in effect against countries.
25:50 - International Nuclear Influence
Bret Kugelmass: How can we enable our nuclear companies to compete effectively internationally?
John Kotek: In the history of light water reactor design and development, there has been a history of cost sharing. There are opportunities for the government to continue on the type of cooperation they’ve had with NuScale on the development of the small modular reactor (SMR). Private companies are willing to invest multiples of what the government will invest because they see market opportunities. Power purchase agreements to offtake electricity from a nuclear power plant, particularly a first of a kind or early version of technology, would help accelerate commercialization. There are opportunities to use part of an SMR facility as an experimental facility by using part of an SMR that is built near a National Laboratory as a vehicle to test other energy production from advanced nuclear. Some advanced designs can go beyond electricity production.
30:15 - Small Modular Reactors’ Market Impact
Bret Kugelmass: How does the small modular reactor alleviate some of the electricity and market problems?
John Kotek: A small modular reactor (SMR) design is intended for load following, to meet energy supply and demand. Renewables are looking to energy storage, but since it is not economically viable right now, renewable energy is backed by natural gas. If you don’t need all the electricity an SMR can provide, production can be backed off or part of the output could be used to run an electrolyzer and produce hydrogen or divert some heat for industrial supply. Single digit megawatt SMR’s are very simplified systems that could be transportable and remotely operable. Developing the advanced technology is an essential part in creating a brighter future which takes full advantage of nuclear, but there needs to be broader public acceptance recognition of the value that nuclear delivers and must be conveyed to policymakers and the media. New York, Illinois, and Connecticut have passed state level legislation to preserve their nuclear plants. The closer you get to the nuclear facility, the more people support it and understand it.
36:30 - Innovation in Nuclear Power Plants
Bret Kugelmass: Tell us about some of the people at the Nuclear Energy Institute and efforts they are working on.
John Kotek: The Nuclear Energy Institute’s (NEI) CEO, Maria Korsnick, was responsible for a fleet of nuclear power plants and has lived in communities in which the nuclear power plant was the center of activity in the region. She knows the care and attention that goes into operating these facilities and translates that pride and passion into her advocacy for nuclear energy at NEI. Dan Lipman, VP, is in charge of international trade and suppliers who worked for Westinghouse on the AP-1000’s. When John Kotek got into nuclear in the late 1980’s, nuclear plants were run at 60% capacity factor, the percentage of the hours a year the plant is running. Due to improvements in the way plants have been run and changes to increase power output, there is 40% more energy produced today with fewer reactors running. Accident tolerant fuels (ATF), also known as advanced technology fuels, are an opportunity to develop a new fuel type that can provide better performance and better safety margins. Because of the innovation in fuel development and regulatory steps, experimental fuel rods are going into reactors now. The first application has gone in to take a plant from a 60 year license to an 80 year license and more than 85% of the plants have received approval to operate out to 60 years. The NuScale design started out as the Multi-Application Small Light Water Reactor (MASLWR) program. After the nuclear energy R&D budget when to zero in the late 1980’s, the Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) was brought back to provide small grants to university and laboratory based researchers. One of the applications was Dr. Jose Reyes at Oregon State University who worked with the Idaho National Laboratory and others on the small light water reactor design. He persevered and 15 years later, their design is in with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the NRC is validated passive safety features in the design. A new design can be brought from the drawing board into the commercial market. The NRC is looking to make the process more efficient to get to the levels of assurance of public protection they need to demonstrate.