North American Nuclear Center of Excellence Leader
October 25, 2022
Bret Kugelmass [00:00:59] Well, welcome to another episode of Titans of Nuclear. Joined today by Kate Fowler. I'm going to try to say your title correctly, you’re North American Nuclear Energy Center of Excellence Leader at Marsh. Kate, great to have you on.
Kate Fowler [00:01:13] Thank you. It's nice to be here.
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:16] So, before we hear what that impressive sounding title is all about, tell us a bit about you. Where are you from?
Kate Fowler [00:01:24] So, I'm originally from a little tiny town in Kansas, grew up on a farm very rural. And I went to Kansas State University, which is about 2 to 3 hours from home. I was interested in engineering. I wanted to do something that was a challenge. I actually picked mechanical engineering out of a course book and once I got…
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:46] And like focused on engineering or did you like, you know, flipped through it and just stuck your finger in a point?
Kate Fowler [00:01:51] So, basically, I took the engineering book and flipped through it and picked one. Kind of assumed that, you know, I could get into my first year. All the engineering classes are the same for whatever degree you're taking, and if I change my mind midway through, that was fine, I wouldn't have to redo much of anything. I think it's probably my freshman or sophomore year, I got invited to an American Nuclear Society Student Meeting, and it was at the research reactor at Kansas State. And until that point, I didn't even realize we had a research nuclear reactor. I got to sit in on a meeting and got a tour of the research reactor and got super interested in nuclear and decided to do the nuclear option as well at K-State. So, I got my degree in mechanical and nuclear engineering and really just, for my entire career, have focused on the nuclear side of things.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:40] Wow, incredible. Yeah. I didn't know K-State had a research reactor either. Tell us more about that experience. Like what does that look like and what did they show you?
Kate Fowler [00:02:51] So, it's super tiny. And actually, that was my first nuclear plant experience. So then later going into a commercial reactor was a little bit shocking because in my mind, you know, they were these little research reactors, open fuel pool, super small room. One of my spring breaks, I actually volunteered to help with fuel shuffling at the research reactor. So, my first experience with a refuel outage was doing that and it was all done manually by students. And, of course, we had oversight there at the research reactor, but it was, you know, dropping kind of a core down into the fuel pool and there was a ball head on the fuel bundles. And you just go down and it's kind of like a game you got to hook on and lift it up partway through the water and move it to a different spot and drop it in, very unsophisticated in comparison to what the commercial industry does.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:48] I'm envisioning like the claw machine. Is that basically what…
Kate Fowler [00:03:50] That’s basically what it was, yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:53] And so, a little bit of insight, I guess, when you're trying to like defeat the claw machine, you have someone stand on one side and you kind of cover both axes. Is that how…
Kate Fowler [00:04:04] That is exactly what it is. You had a group of people up there and it was, you know, a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right, just trying to get it right in place and being very gentle with it, obviously. So, like I said, that was my first refuel experience. So then later working at a commercial reactor and actually seeing how the commercial industry does the refuel very, very different.
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:26] Right. How sensitive… I actually, I just genuinely don't know this, like, yeah, how careful do you have to be, right? I mean, like the spent fuel itself versus new fuel, you know, it wouldn't be an… like the reaction’s not initiated. Like, yeah, what does happen if you, like, bump it a little bit or drop it or like what… I mean, what are the gradients there?
Kate Fowler [00:04:48] You certainly don't want to drop it, but they're pretty sturdy anyway. I mean, it's not like we were lifting them real high. They were staying in the water. You know, they're cushioned by the water a little bit as you move them through there. So, I mean, we, of course, had, you know, safety briefing ahead of time, things you need to do and obviously be gentle. But the research reactor fuel bundles are small and, you know, it wasn't a whole lot of concern there and everything was shielded because it was still in the water.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:17] Yeah. Yeah. I guess that was sort of is it… does the size of that fuel bundle like really change the potential outcomes or, you know, if you had commercial fuel like, yeah, how sensitive it is, like what's the worst thing that happens when you're shuffling fuel? Like, let's say, you certainly don't want to drop it, but what if you did? It's still in the water, right?
Kate Fowler [00:05:41] Yeah. So, I mean, the primary concern would be if you broke open one of the tubes that had the fuel pellets in it. So, luckily we never dropped one. So, I don't really know what the protocol had been had we dropped one. But I don't think there would be high concern because it is still in the water and, you know, everything is protected. But yeah, I got to be honest, I'm not sure what the protocol would be if we dropped one at every search reactor because we never had to experience that thing fully.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:12] That's good. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, just sort of satisfying my own curiosity because, you know, it's… right, there’s sort of what people picture and then there's sort of like the actual science of, you know, kind of benign little sugar cube fuel pellets in a shielded pool of water, in a protected pool of water. You know, it's not terribly yeah, not terribly dynamic, but so, okay. So, you were working on a research reactor, fell in love with nuclear early. Where did you go from there? Like you start looking in the industry? Like how did you decide what to do next?
Kate Fowler [00:06:48] So, I always joke that I kind of fell backwards into my entire education and career, you know, starting with just flipping through a course book and figuring out what degree I was going to do. Between my junior and senior year of college, there was a career fair at school, and I was actually not super interested in going into it because I was looking to set a land speed record to get out of school. I didn't want to have to pay for college any longer than I needed to, but I had a classmate talk me into going to the career fair, met with the Nebraska Public Power District, who owns Cooper Nuclear Station in Nebraska and got offered a co-op position to go work there for 9 months. And it seemed like a pretty great deal. It was a paid co-op opportunity and helped me fund my college a little bit. So, in right about that time, online classes had kind of picked up as well. So, I was able to go co-op at the plant, also continuing my schooling, so I didn't have to take a break there. But when co-ops came in, there was kind of, I just always joke, there was kind of a spin of the wheel. They just people pick people that come in. You don't really get to say what you're going to do as a co-op. And I got dropped into fire protection at the plant working with the program engineer and the system engineer and the fire marshal there. So, I spent 6 months or 9 months learning fire protection. Actually, I got to work with the site fire brigade and put on bunker gear and go help put out fires on their training facility they had there. Got to do lots of plant inspections because, you know, going out, looking at sprinklers and things like that, looking for transient combustibles in the plant. So, I fell in love with nuclear, but I also fell in love with fire protection at that point. I went in for my 9 months, went back, finished my senior year of college, had an opportunity to go back to the plant. When I came in, they said, “Hey, we have nine engineering positions, which one do you want?” And the fire protection engineer position was open and so I was like, “Well, I'm going to do that, I enjoyed it so much as a co-op engineer.” So it came in and was the safe shut down and fire protection program engineer for the plant for 2 years while I worked there.
Bret Kugelmass [00:08:54] Wow. So, yeah, I want to hear more about that day to day, but come back to this co-op concept a little bit because I think it's somewhat unique to sort of the utility space and perhaps nuclear in particular, because you don't mean electric cooperative, you mean co-op in an internship-type program.
Kate Fowler [00:09:11] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:09:13] Okay. And so, when you say they like just spun a wheel, so this is NPP… Nebraska Public Power District, correct?
Kate Fowler [00:09:20] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:09:21] So they said we're going to take 10 co-op or 20 co-op students and we have 20 spots and they just randomly picked who did what?
Kate Fowler [00:09:32] Yeah. So, I don't know how many of us came in at once. My classmate that went to the career fair with me actually came in at the same time. So, there might have been like five or six of us that came in at the same time. She went to design engineering, I went to fire protection. I think we had one person that went in to one of our electrical engineering departments. So, it was just kind of draw of the luck. You know, they looked at names. I don't know if they looked at our resumes. We don't really have resumes at that point. We're all college students. But, you know, there was groups that needed a co-op engineer and they just kind of picked somebody and said, “We're going to give you a test run and see how it goes.”
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:11] Yeah, how fun. And, obviously, a bit of a Nebraska connection here because I grew up in Nebraska and had some friends and some family friends that worked at Cooper, so that's funny.
Kate Fowler [00:10:23] That’s awesome.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:24] Do you like… is Casey's Pizza familiar to you, is like that?
Kate Fowler [00:10:26] Very familiar, just familiar from where I grew up too because I grew up about 2 to 3 hours from Cooper. I was in Northeast Kansas so yeah, very familiar with Casey's Pizza.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:37] Yeah, yeah. I had to work that in somewhere. Okay. So, your fire protection, yeah, like tell me more about what that means. Like what's the day to day? Are you walking around the plant? Are you planning for stuff like, you know, walk us through what that looks like.
Kate Fowler [00:10:55] Yeah. So, it makes sense that every plant has a fire protection program. Of course, when I came in as a co-op engineer, I was like, “Oh, I didn't really think about plants, I mean, fire protection.” So, you know, when I was the safe shutdown engineer, that piece of it was, if there's a fire in the plant, what is the fire area that the fire is in? What cables are in there? That's the primary thing. What cables and equipment are in that room such that if you had a fire that was a total loss, took out all the cables, what equipment can we not now operate from the control room and how do we appropriately shut down the plant, you know, to get it safe and stable, so safe shutdown engineer maintain the policies and procedures for that, you know, kind of understanding the different fire areas. But I tracked fire loading, that was something that I did. So, every fire area, you know, there's calculations, how many combustible materials are in this room to better understand, you know, make sure we're not over a certain limit that we're going to have a bad fire in that space. So, people probably don't really think about this, but any room in the plant at any given day, I could have told you exactly how much combustible material was in there, how many pounds of paper, how many gallons of a flammable liquid there might have been in there just to make sure that we were keeping the plant protected.
But, you know, I kind of did backup fire marshal work as well, so that was a lot of doing plant tours, keeping an eye out for the combustibles, making sure that there weren't things out in the plant that shouldn't be out there that haven't been logged and calculated. There's a fire brigade that goes along with that. So, you know, working with the fire brigade, they have to be cognizant of the safe shutdown procedures. The control room obviously has to be cognizant of the safe shutdown procedures. So that was a lot of what I did. And I always say and even, you know, all the plants, it wasn't just mine, the fire marshal is kind of the mayor of the plant so people aren't always happy to see you if you're out there telling them that, you know, they've got materials out there that they're not supposed to have or if they're doing hot work at the plant, you know, everybody's empowered at the plant because of the safety culture that if you see something that you don't think looks right, you have the ability to stop work. So, even as a 21-year-old working at the plant, I had the ability to stop work that was being done if I thought something wasn't being done to the procedures.
So, going out and looking at hot work areas, so there is occasional hot work that happens in the plant, you know, welding and making sure that they're following the plant procedures, which generally follow National Fire Protection Association Codes. So, you know, are there combustible materials within 30 feet of where they're doing the hot work? So things like that, like that's what day to day look like. There was the engineering side of it, but then there was also a little bit of this policing the plant, trying to make sure you build relationships with other people at the plant so that when you come out and talk to them and say, you know, “Hey, I think there's an issue here,” you have a good rapport and a good relationship with those people.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:57] Yeah. Well, yeah, I wouldn't have thought… I mean, are there some areas where it's like de minimis, like, you know, this room doesn't have any cabling, you know, or is it truly like measuring every single space at all times?
Kate Fowler [00:14:12] So, I mean, it really is keeping track of every space at all times. But there are some areas that are very highly sensitive and I don't want to necessarily more, they’re more important but more critical to plant operations. So, the cable spreading room is the primary thing. I know a lot of the new designs that are being developed right now don't necessarily have a cable spreading room, which is great, but that is the most impactful area to the plant if you were to ever have a fire, because all the cables run from the control room through the cable spreading room to the rest of the plant. So, if you had a fire in the cable spreading room, that's a bad day because there's cables for everything in there. So that's one area where there are boatloads of cables and for that reason, there is nothing else that's allowed in there. It is the absolute cleanest area of any nuclear plant you will ever see.
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:02] And how much of that, because there's other technologies now that, you know, have like sensitive fire protection stuff, right? I'm thinking of data centers and, I mean, there's so much cabling in the world. Like are there learnings from other industries on how they manage that fire protection, right, because like what you're describing is sort of preemptive monitoring. But are there other solutions that you partnered with that, that you took from other industries to reduce them, like instead of just focusing on reducing an event while also minimizing the impact of an event?
Kate Fowler [00:15:42] Yeah. So I actually think nuclear is probably the leader in this and other industries have learned from us. So, it historically it was preventative. You know, if there's a fire, how do we stop it? Or if there's a fire, we have a suppression system in place. But now, there's a lot more monitoring out there. So, there are ways to tell if a cable has increased in temperature, you know, more than ten degrees over a certain period of time, such that they can say, “Hey, we think we may have a cable failure” and be able to address that rather than waiting for something to fail. So, the industry has really shifted into probabilistic risk assessment, which is trying to figure out where the higher risk is and really monitor those areas and try to address problems before there's an actual event.
Bret Kugelmass [00:16:37] Yeah, interesting. How much of that did you get to see evolve while you were at Cooper? Like, you know, you're pretty young and you just described having to work out relationships with people that have probably been there for 20 years. And then were you like, hey, guys, we can do this differently?
Kate Fowler [00:16:53] So, it wasn't me saying we could do things differently necessarily. But when I was at the plant, there was actually a shift in fire protection to go to this probabilistic, you know, performance-based risk assessment of system. It's actually called NFPA 805. So this was something 10, 15 years ago that was kind of introduced and there were about half the plants in the industry that were it's 10 CFR 50 Appendix R, that's fire protection for nuclear. They said, we're no longer going to be an Appendix R plant, we're going to be an NFPA 805 plant. And that is the performance base. So, it's looking at systems and it's looking at that monitoring rather than just prescriptively doing maintenance or doing certain things. It was more so looking at what kind of risk did this actually present and how frequently should we be doing maintenance and do we need more protection systems in place? Do we have too many in place? So, it was less just following a cookie cutter way of doing things because that's how it should be done and really assessing the risk and addressing true risk.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:02] Interesting. Yeah, that's really interesting. How did that evolve, I guess? Yeah, how long were you at Cooper? You know, what was next? Like kind of walk through how that evolved.
Kate Fowler [00:18:13] Yeah. So, I was only at Cooper full time for about 2 years. Between my co-op and my full time there, I actually got to work three outages, which is pretty, it's actually a pretty exciting time at the plant. And, you know, you'd think it wouldn't be that exciting because the plant shut down, but there's a large number of bodies, a lot of people, everyone's working 6, 12-hour shifts. I was on night each time and there's a real community there when you're all fighting through it together.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:40] That actually makes a lot of sense, right? Because a nuclear plant operation is actually really boring, right? It's a hot rock and a steam cycle.
Kate Fowler [00:18:48] Yeah. And that's exactly what you want, you want it to be boring.
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:51] Yeah.
Kate Fowler [00:18:52] You went there to, you know, not be much going on. And all of the big work every 18 to 2 years, every 18 months to 2 years that is during the outage. So, that's when things get crazy. There's a whole lot more people on site. But I did that for 2 years full time and then ultimately left the plant to go work for NEIL, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited, who provides all of the nuclear property insurance for the plants in the U.S.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:17] Awesome. Before we get to NEIL, I do have to ask, we talked about the claw machine at your research reactor, so compare and contrast the commercial version of the claw machine here.
Kate Fowler [00:19:30] I did not get to completely lay eyes on fuel movements, I saw them from a distance.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:36] Yeah.
Kate Fowler [00:19:37] So, I don't think it's as much like a claw machine, I'm certain it's a lot more refined, but there's refueled bridges that are used during the outages and you have very skilled people and, you know, everyone's on headphones, continuous communication and there is a very high level of safety. And so, I did not get to completely lay eyes on how that went because they keep people who are unnecessary away, and I was unnecessary for the refuel process.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:04] Got it. So, yeah, can you just describe it a little bit? Like what's a refuel bridge? I mean, is it literally like a crane? Am I thinking about a crane on skids hung over the top?
Kate Fowler [00:20:18] Yep, that's exactly what it is. So, you have your refuel pool and then you have your spent fuel pool. A lot of times, there's like a wall separating them, and they kind of lift the hatch during a refuel. They do their fuel moves under water at the reactor core. And then if there's fuel that's ready to come out of the core and go into the spent fuel pool to start cooling, they will carry it across through that opening now and insert it into the spent fuel pool to fit until it's time to put it into a canister.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:49] Got it. Huh? Yeah, it must be quite an operation. Okay. We don't need to dwell on an area where you were less relevant. Tell us about NEIL. And, you know, how did that change kind of your scope, your view on the industry? What sort of stuff were you working on?
Kate Fowler [00:21:09] Yeah. So when I came into NEIL, I came in as a property lost control engineer, so I was going out to plants all over the U.S. and doing plant inspections primarily for fire protection stuff. So, that's how that transition happened. I was kind of doing plant inspections at my own plant and I got to now do this for the industry. And it opened my eyes in a lot of ways because I knew one plant, I got to see the rest of the industry and really see how the rest of the industry did things and how it was different from how I did them as an engineer. And, you know, I loved working at the plant. I did fall in love with the industry. I loved doing what I did at Cooper and being able to support that plant. I loved that I was able to take that skill set and what I knew and actually help the rest of the industry, so that was part of the decision to go and part of why I loved it so much is I felt like I got to have a positive impact on the entire nuclear industry in the U.S. versus just one site.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:10] Interesting. And yeah, tell us more about what that means specifically. You were kind of leading the PRA, or the Probability Risk Assessment, sort of methodology and like kind of supporting that transition? Or were there other areas where you said, like the industry was super dated or super analog in this one way and we really sort of rolled in, you know, this change across the fleet?
Kate Fowler [00:22:34] So, I was supporting that initiative when I was at Cooper and actually it didn't even complete until after I left. Anyway, several years after I left, it was a long tail thing. When I went to go work for the insurer, they do have a set of standards and they are very prescriptive as to, you know, there are certain timelines in which you need to test things or review things, but there are options within those standards as well to do a probabilistic risk assessment and look at a piece of equipment. And if we say, you know, NEIL, if they said you have to test this every 3 years, the plant could then go back and look and say, okay, we've done this every 3 years and it has passed successfully every 3 years. And if it has passed successfully every 3 years for, you know, 12 years, then there's an assessment that they could do to actually say, okay, we're going to go out to a 4-year inspection cycle now because there's just not value in doing it every 3 years because it is maintained so well because of the nuclear industry, how they maintain everything. So there was kind of a shift even on the insurance side where you didn't have to be as prescriptive if you could show that things are operating safely and they're being maintained well, that there is the opportunity to actually shift timelines for how frequently you're looking at them. And on the flip side, you know, if it's something's being maintained every 3 years and there's regular issues, it justifies actually having to do more frequent inspections to make sure that they're being maintained properly.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:07] Yeah. So kind of the two ways, right? You have this like loosening of policy or prescriptive and the tightening. On balance, which was more frequent or which did you see more frequently?
Kate Fowler [00:24:22] More frequently, you saw things that were able to extend frequencies out. And once again, that is because it's the nuclear industry and everything is maintained so well, the safety culture that's there. The speaking up, if you see something that doesn't look right, you know, there are eyes on everything at all times and making sure everything is functioning appropriately. So, you know, sometimes they were maintaining things too frequently and that did show through some of those risk assessments.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:50] Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. No, it seems to be sort of a theme that comes up in a lot of these conversations from different perspectives, right, is like, you know, you hear some of these stories where things just got, you know, incrementally tighter over time and then 40 years later, you know, they're testing the diesel gen every two weeks or something or they're changing, you know, changing tires every six weeks. And it's helpful. I'm glad that you saw times where people said, “Hey, maybe we're doing this so much that it's almost worse, right?”
Kate Fowler [00:25:25] Yeah. You know, there is usually triggering events for things to be tested, like if you test the diesels every few weeks, generally I think it's every month that most plants do it. But, you know, I see the benefit in frequent testing, but if you're doing it too much, it's unnecessary. I mean, it's kind of like changing your oil once a month, you know. Yeah, it's fine, but it's probably not necessary and you're just wasting time, money, resources to do something. You obviously want it to be safe, but you don't need to overdo it.
Bret Kugelmass [00:25:57] Yeah, yeah. No, I couldn't agree more, couldn't agree more. Okay. So, you're working with NEIL, working with these different providers. You saw a bunch of different things across the fleet in the U.S., right? Or did you not…
Kate Fowler [00:26:11] Yes.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:12] Okay.
Kate Fowler [00:26:13] That was strictly in the U.S. NEIL works with Belgium and Spain as well, but I was focused on the U.S.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:17] Got it. And how long were you at NEIL and when did you join Marsh? Or was there more in between?
Kate Fowler [00:26:23] Yeah. So, a little bit more in between. So, I was at NEIL 9 years, the first 6 years I was there, I was the property lost control rep going out and doing plant inspections all over the country. Six years then, I actually switched to the underwriting side. So that's when my true insurance growth started was when I went from being an engineer to being a nuclear underwriter. So, I spent 3 years in nuclear underwriting, you know, no longer inspecting plants, but I'm taking what the engineers were giving me and actually rating the plants and assessing them and issuing them property policies. So, 3 years of doing that and then I transitioned over to Marsh.
Bret Kugelmass [00:27:03] Yeah. How was that transition? I mean, a little more financial, but basically the same sort of work, maybe just with some… right, maybe some risk analysis applied to your mechanical knowledge?
Kate Fowler [00:27:15] Yeah. So, I mean, going into underwriting, the best thing was I had done the work that was feeding end to underwriting and I spoke the language. I think sometimes their people may not always speak the language of engineers, so if you have an underwriter that doesn't necessarily have a technical background and then you've got an engineer who does have a technical background trying to feed in information, I think sometimes things can get lost in translation or there just may not be an understanding there or it just takes longer for everyone to kind of come to an understanding. So, it was nice having that engineering background because I knew exactly what the engineers were talking about when I had a report come across my desk for a plant inspection.
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:00] Yeah. Yeah. I imagine the nuclear insurance market has a lot of folks with some form of engineering background, right? Are there people that come from outside the industry or from other insurance segments that come into nuclear and say, “Holy cow, how do I keep up with all this?”
Kate Fowler [00:28:21] So I think people generally come from industry, but not necessarily the commercial industry. A lot of people are actually coming from the nuclear navy. So, whether it's working at a nuclear plant, working for a nuclear insurer or working at Marsh, there's a lot of people that have come from the nuclear navy industry. So people who understand nuclear, who understand safety culture, there are a lot of the ones that end up coming in and getting developed into the insurance side of things.
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:50] Got it. Yeah, super interesting. Okay. So you're kind of doing the underwriting side. Did you have to do some business development with this as well or not really, because it's pretty set?
Kate Fowler [00:29:03] Yeah. So NEIL is a mutual or a group captive, so there really wasn't marketing associated with it. There is a set number of members that everyone served. Occasionally, there are new members that would come in, but there wasn't a broad scale marketing with the role.
Bret Kugelmass [00:29:20] Got it. Got it. Yeah, that's right. And we've spoken about this before where NEIL’s sort of a little bit different, maybe talk to our audience, some are probably very familiar and others may be less so about, you know, sort of what NEIL is and how it's structured and, you know, where they're unique things about that sort of mutual versus a more traditional insurer.
Kate Fowler [00:29:43] Yeah. So, I mean, in the nuclear industry, we have mutuals and then we have pools. So NEIL is not the only mutual that's out there, but all the mutuals work relatively the same. There are members that are a part of them. They all have very similar risk and that's why they created a mutual to begin with. The primary difference between the mutuals and the pools is generally to get insurance from a mutual, you have to be a member or you may be able to get coverages if you're not a member, they may just not be the limits that you would get if you were a member. On the flip side, pretty much anybody can access the pools or gain capacity from the pools. But the primary difference between them is the mutuals. The members really run the mutuals. So, the members are the ones that decide, you know, what are the loss control standards, what kind of coverages do we want as a mutual and want to share risk with the industry on where a pool looks at it and they have the patent. They make the decisions as to what coverages they want to offer.
Bret Kugelmass [00:30:41] Got it. Got it. Yeah, really interesting. Okay. So you're with this mutual and, you know, what was next?
Kate Fowler [00:30:49] So, I joined Marsh in 2020 and I actually joined Marsh Toronto and never actually made it to Toronto because of COVID. But I was working for the Marsh Toronto office and I came in as their Canadian nuclear leader, and I did that work for about a year. Our U.S. nuclear practice, the leader at the time, decided that he wanted to take a different role here at Marsh. So, I put my hand up and said, “Hey, I want to do this” because a lot of clients are ones that I had already worked with on the insurer side. And I said, you know, “I want to continue the work that I'm doing with Canada. I'd like to work with the U.S. again as well” and that's where that that lovely title that you announced at the beginning came from North America. And so, the role was created so I could do both the Canadian nuclear work and the U.S. nuclear work.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:39] Wow. Yeah, that's fantastic. And yeah, I guess sometimes one door closes, another opens.
Kate Fowler [00:31:46] That's right.
Bret Kugelmass [00:31:46] You take a new gig right before COVID, right before a shutdown could be kind of crazy. Yeah. I mean, still relatively recent, talk to us about how that transition's been going and what do you love about Marsh?
Kate Fowler [00:31:58] So, the transition's gone really well. The team here in the U.S. has really embraced me, which is nice. I brought in a new person who came in right about the same time that I joined. So it's been fun kind of learning alongside him some of the things that I didn't necessarily know. My career was largely in property, both in the engineering and underwriting side of things, so I've really expanded my knowledge of nuclear liability over the last few years. So everything's been really great, it's been fun to kind of have this cross-border relationship where I'm not just working with the U.S., I'm not just working with Canada and this really open the lines of communication, I think, between the groups in both countries to allow us to share more information. And we also have a global team that meet and I lead our global calls that we do to really, you know, once again, help provide transparency through Marsh on nuclear and really share information because it is a small industry and there's not a whole lot of people out there in the industry that have the knowledge and it really keeps our team together and make sure that, you know, we're helping each other out. The U.S. practice here for nuclear, we've been around for over 30 years at this point, and we are the only nuclear broker that has a practice globally. And so continuing to work internally with our teams is really important to us.
Bret Kugelmass [00:33:27] Yeah, you’ve really kind of carved out a bit of a niche, which is fine and certainly valuable. Yeah. You know, what are you excited about looking forward? Like, you know, it seems like there's a lot of activity in the industry. How are you guys, you know, supporting that, participating in that and, you know, what are you most excited about as you think about that?
Kate Fowler [00:33:48] Yeah. So I'm obviously most excited about small modular reactors. When I got out of college there in 2009, that was when that nuclear renaissance was happening and that was part of why I did nuclear, too, because I'm like, oh, there's going to be all this growth in the industry. And then we kind of thought things go the other direction a couple of years after that. So, finally getting to see some potential for nuclear growth is really exciting for me because I really do love the industry and the technology. But, you know, it's also exciting for us from a Marsh perspective because it's opening up a lot of opportunities for people who are developing small modular reactors. And it really goes beyond that. It's not just those that are developing it. There's going to be manufacturing of small modular reactors. So, there's going to be construction companies and, you know, other entities that are getting involved in the entire process. And those are also industries that we support. It's not just commercial reactors, it's not just developers. It's, you know, some of those vendors and suppliers that support the industry as well. So I think there's a lot of growth potential for us, but there's a whole lot of growth potential within the industry. So, it's exciting to kind of see things moving and changing where we've seen, you know, stability, which is good. But I think, you know, the industry has been a little bit stagnant because there hasn't been growth and it's exciting to see all of this potential growth coming down the road.
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:15] Yeah, I mean, nuclear renaissance is one of those like loaded words, right? Because that's a word that I feel like it's thrown around every 5 or 10 years. And then there's this sort of, I don't know, lack of follow through is maybe unfair. Yeah, like one of the big barriers from where you sit to that roll out of SMRs, advanced, you know, whatever that alphabet soup of sort of that growth opportunity, you know, what are you saying, that's like, hey, we're maybe all talking about this, but we really have to figure out some of these things in order for this to actually be the nuclear renaissance.
Kate Fowler [00:35:57] So, I mean, I think there's lots of things to think about. I mean, the regulatory side of stuff is a big thing. But everybody's fully aware of that of, you know, how long it takes to get something approved and licensed and sited and, you know, construction permits and everything like that. But, you know, I've been screaming for the rooftops about insurance, so, you know, I think everybody kind of forgets about insurance a little bit. And it's not like getting insurance for a coal plant or a gas plant where there's a whole lot of players out there in the market that the nuclear insurance industry is pretty small. And that's the part that I keep saying, like, don't forget about the insurance, don't forget about the insurance because it is important to engage early and have conversations with insurers out there because it's not necessarily an easy ask to have a new technology and just expect someone to provide insurance on it without being fully engaged in the process and really understanding the technology.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:56] Yeah. And maybe, I guess parse that out a little bit. I know we've spoken. I want to put nuclear liability to the side as a whole. I want to spend some time on that. But yeah, I mean, you say it's not like a coal plant. It's not like a gas plant from a from a market availability standpoint but isn't the actual underwriting process quite like a coal plant and a gas plant or…
Kate Fowler [00:37:19] It is. Yeah, it is. So the main difference, I mean, when you look at a plant like it's a steam plant, whether it's nuclear or coal, it's just the fuel is a little bit different, so the markets that are out there, it is small because there's a lot of people that just don't have interest in insuring nuclear, they just don't have… you know, they're not comfortable with it. So the underwriting part…
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:44] And can I poke on that a little bit? I want to debate with you that point. Is it because they're legitimately not comfortable or because there has not been opportunity?
Kate Fowler [00:37:56] So, I think it's partly there hasn't been opportunity and I think it's also because there hasn't been opportunity, there isn't necessarily in-house expertise on the risk, so it's hard to assess the risk if you don't have a person who fully understands it. And, you know, particularly in North America, things are pretty well set for the plants that are here right now. So there's not a lot of opportunity for them to go out, so there's not a whole lot of point in investing in resources to try to break into a market that seems relatively happy with the way things are right now. However, with all of this growth opportunity, there's going to be a lot of new entrants that are looking for nuclear insurance. And so, I think we're starting to see some of these insurers who haven't historically been engaged in nuclear or have been sitting behind a managing general agent, but are kind of starting to raise their hand and say, “Okay, we've been supporting this in a small way historically. We see growth. Now we're kind of interested in investing more resources and actually getting more involved.”
Bret Kugelmass [00:39:02] Yeah, because I… and the reason I parse that language a little bit is I feel like in conversations that I've had with folks in the industry, it's almost become like too self-deprecating, right? And like, oh, there's not interest. But there's a couple of reasons why there may not be interest and some are very solvable, right, and others aren't. And there's this like this… I think there's created a narrative really just within the industry itself that the industry feels like people don't want to participate or don't like the technology, but actually has nothing to do with that. It's that like lack of opportunity hasn't warranted a business case…
Kate Fowler [00:39:43] Yes, exactly…
Bret Kugelmass [00:39:44] You go by that expertise. But it's such a great transition story politically, socially, economically, to take all of this oil and gas expertise or coal and gas expertise and just add a little element on the nuclear, right? I mean, I don't know, it feels like such a great story for all the parties involved to, like, really, really blow that out. So I'm excited that you're seeing that activity in the market.
Kate Fowler [00:40:14] Yeah, we are. And the nuclear industry from a commercial power generation and from an insurance perspective have been, like I said, have been pretty steady state for, you know, 50 years or so. But the industry is changing. The technology is changing. People always say, “Oh, we don't want to reinvent the wheel.” Like now's the time to reinvent the wheel. When it comes to technology, we're reinventing the wheel a little bit. So, I think it makes sense for insurers to reinvent the wheel as well. You know, look at risks that they haven't historically looked at or if they have looked at nuclear, look at it through a slightly different lens because it's not a 60-year-old technology. This is something new. And, you know, old technology is safe, but this is just a next-level safety that these plants have. So, we are seeing that interest and I hope that interest continues to grow as time goes on and these SMRs get closer to construction and operation.
Bret Kugelmass [00:41:14] So, yeah, I couldn't agree more. I'm going to push you on another thing here. But this is a weird question to ask an insurer, but I think you appreciate the probability assessment and the pricing of this risk, like I would push back strongly on safety being the issue, right? That like being safer than incredibly safe, right? Like is like that’s how… I don't know, that's part of that, like, self-deprecating, like the sense that there's all this fear. But most people are just sort of oblivious of nuclear, right? What they see is people like harping about safety. And so, they assume it is inherently dangerous, right? And so, yeah, I don't know. I'm just curious to see how that plays out. Like in the insurance community, who's used to like underwriting, you know, material risk, both outside and inside risk, right? Like, you know, gas plant blows up or an oil rig blows up or a battery blows up or catches on fire, right? Like they're very used to pricing this and understanding it. And so, I think they would really like the industry's approach, I guess, is how I'll bring that full circle.
Kate Fowler [00:42:35] I think they would as well. So I think insurers that aren't engaged in nuclear right now, I think there's been a historical, well, we just don't have nuclear. And I don't think there's a full appreciation of what really goes into a commercial nuclear plant. And some of those would just say, “Oh, we don't touch nuclear.” I'd love to get them inside of a nuclear plant and meet people and see how they do things. I mean, the words nuclear safety culture get tossed around a lot. And for someone who's never been in the industry or who's never actually been in a plant, they may just come off as just words. But you know, what I talked about before, as a 21-year-old, I'm a college student. I have the ability to go into a plant and stop work and people stop work. So, it is the expectation and it is the duty of everybody who works there to have this unbelievably high level of safety and speak up if you see something that you don't think looks right. I don't know another industry that works that way. I don't know another industry where if, you know, I went out to a craftsman as, you know, a female in my twenties and said, you know, “Hey, something just doesn't look right here. I think I need you to stop what you're doing.” I don't know any other industry where I would have gotten respected enough to go, “Okay, let's all stop and stand down and figure out what's going on here.” So, I think there's not a full appreciation for what nuclear safety culture really means and how the people at those plants, I mean, really take that to heart. And I mean, when you go into plants, like they'll have signs up that say, you know, “This is why we're safe.” And it's pictures of workers there with their kids. You know, safety is so important, they want everyone to go home to their families and they’re community workers. There are people that live there, so they want the plant to be safe because it's their community that would be impacted if it weren't. So I think there's just not a full appreciation of what that really is with some of these markets out there that just say, “Ah, we're just not comfortable with nuclear.” I don't think they have a full appreciation for the nuclear industry.
Bret Kugelmass [00:44:50] Yeah, no makes sense. It always comes down to people, right? I mean, that’s always what it is.
Kate Fowler [00:44:53] It does.
Bret Kugelmass [00:44:54] Okay. Well, let's take a little bit at… well, I want to be conscious to give you some time to, you know, talk about what you're most excited about, SMRs, AMRs, micro, new reactors, new technologies, like where are you spending your time across that basket of stuff? You know, like I don't know what you can share, I guess, with some of these conversations. But like, you know, what are you most excited about? I guess I'll ask it as broad as possible. So.
Kate Fowler [00:45:26] So, I mean, I'm excited about all of it. Like I would love to see every developer that's working on SMRs right now, I'd love to see every single one of them work out, because I think the more options that are out there, the more nuclear we have, it's just better for people. It's better for the environment, so I'm excited for all of it. I will say some of the technologies that I'm most intrigued by are the ones that are a waste burner type technology that actually takes that nuclear fuel and reprocess it and uses that again for fuel. I know, you know, some of the nuclear naysayers out there. One of the biggest things you always hear is, but what about the waste? What about the waste? There's really not as much as I think people think there is. I think in their mind there is this overblown amount of nuclear waste sitting in the U.S. and there really isn't. If you were to compile it all together, there's really not that much. But it is still a concern about how to manage it and what to do with it. So, I think developing a plant that provides the optionality to actually recycle some of that I think is just super awesome. And I'm really excited to see how that works, because it's taking a nuclear technology that's really important to us, but it's also addressing a social problem.
Bret Kugelmass [00:46:44] Right. Yeah. You know, how much of that waste, again, on the social side, right? Like it's a perception problem. It's not really a social problem. I think the numbers are something like 2,000 metric tons of spent fuel in North America, in the U.S. a year versus 5 billion metric tons of CO2, right? And like something like 400 million metric tons of wastewater, so like when I look at that, right, there's this perception of like I think both that it's so incredibly dangerous, but it's not. And then there's so much of it and there's not…
Kate Fowler [00:47:27] Not.
Bret Kugelmass [00:47:28] So, like, you know, look, being a circular economy is totally where we should go. But yeah, sometimes I feel like the industry tries so hard to be accommodating to irrational arguments. And, you know, it's sort of like trying to argue with someone that thinks a wind turbine is going to give them cancer, right? Or that like the government's tracking you through your vaccine. Like if it's not like solving an irrational problem doesn't actually solve the underlying problem that people, I think, just have a perception issue.
Kate Fowler [00:48:00] Yeah, I mean, I certainly think it is a perception issue, but at the same time, uranium is not an unlimited resource. So any ability that we have to reuse what we've already taken out of the ground and utilized, I mean, I think that's good for the industry, too. I mean, there's a lot of…
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:16] Totally.
Kate Fowler [00:48:17] There's a lot of uranium out there. But, you know, as we've learned over the past 100 years, anytime we can recycle is a good thing. So…
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:24] Totally agree.
Kate Fowler [00:48:25] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:26] Totally agree. Yeah. Yeah. No, I don't mean to disagree with your excitement about those like the breeder technologies and stuff that, you know, can do really cool things with, frankly, an untapped energy source, right? It's really incredible. I just, you know, am very sensitive to messaging that like reinforces… like the industry reinforcing this perception, I think, just really has been a problem for many, many years.
Kate Fowler [00:48:55] Yeah. No, it's not helpful. So, you know, but at the same time, how often can you say or how long can you say, you know, there's not that much nuclear waste that people haven't necessarily listened yet. I think we're starting to see a big shift socially where people are more supportive of nuclear. But, you know, it's always nice to have more supporters. So, I think it's continuing to give the message that we can and, you know, I don't want to say waste is a problem, but it's still a thing that's out there. So all the waste that’s sitting at individual nuclear plants right now, you know, having a centralized repository, so even if we're not recycling it, there's not that much. But, you know, there should still be a centralized repository for it so it's, you know, very good.
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:43] Yeah. Why do you say that? Why do you think, why?
Kate Fowler [00:49:48] So, right now, there's decommissioned sites, but, you know, there's not much risk there in the grand scheme of things. They're shut down. They're being torn down, but they have nuclear fuel sitting on site and that is viewed as the highest risk on site. And so, you know, I don't view it as truly super risky because it's in a canister. It’s, you know, a lot of decay, decay heat is gone at this point. But you have individual plants all over the country having to ensure these ISFSIs, Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation pads, they're having to insure and maintain these on their own. So from an efficiency standpoint, it's not helping the industry where each individual plant has to maintain and ensure their own fuel on site. So, if you had a centralized repository, it's only to the benefit of the industry because they're not having to maintain and keep an eye on this stuff themselves. It's — you know, they'd be able to do it collectively, which is going to help drive down costs for each of the sites.
Bret Kugelmass [00:50:50] Yeah, are you guys working on any of that? I mean, I know there's discussion and plans like, you know, you approach that from an insurance angle I noticed right away.
Kate Fowler [00:50:59] Yeah. So, I mean, there are people out there right now looking at creating these independent spent fuel storage installations offsite centralized repository, so they're in the process of getting licensed right now and we are keeping an eye on that. It's pretty exciting to kind of see that come to fruition finally after Yucca Mountain finally got shut down. You know, not necessarily people that we're working with right now, but just things that I continue to keep an eye on is what's being done with the spent fuel. So there's these centralized repositories that are being like that. Obviously, there's the plants that they're looking at recycling fuel for. There's people out there doing interesting things right now for spent fuel storage and there's people looking at actually doing underground storage of spent fuel. You know, people have concerns about looking at their back window and seeing a spent facility sitting out there. This kind of eliminates that and it provides some additional shielding because it's buried deep underground. So, you know, I don't know which direction the industry will ultimately flock to once we get down the road and people want to start doing something with their spent fuel. But it's just kind of fun to watch, to see, you know, those engineering minds out there and what they're doing and creating to address a problem, be it perceived or real.
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:21] Yeah. No, that’s super, super interesting and yeah, like so many different designs, so many different conversations, a lot of development that has to happen. But yeah, that activity is exciting definitely.
Kate Fowler [00:52:34] It is. It's fun. It's a fun time to be in the industry right now.
Bret Kugelmass [00:52:40] And like tying it back to Nebraska because I have to, it's funny to see, I don't know, like when I go home and, you know, talk to people about this podcast and like, you know, stuff we're talking about now, they're almost all supportive of nuclear, right? Like it's exciting to see people more willing to, you know, be outspoken and, like, actually voice their support and those tailwinds hopefully will continue to grow as you continue to support new developers getting stuff built. Super exciting.
Kate Fowler [00:53:13] I hope so too. You know, I talk to my mom about nuclear and as, you know, anytime something pops up in the industry that becomes, you know, broad scale news, she always calls and asks me questions and I talk to her about it. And then she talks to her friends about it. So it's kind of fun that even outside of my workspace, like I can have those conversations with a family member and then she's sharing information past that. And my husband does the same thing. You know, him and I have conversations and he shares that on and it's kind of fun to be that first point, that person that people say, “Okay, you know the industry, give me the facts on it,” and you can help spread the truth better out there rather than letting people continue to just spread the historical fears.
Bret Kugelmass [00:53:58] Yeah, amazing. Amazing. All right. Final thoughts. Anything you wanted to say you didn't get to or anything you want to leave listeners with?
Kate Fowler [00:54:07] You know, I just hope everyone continues to support the nuclear industry. It is so important. I have three kids. I want to leave a better world than the one I came into. So, you know, I just hope we can continue to progress down this road. And the nuclear renaissance is actually a renaissance this time. We actually see that growth that we're wanting to see. And hopefully nuclear renaissance isn't a dirty word anymore.
Bret Kugelmass [00:54:35] Yeah. Amazing. Couldn't agree more. So glad people like you are on the front lines making it happen. Thanks again for coming on the show.
Kate Fowler [00:54:43] All right. Thank you so much.