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Maria Korsnick

President and Chief Executive Officer

Nuclear Energy Institute

October 13, 2022

Ep 368: Maria Korsnick - President and CEO, Nuclear Energy Institute
00:00 / 01:04
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Bret Kugelmass [00:00:59] So, we are here today on Titans of Nuclear with Maria Korsnick, who is the president of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Thank you so much for joining us.

Maria Korsnick [00:01:05] Thanks for the invite. Happy to have a conversation.

Bret Kugelmass [00:01:07] Yeah. No, obviously, we've met over the years, and it's been-- and I've had so many great experiences with your organization, and kind of Kotek brought me into the fold a long time ago. So it's just so great to have a chance to finally sit down with you. I remember hearing a story about you climbing through the utility pipes one day early in your career. So, this is going to be our chance to fully explore it. So tell me, let's start off with where'd you grow up?

Maria Korsnick [00:01:32] Oh, you know what? I grew up not too far from here in Falls Church, Virginia. So from a large family, I'm the last of eight children, and I went to school. I was good at math and science. Didn't actually exactly know what I wanted to study, but I ended up in nuclear engineering with a minor in chemical engineering.

Bret Kugelmass [00:01:48] Wow. Okay. And, I guess, nuclear engineering why? Did someone tell you, "Oh, this is a cool subject," or do you remember what the first attraction was?

Maria Korsnick [00:01:56] You know, actually, interestingly enough, so when I was going into college, it was sort of in the era of Three Mile Island. And so, whereas Three Mile Island was a negative effect to many in terms of something to be afraid of. It sort of drew me to nuclear because I wanted to better understand it. Like, why are people unsure about this? Why is there this fear that you were seeing? And so I embraced it, and I studied it. And I felt like, "Well, if I lived next door to that, I'd want to understand, and I'd want to know." And so then, of course, I did live next door to a power plant. I spent, jeez, 30 years in power plants. And so it's interesting that that was the initial sort of going into it. And I'm actually very comfortable living next door.

Bret Kugelmass [00:02:46] Oh, of course. Of course, yeah. You don't have to sell me. Okay. So after school, what was the start of your career like?

Maria Korsnick [00:02:54] So I thought, you know, let's go understand exactly what they do at a power plant. And my grand scheme was to work two years at a power plant, and then, leave that and go work for - I don't know - probably an engineering-type company. And so, 30 years later on that grand plan. And I essentially worked for the same company, although the company changed very much. It was Baltimore Gas and Electric. It was Constellation Energy. It was Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. At the end, it was Exelon. And so--

Bret Kugelmass [00:03:26] Yeah. And now back to Constellation, now.

Maria Korsnick [00:03:28] And now back to Constellation, so.

Bret Kugelmass [00:03:28] Okay. But, tell me about the various roles that you had. I want to walk through this progression of your career.

Maria Korsnick [00:03:34] Sure, sure.

Bret Kugelmass [00:03:35] Because you're pretty technical.

Maria Korsnick [00:03:37] I started out as an engineer. So I started in engineering, and from engineering, I went into operations. And in operations, I got my senior reactor operator license. I would describe the control room as sort of the heartbeat of the plant, and I was on shift for over five years.

Bret Kugelmass [00:03:55] Which plant was this?

Maria Korsnick [00:03:56] Calvert Cliffs.

Bret Kugelmass [00:03:57] This was a Calvert Cliffs. Oh, I love Calvert Cliffs. I've been out there. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:04:00] Yeah. So I worked there actually--

Bret Kugelmass [00:04:00] It's beautiful out there.

Maria Korsnick [00:04:01] --for 17 years, and I'm not allowed to have a favorite, but it's really--

Bret Kugelmass [00:04:05] Yeah. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:04:06] It's really close to being a favorite.

Bret Kugelmass [00:04:08] When I was out at Calvert Cliffs because they were telling me they were on a 24-month fuel cycle. Was that always the case? Was that the case when you--

Maria Korsnick [00:04:13] No. When that plant was first put online, which was 1974, it actually had a 12-month fuel cycle.

Bret Kugelmass [00:04:19] Wow.

Maria Korsnick [00:04:19] And it went on its first iteration from 12 months to 18 months. And then, actually, when I was there, we did the analysis to go from 18 months to 24 months. Now, in some cases, you just have to put enough energy to go that far. But there's also a lot of testing, etc., that your technical specifications, which is what the NRC requires. Knowing that you're on an 18-month fuel cycle, you'll have tests that are due every 18 months. So you can imagine if you decide that you're going to change that, it's not just that you have to design the thing to have enough energy, but you also have to have all of the regulations that go connected to that on that frequency. It's quite a very significant change [...] to change a fuel cycle.

Bret Kugelmass [00:05:02] And what are they testing for when you change that fuel cycle? I guess, what are the-- what are the things that they're concerned about that you have to make sure you're within the margins for?

Maria Korsnick [00:05:10] Yeah, well, think about it. You've added more sort of gas in the tank. Right. And so you have to be thoughtful about that. In this case, you've added more energy that's going to last longer. Well, you have to put other things in that fuel because you don't want that fuel accessible all in the beginning. So there's other things you put in.

Bret Kugelmass [00:05:27] So like gadolinium(Gd) or something?

Maria Korsnick [00:05:29] Yeah. Burnable poisons, right? So initially, they're going to be there, but then they're going to burn out if you will, and then allow you to access the fuel. So you have to really be thoughtful about that design. It's a pretty different design than maybe what you were on for your 12 or 18 months. Well, then you have to test that. So you have to start by putting in some test assemblies, try them out, and get some data on that. Then you have to assess how the power is actually happening in the course. Is it at the top? Is it at the bottom? How's it going to behave through the fuel cycle?

Bret Kugelmass [00:05:59] And do you get to benefit from the experience of other utilities and other power plants that went through this as well?

Maria Korsnick [00:06:05] Yeah. But actually, when we were doing it, we were actually on the cutting edge.

Bret Kugelmass [00:06:09] Yeah, I bet.

Maria Korsnick [00:06:09] In fact, most of the utilities were looking at our experience, but we were one of the first to go to a 24-month fuel cycle. And then, of course, when you go to a 20-month fuel cycle, you've now burned that fuel a little longer because now you've been in for 24 months. That fuel will end up being in three different cycles. So you actually have to also do the analysis on the fuel--

Bret Kugelmass [00:06:30] For the spent fuel.

Maria Korsnick [00:06:30] --that you're going to take out. That's right. So now what are you going to do with that fuel? Oh, you're going to store it in the pool? Was the pool ready for that amount of burn-up? Then what are you going to do? You're going to put it in a cask? Is the cask ready for that? So you really have to look--

Bret Kugelmass [00:06:39] And are there different time periods?

Maria Korsnick [00:06:41] That's right. You have to look really at the full cycle. And one of the compliments that I would really give the nuclear industry is we always analyze things cradle to grave, you know. It's not just, "Oh, I'm going to do this now." You have to think about, "Well, then, what is it going to create? And where are you going to put that? And where are you going to store that?" So same for used fuel.

Bret Kugelmass [00:07:00] And the reason we're going so deep down this rabbit hole, but I love that. We get to show off your technical prowess there. The reason for switching to these longer fuel cycles is generally an economic argument, right, because if throughout a plant's life cycle, if you have to do less refueling operations, I mean, you can just be running it more. Is that the basic premise?

Maria Korsnick [00:07:20] Yeah, there's clearly a competitive advantage in terms of saying, "I only have to go to this refueling outage." In this case, every two years, and I'll think about at a plant-- in this case, Calvert Cliffs has two units. Well, if each unit is on a 24-month fuel cycle, you can organize it so that you have an outage every year. And so there's the cadence, if you will, of the site that it's ready for an outage every year. It's either going to be unit one or it's going to be unit two. You get in sort of a bit of a rhythm. And you also like, "Okay, well first I'm going to do it on unit one, then I'm going to do it on unit two." So you can imagine modifications that you're going to put in place. You're in a really nice rhythm to learn on this. Do it even better on that one.

Bret Kugelmass [00:08:02] The operational cadence is better.

Maria Korsnick [00:08:03] Yeah, it's actually-- it's really helpful, definitely, on a two-unit site. And then, I would also say just in anything... You know, sort of taking everything apart and putting it back together. So, you know, there's sort of wear and tear on all of that. And so the fact that you go on a 24-month fuel cycle, I think it's just helpful. You do a lot of analysis to ensure that, of course, safety was never a conversation. You know, if there was something that needed to get looked at more frequently, well, you wouldn't have gone to a 24-month fuel cycle. So you have to analyze all of the systems in every way to ensure and-- there was no issue going to a 24-month fuel cycle.

Bret Kugelmass [00:08:45] That's amazing. What are the rules that you have at that, at that plant?

Maria Korsnick [00:08:48] So I went from operations into outage management. And I'm talking a lot about refueling outages. And so--

Bret Kugelmass [00:08:55] And tell me about the history of the industry. What was the typical outage back then, and what did they get them down to?

Maria Korsnick [00:09:01] Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness. So, yeah, you can imagine there were times where we had - oh, I don't know - 120-day outages. And, at the end of when I was transitioning away from the plants into my role today, we're talking 20-day outages.

Bret Kugelmass [00:09:21] Wow, that's incredible.

Maria Korsnick [00:09:22] So, yeah. Really, really phenomenal. But you have to think in the beginning, there really wasn't as much a focus on sort of the duration. And so the idea of, sort of making them shorter, it really wasn't about doing less work. It was about how can you do whatever amount of work that you need to get done? How can you organize it in a more efficient way?

Bret Kugelmass [00:09:43] And what are the main things? Okay, so you got to move the fuel out and put new fuel in and shuffle some fuel. What are some other things that happen during an outage?

Maria Korsnick [00:09:50] So it's interesting because you take different systems out of service. So you can do different kinds of testing once you've taken those systems out of service. So when you're operating, you count on these systems being available at any moment's notice. When all of a sudden, you've taken the fuel out, there's various tests that you can run. Think about flow test. Think about timing of valves opening and shutting that you can do because that's not a concern right now. Right, because it's not needed, if you will, to protect the fuel. So an outage is a really unique time in terms of how you've positioned the plant. And so there's a variety of different engineering tests and inspections that you'll do. There's things that you've also monitored even while you're online that you'll say, "You know, it's time for us to overhaul this pump, or it's time for us to overhaul that valve."

Bret Kugelmass [00:10:39] Yeah. What is the-- for rotating equipment, what is the typical overhaul period?

Maria Korsnick [00:10:44] Oh, it depends, because you have very different pumps. You know, you have a reactor coolant pump that runs on a 13 kV motor. Okay.

Bret Kugelmass [00:10:51] Yeah, huge. Size of this [...]. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:10:54] Yeah. You also have pumps, 480-volt pumps. So it's sort of very different. Some pumps, you can overhaul right there on site. Some, no, we would just take it, and we would ship off the motor. In fact, in some cases, even ship off the rotating assembly, and you'd have a spare ready to go in. That's one of the improvements that we really made in outages. How do you make the outages shorter? That's the kind of work you do. You say, "Well, you know what, I'm just going to buy a spare, in fact, of a reactor coolant pump." And that way, they'll have that extra rotating assembly. I take one out; I put one in. Sure, it's going to take a year for this to get done. In the past, they would have taken it out, shipped it off, had it worked, and brought it back and put it in. Right. And it's not until you try to sharpen your pencil a little bit and say, "Why am I doing that? Why don't I just have one and have it ready to go back in?" They're expensive. So that's why you have to say, "Well, you know, do I really-- do I have a commitment that I'm going to have that shorter outage that makes it sort of worth this level of investment.?" And, you know, once you get good at outages, yeah, those investments make sense.

Bret Kugelmass [00:11:57] Awesome. Okay. So we covered reactor operation, outage management. What else? What else did we touch upon?

Maria Korsnick [00:12:02] Oh, my goodness. So then from that, I was in charge for not only outages but online work. And so you have to understand what systems can be taken out at the same time, and which systems can't. Then our company actually got interested in purchasing another plant, and so I got put on a team to evaluate. This was the Ginna plant near Rochester, New York, and we were interested in that. We put in a bid. I was part of the evaluation for that. We won the bid. And so, then they came to me and they said, "Well, we won the bid. You know, all the assumptions we put into the analysis, go make them come true."

Bret Kugelmass [00:12:37] Yeah. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:12:38] So then I went into the Ginna plant and I was--

Bret Kugelmass [00:12:42] That's an awesome plant. I remember looking through some of the old historical data. I think that one was built faster and cheaper than almost any-- other than Point Beach one and two, I think that was one of the fastest, cheapest ones ever built in our country.

Maria Korsnick [00:12:53] And even its ongoing cost structure is also-- it's very efficient. It's a very efficient plant.

Bret Kugelmass [00:12:59] Okay, I'm just going to throw an idea out there, and then we'll come back to your story. But I want to hear your take on this. We got that plant. It's a great plant. We know they built it fast and cheap. Why not just look at it, reverse engineer it, and just build a hundred more of those all around the country?

Maria Korsnick [00:13:15] So, you could. Like, I would always call it the little engine that could. It was a very, very efficient plant, but overall, it had a relatively small number of megawatts. So when you evaluated it in dollars per megawatt, it never compared favorably because there's other plants with more megawatts. Like Calvert Cliffs that you could have almost the same staff if you will from a single unit plant, and then dollars per megawatt, it's going to compare better. So the reason that that style of plant didn't go and continue again is because for that amount of investment, people would want more megawatts.

Bret Kugelmass [00:13:53] I see. I see. And then what about like this concept of shared staffing between multiple units? Could you build four of them right next to each other and share staff to get some better Opex efficiency?

Maria Korsnick [00:14:02] Sure. Sure, you could. In fact, that's what many dual unit sites do. In Palo Verde, even a three-unit site that they get that staff, some of which support all three of the units. In cases, you still need some staff that just supports the one unit. For example, you might be licensed on it for example. But yeah, there are ways to do that. In fact, if you think ahead about small modular reactors, I would say--

Bret Kugelmass [00:14:25] Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:14:26] Yeah, I think of it in that way. You know, would you just have one SMR? You might, or you might have three or four on one site and be able to really optimize those resources. Back to the future.

Bret Kugelmass [00:14:38] Yeah. Okay. So now you're getting-- you know, I see kind of your career progression. You're moving from-- okay, so you're an engineering expert. Now, you're getting operations expertise. Now, you're getting more into the-- what would you call it? Like management finance, you're getting that into your career as well.

Maria Korsnick [00:14:53] That's right. That's right. And of course, winning that bid and then bringing that plant into a fleet. So this had been a standalone plant, and we operated a fleet in Constellation. So that's a whole transition in terms of organizational effectiveness and how to work that. And then my next job, I went to corporate but ultimately became the chief nuclear officer. So then, I was responsible for Calvert Cliffs, Ginna, and Nine Mile Point, and I did that for five years, so.

Bret Kugelmass [00:15:21] And what is the chief nuclear officer? What's your purview? What do you delegate? What do you personally look at?

Maria Korsnick [00:15:26] Well, you're the single point accountability for nuclear in the company. And so, you know, you literally have that accountability to the CEO of whatever company that you're working with. And so you have a combination of-- you have the day-to-day operations that you're responsible for. You also are setting that tone in terms of what the focus and attention on the staff needs to be. Your strategic planning. What are you trying to go as you look ahead? What investments need to be made in the plant? And you're also managing those relationships. The local relationships around each of the power plants. The relationship with the regulator. So you're really sort of the one-stop shop, if you will, for nuclear in that particular company.

Bret Kugelmass [00:16:10] When you were offered that role, did you take a moment to just kind of sit back and reflect and look at your own journey and be like, "Wow, I can't believe I'm here?"

Maria Korsnick [00:16:18] And yeah, I can tell you. In the beginning, I never would have even imagined that I would be the chief nuclear officer one day. But I think by the time--

Bret Kugelmass [00:16:25] I bet your older siblings, probably, would have said differently.

Maria Korsnick [00:16:29] I think, by the time you get that offer to me, it was just a natural progression because I had worked hands-on as I mentioned at two. And then when I was in our corporate role, you actually go to-- in this case, I went to Nine Mile Point and participated in a lot of their meetings where you're saying, "What are you guys working on? Could you do it better? Can it be safer?" So you were really already involved in the life if you will of all three of the assets. And so getting named as the chief nuclear officer, it felt like sort of a very natural progression for me. At that time, I had also taken on some industry roles, and that's the other thing you do as a chief nuclear officer is it's not really just about your assets. It is about them, but it's also about working with the rest of the industry. And as it would happen, I had actually already taken on some roles there. So again, I think by the time I got the title, I sort of was almost already doing it.

Bret Kugelmass [00:17:26] And was INPO around at this time?

Maria Korsnick [00:17:28] Yes. Yeah, INPO was formed back in 1979.

Bret Kugelmass [00:17:31] Oh, I didn't realize it was that old. Okay. Because when you said industry roles, I thought, "Okay, probably like sharing lessons learned amongst other nuclear operators. Was that part of the role too? Did you ever see an old club?

Maria Korsnick [00:17:42] Yeah, actually, you have all the CNOs on speed dial. And of that sort of one compliment that I would give, sort of, the US and the whole US fleet is that at any moment, I could call another CNO. I could say, "Send some people to my plant and evaluate what we're doing in insert problem here, maintenance, operations, etc." Or I could say, "I want to send some of my guys to your plant. I have a question on this." Or I could say, "I have some procedures for how we do X, Y, or Z. Can I see yours? And I'll send you mine. And I'd like to do some benchmarking." That's the kind of camaraderie if you will, or sort of transparency that we have today amongst our nuclear plants.

Bret Kugelmass [00:18:23] And I'm just going to remind everyone, these are separate companies. Like competitors, one might even say.

Maria Korsnick [00:18:29] That's right.

Bret Kugelmass [00:18:29] And yet they're just opening the books, collaborating. Does any other industry do this? I think nuclear's got to be the best at this, right?

Maria Korsnick [00:18:37] I don't know of another industry that does that.

Bret Kugelmass [00:18:40] Nuclear is the pioneer in so many things like this, right? I mean, when it comes to operational performance improvements, I just feel like-- and you were just talking about cradle-to-grave management. I feel like the nuclear industry is just leading the way. It's a role model for so many other industries.

Maria Korsnick [00:18:56] Well, and very much at the heart of this is we appreciate-- you know, if you're running a nuclear plant, I want you to run that nuclear plant the best way that you can. Right. And so it's at the heart of why are we being so transparent? Why do we share that information? It is literally because, yeah, we might be competing in the marketplace, but you know what? I want you to have a really effective and efficiently running power plant.

Bret Kugelmass [00:19:20] Yeah, a rising tide floats all boats. Makes everyone look good.

Maria Korsnick [00:19:23] That's right. And we're willing to help each other out.

Bret Kugelmass [00:19:25] So. Cool. What years was this? What years did you service the CNO?

Maria Korsnick [00:19:28] 2010 to 2015.

Bret Kugelmass [00:19:32] And when was the nuclear renaissance? This is before I got into the industry. When were they talking about, "Hey, we're going to build a whole new fleet of reactors?"

Maria Korsnick [00:19:40] I feel like it was maybe the 2008-ish time frame.

Bret Kugelmass [00:19:42] Okay. So right before you got into that role. Did you hear whispers of that? And was the company talking like, "Hey, maybe we'll build five more." Was that in the ether?

Maria Korsnick [00:19:51] Well, sure. We had intended to build another plant at Calvert Cliffs, as a matter of fact, right?

Bret Kugelmass [00:19:55] Right. I did hear about that. Was that going to be an EPR or something?

Maria Korsnick [00:19:57] It was, yeah. And in fact, land transfer had occurred. You know, project teams had been stood up. You know, that kind of thing. So yeah, it was very serious--

Bret Kugelmass [00:20:06] All right. That was even going to have a cooling tower.

Maria Korsnick [00:20:09] They were very serious.

Bret Kugelmass [00:20:09] Am I right down there until the cooling tower, which is crazy, because it's on the ocean? They should just pump more ocean, right?

Maria Korsnick [00:20:15] Well, in this case, rules and regulations had changed, and so it wouldn't have been-- in this case, building something new wouldn't have been allowed to just pull it, in this case, from the Chesapeake Bay.

Bret Kugelmass [00:20:28] Oh, really? Oh, it's the bay. Okay. Yeah. That's right. Okay, cool. All right. And then, I guess, so this brings us to 2015, and I was just about to join the industry in 2017. Were you already president of NEI at that point?

Maria Korsnick [00:20:45] You know, that was my first year affiliated as the CEO and president.

Bret Kugelmass [00:20:46] That was your first year. Cool.

Maria Korsnick [00:20:48] So I came initially to NEI as a loaned executive. And then--.

Bret Kugelmass [00:20:53] How did you find your way there? What was the attraction to this job?

Maria Korsnick [00:20:55] Yeah, so that's interesting. So I really kind of took stock after being the chief nuclear officer. As I mentioned, Exelon came in and merged with Constellation on the operational side. EDF was still a partner, if you will, in the venture. And, you know, I just thought the operation of the assets were very, very good. I mean, greater than 90% capacity factor. And it was a chance of saying, "Well, can I make that better?" But nuclear broadly needed so much more attention. And that was really my request to say, "Can I go as a loaned executive and learn more on the policy side? Learn more about can we be more influential because these particular power plants are doing fantastic, right? And you could continue to cause them to do well. But if you step back and said, "Do you know what? Nuclear broadly needs a louder voice. It needs more attention." And so I wanted to take my experience and help be a part of that.

Bret Kugelmass [00:22:01] And when you came on board, was there a mandate? Is there a board? How does it work?

Maria Korsnick [00:22:08] Oh, sure.

Bret Kugelmass [00:22:08] And what did you-- what were the goals? What did you set out to do when you first got there? I understand broadly, you know, support policy, yadda, yadda. Were there specific things where like, "Oh, I'm going to make this happen over the next couple of years?"

Maria Korsnick [00:22:19] Well, yeah. I mean, think about it. This is back in the 2017 timeframe. The merchant plants are very challenged in the marketplace. Price of gas is very low.

Bret Kugelmass [00:22:31] When you say merchant, what you mean is--.

Maria Korsnick [00:22:32] Deregulated.

Bret Kugelmass [00:22:32] Yeah. And just explaining to our audience, there's different ways that electricity markets operate in the US. Somewhere the price is more known. Somewhere the price is less known. And that's what the merchant market is, so there's less known.

Maria Korsnick [00:22:47] Exactly. And so another way to look at it in the regulated market, you operate your asset. You say, "Here's how much that it cost me to operate this." You share this with your public utility commission, and they say, "Okay, this is how much that you can charge because you're operating for this. And we'll give you a bit of a rate of return.".

Bret Kugelmass [00:23:06] Cost plus.

Maria Korsnick [00:23:07] So, a cost plus, you know, type of thing. In the deregulated market, whatever it is that costs you to run your business, that's your business. Here's what the price of the market is, and that's what you get from a revenue perspective. And that was really more driven off of the price of gas because there's a lot of gas plants that are producing electricity going into the market. So you would see that price fluctuate more closely to the price of gas. So when I entered back in this 2017 timeframe, think about where we were. Price of gas, very low. Subsidies for renewables at various levels, either state or federally. Nuclear's really getting pushed out of the market. So high level of stress relative to the marketplace. Plants thinking about closing down. Some having announced that they've closed down. Some already have closed.

Bret Kugelmass [00:23:56] --which is just so crazy to let any nuclear plant close down due to economics when it's like a short-term economic outlook. You know, obviously, the economics worked historically at that plant. It's not like the plant was being run bad, and they were spending money all over the place. They were doing the same thing. It's just the markets changed around them. And to lose a baseload clean power source, it's just mind-boggling.

Maria Korsnick [00:24:20] I see it makes sense today. And it makes sense to you today because now we're seeing a rise in gas prices. But if you're thinking about that time and people would say, "Gosh, as far as I can see, there's going to be low gas prices." And, you know, if I don't care about carbon, for example, why wouldn't I just want to have a whole bunch of gas plants? And so, kind of really depends on what it is. The merchant market. Deregulated market. It only cares about the price of that electron. It doesn't care how you made it. It just cares about that price.

Bret Kugelmass [00:24:52] But it's so crazy that we couldn't find other ways to value other aspects of nuclear-- you know, I understand. Okay, let the merchant price fluctuate. But I mean, give them some capacity charge or something to make up for the long-term stable grid benefits, you know? I mean, yeah, I remember even when Rick Perry was in office, there was this idea of like, "Okay, we should value the fuel that is stored on-site."

Maria Korsnick [00:25:18] That's right. The ability for you to have that fuel. So you asked me when I first came, what was my charge? So this was my charge, right?

Bret Kugelmass [00:25:24] Yeah. Yeah. I was hoping that you were going to say that.

Maria Korsnick [00:25:28] It was like saying, "Hey, get some credit for nuclear. Not just for the fact that we'd produce electricity, but give us some credit for how we're producing it." It's carbon-free. It's emission-free. It's highly reliable. And so create more interest and engagement. And, you know, I hope as you look around today in the conversations that you see and hear that you see fingerprints of, in fact, changing that conversation. And it's not about nuclear or wind and solar. It's about nuclear together with wind and solar. Let's be a partnership. Let's have all of the carbon-free sources that we can get our hands on. And how is it that we can make this transition in the best, most effective way? And so really, that's been one of our drives is to, quite frankly, just-- you know, nuclear is a bit of an unsung hero. Right. To your point, I'm talking about a plant that I ran in Rochester. My gosh, it went in operation in 1969. These plants have been around for so very, very long. They're almost like wallpaper on the wall. And then after a while, you don't actually notice the wallpaper on the wall. So they're there. They're producing this highly reliable electricity for a very long period of time, but you sort of forget that. Oh, and they're carbon-free, and they have a lot of really good-paying jobs. And, you know, they're actually very helpful in the environment, and they're investing in their local communities. And in fact, when I was up at Ginna, we had some conversations as we looked ahead and said, "Geez, you know, for the market that we're talking about, if there was cost pressures, what if we had to close this plant down?" And I had the superintendent of schools call me and he goes, "Maria, what are you talking about? Closing this plant?" You are the budget for the school system, you know, and you started to look at the property taxes that we paid, right? And they were north of $20 million. Well, go to some really rural places and talk about paying $20 million in property taxes. Okay. You quickly realize that you are the fire department. You are the school system. You know, you are all of these things that people are counting on, and you've been it for so long that actually you don't really notice and get the credit until you say, "What if I'm not here?" And all of a sudden if you're not here, that's the call from the superintendent. That's the call from the mayor that says, "You know, actually, we have three towns that are connected here, and all of us split your property taxes, and all of us care what it is that you guys are thinking about doing." And so, you know, I really got this firsthand experience of just how powerful that local connection and community and engagement and involvement. You know what? It's no different from many other places. And think of coal sites, right? Coal plants that these towns literally grew up because you had this coal facility. Well, you know what? We owe them a just transition. We owe them some answers. If we want them to not be burning coal, maybe for environmental reasons. Are there better answers? You bet there's better answers. Look what we're doing in Wyoming. In Wyoming, they're going to build a small modular reactor on the site of a coal facility. And you know what? We had towns competing to get that nuclear plant, right?

Bret Kugelmass [00:28:46] Yeah. I actually think that the nuclear industry over indexes on the perception problem. I think plenty of people like nuclear, and we almost-- I hate to say it. I feel like we almost make it worse by assuming everyone hates us. And then, like creates a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy because then, our communication style changes. And we're like on the defensive, and then people are like-- nobody likes someone on the defensive. So I think--

Maria Korsnick [00:29:08] You want to be on a winning team.

Bret Kugelmass [00:29:09] Yeah, exactly.

Maria Korsnick [00:29:10] Yeah. And we're a winning team now. And that's the [...].

Bret Kugelmass [00:29:12] Well, tell me more. Yeah. So what's the state now? What's going on?

Maria Korsnick [00:29:16] Yeah. So, as I just mentioned, we step through my career. I've been in this for over 35 years. We are at an unprecedented time right now for nuclear. A time like none other that I've ever seen.

Bret Kugelmass [00:29:26] Yeah. What has all come together, especially in these last couple of years to...?.

Maria Korsnick [00:29:29] Right. So just amazing. Let's just throw out some data points. So you have people that are interested in reliability, resiliency, jobs, carbon-free, energy security, national security. You know, you kind of name all of that and just say, "Yeah, nuclear does that." Right. So the reason we get the bipartisan support that we do is for everything that I just mentioned. Some like us for carbon-free. So some like us for climate. Some like us for energy security. Some like us for jobs. There's sort of something in there for everybody to really say, "Hey, wait a minute. I need to take a closer look at this." And then when you take that closer look and you look a little bit more, you know, it's a beautiful story, right? Because we have many, many years, operating years, of experience to show that that resiliency, that reliability, it's there.

Bret Kugelmass [00:30:17] Oh, yeah. The proof is in the pudding.

Maria Korsnick [00:30:18] Oh, my gosh. The US nuclear fleet for more than 20 years has had a greater than 90% capacity factor. Oh, my gosh. 20 years, right? So again, you know, it's there. And so, you take a look at that. Now, that's at the federal level. Now let's talk at the state level. If just a handful of years ago, we had even ten bills working through state legislatures that had anything to do with nuclear, that would have been exciting. Okay. We're between 75 and a 100 bills. These states that are going through state legislature.

Bret Kugelmass [00:30:47] And what are these bills trying to accomplish specifically? Is it just trying to help get the market dynamics back in order or what does the bill do?

Maria Korsnick [00:30:53] It's a couple of things. They want to encourage small modular reactors. So they want to make it--.

Bret Kugelmass [00:30:58] How?

Maria Korsnick [00:30:58] Yeah, they might put a subsidy, or they might say, "We're going to encourage the investment. Someone to encourage investment not only in the small modular reactors but in manufacturing. And some had moratorium, so it's like you couldn't even build if you wanted to build. So some of what's passing in state legislatures, like in West Virginia, they're overturning those moratoria, and they're saying, "Hey, we used to say you're not even allowed to build nuclear. We're going to take that off the books now. We're going to be open. We're going to decide what's best."

Bret Kugelmass [00:31:27] And your organization. Do you guys help out at both the federal and the state level?

Maria Korsnick [00:31:31] Absolutely.

Bret Kugelmass [00:31:32] And how do you decide where to allocate resources because there are only so many people and there's like 50 states out there? How do you do that?

Maria Korsnick [00:31:38] Yeah, so that's interesting. Part of it is our membership, right? They might say, "Hey, listen, the state is important to me, and I do business in the state." And then, so our members will bring us in. In some cases, we are engaged at state-level organizations like NCSL, which is an organization for state legislatures, or organizations that involve governors, whether those are republican governors or democrat governors. And so in that case-- in some cases, we just have people that come to us that say, "We're curious about nuclear, and we know that you guys are here and that you have a wealth of information. Please help inform us. Please help educate us." And so I'll either have the subject matter expert that I have at NEI or will get connected to a subject matter expert. So we'll be on panels, will inform people, we have one on one conversations. We sort of work with each state within their-- whatever their needs are. Wyoming is a great example. We have members that are interested to build, as you know, in Wyoming. But, Wyoming is very, very savvy, and they're very interested in energy, and they want to have a bigger play. So in addition to building that plant, they want to ask questions about what's the manufacturing look like for this? What other parts of the value chain, right, can we get involved in? So they're reaching out to us. Right. And we've had several different conversations. Again, we bring other subject matter experts to the conversation to help them better understand what the opportunities are. But, you know, it's not just going to be about electricity, right, in the future. I mean, to decarbonize, to win, you got to decarbonize the whole economy.

Bret Kugelmass [00:33:10] Oh, tell me more about this. yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:33:11] Okay. So it's not just electricity, although that's significant. So what else can we produce? Well, you could produce high-temperature steam. We have people whose whole business model-- they just want the steam. And so, whether that's a steel facility or a chemical facility, they're very interested in that high-temperature steam. What about hydrogen? You know, there's a lot of people that think that there's going to be a hydrogen economy. That hydrogen is going to be needed as we decarbonize. And you can make hydrogen with nuclear as well. So nuclear becomes-- you know, like you could make electricity during the day and hydrogen at night, or you use that high-temperature steam if you wanted. It's going to be really versatile.

Bret Kugelmass [00:33:48] And can we repurpose old plants to also utilize some of their steam, too, or is this just for the next generation?

Maria Korsnick [00:33:57] I think you can. I think it'll depend. You know, if it's a relatively new fossil plant, for example, I would imagine that people that are in a similar business are going to say, "Listen, I'm just going to change the heat source, but I can still use some of that." Each case, I'm thinking, would be evaluated case by case, but they all get connected to the transmission and distribution. So you're going to invent this, and then you're going to have to move the power. That is critical infrastructure. I mean, just as much as you hear about pipelines being hard in order to permit, you know, try permitting some high voltage transmission lines.

Bret Kugelmass [00:34:33] And do you guys get involved on that side, too, or is that like a different organization that's like the National Power Line Association or something?

Maria Korsnick [00:34:41] Or Edison Electric Institute, EEI. They get involved in more of the permitting in that way, but we care about obviously the permitting because if that's what you want-- if you want electricity, I need you not only to create it, but you got to move it. And so those transmission lines become very important, but it goes back to you can reuse those at sites. And I think that's one of the whole coal to nuclear attractions.

Bret Kugelmass [00:35:04] I see. Because what you're saying is the lines are already there. Maybe they've even already shut down the coal station.

Maria Korsnick [00:35:12] But the lines are there.

Bret Kugelmass [00:35:13] Lines are there. You got a lot of workers. They are who know how to fix up a thermal power plant in a nuclear plant and in a coal plant. Not that dissimilar after you get past the hot rock.

Maria Korsnick [00:35:22] That's exactly right.

Bret Kugelmass [00:35:22] So you've already got the community. You've got the land. You've got the power. So let's just tear down the old facility and put up a new one. We'll put it right next to it or something. Yeah.

Maria Korsnick [00:35:32] Heart transplant. That's right. And we're going to put in that nuclear energy as the heartbeat and move from there. It's not obviously going to be as easy as something like that. But I really want people to think about-- as you just said, we boil water differently. Once we turn it into steam, it looks just like that thermal plant that was there.

Bret Kugelmass [00:35:53] Yeah. When can this happen? When can we start seeing some of these coal-to-nuclear transformations here in the country?

Maria Korsnick [00:35:59] We're seeing one in Wyoming right now. Okay?

Bret Kugelmass [00:36:01] And when do you think we can get these online? That's what I'm trying to understand.

Maria Korsnick [00:36:03] So they want that one online before the end of this decade. So, think about the ends of the 2020s, but we talk a lot about small modular reactors. There's something even smaller than small, micro. And I think actually you're going to see movement on micro reactors in the next few years.

Bret Kugelmass [00:36:20] Oh, that's great.

Maria Korsnick [00:36:21] So there's some that are thinking, 25, 26, 27, again, much smaller. So think, probably less than 20 megawatts. But what will be interesting about them is as they go through the regulatory process, the fact that they get approved, that they look different if you will than some of these large light-water reactors will be very interesting as those work themselves through the system and get built. What we really need is people like you to be able to actually see these new things. Not just talk about them but actually see them. And that's what's going to be playing out over the next 5 to 6 years.

Bret Kugelmass [00:36:57] And you mentioned the regulator. Is there a regulatory reform that needs to happen? I remember hearing about part 53, whatever happened to Part 53?

Maria Korsnick [00:37:05] So it's still cooking. It's not fully baked yet. That's working its way through the process, but it's not stopping anything. I do want to make sure that as we talk about all this vibrancy in the pipeline if you will, the innovation pipeline, it can all happen under the regulation we have today. So some things are going through part 50. Some might choose part 52, but they can happen and be licensed either under part 50 or part 52, but part 53 is going to be more efficient. So think of it in that way. So we absolutely need part 53, and we're working very hard on it. We sent in a letter during one of the comments periods. It's pretty extensive. It's a 100 pages. So we had lots to say, but that's an active part of the back and forth in regulation.

Bret Kugelmass [00:37:56] Tell me more about that back and forth. Are you getting cooperation from these agencies? Like, when you bring a good idea to them, do they incorporate it? Or is it just kind of go on a desk? Or how do you-- how does change actually happen?

Maria Korsnick [00:38:10] Yeah, so there's several different public meetings. So there's a lot of back and forth where we're showing these different ideas, and they might have different ideas. So they're in the sort of-- I'll call it the sausage-making phase right now where you're actually seeing that they would be incorporating these ideas and then sort of coming out with another version. You know, as an industry, we're always hungry for that to happen faster. And so I wouldn't tell you that we're happy with sort of what we're seeing just yet, but the process isn't over yet. And so there's been a lot of back and forth.

Bret Kugelmass [00:38:42] Well, this is where I come back to, like the Ginna plant. I looked at the data, and I think they built in two or three years. And I'm like, "Okay, why can't we just find anywhere where there was a coal plant about that size and build an identical carbon copy of the Ginna plant?" Build it as it was built. Like literally, go back through the construction schedules, be like, "All right. I've pulled tractor and lifted dirt here." And literally, just replicate it because we did it. We have a historical example. We did it. It was fast. It was cheap. Why can't we just put one of those everywhere where there's a coal plant and get the NRC to fast-track a stamp on it? Because clearly, they allow one to operate. Like, if it's a carbon copy, why wouldn't they allow a 100 to operate just like it?

Maria Korsnick [00:39:23] So we could. But it would be a little bit like saying, "Hey, I know that Model T Ford works. Let's just do more of those and put an electric engine in it." And you'd say, "Oh, I could." But really, what I do that because as good as that plant runs-- and it's a fabulous plant. And I'm a big fan of it, but there's been other improvements. And there's been other things that have happened. And of course, we would want to avail ourselves of those. And so, the plants that you're talking about now, far more passive. You know, you're just counting on sort of gravity. Well, that's a pretty safe bet. You know, gravity is going to be around for a while. And so, there's a lot of sort of interesting ways that these new designs are bringing things to bear, and they're worth waiting for.

Bret Kugelmass [00:40:11] Oh, man. That's just where I feel I was like, "I'll tell you. I'd take a 100 of the Ginna plant and not have to wait and then let the next 100 be the-- that you have the passive features in it or something." Because Ginna is good enough, right?

Maria Korsnick [00:40:24] But you're not going to have to wait that long. I think that's the challenge. I imagine that you think that it's farther away.

Bret Kugelmass [00:40:27] Maybe I'm less patient than you. I want to see things built now. I want to see them built in a couple of years, not a decade.

Maria Korsnick [00:40:32] Well, we need to stop closing them going back to the earlier point, right?

Bret Kugelmass [00:40:34] Yeah, that's for sure. That's for sure.

Maria Korsnick [00:40:36] That's just digging a hole, right? So any of the well-run plants that we have today that we're closing really doesn't matter how much other things that you're building, you're not. You're just running in place. You're not making progress. So our real first focus is to pay attention to the beautiful fleet that we have today. Extend the lives which we have a very strong safety case to be able to do. And so that solidifies the base, if you will, that we have. And in the very near term, like we're talking in the next few years, you're going to see things being constructed. And you have a lot of people watching for these first ones. A lot of people don't want to be first, but I can tell you the line is very long for who wants to be second. So often we talk about--

Bret Kugelmass [00:41:21] Who is going to be the first?

Maria Korsnick [00:41:23] --like a hockey stick. Well, many of them are going to be built like in a national lab. Idaho National Lab, as an example, is going to be a favorite place. They're very familiar with nuclear. They have several nuclear plants now that they use for testing, etc. And so, we're going to avail ourselves of that space in order to be able to construct some of these pilot projects. And as you know, Wyoming is going to be the home to one. I think the state of Washington is also going to be a site of one of these new reactors, and that's just in the US. You know, it's bigger than the US.

Bret Kugelmass [00:41:56] Yeah. Yeah, tell me about the international focus.

Maria Korsnick [00:41:58] Yeah, in Canada. And we're working with some of the folks in Canada. They also have some pilot projects that they're working on, the GE Design. They've teamed up with Ontario Power Generation. They're interested to build again this decade. And so you're going to see some other examples there. But I've done traveling in the last few years to the United Kingdom, France, Romania, Poland, and the Czech Republic. I'm telling you, everybody is talking about nuclear, and it's a mixture of large light water reactors as well as small modular reactors.

Bret Kugelmass [00:42:34] Do you think any of these other countries are going to build first? If we're saying the next generation here will come online, let's say by 2030, are other countries ahead of the game? Do we need to hurry up to beat some of them?

Maria Korsnick [00:42:48] Oh, yeah, Canada. I think, they announced 2028 is what they wanted their GE Design to be built. And for some of the micro reactors, again, people have dates like 2025 or 2026, or 2027. And, so yeah, you're absolutely going to be seeing things that are going to be built. Now, I still think between the US and Canada, perhaps we would be first. But I'll tell you, you have some countries out there which is unusual for nuclear because being first generally isn't what some people are interested in, but I know you have some countries that are saying, me first.

Bret Kugelmass [00:43:26] The world has changed in the last couple of years. I think everything changed. You know, just the attitude towards nuclear, how aggressive some countries are being for it. I think the time has never been better to seize the moment for the nuclear industry. All right. So as we wrap up here today, maybe just paint your vision for the future. We talked about the next five years or so. What does the world look like 15 years from now? If you had your way and you could wave a magic wand, what's the world that you see being created?

Maria Korsnick [00:43:54] Yeah. Actually, the world of the future that I see, nuclear is far more-- I'm going to use the word approachable. So instead of just being these large power plants, of which we will still have some, but when they start getting small and even micro, now you're going to see nuclear paired with, say, a manufacturing facility built right next to it. And why is that? Well, because maybe they want that high-temperature steam. And so you want to be sort of close. You want to just take that steam and go right next door. They also want to have that reliable power literally at their beck and call. They want to build it. And then I want you to power this because then I know this thing's going to always be able to run. Maybe you're a data center or something like that, where constant power is very, very important to you. Hydrogen generation, again, I think there's going to be a lot more of that in the economy. And now all of a sudden you have a workforce that can make that in a carbon-free way. So I think the nuclear of the future is going to be much more approachable to things. And again, paired with things like manufacturing facilities. And honestly, I see the challenge as I look ahead. Can we build them fast enough? And that's just not something you would have thought about nuclear five years or even ten years ago. I think our challenge really is the market demand for a dispatchable carbon-free 7/24 source pairing perfectly with wind and solar and batteries. Part of that overall equation, right? Nuclear is going to be the one that's always there, 7/24. I think it's really going to get a lot of attention. And I think our biggest challenge is going to be, "Not only, not in my backyard," it's going to change to, "Please, in my backyard." And can you build me more, and can you do it faster?

Bret Kugelmass [00:45:37] We couldn't end on a better note than that. Maria, of course, thank you so much for coming and joining us. It's so lovely to talk to you and hear your whole history. I've been looking forward to this interview for so long, so thanks again for coming in.

Maria Korsnick [00:45:47] Oh, great. Glad to be here.

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