Richard Meserve

Former Chairman

Nuclear Regulatory Commission

June 7, 2021

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Ep 314: Richard Meserve - Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today on Titans of Nuclear with Dick Meserve. He's a former Chairman of the NRC and, quite frankly, one of the most well-known people throughout the industry. When I first got started talking to everyone from Paul Dickman, to God knows who, everyone keeps saying, now you got to talk to Richard Meserve, Dick Meserve, he's the guy. So, super excited to finally get the chance to sit down with you today.

Richard Meserve
I'm glad to join you.

Bret Kugelmass
So, please, as we like to do on Titans of Nuclear, we love to just get to know someone's background, even before they're in the nuclear sector. What was it for you?

Richard Meserve
Well, let me say I actually backed into nuclear by accident, I mean that literally by accident. I am someone who has a PhD in physics, actually condensed matter physics, nothing to do with nuclear energy, and a law degree. I was working in the science advisors office in the Carter administration and I just finished up a big project with the science advisor, and it was March 1979. This science advisor came into the office and said to me, Gee, we seem to be having a problem at Three Mile Island. So, I got very much in the middle of the nuclear business there and there was a sort of a team of staff people inside the White House that was following the accident. I was very actively and- I basically ran that staff level process and then was influential in forming the Kemeny Commission, which was the group that studied the accident for the President, suggested various changes in how nuclear was regulated and then was read the staff level part of the process about the President's response to the Kemeny Commission. So, I was very much involved in nuclear and had not been at all before that.

Bret Kugelmass
Can you share with us a little bit about the perspective at that time of the administration and what they were thinking with respect to Three Mile Island? Was it- because I've heard, by the way, I've heard mixed stories about Carter and his level of interest in liking towards nuclear energy, everything from the, Oh, he used to scrub out the decommissioned tanks and therefore, he hated it, to, someone told me when they when they commissioned a nuclear Navy sub, a nuclear sub with his name on it, he shed a tear, because he was so happy about it. Do you know where Carter actually fell in the spectrum?

Richard Meserve
Well, my impression was that he was always very favorable towards nuclear, actually. He'd been part of the Rickover Navy, as you've indicated, and that was really a turning point for him in his life, and he was always an advocate. Or at least I perceived him to be an advocate. A realist, nonetheless, but an advocate for nuclear. I'll tell you one funny story that reflected him is that, I did not go with him, but the President flew to Three Mile Island in a helicopter with the science advisor and visited the plant, visited the control room, talked to the people. The amazing thing was that they had forgotten to zero his dosimeter before he arrived, and so everyone that was with him had trivial doses except the President. quite substantial dose on this dosimeter. Fortunately, he was sufficiently sophisticated about nuclear that it didn't make a big deal for him. So, it was okay. But, I mean, it always amuses me, the one person you'd want to make sure you had accurate readings on didn't. The other funny thing I'd say about that, to sort of move us on a little bit, is that one of the outcomes of the Kemeny Commission Report, which the President endorsed and the Congress allowed, was to give exclusive powers to the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in the event of an accident. One of the lessons from Three Mile Island was how hard it was for the commission to actually make decisions, because at that time, you needed to have five people have an opportunity for a vote. That was seen as, I think correctly, being one that we needed to act swiftly. You needed to give the President through the Chairman, some unique powers, as well as the opportunity to be the spokesman for the agency, so it's one voice speaking in the event of an accident.

Bret Kugelmass
What were some of those powers that, in the case of an accident- like, what are the decisions that the Chairman has to make? Is it essentially evacuate or not evacuate? Or is there a more complex set of decisions?

Richard Meserve
Well, you're trying to- obviously, there's huge public concern, and you don't- so, the so the situation is one where there's a very delicate situation. The NRC has to be on top of the situation, technically, be available. The licensee has a responsibility to run the plant. And that continues for the accident. The NRC obviously closely monitors what's going on and, before dramatic actions are taken, the licensee almost assuredly would talk to the NRC about what they're contemplating and get their approval. But actually, in a formal sense, the NRC might need to have authorization to do something that's outside the tech specs, for example, which the NRC would be fully prepared to do in an accident situation if it was a wise action. But, if you disagreed with a licensee, definitely you'd issue an order and tell them not to do it.

Bret Kugelmass
I see. So, if they wanted to, let's say, jack into a coolant pipe somewhere, normally, you'd need to get permission from the NRC to do that, if it was just a normal operation. But in the case of an emergency, that might be something that they might want to do or not want to do and that's when the Commission might get directly involved and say, yeah, we don't need to go through three months of paperwork to allow you to create a valve on this coolant pipe or something.

Richard Meserve
Sure. That's it. That's exactly right. You may give them an immediate authorization to do something. Well, of course, the amusing thing about this story is that there is only one other Chairman, who exercised emergency powers. And this came home to roost in a certain sense. I was the Chairman during 9/11. All of a sudden, we were very worried about, as you well recall, about nuclear plants might well be targeted. There was some information that we were all reading about the fact that Al Qaeda had thought about attacks on nuclear plants. So, I exercised authority to put the plants on highest alert. I was very actively involved over the next several months, actually, on. Basically, the response to Three Mile Island. All the time in the White House situation room as a result of that, as part of the process was there was always great interest in other cabinet departments about what the NRC was doing to a point..

Bret Kugelmass
And what can a plant do in that highest alert mode? If what they're worried about is an airplane attack? It's not like they can set up their own Iron Dome missile defense system or something?

Richard Meserve
Well, no, we were obviously not able to do anything about airplane attacks, other than we established no-fly zones over nuclear plants. And, you may remember, that there were combat air patrols that were deployed. So, if there happened to be an aircraft attack, we did have the possibility that the Department of Defense might take some action to avert an airplane attack on a nuclear plant. And we were constantly monitoring and in coordination with the DOD on that. But we were giving instructions on licensees as to put them at the highest alert level. We basically shut down the owner controlled areas for public access. We took steps to assure a capability to heightened scrutiny to make sure that the ground attack was-

Bret Kugelmass
A ground attack, got it.

Richard Meserve
And we would be coordinating, and our licensees in particular would be coordinating, with local forces to enable that there were some capabilities. That might be state police. Some cases, it could be the National Guard that was involved. And then we get constant reports from licensees as to suspicious actions. There was a lot of intelligence activity that was directed at, what are the threats? Were we seeing any preliminary actions. We did have particular heightened sensitivity to aircraft, to possible intrusions. I can remember being woken up in the middle of the night to get a call that someone had gone over the fence at Seabrook. I'm sure there were lights going on all over the East Coast of the United States, this report went on. So, we reduced the number of people in the plant, heightened, obviously, the security presence, reduced the number of people in the plants in the event of an attack, there wouldn't be- people weren't needlessly in the middle of what could have been a firefight. In any event, by morning, we discovered that what had come over the fence was a wild turkey and he did set off this set off the sensors. I'm not talking about a bottle, either, I'm talking about an actual wild turkey.

Richard Meserve
Talk about a wild goose chase.

Richard Meserve
It was a wild goose chase. So, I started out, that's how I got involved in, basically, in OSDP. Then my boss, the science advisor, became the president of the National Academy of Sciences. And in 1986, the Chernobyl accident happened. The National Academy, our National Academy, has always had a very close association with the Russian Academy, hugely important when arms control issues, because technical people actually knew each other, and trusted each other. Made it possible to actually have arms control agreements. When 1986 occurred, Frank Press the science advisor, now then the President of the Academy, called me and said, We're gonna have some activities with the Russian Academy and some studies that we will do in the United States, I just want to put you on alert. So, I was involved over the next several years with activities both with Russia and in particular, in the US, we were looking more at DOE plants and their nuclear facilities and the implications in the Chernobyl accident for them.

Bret Kugelmass
And what were the concerns there? I guess, given how different the DOE plants are - or I mean, these weren't like, the Hanford plants, are they? Those would be the only ones that were graphite core similar to Chernobyl.

Richard Meserve
Yes, that's right. It was the graphite plant and reactor in particular, at Hanford, which was still in operation was a graphite, a very old graphite moderator prismatic core. It was a- we looked at the vulnerability of all the DOE plants, as well after Chernobyl. And that actually did result in the decision that the head reactor should shut down. Not for the same- it didn't have a positive void coefficient the way that the RBMK reactors at Chernobyl did, but it had other problems. It was a very old reactor. So, that that sort of got me into- so, it was really two accidents, as much as anything else, that got me into the - by accident - into the nuclear business.

Bret Kugelmass
And then, when was your introduction to the commission? What prompted that?

Richard Meserve
Well, I had been, as part of, I was working, I was a partner with Covington & Burling, which is a big Washington law firm. I had a diverse practice, it basically looked at science and technical issues, given my background. Among them were examination of nuclear issues, but mostly on the material side. I had experience with the NRC and with the officials at the NRC as a result of materials work, rather than, basically did some reactor work, but very little. It turned out that, when Clinton was in office, the retirement of the then Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Clinton personnel people call the National Academy of Sciences and says, Is there anyone you'd recommend? And I had been doing a whole bunch of things for the National Academy of Sciences. I then got asked if I would do it. I always said if I stayed in Washington and if an interesting federal job came along, I would take it. I wouldn't lobby for this. This came out of the blue.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow.

Richard Meserve
So, I agreed to do it. There's a funny story associated with that as well is that part of the process involves confirmation by the Senate. I was having lunch in the cafeteria at Covington with a former partner and I mentioned to him that I was going up to see Senator Chafee that afternoon. We've headed the relevant committee that I was going to have an informal meeting with him. He mentioned, Well please say - my partner said to me - Well, please say hello to him, he was my roommate at Deerfield Academy, which is sort of a prep school in New England. So, I went up to see Senator Chafee and I mentioned that my colleague had asked me to say hello. We spent the next hour talking about Deerfield Academy - which I knew nothing about - but he was telling me stories about what they had done together, and so forth. Then, he very promptly scheduled a hearing. I went into the hearing, and there was a chemical regulatory commission - I had never even heard of it - who had a guy who was also subject to this public hearing. He got all the questions, I got made an opening statement, got a few creampuff questions. So, I was a little surprised, I thought I was gonna get grilled. I wasn't, it was very pleasant. I came out and I got a report that the committee had recommended my confirmation, basically immediate. I didn't think anything about it, I had counted on it- I was told it would take several months to get through the Senate. And it turned out that - I happened to know there was the, I think his title is the Sergeant at Arms in the Senate, he was an influential figure, much more influential the name would suggest, who is - I hadn't even quite focused - who was the Sergeant in Arms, but he was a friend of mine in another job. And he put me on the consent calendar. And so, next thing I know, I got a call and said, You've been confirmed

Bret Kugelmass
Five minutes, the whole thing.

Richard Meserve
It took about a week after I got out of the out of the committee hearing. The funny thing was, the Clinton White House personnel office called me and said, How did you do it? I said, By accident. So, I lightning speed through and I actually hadn't fully disengaged myself. I actually delayed my being sworn in for a week or two, so I could wrap up things with clients and wrap up things and be able to pass things off. That brought me to the commission in 1999 and I stayed until 2003.

Bret Kugelmass
Great. And then, obviously, we know September 11 was in that time period. That was one of the more momentous events. Then, I guess after that, did you oversee a lot of- besides emergency powers being part of it, were there upgrades and changes and stuff that happened as a result that that was under your purview as well?

Richard Meserve
Well, we did have, had upgraded the- we issued a series of orders that basically upgraded the security function at nuclear power plants. We went to the highest level, as I mentioned earlier, right on it, immediately after the event, the same day the plane crashed. I had been expecting we might be at the higher level for maybe a week or two. It ended up being months, because there was no real way, based on the intelligence briefing to say, Okay, the threat has gone away, it was continuing noise in the system, I would have to say. It's like an amplifier where the volume is turned all the way up and everything that comes through is viewed as a signal, when a lot of it was just noise, as it turned out. Of course, we didn't know that. So, we did various steps to upgrade the security, had a lot of interaction with the operators to make sure that they were alert and then we would be constantly dealing with them as there was threat information, most of which turned out to be like the wild turkey story, but nonetheless, required that attention by us. That was, and the basically the security stuff has basically become more regular after that. But with the idea that the force-on-force testing that we did until forth was something that got a lot more serious after 9/11. And we had an expert team of attackers that were, I would presume, much more capable than a terrorist team would likely be.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, so, what's the theory behind all this? Because it seems to me like it's not a very credible scenario that you have an elite SWAT team come in, and penetrate even a normal containment without upgraded security measures, and be able to actually do anything that serious, other than cause fear and panic. I get the fear part. If someone's attacking a nuclear plant, that's scary, no matter what, even if they can't do any damage to it. But in terms of actual risk associated with it, it doesn't seem that- and of all the things that a team of like terrorist SWAT people could do, I mean, they could just go into an elementary school and kill 200 people in five minutes and that seems to me a lot more likely and scary than than getting into a containment building before the local police show up or the local army shows up.

Richard Meserve
Well, I have to say that it was believed at the time, and I think it's still the case, that people think they would be unique concerns that would be raised if a successful attack were made on a nuclear power plant. This is part of the backdrop of people's fear of accidents at nuclear power plants, and that might be exploited in a way that would have even greater influence on the attack on a much more vulnerable site. But one wouldn't have be as dramatic. So, the idea is to have a very expert attack team just so you have confidence that something that is less capable would have an even greater difficulty attacking. There would be- and we'd learned things of these attackers to find vulnerabilities. Less so these days, because we've done a lot of these tests and people become more sophisticated. But in the early times, you could find vulnerabilities that they would exploit, and you would have a lesson that would come out of that about what needs to be done to upgrade the security. I strongly support the idea of force-on-force drills involving a skilled team.

Bret Kugelmass
I guess, I'm just wondering, what's the maximum credible accident that they imagined what happened. Because, even if they messed up enough equipment to trigger a meltdown, you still have the whole containment structure preventing the release of radionuclides that would actually cause serious damage. Even in the case of Fukushima, where we lost containment, no one really died from the radiation. So, I guess I'm wondering, what's the hypothesis that terrorists could come in? And what actually is the worst case scenario that they were imagining?

Richard Meserve
Well, let me say, we were worried about the possibility that could be a severe accident that resulted in a breach of containment and dispersal of radioactive material. It is, in fact, the case that there were no radiation related deaths at Fukushima. But there were huge adverse societal implications of the accident, huge economic costs. In fact, a significant part of an agricultural area is still foreclosed from use as a result of the accident.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, but that's not a result of radiation. That's a result of our reaction to it.

Richard Meserve
Oh, yes, the adverse effects from radiation were not the source of the real damage in Fukushima. It was lots of other things, but the damage was huge, hundreds of billions of dollars, and huge disruption of people's lives. A lot of people died as a result of the evacuations. This was resolved that they - and they've now learned something - they should have sheltered people and done more orderly evacuations. But they took people out of intensive care units and put them in the back of trucks and so forth, to get them out of there in a hurry and people died. There's a lot that's been learned about that. So, there were severe consequences from the accident and consequences I think anyone would want to avoid, even though it turned out that the radiation related injuries were, even the ones that will occur over time, to be very slight.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, I guess what I'm wondering is - and I understand it's difficult in the heat of the moment, especially with September 11, of course, you want to ramp up security and everything - but I think just now that we've had an opportunity to look at a few different accidents - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima - it seems to me, when I talked to so many nuclear experts, that we're still kind of cemented in our old ways of thinking, that the maximum credible accident is one where thousands of radiation, if not millions, of radiation deaths can occur, we just know that to empirically be false now. So, I'm wondering if this calls for an overhaul of what we think the real danger, the real threat is, from nuclear. As we just talked about, it's really our overreaction that causes more damage than radiation does. And if this almost, now that we can like sit back and reflect upon these different accidents, if we can maybe declassify nuclear from being this like inordinate threat, as opposed to any other type of industrial facility?

Richard Meserve
Well, you know, you have had three real cases that are reassuring from the viewpoint of dispersal. I guess, in fairness, the Chernobyl accident wasn't reassuring, because it was huge dispersal of radioactive materials. But, Three Mile Island, negligible release. Fukushima, even though containments were breached, negligible health effects as a result. So you have- that doesn't say there aren't other types of accidents that could occur in a way that have adverse impacts… I do think it does encourage much more expansive thinking, put the radiation realists perhaps in a different perspective and by probably elevating the non-radiation risks, as being, Fukushima accident, being an example of the environmental and societal impacts of the accident were very severe. Economic impacts was severe. You don't escape aid for emergency preparedness as a result of this. Perhaps it should result in some change of focus. Perhaps the production of the singular focus on radiation related injuries and realizing that there are other things, that may be akin to what would happen at a severe chemical plants were to be destroyed, that would be worthy of consideration. But this is sort of a giant ship that's focused, it's been, all around the world, focused on radiation related injuries as the foundation. So, sort of pointing it out and changing it actually has disruptive effects all the way through the system, so it's not easy. I have actually, since I've left the NRC, spent a lot of time on nuclear-related issues, both for the IAEA and in Japan, trying to help them in their response to the challenge that arose from the accident. These are very much issues that are with us.

Bret Kugelmass
And we mentioned the evacuation-related injuries. Does Japan acknowledge that, at this point, do they acknowledge that, in the future, if this were to happen, that the evacuation can cause more harm than good? Is that spoken about? Or is that still like, you're not allowed to say that?

Richard Meserve
Oh, I think the Japanese are very much aware of that. That is the conclusion of a variety of the international studies of the accident. I'm not anyone who can read Japanese, but this is not lost on the Japanese public at all. In fact, it sort of has aggravated the situation in the sense that, it's not an accident where, Okay, the consequences occur and it's over. This has been a situation, evacuations and the impacts and destruction of people's lives that has been going on for over 10 years. And they're very conscious of that. It creates a big problem, because Japan is a country that does not have any indigenous energy resources. The cheapest electric power in Japan is nuclear, and if they rely on fossil sources, obviously that creates a greenhouse gas problem. But beyond that, a lot of their supply line has to come through the South China Sea. So, they have a national security risk that's associated with dependence on foreign supplies of fuel. Japan is a natural place to rely on nuclear power. I think the government realizes that, I mean clearly realize that, because they've been basically, not very visibly, but basically trying to encourage these plants to continue to operate. Not very many are operating. But the Japanese public is still very hostile to nuclear as a result of the accident. And that is a very unfortunate situation for Japan. They are in the middle of effort to review their energy policy that will look at the situation as they're going up through the century as to what role nuclear should have. They need to start thinking about the prospect they may need to build some plants.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, that's what I was gonna ask you. That's the next likely thought, yeah.

Richard Meserve
If they are going to- and there are advocates within the government and outside the government. But it's not an easy decision to make politically given the Japanese public's understandable concern about nuclear power. We have a situation in which they had like 52 plants beforehand, and they've got instead 16 that are sort of formally authorized to commence operation. Nine have been in operation and some of them have shut down for other reasons. But they're basically, it's a small shadow of what it once was in terms of nuclear power's contribution. They are looking at advanced reactors. They are looking at and thinking about alternatives that ideally would be safer and would be ones that might be appropriate to encourage usage in Japan.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. Though, on the safer point, I hate to push back on it, but I feel like those plants were safe and the accident proved that they're safe. What was dangerous was the reaction to the accident, not the power plants themselves.

Richard Meserve
Well, I wouldn't say that you have several plants that got destroyed, you've proven they're safe.

Bret Kugelmass
Nothing can survive, I mean, come on, we can't expect anything to survive- you don't say a Ford isn't safe in Japan because it got hit, it also got destroyed by a tsunami, right? There are plenty of cars on the road that you say are still safe cars, but got wiped out by a tsunami. That doesn't mean they're not safe. That means the largest tsunami in the world can destroy infrastructure.

Richard Meserve
Well, that's true. But I wouldn't take a lot of comfort in the fact that you had a tsunami that took out a bunch of nuclear plants. One could imagine a dispersal that was more severe that headed towards Tokyo or what have you. Maybe very unlikely, I agree. But nonetheless, there is a concern.

Bret Kugelmass
Tell me about the Blue Ribbon Commission that you served on, looking at more domestic issues with respect to nuclear development.

Richard Meserve
Well, yeah, I did serve on the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future that was, Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft were the chairs of it. I think there's still some very common sense recommendations about how to proceed and strongly urged that we need to deal with this waste problem, and then some suggestions about how we could how we could do it. And it keeps on getting cited as being something that is a sensible approach, but we don't seem to be able to move off the dime on that. Some of that has to do with, this issue, unfortunately, has been caught in the middle of the partisan politics that are a problem across many areas, many substantive areas in our country right now. So, it's a Republican-Democrat issue, as well as a pro- and anti-nuclear and every other kind of view. It would be wonderful to find a resolution to this issue, but I don't think anyone has the appetite to do it right now and I don't think we have - given the state of partisan politics in the United States - I don't think it's very likely that we'll be able to find a route forward. The report is there, its recommendations, I think, still are sensible. And I hope someday we'll go forward and implement them. The one thing that has changed is that there's some international progress. There's a nuclear waste facility that will be going into operation in Finland. There's a lot of progress that has been made in Sweden. The Canadians have made some great progress as well, the French are making progress. We don't have quite the same story around the globe. There is some recognition of the need that this is a problem we need to solve and some countries are being responsible and doing it. There is an aspect of this problem, though, that I've been worrying about internationally, including within the last week. We view, and have advised through the international entity IAEA, that every country that has a nuclear power plant should make plans for the disposition of its fuel. The vision that the IAEA has had over the years is that every country will have its own repository. Well, that doesn't make any sense, right? Countries with small numbers of reactors will be just hugely expensive to have a repository. It may not even have the geology.

Bret Kugelmass
I agree. So, why did the IAEA ever get into that position? They couldn't have had one conversation before making that recommendation to say, if countries only got one plant, why can't it just work with its neighbor instead?

Richard Meserve
Well, they would say that every country has a responsibility for taking care of its nuclear waste - and it does - and they would now say that if you could make a multinational arrangement, that is allowed under their safety standards. They are starting to think much more deeply about how to accomplish that. You need to have- you can see in the Middle East, you might well have a disposal facility, for example of these new entrant countries coming together. You might be possible to do something there, but there's got to be one country that agrees to be the host. You don't want to have the Nevada situation recreated in the host country all over again. I'm chairing the International Nuclear Safety group and that was one of the subjects that we were briefed on by the IAEA staff in a meeting we held in the last week, virtually.

Bret Kugelmass
And what type of time periods, when they talk about disposal of nuclear waste, I've always thought this million year requirement is just truly absurd. Why isn't something more realistic? Can't we assume that society will be more advanced technologically 100 years from now that, whatever tools it has at its own disposal is going to be way better suited than anything we could come up with right now? If we look back 100 years, they had horses and buggies. Now, we have super computers. Can't we assume that 100 years from now they'll be better equipped, and we just come up with 100 year solutions instead of million year solutions? Well, 100 years, we could store it above ground.

Bret Kugelmass
I don't understand why that's not a very reasonable proposal.

Richard Meserve
Well, the argument is that we're leaving a problem we created, that we produced, this use fuel, for our, in this case, our great grandchildren to solve and they have to bear the cost of doing that.

Bret Kugelmass
You could also argue, if I put, instead of putting $6 billion into research now, if I put $50 million into a fund, and just let it accrue interest for the next 100 years, that we will also be better equipped financially to deal with it, not just technically, right?

Richard Meserve
Well, perhaps. That does involve some assumptions about the preservation of society and so forth.

Bret Kugelmass
But nuclear waste is the least of our worries,

Richard Meserve
Probably. I do think that one has to approach this recognizing that there will be technical change, that there are opportunities that will arise to do things. I mean, there's a lot of energy value that's in some of the spent fuel and we may create this disposal facility and then, within 100 or 200 years, we then view it as a mine.

Bret Kugelmass
Within 20 or 50 years. It seems like the nuclear people should be the most intellectually equipped to understand the value of the resource of the waste in terms of future energy production more than anyone. Just another reason, it blows my mind, why the recommendations are to think about this as a million year problem that we have to solve today, given everything that we know about how technology changes, including nuclear reactor technology, and what a great resource this could be for future reactors.

Richard Meserve
Well, whatever you say here involves certain assumptions about opportunities and capacities, and so forth. I do think that we have overblown the risk from a disposal facility. But the aim has been this show, we can solve this problem. In anything, that sort of leaves that open then presents an issue for the nuclear people while we're assuming something that may exist, but may not and that this is a vulnerability for nuclear power. I do remember a chairman of Exelon, who was on the Blue Ribbon Commission, who said at the time that he was never going to build a new nuclear plant if he couldn't assure that you could take care of the spent fuel. It just felt like it was a societal obligation he had.

Bret Kugelmass
But Exelon also owns coal plants, and he doesn't realize the societal damage that is caused by every gigawatt-hour that's produced by coal instead of nuclear?

Richard Meserve
Oh, he very much would realize that. But he very much was a big advocate for dealing with climate change. It's just that he had a personal issue associated with producing-

Bret Kugelmass
Forget climate change, let's talk about short term impacts. Air pollution. I mean, every minute that we leave a coal plant open, in terms of air pollution, we are just tallying up the real deaths and real injuries. Meanwhile, commercial nuclear spent fuel has never hurt a single person in human history. I just don't understand how someone responsible for a utility could even- unless he's anti-nuclear, I don't get it.

Richard Meserve
No, he wasn't anti-nuclear, but he saw climate change, he just saw this as a vulnerability for nuclear that needed to be solved. I very much agree that you have real deaths that are occurring from coal plants that are not hypothetical deaths you get from imagined releases from hypothetical releases from nuclear plants. And this is something for many reasons we need to deal with. Fortunately, the economics now, at least in the United States, are such that coal plants are going to disappear.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. Though, I mean, compare nuclear against any other energy source, including renewables on a material consumption or even on a waste basis per energy. I mean, you're talking about a thousand-fold less waste, even than renewables, when comparing against renewables.

Richard Meserve
The interesting thing, I encountered a fact that I had not quite realized before that everyone says that hydro power is this wonderful answer to climate change. That can be true, but where you have a big impoundment behind a big hydro facility, you often have layers of anaerobic decomposition which is producing lots of methane. So, they're actually, the analyses of what the climate change impacts of hydro were all over the map, because it's dependent on the particular circumstances and the algae and the anaerobic decomposition that can occur in the impoundments can be significant contributors.

Bret Kugelmass
It can be as as bad- hydro could be, although thought of as clean, could be as bad as fossil fuels from the methane. It's insane.

Richard Meserve
I had not known that. I encountered that doing some work on something looking at comparative greenhouse gas impacts of various energy sources. So, the scale of uncertainty for hydro plants is huge as a result of this. Of course, we don't have very many areas that are necessarily going to be available for hydro, so this is not hardly a long term solution anyway, particularly for this country, but for many others that don't have the relief and capacity to exercise more hydro than they currently do. True, there are some other opportunities, but this is not the response to climate change we need.

Bret Kugelmass
Have you taken a look at the next generation of nuclear technologies that are coming back? Do you keep apprised of this?

Richard Meserve
I do. Actually, at the moment, I am chairing a committee of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, that is looking at the opportunities for advanced reactors as a response to climate change and what are the barriers and the problems. We're sort of at the outset of a major study of this issue that will go on for a year. And later this week, I'll actually be having a meeting, a public meeting, and we'll hear from X-energy and Terrapower both, and ATRIUM reactor. So, I'm very much in the middle of that now and learning a lot. And similarly, there are major activities underway at the International Atomic Energy Agency to prepare for the prospect of advanced reactors and trying to understand what the safety implications of them are. They're doing a lot of work to try to determine the gaps in their regulatory system. They have standards that are like ours, much more general than the NRC requirements, but which are basically ones that are written against the thought of light water reactors. They have a major effort to identify what things they need to consider reviewing. They're trying to look at a technology inclusive, set up requirements, so that they don't have to try to rebuild a whole new set of requirements for each different type of reactor. That, of course, is what the NRC is trying to do as well and Part 53, of course, is underway now. Trying to accomplish that. So, this is something that has many regulatory dimensions that are going to have to be fixed, and of course, many economic and other issues that need to be resolved as well. But it is encouraging that there are so many vendors who have ideas that have been able to raise money to actually proceed to develop them, being taken seriously by investors, and recognition that nuclear, at least in my view, has to be part of the response to climate change.

Bret Kugelmass
Dick, as we wrap up today, any kind of final thoughts that you want to leave the audience? I know we've covered a lot here. This has been excellent, but I was wondering if there are any other topics we haven't covered yet?

Richard Meserve
Well, I think we have covered most of the things that I've been involved in. I mentioned I'm involved in Japan on something that actually was a theme that goes from my days at the NRC, which was, we're trying to encourage much greater use of risk informed insights in their regulatory process. That was something I championed when I was at the NRC. The reactor oversight process was put into place when I was there, as an example. And so, I guess, I think that is the theme for the future and that is something the NRC is of course, is bedrock now for how the NRC thinks about his regulatory system and they're trying to use a risk informed approach as they deal with advanced reactors, as they should. I think that I would just sort of emphasize that as being an important element that we also need to pursue, for existing reactors as well as advanced reactors. But thank you for allowing me to join you on this. It's been interesting. It's been fun. Hope it's been useful to you.

Bret Kugelmass
The pleasure is all mine. Dick Meserve, thank you so much.

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