Q: How did you get started in the Nuclear industry?
A: Dr. Roger Howsley is the Executive Director and Co-founder of WINS (World Institute for Nuclear Security) and has held the position for 12 years. Originally graduating with a degree in life sciences from bachelor’s - PhD level, Roger joined the nuclear industry with expertise in health physics and was later offered a position in the International Safeguards Department, 8 years later, Roger became the Director of the division.
Q: What were your first perceptions of the nuclear industry?
A: Roger refers to his first thoughts of the industry as being very ‘heavy’, referring to the state and government involvements. The rigidity of the industry was something he took a while to get accustomed to, with high emphasis on processes and security clearances.
Q: How did your past roles influence your current work with WINS?
A: Roger felt early on in his career that there were a lot of wasted opportunities, when ultimately “all we were trying to do was boil water” and he felt the culture of secrecy and complexity only hindered progress on the primary goals.
Later on in his career, he worked with two directors who had a large influence on him and saw a need for proper stakeholder engagement and building visiting centers and encouraging young people to come around the facilities. Eventually they became the biggest tourist attraction in the area and public opinion during that time changed dramatically in favour of nuclear energy. Unfortunately, after the events of 9/11 everything closed up again, although Roger feels that was a mistake and instead they should have reengaged with the public much more openly than they did.
Q: What led up to starting WINS and what does it stand for?
A: As Roger got more involved with the security and policing issues in the nuclear industry, he realised that everyone was working in silos. This led up to Roger and two other directors setting up engagement programs with the public and anti-nuclear groups. This turned out to be a 6 year program with a $5 million budget. A series of working groups were facilitated to build trust, which turned out to be an early model to WINS.
Roger describes his time with the program like this: “The very first meeting we had with our counterparts who were not necessarily from the industry or pro nuclear, I think they looked at us like we had two heads and we looked at them like they were stupid. And I think within a matter of months, we realised that neither of those things were true. We were honest people trying to do an honest job, and they were honest people with honest criticism or issues.”
WINS currently has about 6,500 registered members and are the leaders in knowledge exchange and certification for nuclear security management, they also work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency on certain programs.
Q: Do you see the conversation changing now that there is more concern about CO2 emissions and clean energy generation. A: Roger says there is general recognition that the construction costs for traditional reactors are unsustainable, adding the common delays that come with the construction cycle. For this reason, Roger is particularly excited about advanced reactor systems and SMRs (Small Modular Reactors), but believes that some of the same mistakes are still being made; because manufacturing processes for mass deployment internationally is still not an available option.
Standardising designs internationally is a necessary step in Roger’s view to drive progress in future nuclear reactor construction projects, and he can’t think of any other industry that still behaves this way - giving reference to the aviation industry where Airbus and Boeing dominate the commercial design space.
Explaining further, Roger summarizes his thoughts here: “If we truly believe in a nuclear future for the reasons that i’ve given: which is we are trying to mitigate climate change, and reduce CO2 emissions - there should be the international pressure, there should be the international desire to work together to achieve that - without just thinking about national or company objectives.”
WINS also works with the advanced technology community and SMR community to encourage them to integrate nuclear security into the design of their reactors, so there isn’t an added expense afterwards. WINS also encourages them to think hard about incorporating stakeholder engagement in all their plans, because if the objective is to integrate SMRs into local communities then its a good idea to engage with the public about the risks and educate them, before ill-will can grow. Also referring to Finland as an excellent example of stakeholder engagement.
Q: How can the industry break down communication barriers and embrace collaboration?
A: Roger has seen the reaction from the public and other stakeholders in his previous 6 year program prior to starting WINS. He recalls the change in attitudes and acceptance of nuclear energy.
Roger suggests that within every financial grant that the governments give, a compulsory percentage of the funding be allocated to stakeholders and community engagement. Another suggestion is for countries to work together on designs, so they don’t need to be relicensed in every country and international criteria be set for those designs. He believes that these points could help focus on the main goal, which is producing socially acceptable energy to generate electricity and he believes that we can’t do this by simply ignoring society.
Q: What are the major takeaways from your 12 years at WINS?
A: WINS was set up to be a practitioner driven organisation and to share best practices in nuclear security. Roger spent the first year arguing with governments if they could legitimately do this without disclosing secret information. Hundreds of events and thousands of members later, WINS is now regarded in high esteem.
WINS is trying to normalize attitudes towards nuclear security by integrating it into everything else that companies do. Breaking down communication barriers and integrating with safety, to focus more on human reliability.
WINS frequently organises events, workshops, webinars, and also through their WINS academy which has been running for 5 year. Which provides online programs that give certification for nuclear safety.
Q: What are you most excited for in the future of nuclear energy
A: “I think there is a growing realisation, driven by some of the climate statistics - that something has to be done and I think as a human species we are always better reacting to things than anticipating things.”
Roger is worried about the long term economic impact of Covid-19, and sees this potentially impacting funding to nuclear programs. He believes this as an opportunity to be less reliant on government grants and work with entrepreneurs and people who know how to take and manage risks.
Collaboration is cheaper and more effective, and will greatly benefit future designs and nuclear reactor construction projects. Roger calls for the industry to stop thinking solely about engineering and technology and spare some thought to how they are going to integrate these new reactors into society.
Energy parks is also something that Roger is looking forward to - featuring wind, solar, and nuclear. Roger believes that having integrated programs like these is the way forward for the industry.