Sama Bilbao y León

Director General

World Nuclear Association

May 10, 2021

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Ep 307: Sama Bilbao y León - Director General, World Nuclear Association
00:00 / 01:04
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today with Sama Bilbao y León, the Director General of the World Nuclear Association, a good friend, and I just can't wait to have you on Titans of Nuclear, so welcome to the show.

Sama Bilbao y León
Wow, it is my pleasure. I mean, it's been how many years since we have talked about this?

Bret Kugelmass
And you jumped all over the world. For anyone who doesn't know you, I just want to start off with the introduction that you're probably the most liked person in the entire nuclear industry. Everyone I've ever met only has the most positive things to say about you, across the entire industry.

Sama Bilbao y León
Well, that's great to know. Thank you. Wow. You just made my day, thank you.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so now that we're done with that introduction, I'd love to take the opportunity just to learn a little bit about you. Can you tell us where you grew up and what your upbringing was like?

Sama Bilbao y León
I'm originally from Spain, as you can obviously hear my accent. I was born in Bilbao in the north of Spain., but my parents moved to Madrid when we were very, very, small, so, I grew up in Madrid really. Normal childhood, but my father is an engineer, my mom is a fashion designer. Quite different sides of the equation there. I grew up to be an engineer and my sister grew up to be a fashion designer. So, we have that side. I went to school in Madrid, I got my degree in the equivalent of mechanical engineering in energy technologies. We learned about all energy technologies, of course, and I fell in love with nuclear energy. I did my final project on nuclear engineering and then I had this crazy opportunity to go to the US to pursue a PhD. So, I just jumped at it. I moved from warm Madrid to frigid Madison, Wisconsin and I had the fabulous opportunity to do my PhD in nuclear engineering, under the supervision of Professor Corradini, who is god when it comes to thermal hydraulics. Not only is he fabulous as a professor, as a mentor. But really, he's just incredible and he's the person that has instilled in me this desire to learn about everything. He's always curious and I think he's instilled it in me and all the other students. So, I just went to Virginia, I went to Wisconsin, and I got my PhD. So, that's my career.

Bret Kugelmass
I want to learn first, how you narrowed in from just general engineering studies and energy studies into nuclear? Where did that passion come from? What did you see about the space that drew your attention?

Sama Bilbao y León
Right, well, I decided to focus on energy. In my school in Madrid, there was a specialty that was energy technologies. I always knew I wanted to do energy technologies. Basically, they walk you through everything, wind, solar, coal, natural gas, geothermal, whatever, nuclear, of course, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion. Just learning about everything, certainly nuclear fission seemed what I really wanted to do, I thought it had all the pros, most of the pros and very few of the cons. And I saw the future. So, that's why I went for it.

Bret Kugelmass
Spain had nuclear power, correct? Did you have any familiarity with how nuclear was built into the fabric of your surrounding infrastructure?

Sama Bilbao y León
Yeah, so, Spain has had, for the last, I don't know, 20-30 years, about 20-25% - I mean, it depends on the year, right- but about 20-25% of our electricity comes from nuclear. I think right now, we are down to seven units. But nuclear has been a strong part of the energy fabric in Spain. And frankly, I'm going to brag for a second, but Spanish nuclear engineers are well known around the world. There are Spanish companies that are very well known in the nuclear sector overall. I have seen Spanish fellow engineers here and there in my career. Definitely nuclear was something that I was aware, I didn't really decide to go for it from the beginning. Yes, only when I learned more about it in school, is when I said, Oh, this is it, this is what I want to do.

Bret Kugelmass
Did you have any sense of the wider perception of nuclear and culture? When you started telling your friends and family, Hey I want to dive into nuclear, were they excited? Were they nervous? What was the general feeling about that?

Sama Bilbao y León
I think that's probably not very different for everybody else, not everybody when you tell them, Yeah, I'm a nuclear engineer, I am studying nuclear engineering, there are two things that they tell you: Oh, you must be very smart and you must be very evil. So, that's the things that they tell you. I mean, it's always the same. Whenever you go and you're having a coffee with a colleague, or you're talking to anybody, everybody, there is always this relatively not very positive conversation. Oh, what about the waste, too, I can't believe you can support nuclear, it's so unsafe. There are these conversations, but maybe because of that, I've always been so proactive and so willing to say, Okay, wait, let me let me walk you through it. Let me tell you why I'm doing what I'm doing. I am neither as smart as you think I am, and certainly not as evil as you think I am.

Bret Kugelmass
Now, something I've noticed about you in the years that I've known you is you do have this, this extra superpower. In addition to your engineering capabilities, you have this communication ability that's quite frankly unparalleled. Where does that come from? Did you just practice that over the years? Or did you have some formal training?

Sama Bilbao y León
No, I've never had any formal training. I guess, maybe, I'm a Spaniard, I like to talk, maybe that's what it is. I really enjoy speaking about nuclear and this is part of the reason, and maybe we'll go about it later, when I had the opportunity to teach, every once in a while, where you are able to explain what you're doing, why you are doing it, why it is important, and then you see every once in a while this spark in the eye of the person that you're talking to, suddenly is like, it just makes my day. I really love to do that.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. So, you move to frigid Wisconsin and you started studying thermal hydraulics. What was your focus there? Was there a specific system that you looked into as part of your thesis?

Sama Bilbao y León
I guess the focus of the hydraulics was, because of my advisor, Professor Corradini, who does what he does. I was doing something that was very specific at the time. Professor Corradini was quite focused on molten corium concrete interactions. I started doing some computational work using MELCOR which are the computer codes that are big system calls that look at overall Nuclear Safety Analysis. One of the things that is notable about them is that, once the core melts down, it actually looks at the corium concrete interaction, basically, the molten core with the substrate of concrete that you have in the unit. So, we were looking at that. I started doing computational work, but then Professor Corradini insisted that I really needed to do some experimental work. We set up some experimental study, we really wanted to understand the heat transfer correlations when you have these multi effects mixture, when you have the corium, which is really a two phase mixture, is the slurry. And then you have the concrete that is melting with all these gases that are being produced as the corium melts down. We were trying to understand where is the heat transfer correlation in that mixture. Obviously, we didn't real materials, we were looking at simulants. And in the end, that was my work for my thesis. We came up with a few correlations, and we were able to benchmark them against existing data. And then of course, the new data that we achieved.

Bret Kugelmass
How do you run an experiment? Because to me, it seems like the hardest part is that in the case of an actual meltdown, you've got this material that's producing heat itself and continuing to produce heat, so, that would have some effect on the material over time. That would be very different than if, let's say, I just poured a bucket of hot steel onto a surface and then it immediately starts cooling down and doesn't add any additional heat. How do you rectify that?

Sama Bilbao y León
That was one of the challenges, because as you said, clearly this corium has this volumetric heating, so, not only is, as you said, is ongoing, but it's volumetric which is very important. It's not surface heating, it's volumetric heating. In our case, we used simulants. We actually had electric heating, we had these electric wires going through our simulant material, and obviously it wasn't 100% volumetric heating, but yes.

Bret Kugelmass
What kind of wire these, just like really thick tungsten or something? What can withstand the heat?

Sama Bilbao y León
Yeah, so they're actually very thin tungsten that we had. Yeah. So, it was electric heated.

Bret Kugelmass
Are there any other things that you learned from the experiment? I mean, the different materials, did they stratify out or did they mix in?

Sama Bilbao y León
Oh my gosh, it was quite a complex experiment because as I said, it was three phases. We have the liquid, we have the solid materials that we were simulating, plus, of course, the gas. Yes, we did see some stratification, which we weren't quite sure that really was happening in the real case, we weren't really sure that their certification was going to be so clear. We were playing with different flow rates for the gas that was being generated. We were trying to look at the buoyancy of the different materials, basically, the difference in density between the liquid and the solid materials that were being created. It was quite complex. And I mean, I think that we came up with correlations, but clearly, for example, you know that Argonne National Lab is a group of scientists that are doing experiments there that are actually using prototypical materials. Obviously, we really try to benchmark to those, because those are one of the best set of data that we have for this type of experiments.

Bret Kugelmass
And sorry, one more question. That's just because I'm personally fascinated by this particular line of study. And then we can go on with the rest of your story.

Sama Bilbao y León
No worries.

Bret Kugelmass
Are there any real life examples, like Three Mile Island or anything, that that we can look at the final result and then scrape off layers and just kind of see where things might have ended up? Have we done that with any real life meltdowns?

Sama Bilbao y León
I think that there is a lot of data from Three Mile Island, I am sure that we will be able to see some data from Fukushima in the future. I mean, I don't know to which extent there was an interaction between the corium and the competent Three Mile Island, so I never had any data for that. If there was any, it was very much minimum. I suspect that from Fukushima, we may get more data. And the only thing is, of course, what I was looking specifically at the heat transfer in that kind of moving interface between the corium and the concrete. I would really love to see what data do they get, whether they are useable for the type of heat transfer correlation that I came up with, or for the work that other people are doing. And let me just say, as far as real data or maybe more useable data, I've seen that there are- I mean, we did look at this when we were doing the experiments in the area of volcanology when they are looking on how the magma advances.

Bret Kugelmass
Volcanoes?

Sama Bilbao y León
Volcanoes, exactly, so, how the magma advances and the interactions between these molten magma and whatever rocks or substrate that it's heating and how that works. There is some data there. I mean, clearly, the configuration is not not the same, but there were some things that we looked at as we were looking at our our literature review, and potential applications of what we were learning.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. Okay, enough of that, we can come back to that some on some other conversation. But where did your career go from there after you got your PhD?

Sama Bilbao y León
Afterwards, I stayed at Wisconsin for a little while as a postdoc, because I was having a lot of fun over there, of course. I guess when my mom calls okay, yes, stop, get a job. So eventually, maybe after a year after graduating, I got a job. I was super lucky, because I was able to move to Virginia - another of my most favorite places - to work for the Dominion Energy. I mean, they are called Dominion Energy right now, they used to be Dominion Generation. They offered me this fabulous opportunity to work in their nuclear safety group. They actually gave me this this challenge to develop methodologies for the heat flux, the critical heat flux correlations that we were using for our fuel. Essentially, what Dominion wanted to do was to have the ability to switch fuel relatively quickly, to go from one fuel supplier to another fuel supplier, relatively quickly. And of course, relatively quickly may be three years. The regulatory process is not is not very short. We wanted to get in-house the ability to perform all the safety analyses for this for this fuel, which means to create all the software, basically computer codes, that we do this analysis.

Bret Kugelmass
The historical context is that, this was within the domain of the fuel vendor for a very long time. The fuel vendor was the one performing the analysis, the calculations, helping submit to the NRC. And it was not within the domain of the of the utility. But the utility was dependent on a single fuel vendor and didn't have the analytical tools in-house to be able to perform the analysis, which would allow them to switch vendors, thus applying competitive pressure to drive the cost of fuel down.

Sama Bilbao y León
You got it. And you know what? I would say Dominion is one, I mean, it continues to be, one of the few - I think there may be another one - utilities in the US that actually have in-house capabilities for doing all the nuclear safety analyses, or most of it, maybe not the local analysis, but everything else, yes. Having this additional capability, as you said, would be incredibly positive, because they would allow us to negotiate with more strength with the with the fuel providers, because typically, as you said, this service was bundled with the purchase of the fuel.

Bret Kugelmass
I know you've been to so many other places as well, what was next for you? Did you stay in Virginia to work at VCU? Or was there another part of it?

Sama Bilbao y León
Actually I left. The VCU program was one of those things that, when I was at Dominion, we had a huge, huge problem keeping talented new engineers, so we were very good at recruiting new engineers. I mean, people have heard of Dominion and people came from many of the very best schools, but you know how it is, I mean, after a few years, you get married, you have children, and people needed to go back home or move to family and support. We were having a very hard time. So one time, one day, maybe having a beer with my boss and other colleagues, we were like, you know, we just really need to start a nuclear engineering program in Richmond, we just need to go to VCU, and convince them that they need to start a nuclear engineering program. And this is where my boss from Dominion at the time, told me you know what, Sama, tomorrow, you go and convince them. It's like, Okay!

Bret Kugelmass
That's incredibly brash for the nuclear industry.

Sama Bilbao y León
Well, you know, so I have to say, I've always been super lucky with my supervisors, my managers, my mentors, because they've been quite open minded to crazy ideas. So, this crazy idea, not only did he embrace it, and he let us do it, but he fully supported it. So, we started that, I mean, obviously VCU started the program, but it was with the support and with the advice of Dominion. That's what we did. When we were just starting this, I actually taught the first class together with Jim Kelly, who was a professor from the University of Virginia who was fabulous. Then, I got the opportunity to go to the International Atomic Energy Agency. I was able to get a leave of absence for a few years to go to Vienna and work for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Bret Kugelmass
What did you do there, at the IAEA?

Sama Bilbao y León
At the IAEA, I was the unit head for what was called the Technology Development for Water Cooled Reactors. I led a very small team of incredible analysts. We were working on everything related to water cooled reactors. That was obviously light water cooled reactors, but also heavy water cooled reactors. Also, fuel, basically the entire fuel cycle, anything that was related to water cooled reactors, but it was specifically technology developments, we were looking at advanced technologies. At that time, we were already looking at supercritical water cooled reactors, we had a lot of work in that area. We were starting to look at small modular reactors, the light water cooled reactors that were small modular reactors. It was fascinating and it opened my eyes to this whole concept of working with governments and having the expertise of all these different organizations and all these different governments. Iit was a very, very fantastic experience.

Bret Kugelmass
What was the IAEA's goal, other than just research and maybe kind of dissemination of their learnings? When they form a unit to look into a set of technologies, what do they want to see accomplished in the real world?

Sama Bilbao y León
I think that, obviously, right now, I think that Rafael has much more proactive and visionary look about the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in disseminating and advocating for nuclear energy. At the time, I'm not sure that we were as proactive, but the idea was to have the best information about all these advanced technology technologies for all those countries that wanted to use them.

Bret Kugelmass
So you could help newcomer countries specifically?

Sama Bilbao y León
Well, in this case, it was more specifically newcomers. Newcomer countries wasn't specifically in our section, but we did work with newcomers quite a bit, basically, to provide them all the information, but because I was in technology development, so it was a little bit looking further than what is available right now. In our case, probably what we were producing was most useful to countries that were already using nuclear. Basically, you know, what are the next more efficient ways to build nuclear power plants? At the time, we started to look at this modular construction and standardization, and all these new technologies to streamline the construction of nuclear, or we were looking at what is the decision-making that our country needs to have in order to choose these of that technology? I mean, how to choose between technology "X" or technology "Y"? What are the criteria that our country needs to use and things like that, so, it was a little bit more advanced.

Bret Kugelmass
Who are the recipients of this information? Is it typically the governments themselves? Or is it utilities within the countries? Who is most engaged?

Sama Bilbao y León
With us, we were most engaged with governments and often with research organizations, or maybe R&D related organizations in the governments. Depending on the country, sometimes those are very closely linked. In some countries, you have utilities, or suppliers, or research organizations that are very closely linked. For example, if you look at Argentina, you see that the entire nuclear industry in the nuclear sector is very tightly linked. But in some other countries, it really was directly just the research organizations and then they would disseminate this information maybe more themselves.

Bret Kugelmass
What was it like moving, first from home to the US and from US to Vienna, and then I know you had a couple more tours... How does that fit into your life?

Sama Bilbao y León
I am an adventurer, I love to learn new things all the time. I'm very curious of everything, so, moving to Wisconsin was a fabulous adventure, and I loved it. Moving to Virginia was great. I love Virginia. And then Vienna, I have to tell you, Vienna was one of the places that I enjoyed the most. Living in Vienna is great, because in reality is teeny, teeny, tiny. I don't know if you know, Vienna is a very small place, but that it has everything. And it is so well located that you can really explore everywhere in Europe from Vienna, so I love Vienna. I love Paris, the couple of years that we were in Paris before I came to London, and London, you know, I've been here for six months. And I think I'm gonna love it, of course.

Bret Kugelmass
You don't know what it's like yet because everyone's been locked up.

Sama Bilbao y León
Exactly, I didn't love that. So, I know my neighborhood, not very well, basically the walk that we do with the dogs. That's all I really know. But I look forward to getting to know London. The thing, though, is I'm super lucky that my husband is also a very flexible and very adventurous person. Whenever I say, You know what, there is this opportunity, what do you think? Oh yeah, let's do it. So that's the second thing.

Bret Kugelmass
And you have kids too? What's it like?

Sama Bilbao y León
No, I have two hairy kids, I have two dogs. The good news is my dogs, I don't have to worry about putting them in school or things like that. I just have to find them a good park, that's all I have.

Bret Kugelmass
Let's touch upon your time in Paris and then I want to move on to what your goals are right now in your current organization. But I don't want to leave out the NEA either.

Sama Bilbao y León
I moved to Paris a couple of years ago, two and a half years ago. I was the Division Head for Nuclear Technology Development and Economics. And I will tell you that the description of that job was just like, Oh my gosh, have I died and gone to heaven? This is exactly what I want to do. Because, obviously, everybody knows the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. It has an incredible reputation when it comes to everything related to the nuclear sector and the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear energy. And I thought that, given the time to be in that particular point, at the nexus of technology, innovation, economics, policy, is perfect, because I think that, well, frankly, because I think that's where we need to be working right now. There are a lot of things in nuclear that we already know how to do. And the things that we really need to move the needle a little bit more is exactly there is innovation, economics, technology, how that fits together, and how that translates into suitable policies to advanced nuclear. I was there for a couple of years, two and a half years. It was great. I had the opportunity to work in a number of incredibly impactful, in my opinion, projects with that incredible team. The team that the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency has is incredible. I was very lucky to work on, things like, for example, system costs, which, as you know, they are pioneers. The NEA is pioneer in the work of system cost. So to be there at the time that they released one of these reports, and be able to actually help disseminate all this information and to help educate policymakers, decision-makers, and the people that are putting together these plans for the energy mix of the future, to understand how system costs work, and the role of dispatchable technology in that. It was quite fascinating.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. To me, it's that type of work, the economics work - it might not be the most interesting to every engineer - but I feel like that is what should be driving the design decisions, the engineering decisions. At first, at the nuclear design level, but then at the system design level, I mean, at the end of the day, what are we really trying to optimize for? It's for economical power to the people. That is our number one goal is to get people cheap, clean power. How do you do that unless you have a fundamental understanding of what the actual costs are? Not just what you think they are, but what they are from, like real data. You've sourced around the world, understanding an actual application over many years. That is the economic input that we need to drive our engineering decisions?

Sama Bilbao y León
Yeah, I agree. The nuclear technology is very good. I mean, we can always make it better, we can always take in all these innovations to improve the technology and, more importantly, to streamline things to make things more cost effective. I think that, right now, our first priority in the nuclear war is definitely economics. This work that the OECD NEA and others are doing, I think that the International Energy Agency is doing a great job, the International Atomic Energy Agency is doing a very good job also, of putting together this techno-economic study so we understand how everything fits together is important. Because one thing that I'm a little bit sick and tired of hearing, everybody tells me about the levelized cost of electricity for this energy source or the other energy source. Nowadays, levelized cost of electricity is no longer sufficient information to be able to compare.

Bret Kugelmass
It drives me crazy, because it's a misnomer. It says levelized. But it's not really levelized. It's levelized in accordance to like a discount model. It's not levelized in terms of total system benefits across electric.

Sama Bilbao y León
Exactly. That's exactly why I thought that the work that we did in system cost was so important. People need to understand that, yes, the cost of each one of the components of the system is important. And obviously, the lowest the cost of each component is better, right? In that sense, we all have to strive to lower levelized costs, but then you need to look at how all the pieces of the puzzle work together and look at the cost of the system as a whole and reliability of the system as a whole, and the resiliency of the system as a whole, and all those things cost money. Even though some people may not actually see it when you see the whole sale of price of electricity, or when you look at, say, carbon pricing and things like that, but those things actually have a cost. We need to start considering how the system as a whole functions most cost effectively. And, of course, that this is where nuclear, in particular, but in general, I would say, you know, baseload electricity is indispensable. And of course, if you want to decarbonize, nuclear is what you need to take into account.

Bret Kugelmass
Absolutely. Did you find that, as you kind of brought this information around the world, that people got it? And I shouldn't say people, I should ask who. Who really understood these arguments around total systems cost, and who didn't understand them? And I don't mean, to point out specific people, I just mean, generally, types of governments get it that certain types of utilities get it? Did bankers not get it? Like, what was the response?

Sama Bilbao y León
Well, I think it's a learning process. In the first instance, when you are talking about system costs, people think that you're talking about transmission and distribution. And you're like, Yes, okay, that is part of the cause. But that is just a teeny, tiny part of the cost. You really need to consider all these other costs, the balancing costs, the fact that you have all these spinning reserves, the fact that you have to have inertia and to have that you have to have all these ancillary services. It takes time, it's not immediately obvious to everybody. But you are seeing this more and more, and you are seeing, for example, that even now, the International Energy Agency is moving beyond only providing levelized cost of electricity, they are also providing the VALCOE, which is another way to measure system cost. There are a couple different models for that. I love the way we do it at the OECD NEA, which is different the way the IEA does it, but again, as long as there is a model and a way to account for the overall system stability, system reliability and system cost, that's what's important.

Bret Kugelmass
Tell me about your new role. How did they find you first? And what was the call like when they wanted you to come take leadership at the WNA?

Sama Bilbao y León
The disposition was not advertised, of course. Somebody actually reached out to me, and they told me, You know, they are looking for a new Director General, and yet I was looking to retire. Would you like to consider applying for that job? And then I thought about this like, Okay, well, I think it's a long shot. But sure, definitely. I mean, I'm up for the challenge. There were a couple of interviews and several conversations with the board of the association and they offered me the job. I couldn't believe it.

Sama Bilbao y León
I'm so excited, because once again, it's a different point of view that when I was at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, but once again, I feel that World Nuclear Association is also at a very, very good spot to help broker all these conversations that we need to have, to help, on the one hand, have some sort of thought leadership when we talk in general about energy and we look at the decarbonisation challenges, the energy supply challenge, the sustainable development challenge. All those are many challenges that take us in different directions, and to be able to put nuclear at the center of that debate is very, very important. I'm thrilled that we have the resources and the talent and the expertise here to really bring over there the facts and information. Then, on the other hand, another role that we have that is very important is our working groups. Basically, the fact that we work with the industry and we make sure that the industry talks to each other. Try to make sure that we put our joint point of view that we achieved consensus when there are questions or different points of view. And also, try to help the industry get aligned, so that we can truly deliver on all these promises that we are making, whether it is small modular reactors, or affordable nuclear, even more affordable nuclear energy, or building nuclear power plants faster. All these promises that we are making, we are trying to work together with industry to make sure that we are actually, as an industry, able to deliver those promises.

Bret Kugelmass
Everyone else could believe it.

Bret Kugelmass
How does that happen? Can you tell me more, like structurally about the organization? Who are members? Do they pay fees? How does it get funded? And what's your position like, overall?

Sama Bilbao y León
We have, currently, a little more than 180 members. They are from more than- I think it's 43 countries. And this is all continents. It's a truly global enterprise. We represent the entire nuclear fuel cycle, which I think is very, very important. We have uranium mining companies, commercial enrichment, fuel fabrication, of course, we have a number of utilities. About 70% of the nuclear utilities are represented in the World Nuclear Association. Then we look at the back end of the fuel cycle, whether it is the management of used fuel, the management of nuclear waste, and, of course, the commissioning. Basically, the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Then, we also have the majority of the fuel vendors, and if you're not the suppliers, whether you're looking at reactor designers and suppliers, and many of the suppliers in the supply chain. And then we have something that I was not very aware until I came here, this universe of companies and services that support the nuclear industry that perhaps are not very well known to everybody. We are looking at, like, the nuclear insurance, nuclear transportation, nuclear lawyers. There's a lot of engineering and consultants that support all these pieces and parts. It is quite comprehensive. All these companies, they pay fees, basically, that is the number one revenue source that we have to do our work. That's basically how we do it.

Bret Kugelmass
What is the most common request from the members? What do they want to see your organization accomplish?

Sama Bilbao y León
It depends on the time, right? Number one, we have what we call the working groups, where the industry works together. There are specific items and issues, or topics that are specific interests to the industry at a given time. So, let's say, for example, long term operation of lifetime management of nuclear power plants, clearly that is a really big issue right now, when many companies are looking at extending the life of the current fleet. This is when all the members get together and they explore questions, lessons learned, best practices, who's doing that, who's doing what, how you are facing this issue. That is one way in which we address the members' needs. Then another area is more related to bigger picture items that are more communications strategy, thought leadership. For example, we've been working a lot on this area of sustainable financing. Obviously, we've been working with our colleagues at FORATOM in the context of the European Union, this sustainable financing taxonomy. I know you have talked with several of your interviewees. So, we've been following that. This is a very important issue, that, even though it is European focused, it is going to have an enormous impact at all levels globally.

Bret Kugelmass
Tell me more about it. Give our audience a little bit of a brief lesson as to what is taxonomy and what might change, when is it going to change, and how's it is it going to affect?

Sama Bilbao y León
The European Union taxonomy regulation is essentially, the European Union wants to maximize the financing that goes towards sustainable activities, whatever that is. So, then, what they are doing is putting together a classification of all economic activities, and trying to determine which classification can make which economic activity can be considered sustainable and which cannot. Of course, assuming that the ones that are sustainable, they will be suitable or eligible for this financing and the ones that aren't, no. They're in the process of creating this classification and they are putting together all kinds of technical criteria in order to say, Okay, this or that technology, or economic activity, could be sustainable if this and that and the other thing can be can be met. The problem is that, at the very beginning, they decided that nuclear energy, they weren't sure whether it was sustainable. There was a couple of expert groups that looked at nuclear energy within the context of the criteria that they were setting up. In one group - that, when I was at NEA, we were working on - so in this working group, they decided that it is undeniable that nuclear energy can contribute to decarbonisation to mitigation and adaptation in the context of climate change. It is undeniable, so, in that sense, great. Now, there was another working group that was looking at the - what they call - do no significant harm, essentially, yes, there are positive impacts for nuclear, but are there negative impacts that are intolerable that would preclude us to consider it? Unfortunately, this working group was not very serious - I can tell you this because I was there, so this is first hand information - basically, the people that were in this group, they essentially had a foregone conclusion that nuclear energy was not sustainable because of the radioactive waste.

Sama Bilbao y León
And this is a group that is formed to combat the climate change challenge, right? It's all about climate change?

Sama Bilbao y León
It's about sustainable development. I mean, clearly, decarbonisation is part of that, but of course, is beyond that. Right. So, we want to continue developing within decarbonisation.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. But these are people who have, in theory, dedicated this part of their career, their lives towards helping others towards achieving these sustainability goals. And they won't even question their foregone assumptions? They won't even look at data? They won't even consider the fact that this miraculous technology that has provided so much and had so little impact, over so many years, it's not like this is some theoretical technology, and they won't even give it a reasonable look?

Sama Bilbao y León
You're right. This was quite political. And as I said, this particular working group was not particularly science-based in this conclusion. The good news about this is they didn't succeed on get nuclear excluded. They were only able to put nuclear on the line. Basically, we were still on the fence. What the European Commission said is, Well, you know, we are going to need another expert group that looks at nuclear very, very carefully, and we will base our decision based on that. Now, more good news. The European Commission asked the Joint Research Center to do that analysis, which they did, and in fact, they just published their report, I think it was in March. So, basically a month and a half ago. In this report, they absolutely inquestionably said that, After a very thorough analysis - and you have to read this report is incredible - they have found that nuclear energy has no adverse consequences to the environment of humans, any more or less, I mean, certainly no more than any other of the technologies that are being considered. That is excellent news. Now what is happening is that the European Commission is looking into what is the process by which nuclear energy, may be incorporated into the taxonomy regulation.

Bret Kugelmass
And what happens if it is? What, literally, does that do? Does it open it up to World Bank funding? What does it do?

Sama Bilbao y León
This is obviously a European taxonomy. It focuses on European funding. What it means is, number one - very important - nuclear gets labeled sustainable, which is very important, because I think that every other financial instrument that people even outside of the European Union put together will look at what the European Union is doing. What is happening is this. Nuclear energy projects would be eligible for maybe more affordable financing, which is this sustainable financing, green financing, whatever you want to call it. That is nuclear projects per se. You could have nuclear companies or companies that have nuclear assets included into financial instruments that can be labeled as sustainable. When you look at your 401K, for the American audience or your retirement for everybody else, and you're trying to invest on this or that mutual fund, some people really want to look at sustainable mutual funds. If nuclear is considered sustainable, it would be possible to label it as such and included into these mutual funds. If not, it would have to be excluded, which is a huge penalty, right? Or things like, actually, the European Commission goes even further. Because it's not only its economic activities and the entire lifecycle of the economic activity. Let's say that the economic activity is the manufacturing of aluminum, for example. Let's say that you are an aluminum smelter in Finland and you want to expand your facilities, well, because a very large percentage of your electricity comes from renewable, sustainable nuclear energy, you might be eligible for sustainable financing for your extension.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, my god, so, what it really addresses is the market pull for nuclear. When all of these other industries, whether it's aluminum, or data centers, or chemicals, or water processing, or anything, have to invest in energy infrastructure, and they might be mandated by law to only access sustainable energy resources, otherwise, they'd be taxed out the wazoo.

Sama Bilbao y León
Exactly.

Bret Kugelmass
It forces them to either consider nuclear or not consider nuclear in their portfolio of options. I've always thought that one of the best new markets that nuclear should be going after is directly to industry itself, especially these small modular reactors, which might be perfectly suited for it, very complimentary to the processes, not just only in electricity production, but in heat production, being available all the time, being clean, and literally everything. Exactly, exactly.

Sama Bilbao y León
Exactly. This is why the sustainable financing taxonomy in Europe is incredibly important. Yes, it only applies to Europe, but the reality is that, nowadays, the markets are absolutely global. Most companies, even if they are Canadian companies, or Chinese companies or Japanese companies, they are going to want to invest in Europe, or European companies are going to want to invest in Bangladesh, so, certainly, we saw this as a huge, huge impact, potential negative impact.

Bret Kugelmass
When is the final ruling made?

Sama Bilbao y León
This is still ongoing. As I just told you, the report from the JRC came out a couple months ago, a month and a half ago, and currently, the European Commission has proposed that they are going to put together what they call a Complementary Delegated Act - this is just the nomenclature that they use in in in Europe - and this needs to be approved by the European Council and the European Parliament. Then, essentially, if all goes well, by the end of 2021, early 2022, all this legislation will be put in place.

Bret Kugelmass
Before the end of 2022, do we get any insight ahead of that, where it's like, the people talk to the people on the commission, and ask them who you're gonna vote for, and that kind of stuff?

Sama Bilbao y León
No, this is all going on right now. Obviously, the World Nuclear Association, we don't talk directly to member countries, we talk to our member companies, but we certainly are encouraging our member companies to talk to the appropriate people in their countries to make sure that the importance of this legislation is well understood. Because, as I say, it's not really just the nuclear industry. I mean, it could be incredibly important to the overall economy of a country, even think a country like France. If nuclear were to be deemed non-sustainable, a lot of industries in France would be penalised, because basically, a huge chunk of their energy would be non-sustainable.

Bret Kugelmass
So, how come France doesn't swing some muscle around?

Sama Bilbao y León
Don't worry, I mean, if you can encourage policymakers in France to continue pushing this legislation, please do that. But certainly I think that France is very aware of the importance of this legislation. And they are moving forward on that.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing. We're coming up on our time, but I would love to just kind of give you some final thoughts. Where do you see the industry going and why it's important to you? Any note that you want to leave on, it's up to you.

Sama Bilbao y León
Maybe one thing that we can touch very briefly just now, but I think it's very important, is this concept that nuclear energy produces electricity and heat with zero carbon. For some reason, everybody remembers the electricity, which is great. And please don't let them forget it. But I think that the visibility of zero carbon nuclear heat is not quite there. That's something that we've been working on. I mean, not just as the World Nuclear Association, clearly there are many others. But I think it's very important in particular, for policymakers, as we are looking to be serious about these net zero goals and decarbonizing the entire economy, we really need to look at the very important role that zero carbon nuclear heat can make for this. We can help decarbonize many sectors in the industry, we can help decarbonize clearly the heating and cooling for conditioning of buildings, we can help decarbonize transportation, perhaps through hydrogen, I mean, electric cars also fuel cells with hydrogen. And then of course, we know that hydrogen per se, has so many opportunities by itself to be a very good decarbonisation vector. I really think it's very important for the industry to highlight that, that nuclear is electricity and beyond, and there are many things that we can do. That's one thing. And before we finalize, the one thing that I really would like to highlight is, I think that climate change is to the nuclear industry, something similar to COVID has been to the pharmaceutical industry. It is our opportunity to shine. Yes, there are challenges, but with those challenges, there are huge opportunities. And I really, really think that we need to instill this sense of urgency. And this can-do attitude that maybe, as an industry, we need to start consider, Okay, what can we do differently? Or is this something that we can streamline, so we can really, really address the urgency and the enormity of this climate change challenge that we have? And do that while leaving nobody behind. It's very important to recognize that a lot of the proposals that we see for decarbonisation talk about this pie is of a fixed size, this zero sum mentality. I really think that nuclear energy gives policymakers the opportunity to think about, No, this is huge, everybody can have more because the pie can be much bigger, because we can actually allow everybody to reach the same standard of living and do that with without having enormous damage to the to the planet and the overall system.

Bret Kugelmass
Sama Bilbao y León, thank you so much for your time today, for everything that you shared with me over the years, for teaching everyone that you have, for contributing to the industry and everybody you have. You're a real gem and we all can't wait to talk to you again.

Sama Bilbao y León
My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me, Bret. You know where we are. Anything you need, please don't hesitate, come and tell us.

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