Sylvie Bermann

President

World Nuclear Exhibition

December 10, 2021

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Ep 342: Sylvie Bermann - President, World Nuclear Exhibition
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Olivia Columbus
We're here today with Sylvie Bermann, the President of the World Nuclear Exhibition. Sylvie, welcome to Titans of Nuclear.

Sylvie Bermann
Thank you.

Olivia Columbus
So we're going to talk about the exhibition and this wonderful event, everything that entails in just a moment. But first, tell us a little bit about yourself, sort of what is your background? And how did you end up at a nuclear exhibition?

Sylvie Bermann
Well, you know, I'm a diplomat and I was ambassador to China, to the UK, and also to Russia. Of course, they are nuclear countries and we have a close partnership with all these countries. I was there in China when there was Taishan and with the participation of - not participation, but the intervention of EDF - but not only EDF, but that was interesting. There were also 100 small and medium countries and people you can see in the WNE and so it helped them, even in France, to find new partnerships. So I think it's important. It's, of course, an industry of excellence in France. And I was proud of this industry. When I was in the UK, it was during the negotiations for Hinkley Point, so I was there during the signature and that was an important event. And also- well, in Russia, we have a cooperation and I was lucky enough to visit the first SMR in the world, in fact, which is Akademik Lomonosov in Murmansk, so that was very interesting. So I'm interested by nuclear. I think also it's, of course, energetic independence, but it's also geopolitical independence for countries.

Olivia Columbus
What initially interested you about the Foreign Service and working in that global space?

Sylvie Bermann
It's what you mentioned precisely, it's global space. And I wanted to know something else. I was first interested by Asia, by China and Japan, and so I started to learn these languages. And then I went to China as a young student. Well, it's more than 40 years ago now. Of course, China was a very different country. And then when I decided I studied also history and political sciences and when I decided to learn Chinese and Japanese, I looked at the booklets of the Institute of Oriental languages and it was written that it was possible with that to be a diplomat. And so I thought, Yes, that's a good thing. And so that's the reason why I decided to join the Foreign Service. And I think it's a fantastic job, because, well, I knew some languages and have discovered some new worlds also.

Olivia Columbus
That's incredible. It's such an honor to have you here with us today. So what exactly is the World Nuclear Exhibition?

Sylvie Bermann
It's the biggest nuclear exhibition in the world and so it reflects the this very important industry… So it's an ambition to have bigger and bigger WNE. And this one, despite the sanitary crisis is bigger than last one in a certain way. There are a lot of people coming, more than 600 exponents. I don't know if it's the right word or not. And also, 18,000 visitors and only because of the new virus, Omicron, some people from South Africa couldn't come and also, unfortunately some people from the UK, because of the new quarantine rule when they come back. But apart from that, we have 35% of foreign people. And we have a lot of the new issues some. Some panels, workshops for youth, and everything. I mean, hydrogen, waste management, and SMRs. So there are lots of events going on here.

Olivia Columbus
Yeah, it really is such an impressive feat, especially in the wake of a global pandemic that you guys were able to put this on and so successfully, and so safely. The panels have been so great. Actually, I'm really lucky. My colleague is moderating the hydrogen panel right now and she was so honored to be invited. So GIFEN is the organization that puts on this event. Can you tell us a little bit about who they are and the role that they play in WNE?

Sylvie Bermann
Yeah, absolutely. In fact, well, it's all the industrials that are working in the nuclear field, but not only big companies, of course SMEs as well, and also some companies with only maybe 20% of their activities in nuclear. But it's really something which is strong and could be very influential. Before it wasn't all like this and it was not as big as it is now. But they decided to create WNE with the idea of having, of course, the opportunity to sign contracts, but also to have some discussions about innovation and everything. And so they organized this round, this sector of effectivity. So they own the WNE and you saw they have a pavilion here and they're very active. It is growing.

Olivia Columbus
It's really amazing. And it's really incredible how you're able to incorporate large companies - EDF, Framatome, Westinghouse - and these smaller startups. We're looking right out here on this- this is called the Start-Up Planet where startups can be featured. And we were speaking to some folks earlier today who said that's where they got their start and now they're an SMR developer and they have a full-size booth. And that growth and their ability to come back year after year is just so incredible and wonderful to be able to see that progression.

Sylvie Bermann
Yeah, absolutely. And that's very important for them, this opportunity for startups. And also what is interesting is that some students will come tomorrow, I understand. It's more than 100 students and shows that it's an industry for the future, because there have been new announcements concerning the creation of new power plants, new EPRs, of course, and also all these research and developments about the SMRs. And that's of countries, people who are enthusiastic about it. Young people are really dedicated to that, so I think it's really a good sign.

Olivia Columbus
It's fantastic. And in thinking about the future, you guys are hosting a panel tomorrow on small modular reactors and advanced reactors, which seems really exciting and really is future facing.

Sylvie Bermann
Yes, it's really exciting. And while the Americans wanted to come here, because of those SMRs and other countries are interested. I think with big power plants, there was maybe sometimes some reluctance or for some countries it was not necessary. But with this new opportunity, there's a great interest and including for developing countries and I think that's really good opportunities.

Olivia Columbus
It's amazing how global of an event this is. We've seen booths from the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Argentina, China, Russia, Germany, the United States. It's amazing how many people come from all over the world to really participate in these conversations. What kind of conversations are typically being had at these booths? You mentioned business deals. I imagine there are a lot of introductions being made. And especially having been so long since we could all be face to face, it seems like this is such a great time for people to begin those conversations again.

Sylvie Bermann
Yeah, absolutely. It's a great time for them. Again, it's a lot of opportunities, but also all those discussions and panels are interesting for everyone. Well, there's been an evolution on this perception of nuclear issues. People start to realize that the most pressing issue is to address climate change and it is absolutely impossible without nuclear energy. It has been said by all these specialized organizations, IAEA, and also we had the Director General Rafael Grossi, and then afterwards, Fatih Birol. We had for the first time, EU commissioner for Energy, a video from EU commissioner for Internal Market, and they were all positive about it. And of course, our Minister of Economy. And well, the President has already announced that there would be a new program without telling yet how many plants, but it's obvious now. And I think it reflects this evolution of public opinion. Doesn't mean that everybody is in favor of nuclear energy, but they start to realize that without this energy, which is a really low carbon tool, it would be impossible to have a decarbonated economy. So I think that's the reason why. And it was said also during COP26. And it's not- well, we don't have to oppose the renewable and nuclear energy. Of course, it's complimentary. But it's not intermittent like renewables. It's an advantage of this energy.

Olivia Columbus
And how wonderful to have the event in a country where there's so much nuclear energy and the whole event is almost able to be powered by clean nuclear energy. That's just so great. Last night, you guys presented a number of awards. And I know you presented an award to another former Titan, Kirsty Gogan, the first WNE Fellow Award. What is that award? Tell us a little bit about that.

Sylvie Bermann
It's a new initiative and I think that's very important. And the idea is not only to give an award to nuclear engineers, but also to a personality who was not necessarily in favor of nuclear energy before, but she discovered the advantage. And she now, well, Kirsty Gogan, of course she's promoting nuclear energy. And that's the idea: to give an award to someone who is not-

Olivia Columbus
An advocate.

Sylvie Bermann
Yes, an advocate. And I think it was a beautiful ceremony.

Olivia Columbus
That's wonderful. And you gave a number of awards out to companies as well, right? For different achievements they've gained?

Sylvie Bermann
Absolutely, in research and development. And that was for big companies, but also for SMEs. It encourages them to continue, so that is quite good.

Olivia Columbus
It's wonderful. It's so wonderful that you're able to recognize both in that ceremony and really give that recognition. Tell us a little bit about- I mean, obviously, this is such a huge event and you did have to postpone a year. Tell us a little bit about the pandemic, what you guys have done to sort of address those concerns, and how you were able to shift parts of the event to live stream even so that folks who maybe weren't able to attend in person could still watch.

Sylvie Bermann
Absolutely, of course. It was very important to have a very safe event. We took a lot of decisions and people, as you see, they're all wearing masks. They are supposed to do a PCR or antigenic test, have sanitary passes for those who are from the European Union. And also because we knew that some wouldn't be able to come, so that's the reason why it's kind of a hybrid events. I think it's better when people are here in person and they like to talk to each other and to interact, but there is this possibility for those who couldn't come.

Olivia Columbus
It's so wonderful. And I know even some of our team who wanted to watch the panel that our team member was moderating, they were so grateful to be able to have that opportunity. And for folks, exactly, who especially with this new variant weren't able to attend, I'm sure they really appreciated that ability to log in and to watch. Looking ahead, where do you see the conference going? How do you see it continuing to grow, especially as nuclear continues to grow within the public sphere and public conversation around climate change?

Sylvie Bermann
Yes, absolutely. It is organized every two years, so we are planning to organize one next year. I will announce tomorrow at the closing ceremony the exact dates. As so, we hope to have even more companies. I saw in the afternoon a foreign company who said that it is the first time, but they want to come back next year and have a bigger voice. So that's very encouraging that and that's good news. I'm sure others will come back as well, because they saw that it is very positive for them.

Olivia Columbus
It is just such a such a wonderful event. Well, to kind of wrap up here, looking ahead, where do you see the future of nuclear energy in France, globally, and just kind of in general?

Sylvie Bermann
I think in France, of course, it will remain a key energy and with a new program, as I said, which is also very important to keep the expertise. But we are cooperating with other countries and I think in other countries also, there could be new decisions. You know that there are some projects in India and in Czech Republic and Poland and the new EPR in in Finland will start sometimes next year. So I think it is very important and the interest shown by the public also for nuclear shows that it will continue. And of course, it's key for a decarbonated economy, alongside of course with renewables, but it can't be replaced by renewable and so it's still the long-term energy.

Olivia Columbus
Sylvie Bermann, thank you so much for joining us.

Sylvie Bermann
Thank you.

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