November 11, 2022
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:04] We are here on Titans of Decoupling Energy's Impact with Dr. Chris Keefer, our combined efforts... You actually are my favorite podcast, so it's always a pleasure to have you back on our show.
Chris Keefer [00:01:22] Bret, it's great to be back with you as well. It's been too long. I'm sure we have a lot to catch each other up on.
Bret Kugelmass [00:01:27] Yeah, well, I cannot wait to hear about what you've been up to. I mean, incredible. What like a tide shift has happened in this last year. First of all, what is going on?
Chris Keefer [00:01:40] Yeah. I mean, I've literally been pinching myself for the last six days. On September 29th, we celebrated what will forever be known now as Pickering Day. We've seen, you know, a number of great victories recently. It was wonderful watching our allies in California save Diablo Canyon.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:00] And I want to talk about that. I want to actually... I've been meaning to talk to you about that. I want to know actually how saved is saved. But please continue.
Chris Keefer [00:02:09] Sure.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:10] That was like a nice little victory to begin. But then this kind of thing is unbelievable also.
Chris Keefer [00:02:15] Well, yeah. I mean, there's better people to speak to about Diablo. Maybe I'll get Heather Hoff on or something like that. But, you know, we've been working hard against the odds to save our Pickering Nuclear Generating Station, which is 15% of Ontario's electricity, one of the sort of three crown jewels of these massive nuclear plants we built in the seventies and eighties and nineties here in Ontario, where we would put, you know, eight CANDUs next to each other. And it was a real long uphill battle. You know, we were told by everybody that it wasn't achievable, that it wasn't worth our time, that we're beating a dead horse, that it wasn't good for nuclear, that it was not good for nuclear to try and fight for this plant and get it refurbished.
Bret Kugelmass [00:02:58] Okay. Can we actually pause there for a second and dig into that? I can imagine people saying that because people rationalize and say all sorts of bizarre stuff. Why were they saying that?
Chris Keefer [00:03:08] I'm going to try and be as charitable as I can. Right. Because, you know, I really am careful and I don't think there's any kind of malice or anything behind that. I just think that, you know, a lot of folks have become pretty enamored with sort of an SMR future. And there's definitely a role for SMRs, don't get me wrong. But there was an idea that Pickering was kind of like an anchor or maybe weighing down the boat as it heads into the future that diverting resources to it might divert away from SMRs, that there's some kind of a zero sum game.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:42] So crazy, so crazy. Especially given the amount of energy, clean energy that we need. That's just... Oh, man.
Chris Keefer [00:03:48] Well, we had a similar reaction to you, Bret, but we were, you know, we're a rare breed, you know, these kind of dogged nuclear advocates, you know, in whose company we find ourselves.
Bret Kugelmass [00:03:59] Dogged nuclear advocates. You mean "Nuclear Bros" as the Wall Street Journal is calling you these days?
Chris Keefer [00:04:04] The Washington Post?
Bret Kugelmass [00:04:06] Oh, that was The Washington Post! I'm sorry.
Chris Keefer [00:04:08] No, no. And that was The Washington Post, right? Usually, you know, I was told to expect that this article may not go the way I was hoping it would go. I had a great connection with the author, Shannon Osaka. I was actually really happy with that piece. And, you know, it's nice to kind of reappropriate that term. We can talk about that as well. But just to wrap up the Pickering thoughts, you know, a very long, hard fought campaign that felt completely hopeless in the beginning. You know, I've said before that, you know, tying your arguments as an advocate towards an existing piece of nuclear infrastructure that it's about to be shut down. I mean, that's such a crime, such an act of civilizational and climate vandalism. It's a potent thing to argue for. And so in the earliest days of the Save Pickering fight, we kind of had psychologically prepared ourselves that it wasn't going to happen, but we'd still fight for it because it made for, you know, a better way to frame an argument around nuclear energy than just... Theoretically talking about nuclear is great when you can say, actually, no, it's going to be coal is replaced by gas, our air quality is going to go to shit, our grid is going to get a lot dirtier. You know, it's actually going to get a lot more expensive because of the price of gas, you know, all sorts of different reasons. And this uphill battle, you know, where we were sort of the lone champions of this ended up being won in the end.
Bret Kugelmass [00:05:21] How good does it feel? Come on.
Chris Keefer [00:05:21] And I mean, it's... I don't want to go on a long diatribe as to how that happened. I'll let you kind of interject a few questions along the way. But, you know, it's just... It's so exciting. You know, the news is a life extension for a year, and that doesn't sound like too much to write home about. But the really exciting part is that the Ontario government, who is the sole shareholder of Ontario power generation, who owns and operates the plant, has directed them, apparently quite enthusiastically, to pursue a reanalysis of the refurbishment of that plant. As your listeners may or may not know, CANDUs have a 60 to 80 year lifespan at least, but that requires a mid-life refurbishment at 30 to 40 years. Pickering did receive a, you know, a regulator approved plan to do that refurbishment back in 2009. Our government at the time decided that wasn't worth pursuing. So we've got a very pro-nuclear government now and they've made a really important and historic choice, which what I'm saying is this makes Ontario the most pro-nuclear political jurisdiction, I think, in the Western world.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:27] Amazing, truly amazing. I didn't even realize, maybe I'm this is just ignorant of me, but I didn't even realize you were fighting - still fighting - for that specific plant because I also thought it was like a lost cause or something.
Chris Keefer [00:06:42] Yeah, yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:06:44] But, man, you are dogged. It's incredible.
Chris Keefer [00:06:48] You know, I posted about this. It takes a village to save a nuclear plant. There was a really important team that was involved. I think it's important... I think it's interesting to kind of break that down. You know, what are the ingredients? How to save a nuclear plant? We need a little instruction manual. It's looking like it's getting easier and easier as it becomes incredibly more nonsensical to shut these things down. Obviously still got battles to fight in Europe in this.
Bret Kugelmass [00:07:12] Yeah, can you walk me through your playbook, both generically, but also for Pickering, like what literally happened? And like, no, I mean, literally. I want to know, like, what does it take to save a plant? Like, do you have the formula? Is it you get to know your friends together on day one, the old signs, and then on day 30, you write to your congressperson, what is it? What's the playbook?
Chris Keefer [00:07:35] Yeah, I mean, obviously it's going to be tailored to each individual plant, you know, the society in which that plant exists, the role it plays on the grid, etc.. A few commonalities, though, is you definitely need a group of, you know, absolute die hard, determined, dogged activists. And, you know, you see that with the victories at Byron and Dresden, you see that in Diablo Canyon, you very much see that in Pickering. I think another key element is having some kind of a policy report. You know, there's a famous quote from Milton Friedman that I'm going to butcher. But essentially, you know, when crisis strikes, politicians are, you know, they kind of throw their hands in the air and they reach around for the ideas that are available to them, that are easily available. And it's a time when really, you know, new and different ideas - insurgent ideas - can sometimes find their way into policy. And, you know, we spent about nine months writing a beautiful, detailed policy report. And when I say we, Dylan Moon of Nuclear Vision was our kind of lead strategist on this... authored it and did a lot of the work, you know, directing our team to get it laid out and just beautiful. So, having a report... I know at Diablo Canyon as well they had a scientific report by number of scientists, which Gavin Newsom sort of used as a justification to some of his environmental base as to why Diablo Canyon had to be saved. So, that is very important... Having committed activists that will just absolutely never give up. There is a component, certainly, of labor in this. That was big in Byron and Dresden and huge here in Ontario. You know, I think globally, we're really seeing a resurgence of, you know, a realignment. You know, there's a right wing kind of populist frame that's we're seeing kind of replicated all over the world. And there's a really interesting phenomenon. There's a political scientist named Thomas Piketty. He talks about something he calls the Brahmin Left. Brahmins, you know, for those not familiar with the Indian caste system, are in a very elite sector of that society. And he says that, you know, the the way the way that voting used to work, you'd have a kind of left wing or Labor Party and they'd get the votes of Labor. Right? And then the elite - the 1% - and the highly educated would vote for, you know, the right wing or conservative parties. We've seen a real shift where the folks that vote for left wing parties are now the educated, generally urban elites. And those voting for more right wing parties are working people and the 1%. It's a strange kind of realignment of forces here. There's a lot at play, a lot of cultural, you know, culture, war issues at play. You know, there's a lot of a lot of reasons why that's happened.
Bret Kugelmass [00:10:16] And we're seeing this around the world?
Chris Keefer [00:10:18] We really are. Yeah. And in Ontario, that playbook has occurred as well where in this election in particular an incumbent Conservative government, you know, that went through the pandemic, you know, which was a challenging time for a lot of governments, managed to actually secure an even stronger supermajority mandate in their second term. And the way they did it was very much appealing to not the entire, you know, not all of labor. Certainly the public sector unions are not happy with this government and the government isn't making huge... Well, they're actively pissing them off. But with skilled labor, you know, the folks that shower after work, maybe before and after, right? And so there was a really interesting alignment that occurred in this election where private sector skilled trades union started to endorse a conservative government, which is, you know, really unprecedented. And that's partially because this particular government has an agenda of being open for business and building things, whether it's, you know, highways or trying to remove red tape to build housing. You know, this is all nuanced and controversial. I'm not a partizan person. I'm not a government hack for this government. You know, certainly, you know, there's allegations that, you know, part of this, you know, agenda of, you know, building stuff might involve, you know, destroying our greenbelt or being too friendly with, you know, developers and things like that. But suffice it to say, skilled trades people are seeing themselves more in this conservative government as a government that's going to get things built, essentially. And that's a real failure of the political left. But as a result, not to get too much into a big politics lesson. I think labor gained a lot of traction and a lot of power to potentially steer an agenda. This beautiful report that we put together ended up getting passed along to the government, you know, via some friends in labor. You know, I've spent two years really building relationships with friends in unions and in the labor movement, and those connections really paid off. The report got delivered to the highest levels of government. This crisis struck. Our independent electricity systems operator released a report saying, "Oops, our bad. We actually are forecasting an enormous increase in demand and Pickering coming off line is going to leave it at risk for four brownouts." And so the report landed and apparently was well received by the government. And a couple of months later we have this announcement which, you know, which was a shock to many, many, many people. You know, I started to see it coming as I started getting certain bits of intel here and there that, "Oh, wow, we're certainly going to get a life extension." But then this announcement of the exploration of refurbishment was just sort of beyond my... It wasn't beyond my wildest expectations or dreams, but I certainly was very, very pleased that it occurred.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:18] Yeah, no. Amazing. So how much power do these units produce?
Chris Keefer [00:13:23] So, these are 500 megawatt reactors. They're smaller than a CANDU.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:26] And how many of them are there at Pickering?
Chris Keefer [00:13:28] There's eight. Six of them are currently operating. Two of them have been mothballed.
Bret Kugelmass [00:13:33] Does mothballed mean that they are resurface-able?
Chris Keefer [00:13:37] I mean, potentially, you know, the way we built CANDUs again was we build four-packs. And so there was Pickering A, which has four units brought online between 1971 and 1974, I believe. And Pickering, B, 1983 to 86. And so those older units on the A-side, two of them had actually already been refurbished. So we know Pickering can be refurbished. Right? And the argument that we put forward is that we should refurbish the B side units. So then again, the whole station, all six of those reactors puts out about 3.1 gigawatts, 3100 megawatts or 21 to 24 terawatt hours every year. For those familiar with kind of North American geography and who know about the Great Lakes and just how much water power there is, Pickering puts out more power than all of the Canadian hydroelectric facilities at Niagara Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world. And Pickering also puts out more than two times all of the grid connected wind and solar contracts. We have 3,273 of these contracts, which, you know, whose price tag will - in subsidies - will end up being something like $60 billion over their 40 year contract lifespans. Pickering produces double that and it produces power when we need it, not power that gets curtailed or sold at negative prices to the U.S.. And we estimate that refurbishment is going to cost about 10 billion or one sixth of all of that. So, just to give the listeners a bit of a context about, you know, how Mighty Pickering is, it's incredible. I visited the plants. I haven't been inside yet. But, you know, it's similar to any nuclear plant. The power density is insane. It's, you know, this is on the footprint of a Costco, a large Costco, essentially. And basically, powers Canada's largest city.
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:25] One building for a million people.
Chris Keefer [00:15:30] Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:15:30] Yeah. It's just so crazy. I mean. Yeah, I mean, listen, I think most of our audience is continuously - as we are - continuously enamored by, like, the incredible power of nuclear. Let's get through some of these logistics. So I want to get a real sense of like, what's going to happen when. So, schedule. So, when were they going to be shut down? From what year to what year does the life extension occur? And then how much time do they have to plan to do like a real life extension?
Chris Keefer [00:15:59] So, the plan is licensed to 2028. It's been scheduled to be closed actually several times. We didn't know how long CANDUs would last for when they were designed by the engineers who came up with the brilliant design. Arbitrarily, it was thought... I think engineers just tend to pick sort of 30 to 40 years when they design new technologies. And so that's kind of what was thought. Obviously, we've learned that we can refurbish them. That the rate limiting factor in a CANDU is we don't have a pressure vessel, but that equivalent, which is called the pressure tubes, you know, the Pickering reactors have 380 pressure tubes which carry that pressurized heavy, heavy water off to the steam generators. And those pressure tubes are what age over time and need to be replaced. Interestingly, because Pickering is a smaller reactor and I guess I'm no reactor physicist, but there's less neutron flux, I'm told. Its pressure tubes are aging the slowest in the entire fleet. And so, again, that B side is coming up on sort of 40 years of life and actually performing better than it ever has. Our capacity factors are the best they've been for that site. A site record was set where all six of the reactors powered for 100 full days through the summer, right through our peak demand season. Pickering set a world record that was broken later on by another CANDU site, Darlington, but operating for two and a half years, a run that went two and a half years. Just to give you a little bit of context, and so in terms of the timeline, you know, Pickering originally was slated for closure, I believe, as early as 2012 and then 2018. We got a life extension to 2018. And then, you know, the previous Liberal government gave an extension to 2024 and the Ford government when they got it and gave it an extension to 2025 and now this announcement extends it one year further to 2026. The license from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is an operating license till 2028. And so they're going to come back...
Bret Kugelmass [00:17:53] Why isn't then it... Maybe I'm missing something here. If the nuclear regulator is giving them a license until 2028, why isn't that the presumed lifetime of the facility? Why is there anything that would artificially cut that short?
Chris Keefer [00:18:07] Yeah, that didn't make sense to me either. But my understanding is that the license is for kind of all operations at the plants. So the idea is that, you know, the decommissioning phase, you know, de-fueling and everything that would all have to be wrapped up by 2028. Potentially. Potentially. So, this directive to re-examine, to dust off, that regulator approved refurbishment plan again that happened in 2009 and look at it again to see if it's viable and check the economics. Look at it technically. See how how feasible it is. That's due at the end of 2023. So, at that point, we'll be able to jump on, you know, ordering the steam generators, ordering the new pressure tubes and really going gangbusters. We have become absolute experts at refurbishment, you know, the refurbishments being...
Bret Kugelmass [00:18:53] Canadians?
Chris Keefer [00:18:53] Canadians. Yeah. And you know, Bruce Power and Ontario Power Generation at Ontario Power Generation. They've done incredible things to learn how to do this ultra efficiently. They've built a mock up at the Darlington site... Ontario Power Generation has... Of the exact.... I think it's made out of plywood and stuff like this, but of the vault. Of the what we call the calandria and the pressure tubes. And they have their workers go and practice on that, practice their maneuvers, so they can go in and out and get the job done really quick. They're innovating all sorts of neat ways to speed up the process.
Bret Kugelmass [00:19:25] This reminds me of like the Italian job. Do you remember that? That movie where they built a mock up...
Chris Keefer [00:19:29] Yeah. And Bret, you know, I'm a huge advocate within nuclear for the human factor side of things. I think a lot of nuclear gets tied up in blueprints, in the, you know, the imaginations of engineers. But, you know, this kind of a process where you, you know, we are investing $26 billion, Canada's largest infrastructure project in the refurbishments of all of the reactors at Darlington and all of the reactors at Bruce. It generates an incredible human capital. Familiarity, troubleshooting... That's what, that's what gets devalued. I think a lot of nuclear is like, you know, the people who actually machine the parts and then get some insight into how to do that better or how to, you know, remove this piece of the reactor and put it back in. That's not something that's figured out by an engineer on, you know, working on CAD or something like that. That's figured out by people getting their hands dirty. And I feel like it's high time that those people have a greater influence in helping us make our choices on what's the best way forward for nuclear. And, you know, that's a small part of of you know, I think our contribution in terms of Canadians for nuclear energy is we're really working alongside, you know, because of those extensive relationships with labor, able to bring those perspectives forward. And, you know, of course, we were told that saving Pickering was bad for nuclear. How could it be bad? I mean, we've potentially generated $10 billion for the sector to refurbish this vital clean energy asset. I don't, I don't understand how that can be bad. Yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:20:54] Okay. Can I pitch an idea to you and you tell me if this is feasible or a good idea or whatever? Because as you're talking about this, I'm like, why do we even allow for this idea of a lifetime? Okay, so like a human lifetime is like something that ends, right? Okay. But like when you think of other types of institutions, like trusts or universities, we actually don't think of them as having a concrete end. We think of them almost as institutions that will go on forever if properly cared for. Is there a construct that we can develop for nuclear power stations that we move away from this idea of they have a life and we move to this idea of they are like a national park. They are a protected institution that gives life, right? To a community of some sort, and that must be preserved forever. And that's what we changed the dialog to. That's what we changed the battle grounds for. We say, "This is so important to humanity, to just a society, to all the things that you mentioned, to having an educated labor force, to providing clean power, to protecting a country against energy volatility across the world." Can we create a a total like paradigm rewrite where we say all nuclear power stations across the world are now forever institutions? And if we start to think about in that lens, it's no longer, oh, we have these lifetimes refurbishments. We think, okay, the steam generator gets replaced every 20 years or whatever, the calandria gets replaced every 35 years, the physical roof of the building maybe gets replaced every 60 years. Okay, that's fine. They're all on different schedules. We'll time the maintenance, but let's get rid of this idea that it has an end to it.
Chris Keefer [00:22:41] I think that's a very interesting idea. I mean, you know, there's limitations. For example, like the the gas reactor fleet in the U.K., unfortunately, just don't seem to be refurbish-able because you can't access all the stuff to play with.
Bret Kugelmass [00:22:55] Replace the reactor. Sure.
Chris Keefer [00:22:57] Sure. Keep the site. Absolutely. I mean, Pickering...
Bret Kugelmass [00:23:00] Keep the institution a living nuclear institution.
Chris Keefer [00:23:03] Yeah. Pickering. You know, the craziness of this all was that Pickering was going to be fully decommissioned. We're going to lose an approved nuclear site, lose all of that transmission and grid connection. You know, it takes 7 to 9 years now to work your way through this insane federal environmental impact assessment policy and procedure in order to get a new site licensed 7 to 9 years. Who can invest in that? But I wanted to add one thing, because this was something that a question that came up in the press conference, you know, a very overeager member of the press said to the minister of Energy announcing the potential for the refurbishment. He said, you know, "I drive a 2010 Dodge Caravan. You know, I don't think that thing should be on the road much longer." And he was making that kind of analogy that a nuclear plant's like his shitty old Dodge Caravan. And it got me thinking a little bit about what the differences are. And, you know, it's kind of like, well, do you get an oil change every thousand miles? Like at the first indication that there's any any wear on the on the drive belt, like, is it swapped out? You know, how often are your brakes serviced? Oh, and do you drive only at 60 miles an hour in the right lane of the highway? You know, in the most conservative way possible. And do you have like three extra sets of anti-lock brakes on your vehicle? Like, it's just the analogy doesn't really hold true.
Bret Kugelmass [00:24:22] Is there any way to get past that 7 to 9 year environmental permit? You were talking about the Conservative Party cutting through some of the red tape. Is that red tape on the table?
Chris Keefer [00:24:33] Yeah. So this is a federal issue and right now we have a... The Liberal government is in power. They're the ones who created this federal Environmental Impact Assessment or who updated it and made it quite onerous. So I mean, of course, these things are political. You know, the thing is and the irony is like even if you wanted to build, say, some new reactors at the Bruce Power Station, like an already approved license nuclear site, which has some of the most intensive environmental monitoring in the world. I mean, they're looking at the, you know, the health of the the amphibians on site. They're doing constant sampling, you know, all the time. That site would require 7 to 9 years. We're not just... Even a brownfield site, for God's sakes. If you were to go and, you know, we used to have North America's largest coal plant, that site that's contaminated with heavy metals, you know, with coal ash and all sorts of things... That site you'd need to take seven or nine years to decide about, you know, whether it's environmentally okay to to build a zero emissions nuclear power plant. I mean, it's asinine. So, yes, I mean, there's nothing written in stone about needing that amount of time for an environmental assessment. And, you know, there's an interesting set of ideas. I think it's Ezra Klein in the States talking about supply side progressiveness, progressivism, like there's a real need to, you know, if the climate concerned folks are serious, there's a hell of a lot of red tape standing in the way of building the kind of, you know, clean energy infrastructure that's required to do an energy transition to diffuse, you know, the so-called climate bomb. And what stands in the way are environmentalists' environmental regulations a lot of the time. This isn't to say that there's not a role for for those kind of processes, but it's gotten completely out of hand.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:09] Yeah, well, I've come to the opinion that most environmentalists don't actually care about the environment. It's about something else. It's a, you know, it's either about de-growth or it's about their social network. And, you know, just playing along with whatever they say. It's like never like an actual, like, deep study of like, what's that best net net for the environment?
Chris Keefer [00:26:30] Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Bret Kugelmass [00:26:32] And so you mentioned new builds. Yeah. Do you spend much time with the companies that are doing the refurbishment or have you like gotten to know them?
Chris Keefer [00:26:40] Yeah. I've developed relationships really throughout the industry again with all the major labor unions, but also, yeah, a lot of the folks involved in the supply chain. We had the pleasure of visiting BWXT, who have a huge facility in Cambridge which is banging out the steam generators that Bruce Power requires. They need, I think, 32 steam generators for four of their units up in Bruce. They're doing all eight of their units. But, you know, this is an order of around $500 million that goes, you know, to the community of Cambridge, which is a city of about two or 300,000 people. These are sort of 10 to 15 year contracts, securing high paying jobs for the steelworkers in that case, who are doing the work of assembling in a building, these steam generators and feeder pipes and things like that. Really a remarkable facility. And actually the only, you know, large what is it called again, foreign material exclusion clean room to build this kind of infrastructure surviving in North America. Right? And it's being sustained. Talk about being good for the nuclear industry. It's being sustained by these refurbishment orders. So, yeah, I've had the pleasure. Of course, I don't know everybody. It's a massive sector here. We have 76,000 people employed directly by nuclear in Ontario. But yeah, and it's... Yes, I guess the answer is I have met a few people but many more to meet.
Bret Kugelmass [00:28:03] Yeah. The reason I ask that is because I'm curious if you have or if you could next time you speak to someone ask them. "If you know everything that you need to know to refurbish a plant, do you also know everything you need to know to build a new one, or at least the critical parts of it? And if so, like, can we not just be content with refurbs, but can we also scale them up to build, you know, three, four, five, ten, 20, 100 more like using whatever thing that they are doing? The same engineering, the same, you know, supply chain, you know, the same labor, you know, whatever it is like. Can we do more?"
Chris Keefer [00:28:43] I mean, that's my thesis, Bret. You know, my passion really with the with the Decouple podcast is to examine and explore what I call the nuclear secret sauce. You know, we know that we have, in many countries around the world, built nuclear plants on budget and on time, and they provide an incredible value and underpin so much of, again, what we take for granted. And so, you know, what are those ingredients and how have we failed, particularly in the West in the 21st century with the AP1000 and Summer and Vogtle with the EPRs? I mean, thank God the Finns brought their Olkiluoto online, but we faced major, major challenges. And, you know, you don't get a nuclear renaissance coming along every, you know, few years. These are sort of once in a generation opportunities. And we don't have the luxury of screwing it up, quite frankly. Right? And I've been rather unimpressed with the discourse and the kind of seriousness that we put into exploring, "What is that nuclear secret sauce?" And I don't find there's enough debate. I find there's a lot of sort of top down, "This is the party line. We've decided that this is the way we're going. Everybody, you know, row in the same direction." And I'm not sure, you know, again, we're both anthropologists of nuclear coming at this from outside of the industry as we do. But I think Ontario, again, we're the most pro-nuclear political jurisdiction in the world. I think we are the best equipped jurisdiction in the entire Western world as well to build, to have the ingredients of this nuclear secret sauce. And so what is that? Many people would jump straight to the conclusion it's the best design in the world. Right? And certainly, you know, those are some of the claims, like the AP1000 was supposed to be incredibly economical and use far less steel and concrete. It was supposed to click together like Lego. You know, that was the original design, I think was an AP600. And it was supposed to get around economies of scale because of its modularity and being able to snap it together like Lego. Didn't work out so well, you know? So my real thesis is that design is important, but it is not the most important thing, particularly if your industry has been atrophied and not built anything new in a couple decades. Right? We have CANDU... Like I do look at the schematics of CANDU and I go, "Holy shit, the plumbing is insane." You know? We have 380 or 480 of these pressure tubes. There's, you know, pipes feeding each end of those carrying the heavy water around. You know, it does look like a very complicated reactor when you look at, you know, a PWR or BWR and you just think, "Man, this thing just looks like a pressure cooker with a bunch of fuel in it." Right? There are obviously huge advantages to CANDU in terms of, you know, the other things we can do like making medical isotopes, like online refueling, like being able to just use dirt straight out of the ground... un-enriched uranium. But the key advantage we have is we have a workforce, as you mentioned, you know... It's 20 to 30,000 people that are actively involved in the refurbishments who are again, we talked about that lived experience, that engineering discipline, that tradesperson discipline of, you know, machining the parts, putting them together, figuring out how they all fit together, gaining familiarity with that project management. That is at an exceedingly high level and we're proving it. We're doing our refurbishments on budget, actually below budget and ahead of schedule. OPG is doing a magnificent job of that at Darlington. So does that equip us to build new CANDUs? I mean, in my opinion, yes, you have that workforce. You also have a supply chain that is banging out these things, banging out these steam generators, banging out these pressure tubes. And the beauty of it all is that it's all happening right here in our backyard. 96% of the supply chain is right here. And we often, you know, compare, I think, when utilities are looking to vendors, whose reactor should I build? You know, people come forward with LCOE numbers. Who knows how valid they are. There's a lot of, you know, reactor developers that make some pretty confident claims about, you know, $60 a megawatt, you know, whatever that number is. CANDU might come in a little more expensive. We're not sure yet. But the economic development benefit for Canada and for Ontario in particular is insane.
Bret Kugelmass [00:32:47] I've heard you talk about this before and it like literally pays for itself, even if it didn't produce electricity.
Chris Keefer [00:32:53] A buck in you get a buck 40 out. I mean, I don't know if I go quite that far, but it is, you know, what I call the ultimate economic stimulus. There's nothing like it. There's absolutely nothing like it. And I've got the chance now to visit many of the workplaces, you know, within the supply chain, to meet the men and women that work there, the dignified jobs that are available, the community sustaining jobs, the tax rate sustaining facilities. I mean, and when you compare that, again, Ontario was on this path. You know, the Ontario government made a choice here. And it was you know, we framed the question as, "It's gas or nuclear. You Pickering Right?” Pickering was the key decision point that needed to be made. But we were sort of sleepwalking into a kind of natural gas path dependency. It's still the fastest and maybe cheapest thing to build. I mean, the price of gas has caused people to reconsider that a little bit. You know, we currently produce nuclear at about 8 to $0.09 per kilowatt hour. Gas is priced at 12 to $0.13 per kilowatt hour. But those are rates that we're locked in based on prices of, you know, a year or two ago. And we've seen Henry Hub Price, you know, go as high as five times what it was two years ago. And right now in Ontario, we've marginalized gas only to peaking because we have this incredible baseload capacity with our nuclear and our hydro. But by eliminating 15% of baseload power in our grid, we were going to be burning that gas around the clock, day in, day out. And that gas is getting expensive. And so, you know, and the beautiful thing, again, with refurbishment, there's a great report by the the Financial Accountability Office when they were studying the refurbishments at Darlington and Bruce. And they were saying, okay, well, let's... "What if the refurbishments go 40% over budget? How does that impact ratepayers? What increases the cents per kilowatt hour by 7%?" So, you'd go from $0.09 a kilowatt hour, what, to 9.6 cents per kilowatt hour? That's not nothing. But that's if you go, you know, 40% over budget on your refurbs. We're doing it under budget and ahead of schedule. So, you know what's missing from this? Obviously, the civil engineering you need for new builds. You need to pour a lot of concrete, a lot of steel. You know, that's not something that maybe we have as much experience as we need. I don't want to say that we're completely equipped to go out and bang out new reactors, but I think that we have a CANDU advantage here. And, you know, the needs of our greater particularly in Ontario... Ontario's the largest province in Canada, where we're installing a lot of electric arc furnaces at our steel facilities we're, you know, really incentivizing battery electric vehicles. We need a huge amount more power on the grid. We're building the West's first SMR, the BWRX300. That's a great thing. But we have a licensed site with three other spots on it, licensed for 4800 megawatts. And the current plan is to maybe build 1200 megawatts in the form of 4 BWRX300s. And to me, you know, as much as I think SMRs are awesome and there's an export market and we should be certainly doing one and, you know, doing the first of a kind and getting some of the export business from that... We can't waste those sites. Again, it's going to take seven and nine years to get another site just prepped and ready. We're lucky.
Bret Kugelmass [00:35:58] Yeah, and that drives me... that part just drives me absolutely insane. It makes no sense, especially the example you gave. Like if you put it on an already, like toxic, like coal dump, it's like, what do you need to do an environmental impact statement for? This is crazy. Okay, but we have limited time, so I want to make sure that you get your messages across just because I... You know, once again, I've been watching enamored at like all the incredible work that you've been doing, everything from you, like being in front of Congress to, you know, you obviously teaming up with all the other advocates. You know, I follow you on the WhatsApp group, you know, and now, you know, these victories. So it's just - one after another with you - all while holding down a job as a full time doctor. Not too shabby. So, what other like big events or topics do you want to make sure that we cover on our platform also that you're involved in?
Chris Keefer [00:36:45] Man. I mean, this one just it just looms so large for me. You know, obviously, we've got a lot more in the pipeline. We're a very ambitious organization.
Bret Kugelmass [00:36:52] Yeah. What's next?
Chris Keefer [00:36:54] Yeah. In terms of what else we have in store in Canada. You know, we have this insane situation where our government has labeled nuclear a sin stock, essentially when it comes to green financing. It's the equivalent of tobacco or firearms.
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:06] I thought Bruce or something issued a private bond that sold out?
Chris Keefer [00:37:09] A private bond...
Bret Kugelmass [00:37:11] Or some story like that, right?
Chris Keefer [00:37:12] No. So, listen, I mean, obviously, we're seeing a huge nuclear renaissance and a pivot back towards nuclear. The renewable sector is hyper capitalized. And, you know, GE, their wind division is losing money. All the major wind manufacturers, seven of ten of them are already in China. The rest are rapidly moving their manufacturing there because of the prices of commodities. You know, 97% of solar wafers are coming out of China now. You know, it's an area where margins are getting tight for investors. And I think, you know, as we're seeing with uranium bulls, we're seeing a real renewed interest in nuclear. But our country, in Canada, a tier one nuclear nation, and even our province, Ontario, which is 61% nuclear powered, has a world class, deeply decarbonized grid. Nuclear is not in our green bond, which is insane.
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:01] Come on, come on, come on, come on.
Chris Keefer [00:38:02] I'm not even kidding you. So, you did mention you did mention Bruce Power. So, you know, there's a whole bunch of encouraging moves around the world, as you and I have been following closely. In July of this year, the EU finally, after this soap opera production, agreed that nuclear was, you know, qualified to be in the sustainable finance taxonomy. South Korea, just two weeks ago, with their change in presidential leadership, included nuclear in their green bond. As you mentioned, Bruce Power issued a $500 million bond, which was certified by Cicero, which is a, you know, financial institution that looks at these things. It was oversubscribed by seven times. All of the major banks in Canada, Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, Toronto-Dominion, have all been releasing very pro-nuclear, you know, policy reports.
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:50] It's just gonna be a matter of time until the government...
Chris Keefer [00:38:53] It is, yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:38:53] Okay, so do we think that we need to do something, or...
Chris Keefer [00:38:56] We do, though. We do. We do. We do because. Because there's resistance from the people that go and sell. You know, in for instance, in Ontario, the reason it's being held up is because the... Blanking on names right now. But essentially the folks who go around the world selling Ontario's debt are telling the government, "Listen, if you want to include nuclear in that green bond financing, you're not going to get as good of an interest rate. It's going to cost you an extra $200 million a year. You sure you want to do that? I think that's an untested hypothesis. I don't think that holds true anymore. I think within green finance, there's a hell of a lot of influence from nefarious environmental interests. And I think that may have been true historically five, ten years ago. But, I mean, this is the kind of thing with finance, right? You read the markets, you read the world, and you become a leader and you take a risk and you make you know, you'll have large dividends from it. And so I think, you know, in Ontario, we're on the cusp. It's going to take a little bit of advocacy, but I think we're going to win that. Federally, it's a lot more challenging because we have a government that is very... I won't even say... I want to give them the dignity of saying they're undecided. They're hostile to nuclear, and they make occasional concessions.
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:07] And what are the... How does the political system work in Canada again? The provinces have a lot of power. Right? And then... When's the election for the federal government? How does that work? And is the current party going to stay in power or?
Chris Keefer [00:40:22] Yeah. I mean, so we're a federalist country, right? So, we have 13 provinces and territories. Oh, my God. I might fail... If I had to you know, I was hanging out with some friends that were studying for their citizenship exam. And you have to know every little weird detail about, you know, the well, now the king of our... You know, we're a constitutional monarchy, for God's sakes. So, our head of state is actually King Charles.
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:44] Oh, back from England times. Okay.
Chris Keefer [00:40:46] Yeah. No, no, he's still our head of state. You know, when we form a government.
Bret Kugelmass [00:40:50] Is he on your money?
Chris Keefer [00:40:52] His face isn't on the money. But when we form government, we need permission from the governor general. It's usually pretty symbolic and it's almost always given. We're a weird country, man, and we're the only country in the northern hemisphere... or in the Western Hemisphere, really, that didn't, you know, evict the you know, didn't become a republic, essentially.
Bret Kugelmass [00:41:10] Even the little island nations in the Caribbean have kicked it...
Chris Keefer [00:41:12] I mean, maybe like us and Belize are in that category, maybe Jamaica, I'm not sure. Anyway, so yeah, there's provincial jurisdictions and federal jurisdictions. We just had a provincial election, as I mentioned, they won a pretty crushing supermajority, stripped away nine seats from the traditional party of labor. And that was largely, again, because they lost private sector skilled tradespeople. That's traditionally that those folks vote for the left. And the left has become, you know, in Canada, as in many places around the world, the party of the urban chattering class, the urban elite, completely out of touch, sort of tinged by environmentalism and de-growth and not not a party that I think skilled trades put their confidence in. So, you know, that's delivered that you know that supermajority provincially but federally it's a little more complex and you know, who knows? Our next election is probably going to be in 2025. I'm hoping that the government party comes to their senses before then. But, yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:15] Okay, so it's still a while out, so nothing in the next couple of years will really change on the federal level you're thinking.
Chris Keefer [00:42:21] Yeah, yeah.
Bret Kugelmass [00:42:23] But maybe we can plan for a few years. I mean, your business, not mine, but. Well, you can plan I guess, because like if that's when everything is being timed and I mean, things are only going to get worse with the energy situation for the next couple of years anyway. So, maybe it'll create a forcing function for them to either re-examine their hostility towards nuclear or get kicked out of office.
Chris Keefer [00:42:41] Well, listen, listen. I mean, I think, you know what happened provincially with a populist right wing government forging a new alliance with not all of labor. Don't get me wrong. Again, teachers and nurses, for instance, have not been treated particularly well by this government and are very hostile to this government. But, you know, the right, the political right doesn't need to win all of labor. Right? They need to win pockets of it in order to, you know, add that into their overall alliance. That's very much on the wall for the governing Liberal Party. We have a new very right wing populist conservative leader in Pierre Poilievre, and there's a very real risk for the Liberals that he could do something similar to Doug Ford and you know, already has very strong support in regional areas, particularly kind of rural, underdeveloped areas in the country but needs to break through in Ontario. And if he can strip seats away from the Liberals by courting that element of the working class, those private sector, skilled trades unions, that's a real risk. So, I think in the end, you know, sometimes I used to think in the past fall into the delusion that politicians made decisions based upon, you know, values and climate change and this, that and the other. Nah, they make decisions based upon the pragmatics, and nothing is more pragmatic to a politician than potentially getting... Losing their seat or losing their government. So, I think there is an interesting opportunity, and I think there is hope that this government will come to its senses and certainly, you know, make a pivot as the rest of the world is really doing towards nuclear.
Bret Kugelmass [00:44:20] Yep. Okay. And as we kind of come to a conclusion here, you mentioned the rest of the world. Give me your take on the rest of the world and what's happening, what you like, what you don't like. I know that's a big question, but you have a perspective. You talk to a lot of people. So this is one people have to like hear from you and get an update like what is Chris Kiefer's like world view, with nuclear, obviously, like what is your worldview? How is it being shaped and transforming over time?
Chris Keefer [00:44:46] Well, you know, it is so interesting, you know, podcasting. I have my sort of... How do I put this? Like, it's kind of like I have sensors, you know, in various places around the world because I have this, like, wonderful... You know, I'm always bringing on new guests, but I have a lot of returning guests as well, you know, and that gives me a perspective on the world. I think it's really important to acknowledge in our modern world, you know, where what we see is so determined by the algorithm and other things that we're all operating with really imperfect information. I do feel really blessed and have a lot of trust for the people that I brought on. You know, folks like Doomberg, folks like Noah Rettberg, Mark Nelson, Adam Blazowski, most recently with the Nord Stream incident. I think one of my big reflections is that, you know, this time of kind energy bounty of fossil fuel plenty was just this time of utter delusion when a kind of vampire form of energy like wind and solar could sort of prosper off of, you know, off of the cream of this, you know, overflowing milk jug of energy. Right? And, you know, the fact that the Germans finally came to their senses and are not keeping those two nuclear plants in reserve, which doesn't even work, I guess, in terms of the reactor physics of, you know, largely a spent core, you know, taking it offline and then maybe bringing it back on. It just wasn't going to work. Listen to Noah Rettberg. One of my previous episodes there to get more on that, you know, it took the Nord Stream pipelines either being blown up... I read something interesting about you know potentially the Russians just did such a poor job on maintenance that some big, you know, methane hydrate led to rupture. Who knows? But anyway, it took the collapse of that vital artery for them to Russia to finally say, "You know what? Fuck. We're going to have to run these reactors at least to April. We won't shut them down." Right? And if it was sabotage and you start thinking about, well, is major energy infrastructure sort of in play as a geopolitical lever, as a lever in a war? There's a lot of other pipelines. I mean, it's amazing looking at those spider web maps coming out of Norway. You know, what would the implications be? And I think that's... that people are thinking about that. And all of a sudden it's absolutely insane to even consider shutting down a nuclear plant. You know, if you're not living in that bounty of fossil fuel plenty, of course, you treasure nuclear plants for everything they're worth. You know, the huge hypocrisy is that the people who are most concerned about climate change and vilify fossil fuels were the ones that were most willing and keen and eager and enthusiastic to shut off this vital source of power. So, you know, that's a big reflection. Adam Blazowski, people should check out that episode. It's our Nord Stream episode. We got it out on the day of the of the incident, whatever it was, I guess sabotage is the dominant theory. But he had a great statement on the podcast, which was, you know, all of the things like energy security, like being able to, you know, keep your house warm for your kids, having the bare necessities are just the absolute the necessity that enables all these like, you know, in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, like our concern about biodiversity and the beauty of nature is meaningless if we're cold because we will go and cut down all the trees in the park to heat our homes. And that sounds like it's happening. I mean, Adam talked about someone, I think he'd seen someone in Poland, like going to their local park and cutting one of the trees up for firewood. And, I mean, I imagine that sort of thing...
Bret Kugelmass [00:48:12] Yeah. When you're desperate, all these things are on the table. Yeah.
Chris Keefer [00:48:16] Yeah, yeah. So I mean, those are a few of my reflections, I think. I think nuclear is on the rise. I think fossil fuels are going to remain. You know, this crisis is not ending anytime soon. It's very interesting seeing how that's being handled. You know, I won't pretend to have a ton of expertise in that area. But, you know, certainly the response to, you know, Putin's pipeline wars was not, "Well, let's just increase supply and drive down price and bankrupt Putin." It was, "Let's continue on with a fairly contradictory process here of, you know, suppressing investment in fossil fuels." It's, I think, about 300 billion a year just to sort of maintain current production. And we've been sort of down to about 150 billion a year, year after year. And so, you know, there's no surprise there's a a fossil fuel shortage. I think it's absolutely shocking. And one of the greatest sort of moral crimes of the Germans is outbidding everybody else for the remaining LNG and coal in the world, in the third world countries that are going to be blacked out or potentially starving because of that. I mean, there's a lot to comment on, Bret. But those are, I guess, the thoughts that rise to the surface based upon, you know, the intel that I have from around the world. And I'm very lucky to have it thanks to the podcast.
Bret Kugelmass [00:49:23] Yeah. Okay. Well, we'll wrap up then encouraging everyone to go and check out your podcast too, the Decouple podcast. I'm sure you can find it everywhere. Chris, thanks for coming on our show. Amazing, everything you do... I truly watch with admiration like week by week. So, thank you from me and everybody else. And now go off and save some lives at a hospital.
Chris Keefer [00:49:41] And I'm starting to be a little bit better at the hustle here. You know, Canadians for Nuclear Energy achieved this great victory, you know, and we had to pay people to help us with that, you know, namely Dylan Moon of Nuclear Vision, who is the guy who pulled that report together. And so we have a big donation button on our website, Canadians for Nuclear Energy. C4NE.CA. Even if you're international, what's good for nuclear in Canada is good for nuclear in the States, is good for nuclear around the world. So, you know, if you do like our work, we would... You know, I'm actually asking for your support, so I'll just leave with that. I'm trying to work that into my messaging these days because it is... It has been amazing seeing what we've been capable of. And I deeply care about changing the world for the better. And we just did that right here in Ontario.
Bret Kugelmass [00:50:32] Awesome. All right. That's a wrap. Thanks, Chris.
Chris Keefer [00:50:35] Cheers. All the best.