Speaking with one voice for nuclear energy

29 February 2016

The nuclear industry today stands at a critical juncture and it is time to reassess our approach to each other and the wider world if we are to make the most of our opportunities, writes Preston Swafford.

The world changes every day, with economic, energy and climate change developments bringing new challenges and new opportunities. The nuclear industry is no different and neither is it immune to the impact of these developments. Just as we couldn't have predicted decades ago where the world is today, so too could we not have known where the nuclear industry would be at this point in time.

The nuclear industry is now at a fork in the road where we have a choice - to continue to be passengers in a changing world, or to proactively put ourselves in the best position to meet the world's new priorities. We know that the industry is willing and capable of taking on these new challenges, be they addressing the impact of climate change or meeting the ever-growing demand for electricity.

"In the past, our industry worked hard to create excitement among the younger generation about nuclear energy. In this post-Fukushima era, we need to work just as hard to educate the new generation effectively."

Increasing concerns over climate change can translate into significant business prospects if we position ourselves properly. There's a growing consensus that nuclear energy should play a major role in combatting climate change that is supported by scientists and politicians alike. Combine these prospects with the emerging markets in Asia that are planning for rapid growth of their nuclear energy programs and we have a major growth opportunity.

Highlighting nuclear energy as part of the solution for upcoming changes will give us access to a new window for growth. So how do we achieve this? The answer is simple: we need to work together. Only through collaboration can we tackle two of the world's main reservations about using nuclear energy: safety and cost.

Working Together

With rising competition across the globe with respect to power generation, the nuclear industry needs to band together and work toward common goals to strengthen the long-term viability of nuclear energy.

While we all represent our own companies, our relationships with each other should be mutually beneficial, even if it means sometimes turning competitors into partners. In many ways, our industry is too small, too fragile and has too many detractors for us to be spending scarce resources fighting each other. I know that we can come together, between organizations and across markets, to find ways to combine our strengths and overcome our weaknesses to create better products and services.

Our organizations, from equipment manufacturers to those whose job is to corral utilities and suppliers, need to speak with a common voice to promote nuclear power as an essential element of the energy mix of the future. If we advance as one cohesive unit, we can become a formidable force in the face of change.

Improving Safety

Together, we must focus on improving safety messaging in our industry. Those outside of our industry don't distinguish between nuclear reactor designs, vendors or operators. When there's a safety issue anywhere in the world, we're all expected to answer for it in a straightforward and uniform way. I know we have a natural tendency to use jargon and statistics. While those may be perfect for our technical professionals and industry gatherings, they don't translate well to the public. The best way to improve confidence in our industry is through frank and transparent communication. We want safety to be easily understandable, and make it easier for everyone to know exactly where things stand.

Connecting with the communities in which we work is also crucial to demonstrating our dedication to safety. In the past, our industry worked hard to create excitement among the younger generation about nuclear energy. In this post-Fukushima era, we need to work just as hard to educate the new generation effectively. We need to be more outspoken about the safety measures we have developed and reinvent how we communicate with them. Delivering this message consistently will lead to better recognition of nuclear power as a viable and safe source of low carbon energy. By using our common voice to explain the positive qualities of nuclear energy, we move closer to gaining wider acceptance.

Managing Costs

The next area for collaboration is a big one: cost. In addition to safety, many people have concerns about the cost of nuclear energy, and justifiably so, because nuclear projects have a tendency to exceed schedules and budget forecasts.

In particular and to our dismay, recent new build and life extension projects have suffered these ills; through the late 1970s and 1980s executing large nuclear projects was challenging due to lengthy project delays. Pooling our key learnings will help us implement the necessary corrective actions to prevent these performance issues from happening again, both on the next life extension projects or new builds. We're already working hard to create quality action programs, especially ones that can increase the predictability of a project to better manage costs.

Working together to innovate every aspect of our industry is imperative to lower costs and deliver greater returns. New technologies - such as the recent development by Russia that has led to reactor vessels that can withstand 100 years of operation, as well as Candu Energy's own alternative fuel reactors that can employ used fuel from light water reactors - will be increasingly important to cost management.

The challenge to remain cost-competitive with other sources of energy is intensifying, but more collaboration between key partners will allow us to share expertise. This knowledge sharing will help our industry pioneer innovative strategies that can maximize energy output and minimize the accumulation of wastes, helping to address climate change.

Taking Action

Now is the time for our industry to reinvent itself to secure future growth and success. We can and we must earn the public's confidence in a post-Fukushima world. If we choose to act together now, we need to think collaboratively, differently and creatively about how we can service our markets in ways that can guarantee safety, economic and low carbon energy. Let's not wait and let things happen - let's make a collective and proactive choice to make things happen, together.

Preston Swafford

Comments? Please send them to editor@world-nuclear-news.org

Preston Swafford is chief nuclear officer, president and CEO of Candu Energy at SNC-Lavalin Inc, which is based in Toronto, Canada. Swafford is responsible for growing SNC-Lavalin's nuclear business to meet the needs of its customers for technical services, major refurbishments and new builds across Canada and in key international markets. Swafford joined SNC-Lavalin in March 2014 from the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he was executive vice-president and chief nuclear officer of the nuclear power group.