A Nuclear Energy Agency delegation led by NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, took in a series of panel discussions and technical sessions as part of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 35th Annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC), held in Maryland, United States, during 14-16 March 2023.
Around 4 000 participants from 50 countries attended the conference both in person and online. The RIC fostered wide-ranging discussions between industry stakeholders, government and policymakers around the theme ‘Navigating the Nuclear Future.’
During a special session on the current state of nuclear energy NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV discussed with NRC Chairman Christopher Hanson what actions are needed to future-proof the nuclear sector's ability to help reduce global carbon emissions and provide energy security.
During the session they discussed the recent launch of the NEA Small Modular Reactor Dashboard, which aims to provide decision-makers and policymakers with a tool to help them navigate this complex new wave of advanced nuclear technologies.
“These technologies are not fantasies, concepts or possibilities; they are here now and they are going to be available to make tremendous changes to produce electricity and heat. Those of us in the international nuclear community ̶ including government, industry and regulators ̶ need to get ready because we don’t have 10 years to think about this,” said NEA Director-General Magwood.
“If we don’t have the pieces in place to make these projects successful and to deploy them on a commercial scale, then we are going to miss a very important window of opportunity,” he added.
They also discussed the NEA report Gender Balance in the Nuclear Sector which provides the first publicly available international data on the workforce representation, career trajectories, and challenges facing women in the sector, especially in STEM and leadership positions. Based on data collected from over 8 000 women in the nuclear workforce in 32 countries, as well as human resources data from 96 nuclear organisations in 17 countries, this report provides recommendations for countries working to improve gender balance in the sector.
NEA Director-General Magwood highlighted the importance of attracting, retaining and advancing women in the nuclear sector and how evidence-driven policy frameworks could improve current situation. “As we gathered the information, it became a mission for us to not just chatter about it. We really want to put something on the table that opens the door for countries to take action,” said NEA Director-General Magwood.
Additionally, they also explored the challenges that the nuclear sector must come together to resolve such as supply chain and recruitment and training of the future nuclear workforce. (Watch the video)
Elsewhere in the conference, Diane Cameron, Head of the NEA Nuclear Technology Development and Economics Division, took part in the panel discussion The Future is Now: Case Studies on Nuclear’s Role in Meeting Energy and Electricity Demands.
This session examined the role of nuclear energy in increasing resilience on a low carbon electricity grid and meeting diverse industrial energy demands. Also on the panel were David A. Wright, Commissioner at the NRC; Maureen Zawalick, Vice President of Diablo Canyon Power Plants, Units 1 and 2, Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Elliott Flick, Vice President of Commercial Projects and Constellation at Constellation Growth Initiatives; and Andre Argenton, Chief Sustanability Officer and Vice President of Environment, Health and Safety at Dow Chemical.
Their dialogue provided insights from industry, international, government and research perspectives on topics such as nuclear plant restart decisions, the use of nuclear energy for industrial power and process heat, its use to advance hydrogen production, and ongoing international nuclear development. Ms Cameron discussed the huge possibilities that SMRs will play in the future of the nuclear energy industry and delved further into the assessment criteria of the SMR Dashboard which tracks the progress of specific designs across six parameters: licensing readiness, siting, financing, supply chain, societal engagement and fuel availability.
"The development and deployment of SMRs is an opportunity to address the growing global demand for clean, reliable, and affordable energy. Timelines for SMRs are moving quickly around the world, and projects will need to consider factors beyond technological readiness to be successful,” added Cameron.
(Left to right) David A. Wright (NRC), Maureen Zawalick (Pacific Gas and Electric Company), Elliott Flick (Constellation Growth Initiatives), Diane Cameron (Nuclear Energy Agency), and Andre Argenton (Dow Chemical)
Enabling the safe use of new fuel technologies, including those that can increase the safety of operating reactors, is a key focus area for nuclear regulators and NEA Senior Nuclear Safety Specialist, Didier Jacquemain, took up this theme during the session New Fuels Licensing Readiness, during which he shared the NEA’s perspectives and described the Agency’s present activities on advanced fuel readiness.
Mr Jacquemain highlighted the different ways in which the NEA is supporting advanced fuel technologies deployment, particularly through joint nuclear safety research projects.
“Joint safety research projects are a really unique tool to establish common grounds on key safety issues amongst all stakeholders of the nuclear sector, involving industry, regulators, technical support organisations and research organisations. They also provide a unique way to maintain and develop key research infrastructures and key competencies in the nuclear safety area. These projects have proven to be essential for fuel research and deployment,” said NEA Senior Nuclear Safety Specialist, Didier Jacquemain.
In addition to the NEA’s speaking engagements, the delegation held a number of bilateral meetings with various stakeholders and delegations to identify further areas for collaboration on projects which can help the NEA to support its member countries as they navigate the future of the nuclear energy sector and the imminent arrival of the new innovative nuclear technologies.