Every year during the third week of October, the international community celebrates Nuclear Science Week. During this week educators, scientists, and students celebrate and discuss the many ways in which nuclear science plays a pivotal role in our society.
To honor this event, C3 Solutions will be conducting a series of interviews with some leaders in nuclear policy, science, and technology. To kick off the week, Drew Bond sat down with Bud Albright on the Right Voices interview series. Albright is President and CEO of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council, a group that supports advancements in the nuclear industry. In total, the Council is comprised of about 80 groups that are leaders in the innovation of nuclear energy and supply chain development.
Albright, who joined the Council after a successful stint as Undersecretary for Energy at the Department of Energy, is a self-avowed fan of nuclear power.
“I became interested in [nuclear energy] because I’ve always been a firm believer in the nuclear industry and know its many, many benefits so far outweigh the overhyped negative aspects, he says.”
One such benefit is its importance in America’s clean energy grid. Today, nuclear power provides some 53% of America’s carbon-free energy. In the past, these benefits have been overshadowed by misguided safety concerns and have hamstrung the deployment of nuclear. Luckily, Bud sees this changing as people across the political spectrum are beginning to realize nuclear’s importance.
“I think certainly more and more people are recognizing that we can’t get there (‘there’ being reaching any of the goals that have been set or really even a significant reduction in carbon emissions) through the generation of electricity without nuclear. It’s just simply not there from a scientific and numbers perspective. Some of our opponents of old, and a number in the environmental community, are recognizing now that we need nuclear and that nuclear is safe.”
One reason for this change in thinking is innovation in the industry. While traditional reactors are incredibly safe and reliable, the industry is beginning to innovate its reactors by making them smaller and even more efficient. In addition to this, the next generation of nuclear reactors has impressive safety features, as Albright explains:
“These plants, we call it ‘walkaway safe.’ And by that, many of them rely on gravity as a shutdown system. So, if anything goes wrong, as long as gravity works, these plants are safe.”
Additionally, the smaller size of these reactors makes them rapidly deployable in the U.S. and the rest of the world. In fact, some of these next-generation technologies can produce as little as 1 megawatt of electricity: enough to power about 1,000 homes. By being so easily deployable these reactors could go a long way in bringing reliable power to developing nations where billions are still without access to electricity.
These small modular reactors are on the cusp of reaching the market, but their deployment is currently on hold pending a myriad system of regulations. The Nuclear Industry Council, under Albright’s leadership, is advocating for reforming these “layers and layers of regulations.”
In terms of international cooperation on nuclear energy, Bud is looking forward to COP26, the U.N. annual conference on climate change, in November, so long as people conduct an honest assessment on the benefits of nuclear energy.
“I think meetings like COP26 are important. [You have] people coming from all over the world to discuss climate issues and how do we reduce our carbon footprint. I think that it’s important that they embrace the realities of science and realities of the world. I do think it’s important to think aspirational. I believe that these meetings are more helpful if the scientific reality is embraced and we can talk honestly and openly without hostility to one technology or the other on how we can reach these goals.”
For now, Albright and his team at the Nuclear Industry Council are working on improving the public’s perception of the nuclear industry through a valuable tool, education.
“I think the only real way to [improve the public’s view of nuclear energy] is education. If people understood the physics behind these plants and the safety, and the track record I think that they would go ‘wow I didn’t realize that.’ Fear is easy to sell. We have to get the facts out there to people because it is safe and it will benefit the whole world.”
As the world celebrates Nuclear Science Week, it is important that the United States has leaders such as Bud Albright that are dedicated to educating the public and advancing innovative solutions to the world’s greatest energy and environmental needs.
Watch the full interview here.