The former Chief Nuclear Officer for a major utility will take over the policy and trade group as the industry and its members are facing major challenges.
- Keeping reactors open in the face of significant market trends
- Finding solutions for interim and final disposition of spent nuclear fuel
- Laying the ground work for a new generation of advanced reactors
Maria Korsnick (right) has been elected president and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the policy organization for the U.S. nuclear energy industry, effective Jan. 1, 2017. She will succeed Marvin Fertel, who retires on Dec. 31 after nine years as NEI’s president and CEO. [press statement] See bio below.
Korsnick has served as NEI’s chief operating officer since May 2015 as a loaned executive from Exelon Generation and Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG).
In her role at NEI, she has guided the organization’s day-to-day operations and represented the industry before a multitude of stakeholders—including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Obama administration, Congress, state lawmakers, international nuclear professionals, think tanks and policymakers.
Act to Preserve the Existing Fleet
NEI said in its press statement that Korsnick’s election “comes at a transformational time for the industry.”
An estimated 15 to 20 operating reactors are at risk of premature shutdown due to competitive electric markets not recognizing the value they provide to the environment, system reliability, and grid stability.
A huge controversy has erupted in California over the decision by PG&E to shut down its twin reactors at Diablo Canyon in 2024. It may become a test case for other utilities.
Additional challenges include low natural gas prices and federal and state policies supporting renewable technologies. Green groups attack nuclear energy over federal “subsidies” for the plants, but seem to have a blind spot about state mandates to utilities to generate electricity from “green sources” while neglecting to give nuclear plants credit for zero carbon emissions.
On the plus side, over the next four years, four reactors will start operations in Georgia and South Carolina. In Tennessee TVA’s Watts Bar II plant achieved 100% of power last week for the first time.
Nuclear power plants operating in 30 states in 2015 achieved a record-high industry average capacity factor of 92.2 percent—a measure of efficiency—while generating more than 60 percent of America’s carbon-free electricity supply. No renewable energy sources have that kind of track record.
On the delta side, plant economics and regulatory issues are fragmented and handled state-by-state.
The American Nuclear Society (ANS) has released a “Nuclear in the States Toolkit” that outlines policies related to new and existing nuclear reactors for state policymakers to consider as they draft their Clean Power Plan compliance strategies.
The 40-page toolkit was developed by a Special Committee on Nuclear in the States assembled by ANS to gather and categorize the myriad nuclear energy options available to state-level administrators.
Among the subjects covered in the toolkit are electricity capacity markets, governmental support, public hearings, and tax policies.
If the two groups are not doing so already, this is an opportunity for ANS and NEI to collaborate to keep nuclear plants open.
Find a Solution for Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel
Almost all experts who have looked at the issue agree that the problem isn’t technical, it is political. In addition to the option for a deep geologic repositories, two firms are proposing development of interim storage sites for spent nuclear fuel as money making propositions. The facilities could function for over a century using dry casks stored in the arid seismically stable lands of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico.
The Electric Power Research Institute has estimated the operating and labor cost needed to store 5,000 MTU of spent nuclear fuel at an interim consolidated storage facility for 40 years at just under $400 million or about $10m/year.
There is a huge market for shifting spent fuel from being at reactors to interim storage sites. Over 70,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors are stored at 118 locations according to 2013 data published by the EIA.
The U.S. Department of Energy has begun a process of consent based siting to get input from communities that might actually be ok with hosting an interim or permanent site for spent nuclear fuel. Time will tell whether this will work. It’s a major headache for NEI’s member utilities and an issue that is will be front and center in its command of the new CEO’s attention.
Develop New Lamps to Replace the Old
In January of this year this blog predicted utilities, as customers of innovative developers, will not be content to wait 20 years for DOE national laboratories to kick R&D projects out of their sandboxes.
The business paradigm of time to market for useful innovations will produce a demand factor that will drive utilities to try to get early, hands-on, looks at innovative reactor designs.
Four months later Southern Corp. and X-Energy proved the principle by inking a deal to collaborate on the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. Neither Southern nor X-Energy explained in their press statements where their R&D work intersects. The technological link between the two projects is Triso fuel. Some GEN IV designs of very high temperature molten salt reactors specify the use of it. The pebble bed design depends entirely on Triso fuel.
There is a whole ecosystem of nuclear startups that believe they can build a better reactor, and faster than ever before. Designers of advanced nuclear reactors seek to bridge the gap between concept and prototype. While it is too early for investors and potential customers to easily pick winners from an increasingly crowded field of advanced reactor projects, new patterns of investment, including public/private partnerships, are creating opportunities for entrepreneurial developers.
NEI knows that small modular reactors (SMRs), like the ones being developed by NuScale and other firms that rely on conventional light water reactor technologies, are likely to come to the market in the next decade. Hopefully, NEI will also have the foresight to look beyond that development at advanced designs and work with developers of them to speed the process of bringing them to market.
China is placing multiple bets on advanced nuclear reactors and is outpacing the U.S. in this regard. Unless organizations like NEI address the global competitive issues, working with the White House and Congress, American technological leadership could fall behind if it hasn’t already.
The U.S. has made an impact on the global nuclear industry with its work on light water designs. Now it must reboot and get in the fast lane with work on the next generation of designs.
Maria Korsnick Bio
Prior to joining NEI, Korsnick was Exelon Generation’s senior vice president for Northeast operations and chief nuclear officer for CENG. She oversaw operations at three nuclear energy facilities and chaired the industry’s Fukushima Response Steering Committee that identified safety enhancements for extreme events based on lessons learned from the 2011 accident in Japan and implemented them at all U.S. reactors.
Among other leadership roles during her 30-year nuclear energy career, Korsnick served as acting CEO at CENG, vice president for corporate operations, site vice president at the Ginna nuclear power plant in New York, and she was a federally licensed senior reactor operator at the Calvert Cliffs nuclear station in Maryland.
Korsnick has a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland. She is a member of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations Accreditation Board and former chairman of the Electric Power Research Institute’s Nuclear Power Council.
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