President & CEO of GE Energy’s Nuclear Operations
Recently I was asked to present a speech as part of an international forum entitled “Atoms for Peace ... The Next 50 Years” in Washington, DC.
50 YEARS OF PROGRESS
As I completed some research for my presentation, I was struck by how far the nuclear industry had come in the 50 years since President Eisenhower’s famous address, and how much potential remains for the development and utilization of this unique technology.
Eisenhower’s address was focused on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and science for the betterment of mankind. I think it would be fair to recognize that nuclear technology has benefited mankind in varied and significant ways. Providing about 17% of the world’s power generation, powering various space exploration missions, developing numerous medical isotopes for treating previously incurable or inoperable diseases, and treating food for safe consumption are but a few of these demonstrable benefits.
In February of 2003, I became the President & CEO of GE Energy’s Nuclear Operations. Since joining GE in 1981 as an electrical engineer, I had most recently spent five years in Atlanta as general manager for Installation and Field Services - GE Energy’s global installation and service business for GE gas and steam turbine generators. The move into the new role has been challenging and exciting.
NEXT GENERATION REACTORS
GE’s nuclear services essentially provide technology that is engineered and developed to provide next-generation reactors for safer, more economic and high performance energy generation, advanced nuclear fuels and an array of technology driven services. These offerings range from the completion of a maintenance outage to the enhancement of customer assets or the on-line optimization of fuel performance and even the supply of medical isotopes to nuclear medicine vendors and hospitals.
GE is a long-time supplier of boiling water reactor (BWR) technology to the global nuclear industry. Recently we have expanded our portfolio to include pressurized water reactors (PWR) services, a technology that is rapidly gaining acceptance around the world.
In BWR facilities, boiled water in the reactor creates steam which drives the turbine. In PWR plants, pressurized water is heated and first put through a heat exchange unit, thus creating a “cleaner” steam.
Today, GE’s nuclear services business provides a wide array of technology-based products and services to help owners of both BWR and PWRS nuclear power plants safely operate their facilities with greater efficiency and output.
Our solutions leverage 50 years of peaceful use of nuclear technology. . . continuing to push the bounds of our knowledge within stringent safety guidelines, in an industry that continues to demonstrate potential in the face of its own unique challenges.
THE CHALLENGE AHEAD
There has been an impressive increase in nuclear plant performance and safety over the last two decades and nuclear power has reached unprecedented levels of plant safety, energy generation and capacity factors in the U.S. As a vendor to the nuclear energy industry we must continue to drive improvements even when the record levels of production, safety and performance make that challenge even harder.
Further development of nuclear energy as part of a balanced portfolio of power generation is essential for many developed and developing nations. As an industry however, we face many challenges - both public and political - including economic competitiveness, nuclear safety and security, nuclear waste management, and non-proliferation. These are all important but not insurmountable factors. It is critical that we address both the world’s energy needs and the concerns of the public to ensure safe, economic and efficient options within the nuclear industry.
FUTURE POWER DEMANDS
Electricity demand is expected to increase by about 30% in the U.S. and Europe by the year 2020, and will more than double in Asia and the rest of the world. That leaves the global energy industry with the challenge of meeting a tremendous need for more power - and do it while also protecting the environment and preserving our natural resources.
Although renewable energy certainly holds significant promise, no single solution will meet all of the world’s energy needs. Satisfying that demand will require a balanced and diverse range of clean energy options, with nuclear playing an increasingly important role .
Nuclear power generation is one of the few energy sources capable of generating huge amounts of megawatt output while avoiding millions of tons of NOx, SOx and CO2 when compared to conventional fossil energy . The air pollution prevention benefits associated with nuclear energy are significant. In the U.S. alone, nuclear power has generated approximately 13.7 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity and at the same time, avoided the emission of 3.1 billion tons of carbon, 73.6 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 35.7 million tons of nitrogen oxides that would have been associated with fossil fuel sources of power generation.
PUBLICS NEED TO KNOW
The media and general public often overlook environmental and other benefits associated with nuclear power. It is therefore important that those of us in the industry communicate these benefits in a clear and concise manner. For example, nuclear power is an important part of a balanced global energy portfolio, it avoids huge quantities of harmful emissions and it helps to conserve our natural resources. These messages should be reflected in public policy that provide incentives for developing the nuclear portfolio and perhaps even allows for its inclusion in emerging cap and trade programs designed to reduce harmful emissions and the problems of global warming.
PASS THE ENERGY BILL
The draft Energy Bill takes some steps toward recognizing the value and importance of nuclear power in the U.S. Its approval in the next session of Congress would provide an important boost to the industry and the country’s hopes of achieving voluntary reductions in carbon emissions, maintaining the balance in the nation’s energy generation sources and reducing dependence on any one type of fossil fuel.
Globally we see a lot of activity in nuclear power. Currently there are more than 30 new reactors equivalent to 26 gigawatts being built around the world, and there are more than 50 gigawatts of reactors planned for future development. With this in mind, it is important that the industry continues to share best practices through organizations such as the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) and to encourage the continual improvement of nuclear power plant operational safety and performance.
For our part, we must continue to support both our customers in the sharing of best practices, and the government in key areas such as non-proliferation and nuclear liability, to ensure that the best technologies, practices and services are available on a global basis.
Closer to home, the Energy Bill could herald the development of new next generation nuclear plants in the U.S. It could pro-vide incentives, similar to those available today for wind generation, for a limited number of new nuclear power plants. This would be significant and vital for sustaining the nuclear industry in the U.S. and would support the continued role of the U.S. on the world stage for nuclear energy, ensuring the availability of new reactor technology that is even safer and more efficient than that which exists today.
‘Atoms for Peace ... The Next 50 Years’ represented an opportunity to reflect upon the birth of an industry that was based on the peaceful application of a science that offered, and then delivered, so much. We have learned an enormous amount in the past five decades, and that process has not stopped. Today we look for new directions in the application of proven technology that, to many, represents the very essence of energy. It is no less than remarkable to consider what we have done and imagine what we still can achieve.
FUTURE HOLDS PROMISE
For us, where we go next is driven by three fundamentals: business acumen, advanced engineering and enlightened public policy. We believe that we have the first two and that, in the U.S. at least, the government may be well on the way to developing the third.
These are exciting times and the next generation of advanced nuclear technology is likely to be significant in many ways. For example, high temperature reactors could be used for hydrogen cogeneration through high temperature electrolysis or thermal water cracking, microscopic nuclear fission could be used in many nanotechnology applications, and new isotopes could help with important medical research.
THE VISION WILL CONTINUE
Experience and technology combined with new talent, training and imagination, provide a path to the future ... safe, reliable power without harmful emissions.
In short, the ‘Atoms for Peace’ vision will continue and we will continue to drive new technologies, services, systems and solutions.