Aug. 19, 2020

Ep5: Kirsty Gogan 'Fighting for Nuclear'

What role (if any) should nuclear play in a low carbon future? Should we build more large-scale light-water reactors despite high costs? Is nuclear safe? Kirsty Gogan, a leading voice on nuclear power answers all of the above.

In addition to being an authority on nuclear, Kirsty is an award-winning expert on science communication, climate change, and competitiveness.

She is managing partner of LucidCatalyst, a specialized consultancy, recently commissioned by the Energy Technologies Institute to produce their Nuclear Cost Drivers Study, and by ARPA-E (the US agency charged with accelerating next-generation energy technologies) to conduct a study on Cost and Performance Requirements for Flexible Advanced Nuclear Plants in Future U.S. Power Markets.

Kirsty chairs the UK Government’s Nuclear Innovation Research and Advisory Board (NIRAB) Cost Reduction Working Group. In 2019, NIRAB recommended investment of USD1.3 billion between 2021 and 2025 to boost the progress of innovation, leading to a package of measures designed to support UK net zero goals in 2020.

Kirsty is also Co-founder and Global Director of Energy for Humanity (EFH), an environmental NGO focused on large scale deep decarbonisation and energy access.


Further reading:

Kirsty’s bio on LinkedIn

https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirsty-gogan-alexander-8153095/

Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board

https://www.nirab.org.uk/

Cost and performance requirements for flexible advanced nuclear plants in US power markets

https://www.lucidcatalyst.com/arpa-e-report-nuclear-costs

IEA Technology Perspectives 2020

https://www.iea.org/topics/energy-technology-perspectives

FT Open Letter on EU sustainable finance for nuclear energy and climate

http://energyforhumanity.org/en/news-events/news/news/ft-open-letter-eu-sustainable-finance-nuclear-energy-climate/

Transcript

ML   

Hi, everyone. Now if you've already decided that nuclear power plays no part in a low carbon future, you are going to hate today's guest. If, on the other hand, you're open minded, or if you believe that nuclear does have an important role to play in the future of the global economy, then we're in for a treat. My guest today is Kirsty Gogan. Kirsty is a renowned expert on all things competitiveness, nuclear power, science and science communications. She runs a company called Lucid Catalyst, which is one of the world's expert consultancies when it comes to the cost of nuclear power. She has done work with ARPA-E, the US agency charged with accelerating the next generation of clean energy technologies. She's worked with the Energy Technologies Institute, we'll hear about that, no doubt. She also chairs a Working Group at the UK's NIRAB. That's the body that looks after nuclear innovation in the UK, working on the cost of future nuclear power. And she's also the founder and still leads something called Energy for Humanity. So with that introduction, I'm going to pour myself a beer and we're going to bring Kirsty Gogan into the conversation. So Kirsty, cheers, welcome to Cleaning Up. And to get us started: you are one of the world's leading advocates and analysts of nuclear power. And so I was wondering if you could give us the elevator pitch for nuclear, you know, just a short, punchy explanation of why you think we have to have some level of nuclear in a low carbon future around the world. Go! 

 

KG   

It's the missing link to a livable climate. 

 

ML   

Well, that was a very short elevator ride. I didn't even have time for a sip of beer there. Yeah, you need to expand on that. Explain why is it... okay, it's the missing link, but the link between what and what? Why is it so essential? 

 

KG   

Great. Okay, so we have emitted half of the emissions that are currently in the atmosphere today, in the last 30 years, right? So despite, you know, 30 years of really successfully building public and political support or action on climate change, driving down costs of renewables, increasing rates of deployments of renewables, we have still continued to emit really unacceptable levels of carbon into the atmosphere today. And now we have another 30 years to turn the tanker. And right now, if you look at all of the mainstream projections for 2050, whether it's the IEA or the EIA, or DNV, or BP, you name it, they're all projecting more than half of our primary energy coming from fossil fuels by mid-century. Now, that means that not only are we not on a path to 1.5 degrees or two degrees, we are probably on a path, actually, to three or four degrees of warming. And that's why I think it's time for us to expand our attention to the other low carbon technologies and apply the really successful learning that we've really, you know, we've established in the renewable sector to other low carbon technologies. So I'm not really a nuclear advocate, actually. The reason I go on about nuclear energy all the time is because it's incredibly neglected. And because actually, we really ought to be thinking hard about the contribution that it could make, and what it would take to realize that that value. 

 

ML   

Okay, so there's a lot going on there. Thank you very much. You use the phrase, which I normally jump all over, which is primary energy, and of course, primary energy, you know, two thirds of it is thermal waste from fossil fuels. Yeah, so it's kind of, you know, but I'm gonna let you get away with that. Because otherwise, I know, we'll go off on this sort of magnificent rant about primary energy. So let's stay focused on nuclear. And certainly, you know, I've written about how you have to kind of be surgical, and you have to differentiate between existing nuclear, which is kind of cheap, you know, to keep running and building new nuclear using the existing technologies, or trying to leapfrog to next generation nuclear. And I sort of say, we have to keep the existing, we have to forget the existing technology, to build new using the existing technology. It's kind of been tested to economic destruction, but that we should contemplate potentially leaping to the next generation. So, you agree with that broad picture? Or is there anything you want to sort of pick holes with right there?  

 

KG   

Yeah, so I think we'll probably, let's spend a bit of time on the conventional gigawatt-scale nuclear, as we know it, through the course of the conversation, I'm sure we're going to come back to that. I don't think we should write it off. And I don't think we should base our perceptions of that gigawatt-scale conventional nuclear light water reactors, on a very small sample of first of the kind projects in the United, in Europe today, because actually, that that they're not really representative of what that technology can deliver. So I'm going to just leave that there. And then I'm going to say, actually, if you remember, when I said that half of our energy, and you're totally right, if we electrify we can massively reduce, we can be much more efficient. But nevertheless, we're seeing very large amounts of fossil fuels still being projected into the system and by 2050. And a big piece of that is, is oil, is liquid fuels, it's heat, and transport and industry. And for those sectors, right now, we do not have credible, believable, achievable, cost effective pathways to decarbonize. And that's where nuclear technology, which is very separate from the industry, nuclear technology could play potentially a really important role because it creates high temperature heat, potentially very low-cost electricity. And we can use that heat and power not only to generate power to support renewables on the grid and supply heat for industrial processes or district heating, but also potentially to actually make clean synthetic fuels and hydrogen, which we really, really need in those hard to decarbonize sectors. 

 

ML   

Okay, so let's try and break this up into smaller pieces. Because there's that, you know, that that's a great pitch. And... but it encompasses everything from heat to liquid fuels, to everything. So let's try and break it up. So first of all, I think we can move on from keeping existing nuclear power stations open. I mean, there are those people. And we actually, we may have time to come back to what would you say to, you know, German environmentalists who want to shut nuclear before coal fired power stations, but certainly you and I are going to agree that they are, that's a funny breed of environmentalists, given the damage that that does. But you said we shouldn't turn our back on the current generation. And you and then and you meant we should potentially be building more of them. And then you said something, which is quite provocative, which is that these are first of a kind and it's a small number of... I mean, it's not. These are, these are proven technologies, we've built a lot of them, very similar in the past. Yeah. And it's not like one or two projects went wrong. Every single project went wrong. Okiluoto, Flamanville, Hinkley, Vogtle, how do you pronounce it? Some other plant which is abandoned? I mean, these things are, you know, it's kind of if I paraphrase, it was Oscar Wilde, who said, about Queen Victoria's prisoners of war, but I'll paraphrase it for nuclear, you know, if that is how the nuclear industry treats its projects, it really doesn't deserve to have any, does it? 

 

KG   

Um, yeah, they're all a set of first of a kind projects, first in a generation, right? So, you know, what we've seen is a gap of decades, since we built such a major piece of complex infrastructure in any one of those countries that you just mentioned. So their first of a kind designs, first of all, in a generation. And the result of that is, it's really straightforward, actually, it's very understandable, which is that you have to in order to get those first projects built, you've got to complete the design, you've got to get it licensed, you've got to engage with the regulators, you've got to get the supply chains qualified, you've got to train the labor force, you've got a really inexperienced project leadership, and all of that contributes towards... Yeah, like Olympic scale, really difficult megaprojects. Now, weirdly, very sort of, you know, counterintuitively, the best thing that you can do when you've had an experience like that is immediately build another one, because that's what we've seen in the majority of new built construction around the world today. And historically, even in America and in Europe, we're seeing that once you've built that first one, once you've made that investment, and you've established capability, across the board, across the labor force, project leadership, supply chain, and so on, and you've got a finished design, and you build exactly the same one again, you can achieve really dramatic cost reduction for the second project that you build. So as long as you sequence across that learning. And we're seeing that again and again in programmatic fleet build approaches, you know, which doesn't have to mean tens of gigawatts. You can even see a fleet effect now at Hinkley. They were building two units. The second unit is like 75% improvements on installing the rebar. 

 

ML   

But Sizewell C, which is now being promoted is only going to be 20% cheaper than Hinkley. You know, at the same time, as we're learning a little bit, and we're going to apply that, Hinkley's costs have gone up again. And you say that we know we've seen this time and again, where have we seen it? Where in the nuclear industry? Have you seen programmatic... we're not talking about the 1970s, we're talking about some time, anytime, in the last, you know, 30 or 40 years. And I just, I'm finding it, I'm very, this is going to be an interesting conversation, because I'm pro-nuclear, as you know. I've signed your letters; I've supported what you do. But this stuff is miles off the pace economically, and not getting closer, is it? 

 

KG   

Right. So, you know, so there's two things. Okay, I'm gonna start with two ideas: the cost of capital and the capital cost.  Our dear colleague Jim said: there's only two things that matter - the cost of capital and the capital cost, right? I care a lot about the capital cost. And the cost of capital is important too. And I'll come back to that in a second. But actually, I want to see the industry step up and deliver. But better, right? And so I don't think the government ought to make funding available, financing available, I don't think the government should be reducing the cost of capital until the industry has demonstrated that it can actually reduce the capital cost. But the good news is that there are very credible pathways to reduce the capital cost. We published a report a couple of years ago, for the Energy Technologies Institute called the Nuclear Cost Driver Study, which then led to this... helped to inform the MIT Future of Nuclear study, the recently published Energy Systems Catapult Nuclear for Net Zero, the OECD NEA report that was published a couple of weeks ago, there's now quite a good evidence base, quite a good lot of literature around this question, about what drives the cost of nuclear. And it really is like, when we started, it was like a black box with a big number written on it. And you go into Treasury, and you'd say: actually, there are plants being delivered around the world today for half or even a third of the price than the costs we're seeing today in Europe or the United States. And they're saying: well, why is that? Is it because labor is cheap in China? Is it because they're cutting corners on safety? And, you know, we look out the window and we see Hinkley and we say nuclear is expensive and slow. 

 

ML   

Kirsty, if you let me come in there, I love what you've done separating the cost of capital from the capital cost. And let's get all the capital cost in a second. But let's just illustrate the impact of cost of capital. I mean, Hinkley, which is still being built in the UK - the cost of electricity, £92.50. And that's in 2012 money. So in today's money, that's actually £110 per megawatt hour, $140 per megawatt hour. And you got to compare that to, you know, offshore wind, which can be done in the UK for about $60 onshore wind, probably for about 35 or 40, the cheapest solar in the world 20... 15/16, the cheapest wind is 20. I mean, it is way off the pace, way off the pace. And that had to be guaranteed for 35 years. But a big part of the reason is to do with the cost of capital, not the cost of just building it. So that the build is about £22 billion. But the total cost of electricity, in real terms is about £97 billion because of the impact of cost of capital. So I think you're absolutely right to separate the two. But let's get back to the capital cost. And I want to bring in the work that you did for ARPA-E, because you put a number on it for the US, didn't you? You said this is what it has to hit on capital cost, just the capex costs for the nuclear power stations. 

 

KG   

Can I respond to the thing about the, really just quickly, because this is really two things. I just wanted to say in response to the comparison with wind and solar, because I really agree that we've seen really impressive cost reductions in offshore wind and that actually, that's a sort of a template for success that we can now transfer across to other technologies. And a big piece of what's driven the reductions in cost for offshore wind has been a really competitive procurement process. And as we move from a sort of project-based approaches for nuclear to more products-based manufacturing approaches, we should start to see similar trajectories. 

 

ML   

But we're talking about the big megaprojects. We'll get on to the programmatic stuff. And I agree there may be opportunities there for some different dynamics. But right now, we're building massive projects that are producing power that is 3, 4, 5 times the cost of wind and solar. And part of it was the capital cost. And part of it was the capex cost.  

 

KG   

The cost of capital like 9, 10% for Hinkley, it's extremely high.  

 

ML   

Insane. It was the stupidest possible way of funding probably the stupidest project. 

 

KG   

Yeah, and you've heard me say, you know, I don't think governments should sign up to financing agreements without really clear commitments and demonstrated application of best practices to drive down the capital cost of nuclear plants. And that then actually, they should benefit from... 

 

ML   

Okay, so let's come back to how far down they can be driven though, because Hinkley's capital costs, not the cost of capital, but the actual capital cost now, yeah, is $9,300 per megawatt of capacity. 9,300. Now, what's the number that it has to be able to hit to be viable? 

 

KG   

It's fair to say, for 3.2 gigawatts of, you know, 95% capacity factor power that will probably generate for 100 years. So you know, we've got to sort of remember here that there's a good value proposition, it's going to avoid millions and millions of tonnes of CO2 every year, and support, you know, support our grid, you know, forever. But if Sizewell C, which is now being very de-risked, because a big piece of this actually is construction risk, that's a big part of what drives the cost of capital, of course. So if you if you have basically eliminated very large amounts of construction risk as you go ahead to build the next project, which is essentially a replica of the first one with the experienced teams. And if that project was financed in the same way that, say transmission lines are financed, like through a regulated asset base, or whatever, then Sizewell C would come in at around £40 a megawatt hour, which is really, you know, pretty comparable to the price... 

 

ML   

But I'm pushing you on the capital cost, because I tell you, the number I'm after, is the number in your ARPA-E work, which is $3,000 per kilowatt. Okay, so you've got Hinkley construction cost at 9,300. What you need to hit is 3000. And Sizewell C is only 20% better than Hinkley. Sizewell C is also going to be around the sort of 20 billion for three gigawatts mark. So I don't know where the £40 comes from. And obviously, some of it, some of the improvement is going to be the cost of capital factor. But, you know, you need a 70% reduction in the cost of building, and we're getting a 20% reduction. So I mean, and that, by the way, is if there are no cost overruns, and no project overruns. Is it really credible? Are you really saying you believe that can be done? 

 

KG   

Well, so okay, with the ARPA-E study, where we derived a maximum allowable capital cost for advanced reactors, which are much more manufactured products, compared to these big constructions that we're talking about here. But anyway, we didn't say that this is what they can cost, or how they will cost this much. What we said is, this is what they have to cost, if they're going to be useful competitively.  

 

ML   

But why would they have to cost a different amount from a gigawatt scale reactor? 

 

KG   

We were looking at, four ISOs in the US in 2034, which we picked as a kind of date that somewhere in between now and 2050 and when we're expecting these advanced reactors to be commercialized. So what we're doing was trying to sort of inform upstream design decisions by these reactor developers to design for really well-defined market requirements. And the two really critical market requirements that we focused on were first of all cost, what do they need to cost in order to play in markets that have really high penetrations of variable renewables. So we're talking about really tough markets with, you know, energy prices of around $30 per megawatt hour, so you know, very competitive unless... So that's what they need to hit if they're going to compete with combined cycle gas turbines, frankly, because actually, all of the scenarios that we looked at are developed by NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab, high penetration of renewables in the 2030s and actually all the way through to the 2050s, we still have a lot of gas on the system. 

 

ML   

Okay. So you're making a strong argument that these massive gigawatt scale plants can somehow magically be built for a half or a third, or some large number of the price of Hinkley, or some of these, one of these projects that have gone wrong, and I guess I just have to remain skeptical on that. Now, in that world where you've got it down to, you know, the point where it's viable, whether it's $1, or $3, or whatever, I was just using your number. What job does it do? Particularly in the power system. I hear about, you know, desalination and hydrogen, all those industries, and we...and those are the areas I think that are probably the ones, if nuclear is going to find a role, I suspect it's going to be there. But you think it's going to be in the power system. And I want to know what job it does in the power system of the future? 

 

KG   

Yeah. Well, so I agree with you that I think, actually, the most interesting application, the most interesting market application and value proposition for nuclear is outside the power sector. We're pretty good at decarbonizing the power sector. I see a role for like in our ARPA-E study, we identified a useful role for products that can meet those cost targets of $3,000 a kilowatt, combined with thermal energy storage, 12 hours of thermal energy storage, enabling dispatchable, load following to support really high penetration of renewables on the grid while delivering you know, full decarbonisation. Because otherwise, all of the models currently project a role for gas in meeting that dispatchable need. So until we get some good storage, you know, that should be an option. 

 

ML   

Your figure they, the sort of the $3,000 is based on effectively less than 50% capacity factor. Is that right? For less than 50% of the time and then... 

 

KG   

Combined with thermal energy storage, you can, you can... 

 

ML   

So you would run them, you'd run them 24/7, but then use what molten salt or something like that?  

 

KG   

We use hot bricks, which is based on a, you know, Charles Forsberg's MIT work. 

 

ML   

Right. 

 

KG   

It's very cheap. And you essentially have a 12-hour thermal energy storage. And that enables you to pretty much load follow quite nicely on the grid. So either you're charging the battery, we also put two turbines on so you can, you can be using both. So you can actually increase the output and overall end up with like a 94% capacity factor for the plant. So it's good economics, it's good for the grid, you just have to hit the cost targets, which is going to be challenging. 

 

ML   

It's interesting, I don't know if you spotted that I become an adviser to an advanced geothermal company. And one of the really cool things about Eavor is that you've basically got an underground... you build a big underground radiator, all closed loop. So no fracking, no nasty stuff. But what you do is you double-size your generator, 

 

KG   

Exactly. 

 

ML   

When you want to turn down, you're still getting the heat out of the earth, but you're just not generating. And then when you want to generate again, you just double up and you've got two generators going at once and you can do that for 12 hours. And so it's dispatchable. So it sounds like you're talking about a similar sort of operating profile there, which is definitely of interest and definitely would be a good job within the electric and it's a job that needs doing providing that sort of power. 

 

KG   

Exactly (...), and actually geothermal (...) 

 

ML   

Because one of the things that it doesn't do is it doesn't get you through. Again, it'll get you through at night or through a daily fluctuation, but it won't get you through a week or two with no wind.  

 

KG   

It doesn't, you know, it doesn't do the seasonal storage piece. That's a different, that's a different issue. But nuclear can, of course, generate all the time. So, you know, you still got the option of the base load. But what we've done is tried to accommodate the fact that we need more variable supply into the grid.  

 

ML   

And I think there's lots of interesting work being done. Jesse Jenkins at Princeton, you know, also doing lots of work on how much nuclear can cycle because the conventional wisdom, the meme is, well, you have to run it 24/7, that's not actually true. You can cycle it a fair amount, but not... You do shorten the life and increase the maintenance costs to some extent. 

 

KG   

It's not economic, that nuclear plants can run all the time, so of course they want to run all the time. But... 

 

ML   

That's what I push back against. Cause you get a lot of the sort of the nuclear, I don't know what to call them, stans, the fanboys. You're different and you're not of stan or fan, you know, but mostly on Twitter, you get guys who are determined that nuclear is the answer. And the reason is, they say that is you know, that it will fill in for variable wind and solar because what they're postulating is a nuclear plant that does nothing when it's windy or sunny. And then is only used for a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand hours a year, just to fill in and of course that would drive the cost of nuclear through the roof if it wasn't there already. 

 

KG   

Yeah, so capacity factors... Let's bookmark that because capacity factors are really interesting, particularly when it comes to dedicated hydrogen production, which is going to be what we'll need. But before we like, I want to stick to this power sector contribution, actually, and I think both geothermal and nuclear energy have a really interesting, sort of unique mission. That is that they could repower coal. Now, you know, I think that, either geothermal or nuclear could potentially be repowering coal... 

 

ML   

Repower meaning using the same turbines? 

 

KG   

Yeah, so Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency, when he launched the World Energy Outlook in December 2019. One of the key priorities, one of the three key priorities that he identified was the fact that actually the global coal fleet is getting younger. Now in the UK we're celebrating today the fact that, you know, we've got an equivalent amount of coal on the system as we had in 1769, whatever it is, and that's incredible. And we can easily get the impression that we're succeeding in phasing out coal. But in fact, the reality is, is that many, many countries are still building new coal, because, actually, energy means prosperity. And one of the things that we don't do very well, when we're thinking about our climate mitigation strategies is the need for rising global energy access. And we have to really factor that in. So we not only have to decarbonize our existing fossil fuel infrastructure, but maybe double or even triple it to meet rising global energy demand. It's crazy to think that we're just going to switch those coal plants off, right? They're creating, they're not just generating power, they're generating prosperity. And all the investment in the assets, the transmission, that infrastructure, the socioeconomic benefits that it brings, is really is going to meet a lot of resistance, if we just assume that we can just switch it off. So the opportunity to repower, so, in other words, to provide an alternative heat source for those coal fleets is, I think, is something really interesting that we should explore. And it's one of the kind of important attributes of both geothermal and nuclear. 

 

ML   

I hear you, I'm skeptical, because, you know, what you do is you replace your older coal first. So, you know, if you go through a 30 year program of, you know, shifting to clean energy, then by definition, in the last, you know, sort of five years, those plants are 25 years old, or more. And so, you know, I am not as convinced as probably, as you'd like me to be, that will be sort of splitting the coal fired power stations in two - get rid of the coal and the boilers and whatever, and just put a new heat source in, and, you know, geothermal that will work if it's conventional, you know, flash geothermal, but it doesn't work for any of the lower temperature stuff. I've seen that increasingly surface as an argument for nuclear power. And, of course, we're going to get on to some of the other, some of the other sort of challenges of nuclear, you know, you talk about, oh, we're going to use nuclear, we've got to do energy access. So you seem to be postulating that nuclear is a fantastic technology to bring, you know, energy access to places like, you know, the Yemen and South Sudan and Niger and Mali. And, you know, I'm more committed than the average person to getting energy access to those places. I'm just not convinced that nuclear... I want to come back. I don't want to jump around too much. I want to come back to... you talked about capacity factor. You bookmarked it. So explain why you wanted to come back to it. 

 

KG   

Oh, well, we've been looking at cost drivers for hydrogen production. And what we found is that capacity factor is probably the main one, right? So what we've looked at are the potential for clean hydrogen production from a range of different technologies. And capacity factor just stands out as being the critical piece. So even if you get your capital costs down extremely low for your electricity generating infrastructure, and even your electrolyzers, and you improve the efficiencies of the electrolyzers. Actually, if you have got still a low capacity factor is still not going to be able to achieve very low... And just to give you a sense here, we need hydrogen costs to get down to at least below $1 50 per kilogram, if we want to use the hydrogen as feedstock for ammonia production, which we can use in shipping and diesel engines and so on. And we have to get even below $1 if we want to use it for synthetic hydrocarbons, so we need really low-cost hydrogen. 

 

ML   

Yep. And I agree, then you're talking now about the capacity factor. I'm just going to sort of gloss that because not everybody in the audience will know exactly which capacity factors. Because there's the capacity factor of the power source. But here, you're really talking about the capacity factor of the electrolysis and the compression and all of the other things that you have to do to produce hydrogen, right?  

 

KG   

Yes 

 

ML   

Here, I hundred percent agree with you that. You know, if you have nuclear stans saying that nuclear will be marvelous backup for intermittency, which is rubbish. But then on the other hand, you get this kind of, oh, we'll use, we've got the stans on the other side, saying: oh, well, we're going to use excess renewables and use it to power electrolyzers and make hydrogen. You're like, wait a minute: so you have wind and solar that might have a what, let's say 20 to 40% capacity factor, let's go call it 20 to 50%. And you may be wasting, let's be really, really bearish about the flexibility of the grid, you may be wasting 20% of that. Basically, you've got about 5 to 15% of the time, maybe 5 to 10% of the time, you've got electricity excess, which you can then dump into hydrogen. And that's supposed to justify building massively capital-intensive electrolysis equipment, it just doesn't begin to compute, does it? 

 

KG   

No, it's a fraction of a fraction. And it might be worth new investing, if you wanted to do something with your, you know, so we have depreciated PWRs in the United States that are looking at hydrogen production, because they're having to, you know, turn down all the time. Because the grid is now like, you know, has other generators on the system. So fine, do that. But that's not going to deliver either the scale or the costs that we actually need to address the liquid fuels markets, which are four times the size of the electricity market.  

 

ML   

I think your, you know, competition there is not excess peaks of curtailed wind and solar. I think that your competition there is in those locations where you've got, let's say, $20 wind, $20 solar? 

 

KG   

Yeah. 

 

ML   

Either colocated or connected via high voltage DC. And suddenly, you're going to get to 60, 70, maybe even 80% capacity factor for electrolysis. And by the way, I agree, I think the target is $1, you know, it's $1 a kilo for the hydrogen, maybe even 80 cents?  

 

KG   

Yeah, we have 90. 

 

ML   

I'm pretty sure we will get there using renewables by, you know, 2040 or, you know, it'll take it take a couple of decades to get the renewables costs down, the high voltage DC cost down, and the electrolyzer costs down. And maybe, by the way, desalination, because you may not have water, exactly where you've got all of the sun that you need to do that. But you know, we're going to get there using, let's say, 60 or 70% capacity factor of very low-cost renewables. And I think that's the target that you've got to shoot for. 

 

KG   

Yeah. And I have a few comments about that. And that, you're right. I think we have wind and sun combined to achieve like higher capacity factors like Western Australia, you know, there's all... 

 

ML   

North Africa. 

 

KG   

And as you say, you know... 

 

ML   

Parts of China, parts of India, parts of the US. 

 

KG   

Yeah, there's, yeah, indeed... 

 

ML   

Mexico, massive part of Latin America. 

 

KG   

There's some good consensus that those costs could be achievable as soon as the 2040s. And you know, that's great. And, you know, we should completely do that. I would say that, you know, I started out by talking about the importance of the next three decades. And if we can do something sooner than that, then why wouldn't we? 

 

ML   

Because we haven't got the nuclear costs down yet.  

 

KG   

So renewables didn't start out cheap, either. They got cheap, through a really intentional, deliberate, concerted, coordinated efforts to make them cheap. And by moving towards those modern, high productivity manufacturing environments, and product-based repeat build approaches, we should have... Why wouldn't we apply that same success template to other technlogies? And let's face it, there’s a lot of potential for cost reduction in nuclear it's one of our favorite jokes in our... 

 

ML   

That's what's known as a backhanded compliment. 

 

KG   

Yeah. 

 

ML   

Let me do, if I might, I think that the secret weapon that nuclear has got in whether it's electrolysis, or other parts of industry and chemicals, is heat. It produces high quality, high grade heat. Which, of course, wind and solar, don't do and even, you know, the advanced geothermal that I'm now a huge fan of, that also doesn't produce. It produces heat, but maybe only a couple of hundred degrees and not higher. And, you know, it strikes me that the sweet spot instead of fighting the battle, you know, to be intermittent and load follow and to do really complicated things, to go to industries and sectors that need 24/7 power plus high grade heat, and there's so many of those industries out there. But why would you need to address a bigger market than that initially to drive yourself down the cost curve? 

 

KG   

Yeah, I think the heat applications that are interesting as well, for me, it's sort of fuels production. And you know, the fuels production opportunity, especially if you apply that high temperature heat to thermochemical electrolysis, which, you know, is emerging as a technology. And, you know, it's been demonstrated in labs, but has a lot of potential to be very, very efficient, and reduce costs even further, it really puts you into... combined with shipyard manufacturing, and thermochemical heat, you really get very quickly, we think, in the early 2030s, into that less than $1 per kilogram range for hydrogen, which gives us a head start. And you know, the beauty of it just like being able to go to those remote, windy, sunny places for renewables and making fuels is that you're not constrained by your location when you're making commodities for export into global markets, and the way that you're constrained by your location when you're making electricity. And you're tethered to a power purchase agreement, which takes 30 years to pay back and depends on sort of scale and reliability of the consumer to support your investment. If you can actually build anywhere, because you're making fuels for export into global markets, and build really large-scale projects. So you know, we have a hydrogen gigafactory concept, for example, which is 30...  it's a refinery scale project, you can do that when you're making fuels. And that way, then you will also get into that economy of scale, justifying the investment in the factory. 

 

ML   

Kirsty, if I might, let's now move on from the economics of nuclear power. Because there are lots of other objections that people raise. And what I want to do is I want to raise them so that you have a chance to knock them out of the park, because I suspect that's what you'll want to do. So I'm going to push you but I'm sure you'll be able to answer, you know, in kind. Nuclear is just not safe, is it? What we've seen is one major accident every 20 years since the technology was first used. We've seen Windscale, Three Mile Island, we've seen Chernobyl, Fukushima, and you know, when things go wrong, they don't go a bit wrong. They go horrendously wrong, and they cost hundreds of billions of dollars or more. And it's always the state that has to step into sort things out. And that's pretty damning, isn't it? 

 

KG   

Yeah. I mean, it's... Why is it that people think that the safest form of electricity generation is the most dangerous? And, you know, my theory is that because it's because the industry has spent decades, persuading everybody about how incredibly dangerous it is. And that isn't only in the, you know, the communications like constantly, you know, marketing itself on its safety record. Imagine if an airline, you know, was advertising itself, because its wings hardly ever fall off, you know, would you fly with the safest airline? You know, of course not, you know, there's a complete confusion within the industry, between internal professionalism, quality standards and, you know, external messaging. And actually, its track record is, you know, you can see for yourself, look at the evidence, it's the safest form of electricity generation. And yet... 

 

ML   

Still a couple of times, I'm going to, I mean... I think what you're talking about is, you know, over the megawatt hours, the terawatt hours generated, that the sort of accident or the numbers of deaths is actually is amongst the very lowest, not the highest. Is that what you're referring to? 

 

KG   

Yeah, I mean, if you look at the per terawatt hour, you know that, then yes, it's invisible, like, and that's taking into account all of the big accidents. And this is for two reasons. It's partly because actually, all the energy other energy sources do contribute very severe public health impacts, especially coal and gas, of course, you know, we have 7 million premature deaths per year from air pollution, indoor and outdoor air pollution, largely from fossil fuels.  

 

ML   

You're not going to fix, I mean, there's a whole bunch of those to do with indoor cooking. Nuclear... Are you going to suggest that in the developing world we should power all of, you know, electrical cooking within the next 20 or 30 years using nuclear power? Is that the solution? 

 

KG   

Yeah, well, actually, the public health impacts of the lack of access to electricity, we should, why not look at all of these risks in the context of the material risk of climate change, the material and severe public health impacts, particularly impacting women and children, on the effects of having to... 

 

ML   

All of which, and I've done lots of work on and I couldn't agree more. But you're postulating nuclear as a solution to people who are incredibly poor, there are on few dollars a day, and they're in the middle of nowhere in, many of them unstable. And one of the reasons why they're so poor is because, they're politically unstable countries. And you want to come in and build nuclear. I mean, come on, that's really not going to happen, is it? 

 

KG   

Yeah, one of, I mean, one of the things, actually, that I'm really interested in is the potential for using high temperature heat from nuclear technology to produce clean synthetic fuels that could be imported into developing countries. You know, Kenya, for example, spends a billion dollars a year on oil for its distributed generating capacity. Why not switch out those dirty, you know, volatility priced fuels with clean alternatives? So we're not talking about necessarily having to build, you know, nuclear plants in countries that don't have mature regulatory capability and supply chains to build, maintain and operate nuclear plants. I'm talking about a much broader system-wide perspective. And just to sort of jump back for a second to the sort of Chernobyl and Fukushima absolutely terrible public health impacts. But actually, the World Health Organization and the United Nations have concluded that by far, the main public health impact caused by those accidents was actually fear of radiation, not radiation itself. In fact, more people died in in the Fukushima Prefecture as a result of the evacuations and then reactions, dislocating hundreds of thousands of people, destroying tens of thousands of people's lives as a result of fear of radiation, whereas actually the radiation itself, finally had almost no public health impacts.  

 

ML   

It's a bit mean of you to blame the industry for that, as you did, because, you know, I had a bit of a run in a couple of years ago with a chap called Rudolf Rechsteiner. Now he is a Swiss Member of Parliament. He is the chair of one of the leading, I think in Switzerland maybe the leading sustainable investment platform, something called Ethos platform, Ethos foundation, and he's a lecturer at ETH, he's a lecturer at University of Bern, and he tweeted this: "Chernobyl - more than 1 million dead. Don't repeat mistakes you can avoid easily and cheaper and faster." What do you say to a Mr. Rechsteiner, who's propagating a figure of a million dead from Chernobyl? 

 

KG   

It honestly really upsets me, this kind of fearmongering because it causes enormous distress and actually contributes towards the mental health and, you know, real public health impacts that we've seen, we continue to see to this day in affected regions where people are so afraid that their lives are often destroyed as a result of the fear and they end... For what? For ideological point scoring? You know, I used to be, as an environmentalist, I was always anti-nuclear. And I was called in by the government to evaluate the response to Fukushima. And I thought, well, I'll do this with, you know, I'll do this with integrity. I, first thing I did was read all of the Chernobyl reports from the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and I was shocked.  

 

ML   

And what's the correct number? You've probably got it on the tip of your tongue, what's the correct number from the World Health Organization and the IAEA for Chernobyl? 

 

KG   

Yeah, so well, I think there's 57 deaths that are directly attributable to radiation. And that would include, you know, there were thousands of thyroid cancer cases, and 99% of those were treatable, and people went on to live their lives. There were obviously people affected directly during the accident itself. And then in addition, the World Health Organization estimates possibly up to 4000, but then sort of lost in the noise as a result of you know, some small increases. It's just, it's really tragic. And actually, what that role led me to do was to revise the National Civil Nuclear Emergency Planning Guidance, which is probably the thing that I'm most proud of in my career is the thing that that the fewest people will ever read. What it means... 

 

ML   

Let me guess. It now reads: keep calm and carry on. 

 

KG   

It says we should, it broadens the assessment of risk. Because humans are terrible at making assessments of risk. We're much more frightened of getting in an airplane than we are getting in a car, we're much more likely to die in a car. And so what we've tried to do is bring a little bit of rationality into our emergency planning in the UK so that we don't actually end up causing more harm than good trying to avoid what would otherwise be, you know, relatively harmless amounts of radiation.  

 

ML   

Okay, now, let me just continue on with another. I think we've sort of hopefully we dealt with Mr. Rechsteiner and the others who think that this stuff is all, you know, kills millions. And the facts are that that's simply not true. Nuclear waste? Look, the fact is not one single country has got permanent nuclear waste storage, not one. Finland's probably the closest, and that might be 2023. It's got this Onkalo repository. Yucca Mountain has been an absolute disaster, it's been 33 years in the discussion. Doesn't exist. There's ponds full of this stuff, there's warehouses full of this stuff. It is going to be around, some of it, for 100,000 years. That's 100 times longer than there have been capital markets. You want this stuff to be financed at a low cost of capital, it better be, because you've got 100,000 years looking after something, and you don't even know how you're going to start. You've not got a repository. 

 

KG   

We're really good at looking after it, actually. We had a... We looked into this last year in quite a lot of detail for the sustainable finance, taxonomy, technical expert group consultation. And they were like saying similar things like: oh, we haven't actually got a fully operational demonstrated repository that's been operating for 100,000 years. So how do we know that it's going to work? We looked for a single example of any harm that has been caused to people or the environment throughout the course of the entire civil nuclear, you know, operation. 

 

ML   

That's the first 60 out of 100,000 years. Well, first 60 out of 100,000 years. 

 

KG   

Not, it does not, it will not cause harm to people or the environment. We're looking after extremely well. There's repositories now that are planned in Finland and Sweden and France. Honestly, frankly, my opinion is that we are perfectly well able to manage what our tiny amounts of spent fuel and that we should probably want to recycle that spent fuel in next generation advanced reactors as fuel. We use less than 1% of the available energy in the fuel so we should hang on to it and use it in the next... It should be seen as a bank of... fuel bank. 

 

ML   

And something like Sellafield or the one in France, I can't remember what it's called, La Hague? You've got this marvelous resource. We should be proud of it. It's an oil mixed in with the earth and leaching out into the rivers and sea, but we should be proud of it. By the way, the clean-up, you know this, the budget for the cleanup of Sellafield. All of our department, all of our BEIS budget, some vast percentage of it 70, 80%, 90, whatever it is, goes on, it's going to go on the Sellafield cleanup, right? 100 billion? 200 billion? I can't even remember. 

 

KG   

Yeah, Cold War legacy. That's what that is. As I was deputy head of Civil Nuclear Security, I spent a lot of time investigating this issue at Sellafield. And I can tell you that that lion's share of budget that sits right now in BEIS is actually a defense legacy waste. It's about 75% for Sellafield, about 75% of that is for about four buildings, and Sellafield it represents a tiny... and it all dates back to the Cold War legacy when we were basically fighting the Russians. Nobody was giving any thought to, you know, how we were going to clean this stuff up. All they were doing was focusing on avoiding annihilation, it is not the same as civil nuclear waste, (...) has allowed us has allowed it to be conflated to me is a scandal. 

 

ML   

Are you going to guarantee that the same sorts of sites, the same processes, the same thing is not happening in the Pakistani nuclear program, the Iranian nuclear program the Indian nuclear program, the Russian, presumably they've got the same, they probably got much worse pollution from their Cold War activities, the Chinese nuclear program, these are all being run now with magnificent regard to safety and no waste and no cleanup problem is being created currently? 

 

KG   

Yeah, it's absolutely the role of regulators to properly oversee that and to make sure that those materials are being taken care of properly. Let me tell you that the most successful nonproliferation program that we've ever seen, called the Megatons to Megawatts program, it was 20,000, or maybe more former Russian warheads that were disposed of in American nuclear power stations, supplying 10% of US electricity for more than a decade.  

 

ML   

You raised the next issue, which is proliferation. It's very nice. And I've said that I think, economically, we could probably lower the cost of nuclear by building them and shipyards, building them small, build lots of them. And when we talk about small, we're talking about nuclear power stations down to one and a half megawatts, there's a company called Oklo trying to develop a one and a half megawatt. And the theory is, well, it's so small, you can sort of put it on a truck, you can drive it around, you can put it somewhere, you can leave it unattended. I mean, come on, you know, this is a recipe for absolutely losing control of nuclear materials. Surely, you can't argue that this is a sensible way forward?  

 

KG   

Well, I think it really depends on the, you know, on the nature of the product. And, you know, this is why we come back to again, you know, designing for market requirements, you know. I don't want to be sort of advocating for technology for technology's sake, what I want to be advocating for are solutions that are actually designed for the markets they serve. And if we don't start doing that, if we don't have the nuclear industry start doing that, then they're not going to have a market and what this proliferation risk that you're describing is real and has to be designed out. It's just as simple as that. 

 

ML   

But the thing is that doesn't it also drive costs which are then met by the state, and not by the electricity producer? Because you know, right now, you can't ensure... Fukushima may, it may be much better had people, you know, stayed where they were. The fact is: hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Chernobyl - hundreds of thousands, millions of people displaced. And the costs always fall on the state, you can't get that insured. And then you've got the militarization of protecting the supply chain all the way from upstream, the mining of the fuel, the fuel refining, the plants themselves, and then all the waste, all of it being protected on the public dime, none of it being paid for by the industry. How is that justifiable? 

 

KG   

You know, it has to a combination of designing products that are fit for purpose, that are designed for purpose, whose costs are fully internalized and not externalized to the state. I fully agree with you. And then we have to look at... 

 

ML   

Pick a site in the world and you'll find that the army or the militarized police is protecting it. Right? Who's paying for that? How do we avoid that? 

 

KG   

Yeah, I think the light water reactors that we have today, you know, flow from military objective, which was to produce plutonium. And it's a very valid reason why, you know, many of the greens and so on object to nuclear energy, because they oppose that legacy, and I am fully with them on that. But I think that these new advanced reactor technologies that are under development today are very different products, as our friends at Third Way like to say: this is not your grandfather's technology. 

 

ML   

So, I'm a kind of believer, but without an enormous amount of basis of knowledge that they are passively safe. In other words, if you just cut the power, you walk away, you inundate them with a tsunami, doesn't matter, you're not going to get a meltdown or a leak, is that right?  

 

KG   

Yeah, I mean, the high temperature test reactor in Japan was pretty close to the Fukushima earthquake tsunami event. And it shut itself down and they all went for lunch. And after that, you know, it was like that, it's this passive safety systems. It's very, very different. And after that, it underwent a really extensive regulatory review and the whole thing had to be completely, you know, evaluated against this new, newly understood risk and relicensed accordingly. And it has now been successfully relicensed and restarted. So yeah, there's real, real projects that you can, you know, go and look at, in fact, we're currently undertaking a due diligence exercise on exactly that project with a view to seeing, you know, how ready that product might be both for licensing but also in terms of supply chain and economics. 

 

ML   

And a one-word question. Thorium? 

 

KG   

Oh, no, thanks. 

 

ML   

So that's very funny. That goes into the compendium of great answers. Another sort of one-word question may be: ecomodernists? What's with ecomodernist? Why do they seem to think that if you can just throw shade at wind and solar, that suddenly this tremendous nuclear build program will be unleashed? And the world will spend, you know, hundreds of billions and trillions of dollars building their favorite technology? What's going on there? 

 

KG   

I guess it's technology evangelism, or, you know... 

 

ML   

But it's not... it's... as I like talking to you, because, first of all, we agree on everything except these big plants. But also, you haven't said anything nasty about wind and solar. Right? You don't try and do your job by disrespecting by throwing shade at any other technology. So you're evangel..., you are truly evangelizing. you put the positives of nuclear, you state your assumptions, you've just brought in another great advantage, which is that it's nice and compact. Fabulous. That's a very good point. You haven't said anything nasty? You didn't say: nuclear is nice, because it's much, you know, because it doesn't disfigure the countryside and kill the birds and all the stupid things that they say. Why do they feel compelled to do that? 

 

KG   

Yeah, this nuclear versus renewables thing is incredibly counterproductive. And it's something that I had my..., the first time I met some people in the West Coast of America, we spent the whole afternoon having a stand up row 

 

ML   

You should name names, come on.  

 

KG   

Well, you know, it's in the history now. But, um, yeah, I did... 

 

ML   

Somebody who thinks there's no such thing as Apocalypse Now, or whatever it is? 

 

KG   

It's just incredibly counterproductive, because actually, you know, it misses the point of a values-based approach that informs most of the way that we think about things. You know, we're incredibly rigorous about engineering and about science, and then we pay no attention, no rigor to the science of science communication. And actually, what we really know is that if you go out attacking people that you're trying to persuade, what you're going to do is create a defensive reaction and further, you know, entrench the original position that they hold, and what you're also doing, when you're advocate... when you're attacking renewables and advocate, you know, my technology versus your pet technology, is you're confusing the means with the ends. And too much of our climate discourse, I think, confuses the means with the ends. We set technology goals, instead of outcome goals. We need to define new success metrics, which are really all about the performance of the whole system. And what we know is that the fastest, most feasible, most cost effective, most proven way to decarbonize is through a combination of nuclear and renewables. And guess what? People also like it. And there's lots of evidence to show really a lot of public support for a combination of nuclear and renewables. 

 

ML   

I couldn't agree more about the need to up our game on science, communication and communication about energy, it just seems a really difficult thing to do. It seems that the less people know about energy, the more determined they are and the more forceful they are in their views, whether it's about how fabulous thorium is or how awful solar power is, or indeed how awful and how dangerous nuclear power is. So we've got a lot more work to do. I think you and I, every day, we try to move the ball a little bit further down the pitch to do a little bit of that work. And I suspect we'll be seeing, I'll be seeing you next, again, on Twitter, where I want to remind everybody about your bio, because I find it so fantastic. Do you have it off by pat? Can you say, can you give us your bio? Look at the camera and tell people what it is you do. 

 

KG   

So @KirstyGogan, and I guess I wrote it in about 2014: climate, energy, science, politics, mama, feminist. I should probably reorganize them in order of priority. 

 

ML   

If I could, I would borrow that bio. I can't. But I had enormous fun talking to Kirsty. Kirsty, thank you so much for joining us. And I shall see you again, no doubt, on Twitter, and hopefully in person to continue this great discussion. Thanks for joining us. 

 

KG   

Thanks so much. It's been a real pleasure. 

 

ML   

So that was Kirsty Gogan. And you can see why she's one of the most powerful voices advocating for nuclear power, but doing it in a fact base and incredibly sophisticated way, not saying bad things about any other technology, but always relentlessly promoting the values and benefits of nuclear power. Has she persuaded any of you? I don't know. I've no doubt we'll find out in the comments and discussions on Twitter and on the various platforms where you can watch this podcast and this interview. My guest next week is a very special person. She led the IPCCC during a very critical period from the failed COP summit in Copenhagen in 2009 through to the triumphant Paris COP summit in 2015, where the Paris Agreement was signed by all of the countries of the world. She did it with relentless optimism, never taking her eye off the prize, never taking no for an answer. And those who know her, we're not at all surprised that Paris was such a triumphant occasion. She's also an incredibly nice, funny, human, an interesting person. Our guest next week is Christiana Figueres. I very much hope that you will join us for a conversation on next week's episode of Cleaning Up.