Dec 19, 2019

Ep 249: Adrienne Kelbie - Chief Executive, Office for Nuclear Regulation

Chief Executive
Office for Nuclear Regulation
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Show notes

Jumping to success (1:48)
1:48-10:49 (Adrienne describes growing up in Scotland and how riding horses taught her that success only comes after hard work.)

Q. Where did this all begin for you?
A. Adrienne grew up near Glasgow in Scotland. Her father was a mechanical engineer and her mother did not work for many years due to an illness. When Adrienne was 5 years old, she rode a donkey and fell in love with horses. Her parents were able to support Adrienne through riding lessons and eventually bought her a pony when she was 12 years old. Her show jumping experience gave her a strong sense of discipline. The sport also taught her that failing is okay, especially when trying new things. While her first competition did not go well, Adrienne went on to win third place in a competition and later secured a scholarship with an Olympic show jumping coach. Adrienne uses this example to emphasize that becoming a success requires many hours of hard work.

An unconventional path to the nuclear sector (10:50)
10:50-20:06 (Andrienne explains that she does not hold a university degree and instead rose to upper management roles through the Lottery Fund.)

Q. So you then went to university?
A. No, Adrienne dropped out of college and does not hold a degree. She found the pace of school too slow and instead pursued a job as a personal assistant in England. Adrienne then worked as a temp for several years and was often presented with opportunities to learn new skills. Adrienne is driven to be useful and is attracted to the public sector and nonprofit work. This passion led her to the Lottery Fund, where she worked for 15 years. Her work focused on the distribution of funds to disadvantaged groups, which was important to Adrienne after becoming familiar with social inequities. During her 15 years at the Lottery Fund, Adrienne took on many different roles, from research to upper management. No matter the role, Adrienne found her time at the Lottery Fund to be emotionally engaging and, although humbling at times, enabled her to support many organizations doing great work in the UK. While Adrienne’s journey strengthened her emotional intelligence and managerial skills needed for her current position as the Chief Executive at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), she is always looking for ways to grow.

A modern vision for the ONR (20:07)
20:07-27:03 (Adrienne describes how she became the Chief Executive of the ONR and the vision she presented during her interview.)

Q. How did you come into this role?
A. A headhunter approached Adrienne in 2016. She had little knowledge of the nuclear sector at the time, but decided she wanted to work with the ONR after reading about them. Her interview involved giving several presentations; Adrienne focused on the vision of the ONR and spoke about increasing accessibility by becoming less insular. She made three main points about this vision, the first being that the ONR is not in place to serve either government or industry, but serves the public. The second point emphasized that while the ONR focuses on ensuring a safe and secure nuclear industry, they must also modernize. The last point stressed competence and capability of staff, especially when replacing retiring inspectors and increasing diversity in new hires. The ONR has hired more than 400 new employees in the past 4 years and is recruiting different skill sets.

The ONR’s approach to new nuclear (28:04)
28:04-39:54 (Adrienne outlines the ways that the ONR approaches innovation from industry, emphasizing the need to engage in conversation early to save time and money.)

Q. How is the ONR engaging with the changing sector?
A. The ONR is supporting the UK government with the competition on Advanced Nuclear Technologies (ANTs.) The ONR must become engaged in this new technology to successfully advise government. The UK is technology agnostic, meaning technologies that meet standards are generally deployed, opening up opportunities to accelerate new technologies in the UK. This approach also includes a more flexible regulation process. Unlike many regulating bodies, the ONR publically states their regulation guidelines online. The ONR also works in collaboration with companies to avoid decisions that could lead to financial loss. They do this by first explaining the entire regulation process to a company. The company would then reach out to the UK government, who would in turn ask the ONR to conduct a general design assessment of the new technology. Adrienne emphasizes that companies should never assume anything from the regulator. They should instead ask questions because regulators are constantly modernizing.

The ONR is moving away from only speaking about compliance and towards a conversation to better understand industry. This is especially important considering the emerging technology of drones and cyber threats and the security issues they present for the nuclear sector. Industry engaging with the ONR is important for improving the ONR’s understanding of how industry views threats and how they approach security. Through these conversations, the ONR encourages industry to look to other sectors for inspiration on how to approach risk in a cost effective way.

It is especially important for companies working on emerging technology that could present a paradigm change to begin discussions with the ONR early. Adrienne believes that innovation opens the door for new opportunities and regulators should be working together to share emerging ideas. Adrienne emphasizes that while the ONR is open to new paradigms, safety and security are still a primary focus of the regulator. Overall, the ONR’s focuses on outcomes supports innovation, something that will gain more strength as the organization continues to modernize.

Life at the ONR (39:55)
39:55-43:52 (Adrienne describes what it is like to work at the ONR.)

Q. What is it like to work at the ONR?
A. Adrienne states that each employee experiences a different day to day. The team is diverse and the ONR generally hires new employees based on the recommendations made by current employees. While Adrienne loves working at the ONR, she does see some room for improvement in terms of encouraging employees to speak out and be themselves. For Adrienne, the ONR has presented her with many opportunities, including engaging in public service and inspiring the next generation of nuclear workers.

The ONR’s future (43:53)
43:53-46:23 (Adrienne discusses her views on the future of the nuclear sector and how she foresees the ONR becoming a leading, accessible regulator.)

Q. What do you see for nuclear ten years from now?
A. Adrienne believes the many cultural and economic impacts stemming from political uncertainties makes the future of nuclear unclear. However, she sees a need to tackle carbon emissions and move beyond the UK’s Net Zero Target to address climate change impacts on livelihoods. Nuclear power can address this issue by providing clean, affordable energy. By 2025, Adrienne predicts ONR will rise to become a leading, accessible regulator in the industry. The ONR will achieve this because of the strong staff members that will modernize the organization, ensuring the ONR has a bright and secure future.

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