Dec 5, 2019

Ep 239: Bianca Carpinelli - Undersecretariat of Nuclear Energy, Argentine Republic

Undersecretariat of Nuclear Energy
Argentine Republic
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Show notes

Becoming the Undersecretariat of Nuclear Energy (0:26)
0:26-5:11 (Bianca explains how she entered the nuclear industry.)

Q. Tell me your story.
A. This is Bianca’s first time at an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference. She was born in Argentina and is an international relations graduate. She focused her graduate thesis on foreign direct investment into Argentina. During her research, she discovered the Hualong One reactor import from China. At the time, Bianca did not know how a nuclear reactor worked but knew she wanted to study the import. Bianca reached out to one of her professors, who turned out to be the Deputy Secretary of Nuclear Energy. Three months later, she became the Undersecretariat of Nuclear Energy as his advisor.

Bridging a divided sector (5:12)
5:12-14:39 (Bianca discusses some of the challenges she has faced when entering nuclear, paying particular attention to the division between the three areas of the sector.)

Q. What was some of the pushback that you got?
A. Bianca says it was not easy to join the sector as a young woman. Bianca spent much of her first few weeks studying the sector. She was also afraid because she was not meeting women or other young people in the sector at first.

Bianca also notes how the sector is divided into three areas that are not always interconnected. The first area includes research and development activity, much of which often takes place in an academic setting. The second area is industry. Argentia has more than 60 years of nuclear history and the sector is constantly expanding. The third path is politics and diplomacy. She foresees these will become more interconnected with the next generation and is working towards this personally. She sees an importance for people from each of the three tracts to attend workshops together because learning from each other is enriching. Designers should be thinking about future systems with policy in mind. Policy makers need to know what new developments are being worked on. Industry workers must speak with policy writers to share the types of things that harm industry growth. Work is being done to connect the three areas. The Undersecretariat of Nuclear Energy was created in Argentina four years ago to help coordinate the sector by maintaining a big picture viewpoint. Bianca thinks there should be more initiatives and channels in place to foster communication between the three areas, rather than only relying on the organizing body.

Argentina’s nuclear sector (14:40)
14:40-19:38 (Bianca describes Argentina’s nuclear sector)

Q. What does the Argentina nuclear sector look like today?
A. INVAP, an Argentine company, exports research reactors around the globe. In addition, the country has two power plants in Buenos Aires and one in Córdoba province. The Córdoba province reactor has had its life extended for an additional 30 years. The Buenos Aires reactors are Siemens’ pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWRs). Argentina has plans to build more reactors, including plans to collaborate with China to build a pressurized water reactor (PWR) and a light-water reactor. The National Atomic Energy Commission is also building a small modular reactor (SMR) prototype to produce 32 megawatts in Argentina. This project will potentially produce commercial SMRs for Argentina, which they intend to export. Argentina plans to produce 11 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. Much of the rest of the power is supplied through fossil fuels and renewables. The big challenge is replacing fossil fuels entirely with nuclear power.

Energy demands and SMRs (19:39)
19:39-26:31 (Bianca speaks about the energy demands that place pressure on the industry to reduce cost and time of construction. She discusses how SMRs can answer this demand, addressing both continued prosperity and climate change.)

Q. What is changing in the electricity sector?
A. The demands are shifting to put pressure on cost and construction time. The CAREM SMR has this advantage due to their flexibility and the ability for serial production. Bianca paraphrases an MIT professor who describes nuclear reactors as having a gem and a box. The gem, or the core of the reactor, will always cost the same. The box, which is currently associated with high cost and long construction periods, can change. SMRs reduce the box, making them cheap and small. The other potential change to the industry is fusion. While Argentina is not working on a fusion reactor, Bianca believes the new generation can take on this challenge.

Energy demand is growing everywhere and the trend is to electrify. Energy is needed for prosperity because energy generates jobs. Using dirty fuel does not affect nations on an individual scale, but on a global scale. Bianca calls for the need to think about energy demand and supply on a global scale as well as the points of interaction between demand and supply.

Bianca’s global future (26:32)
26:32-27:57 (Bianca discusses what is next for her in the sector, including her goal of creating a youth network and taking on a more global role.)

Q. What is next for you?
A. Bianca wants to stay in the nuclear sector. She is creating a powerful youth network to continue the dialogue between the three areas of the sector. Looking towards the future, she foresees herself taking on a global role.

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