Ep 118: Corey McDaniel - VP, Business Development, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories
1 - Nuclear in Technology and Politics
Bret Kugelmass: What led to your interest in nuclear engineering?
Corey McDaniel: Corey McDaniel went to Purdue University on an ROTC Air Force scholarship which let him study anything he wanted to. He had an interest in engineering and physics which was inspired by a high school physics teacher. Nuclear was attractive to McDaniel as a mix of mechanical, civil, materials, electrical engineering and nuclear physics. A professor connected him with Los Alamos National Laboratory in his home state of New Mexico where he spent a summer internship doing thermohydraulic analysis. McDaniel wanted to work on space reactors, but the program was cancelled right before he graduated. This led him to probabilistic risk assessment (PRA). Some small modular reactors (SMR’s) are based largely on the technology that was developed for space nuclear. McDaniel has gone between working in purely technical environments, like at Los Alamos, and working on presidential campaigns. In 2005, he worked on the Energy Policy Act with Idaho Senator Larry Craig through the recommendation of his home state Senator, Pete Domenici. McDaniel wrote sections of the Act for next generation nuclear plants, clean energy, and addressing climate change through technology and loan guarantees. Different incentives could be used to get nuclear going again, such as standby support, production tax credits, and loan guarantees to send an overall environment to send a signal to the market that the government valued nuclear power.
2 - NuScale’s International Development
Bret Kugelmass: What changed from the times that nuclear technology could have been built easily?
Corey McDaniel: At one point in nuclear, the incentives were there and the environment was right for building nuclear technology. There are different reasons why the nuclear renaissance didn’t happen. The Energy Policy Act only included one provision that referenced shale and shale wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Before long, the price of natural gas plummeted and the financial crisis happened. Fukushima happened in March 2011 and nuclear’s new build path in the U.S. was extinguished. Corey McDanial got his Master’s degree at New Mexico in nuclear engineering, which at the time, focused on environmental studies of nuclear clean up. Idaho National Lab is the national nuclear laboratory. Technology in fracking for natural gas to bring the price down doesn’t mean nuclear loses and is not a net negative for the environment. There is no price on carbon today. Greenhouse gases should be addressed through more innovation and new technology. In nuclear, it’s not enough to be really safe and to do things very clean; the plants must be very efficient and there must be more innovation. Core McDaniel was involved early on with NuScale Power, joining in 2010. When he joined the company, McDaniel was living in India and NuScale had about 80 employees,just getting to tens of millions of dollars of investment. McDaniel was the director for international business development for NuScale out of Mumbai, reaching 14 different countries. There was an emerging nuclear market in Southeastern Asia countries, who were interested in small modular reactors (SMR’s) due to the smaller investment needed, the safety, and the lack of competition with natural gas.
3 - Nuclear Energy in India
Bret Kugelmass: How does nuclear energy fit in India?
Corey McDaniel: India’s infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges in the country’s implementation of nuclear power, in addition to challenges with worker training and corruption. There are places in Eastern India that have the coal, but the land is inaccessible due to a lack of permission from the people. This region would buy coal from Indonesia at a guaranteed price, reliably and of the right quality. All the nuclear in India makes up a very small percentage of the country’s power and a significant portion of the population does not have any grid electricity. The distributive model may work very well in India and has been used by solar and wind. The idea of a container shipped nuclear reactor is still a ways away, but the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories are working at Chalk River with venture capitalists and small startup companies to work towards this goal. In India and China, solar has been something that can be deployed rapidly with immediate power. Canada is particularly interested in its remote locations in the Great White North which typically fly in diesel and sometimes have no sun at all. India is looking to deploy more of their existing technology and advanced heavy water reactors. Throughout most of the developing world, there is interest in small modular reactors (SMR’s), but it is dependent upon what the market can bear.
4 - Falsification of Nuclear Records
Bret Kugelmass: Where did you go after your work at NuScale?
Corey McDaniel: After leaving NuScale, Corey McDaniel worked for a nuclear electrical supplier of Class 1E cables that supply the safety systems. If an accident happens, these cables have to survive the conditions of the accident. McDaniel delivered cables to the UAE, China, and Korea. One of the biggest scandals in nuclear when a Korean cable supplier falsified their qualifications for their cables. These cables that didn’t meet flame test qualifications were discovered already installed in reactors. The subsidiary that manufactured the cables dissolved. The falsification of equipment in Korea and other places is fairly common for non-safety related equipment, but this was the first time it was discovered for safety related equipment. Korea’s current government is not supportive of nuclear going forward, partly related to Fukushima and partly due to the scandals. In the 1960’s, the U.S. had issues with CFSI (counterfeit fraudulent suspect items) and Japan went through their own period as well. The cost to the company for having the reactors shut down for cable replacement was estimated at more than four billion dollars.
5 - Chalk River Laboratories
Bret Kugelmass: What brought you to Chalk River?
Corey McDaniel: Corey McDaniel was at Idaho National Labs in charge of the international program and small modular reactor (SMR) deployment. He had the opportunity to go to Chalk River to be a vice president on the business development team. Half of Chalk River’s work in science and technology is directly for the federal government and the other half of their work is commercial. Most of the work historically has been supporting the CANDU fleet with life extensions through CANDU owners. CANDU reactors are heavy water moderated reactors that use natural uranium and have online fueling. One of the life limiting components are the pressure tubes. Chalk River does first tests of the fuel and pressure tubes under different conditions and provide the information to the regulator. Once the CANDU is at the end of its life, it is not shut down and decommissioned, but it can be refurbished. Refurbishment involves replacing the innards of the reactor, but the rest of the infrastructure can remain in place. The cost of refurbishment is usually a couple billion dollars. Large scale refurbishment is ongoing at Darlington which included a mock-up that workers can practice on. This allows the reactor to operate for another 30 years. Chalk River is the center for reactor sustainability and is the only laboratory in the world that supports life extension for the CANDU (heavy water), light water, and advanced reactors. The Ontario government committed to spending $26 billion refurbishing CANDU’s. Canada is one of the biggest new build markets and has the most robust supply chain and most supportive government environment of any place in the world.
6 - Nuclear Innovation in Canada
Bret Kugelmass: What are the things that slowed down progress in Canada’s nuclear industry?
Corey McDaniel: The stars are aligned for Canada because the country has the supply chain, supportive government, national laboratory to work out innovation, and an interest by more than two dozen small modular reactor (SMR) companies preparing to deploy technologies. Fuel qualification takes the longest, which Canada specializes in. NuScale’s philosophy was to use PWR (pressurized water reactor) fuel off the shelf. Regulator decisions regarding other fuels looked at for advanced reactors are to be determined. Canada has a progressive, risk-based regulator who has expressed a willingness to engage the vendors and have good discussions on how to deal with issues in reactors never seen before. Chalk River can help vendors put the fuel together for a demonstration or first-of-a-kind reactor. Advanced manufacturing and 3D fuel could have a lot of benefits and risks in the future. Non-proliferation is always a concern. Chalk River supports the government in nuclear safety and security on the forensics side.
7 - Nuclear Energy’s Keys to Success
Bret Kugelmass: What are some of the critical things that need to happen worldwide to put nuclear in the best position for an energy revolution?
Corey McDaniel: Corey McDaniel always analyzes problems from multiple angles. Nuclear cannot be solved purely from a policy side, otherwise, the Energy Policy Act would have led to a nuclear renaissance. It cannot be solved purely from a technology standpoint, otherwise, the passively safe AP-1000 reactors would be built all over the world. It cannot be solved purely economically, because nuclear has to be competitive in the market. New energy is clean energy. India, China, or developing countries would rather have any power instead of worrying about greenhouse gases. In the near term, the types of technologies looking to be deployed now will be in niche markets, such as cold, remote places where it is very expensive to deliver power. Longer term, humanity is heading toward more power that increases the quality of life for everybody and nuclear has a role to play. Markets cannot be forced if it doesn’t make economic sense. Eventually people will choose nuclear for it being cleaner energy.