Ep 362: Dominique Minière - Executive VP, International and Domestic New Nuclear Development, Ontario Power Generation
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:00:58] Thank you so much for joining me, Dominique Minière. Welcome to Titans of Nuclear. You are the Executive Vice President for International and Domestic New Nuclear Strategy. Did I get that correct?
Dominique Minière [00:01:11] Yes.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:01:11] All right, good enough... At OPG, Ontario Power. So excited to have you here. Our first question we always start off with guests is how they got into nuclear energy. I think that's going to be a very interesting story because you actually have quite a long career in nuclear starting out all the way back at the EDF. So where should we begin?
Dominique Minière [00:01:35] I started in nuclear, in fact at the EDF in 1982. So quite a long time ago, 40 years now, as a young engineers. And the speed of time is curious because things are going and going and going back. And when I started at the beginning of the '80s, the question of energy was probably one of the central questions in the world, because when you've got development, everything is linked with energy. So if you don't have energy, you cannot develop. And it was a period of the end of the '70s... you know, 1973 was the first petroleum crisis and the second one was in 1979. So there were a lot of ideas about how we can get more independent from oil and gas. And in fact, always the focus was really on independence. Really what has led, for exmaple, France to it's huge nuclear program was really how we can be, as much as possible, independent from oil crises in the future. That was the driving factor.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:02:42] So back in the late '70s, early '80s, how did you first come to understand what nuclear energy was and kind of the appreciation that you now have for it? Was it just another energy source?
Dominique Minière [00:02:56] In fact, it was really an energy source. Maybe I will make you smile, but at the moment before I joined EDF in 1982, I have studied in college and I had finished my college degree. At the beginning to do the college degree I had worked before in 1982 with EDF. And I was mostly working on solar activities, development of sort of activities. So, it's curious because it was another way to analyze the crisis, energy crisis. And after that I moved quite quickly to nuclear, because there was this huge program at EDF and I started as a young engineer.
Dominique Minière [00:03:35] I will let some off of my career, but I have gone through, I will say, headquarters, and I have gone to southwest France to start up new nuclear reactors, to become in charge of small sections regarding systems of maintenance of these nuclear power stations. A few years and a few months in fact in the north of France, and after that, four years from 1993 to 1997 in China. For four years I was sent by EDF to what was called at this period of time the CGN, which was the Chinese company in charge of Daya Bay, the first nuclear power station, international nuclear power station. And I have set up there as an advisor to maintenance organizations and development of people also. So I have good relationship with my Chinese colleagues through these years and I have moved back to France in 1997, firstly as a prog manager and then site VP of a large nuclear power plant in the north of France. I was appointed as site VP when I was 41, so quite young, and I have stayed there for three years through four units of 1,300 megawatts. So quite a huge power plant.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:04:53] So how many projects did you have a hand in throughout your career at EDF?
Dominique Minière [00:04:56] Several, I had this one, and after that I have moved to Paris to become the Deputy CNO, in fact. So it was quite challenging work because in fact I was in charge of the whole, as deputy CNO, the whole fleet for EDF for 58 nuclear reactors, both technical choices and maintenance choices, nuclear safety, radiation protection, environmental, large contracts, all the odd aspects of the fleet. So it was quite a challenging period of time. And for eight years I have done these jobs and I was doing quite well the EDF fleet. So that's why by the end of this period of time, it means by 2010 I was appointed as CNO of the fleet and I was able to launch what they call now in France the refurbishment of the fleet when it was going to 40 years of preparation, which is going quite well, as far as I know, for the time being. Still in place is an investment of €55 billion or something like that on the fleet, to be able to go beyond 40 years of operation and for 50 or 60 years of operations, so it was quite interesting as a challenge.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:06:15] Yeah. I mean, you mentioned quite a few challenges: regulations, safety, just overall fleet maintenance and life extensions. What have been for you personally, some of the biggest challenges and maybe lessons learned across all of these projects and starting out your career in the junior level of project development and then going all the way up to that CNO and SVP level and seeing kind of the whole fleet perspective.
Dominique Minière [00:06:46] You learn differences depending on where you are in your career. At the beginning, you learn a lot about technical, but also about how to manage and management. Progressively, you develop management skills. And when I was the PDC, I knew it was both management and a lot of technical fleet aspects which wasn't so obvious when you are only in charge of one nuclear power station. And then when I was appointed, when the new CEO of EDF arrived in 2015, he asked me to reorganize completely the department in charge of nuclear and I split everything into two departments, and he asked me to lead the existing fleet which was 32,000 people so quite a huge department.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:07:34] 32,000 people?
Dominique Minière [00:07:35] Yes, a huge department of EDF in charge of nuclear. More engineering, dismantling, deconstructions and also fuel. So it's quite, quite a large portfolio. At this period of time it was of course management, but it was mainly political, because when you go to such a kind of level, you learn how to deal with the government, government ideas that sometimes are a bit challenging for you, but you try to navigate and try to explain. You learn how to explain a lot, to try to convince a lot, and you are reporting to a lot of people. But normally, I mean, it's not abnormal you have to just be patient and to sometimes to be humble enough to re-explain again and explain again and to learn of surprises and how to try to deal with some people's ideas that are not completely aligned with yours. But as a matter of fact, when you are in this position, the best thing you have to do is to try to find solutions that could fit.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:08:43] Maybe before we kind of fully transition over to the work you're doing now in Canada, we could talk about the technology a bit more of the French fleet. And then we'll kind of get into how that changes with the current technologies you're looking at. So tell me about the overall, the French fleet and the technology choices in France, the fuel, etc..
Dominique Minière [00:09:07] What is interesting, the choices made by EDF was quite, I think, good at this period of time. It was based on the idea that standardizations will make you a lot tougher, will bring you a lot of things. And in fact, it has brought a lot of things to the French fleet, which is still quite competitive compared to other ones, because in fact you have three kind of reactors, PWR and series. So with a series effect, you are able to avoid spending a lot of money on the design because you have the same design, you have the same supply chain so you can make an economy of scale, same operations. So you have really a good a good series effect. That's a big advantage. A drawback of that is which was not so good is when you have a failure, which is, I would say more generic, in fact you could have this failure on several reactors and you have to be able to undo that. So you have to have more, I would say, aggressive maintenance in order to try to check if you have this kind of thing which will happen soon so preventive maintenance is more. So I mean, you have advantages and drawbacks, but advantages are more important than drawbacks.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:10:31] Great. So how did you come to find yourself now in Canada?
Dominique Minière [00:10:37] That's a good question. People ask me, "Why are you going to Canada?" As a matter of fact, when I arrived in 2018, 2019, it was a period of time when I worked a lot with the French government to explain that their target to go to 50% of nuclear, France is 75% of nuclear, to go to 50% of nuclear by 2025 was probably not the right way. I can understand that they would like to to diversify, but in the meantime, it was to go to 50% by 2025, which was crazy. I mean, because it was bringing France in the war regarding energy supply. So we have discussed a bit, and after discussions we have agreed that, okay, they can keep their target but to move it to 2035 would be more, I would say smarter.
Dominique Minière [00:11:32] So they agreed, and finally we have been able to move on this way. We have been able to create reorganizations and to be first chairman of that, and to sign a contract with the French government in order to develop new nuclear in the future. So I think I have done what I would like to do.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:11:59] Yeah, yeah. Now we know a big topic of this conference has been international cooperation.
Dominique Minière [00:12:06] I also, I have pushed after Fukushima, in the past, Fukushima coalition to renovate completely, so I have done what I would like to do. The main targets for EDF by these days and for the nuclear industry in France was to develop new nuclear with EPR. I was not completely involved. There was another department in charge of that. So regarding my own stakes, I was at the end of my own stakes and I saw that we need new nuclear, we need large reactors, but we need also small modular reactors. It's a real big conviction I have. So I could retire, and I have retired from EDF, I could enjoy my retirement, but in the meantime, when you have given so many years to the nuclear industry and to the future of the world, you think that you need to give back something. So that's why I looked in the Western world about where I could develop SMR knowing that on large reactors there were relative challenges around it delivering on time and budget. So I said we need at least another way to develop new nuclear. It's probably SMR and I said I could be a part of the answer; not completely the answer but part of the answer on how to develop SMR in the Western world. So it was not at EDF because EDF was mainly concentrated on the large reactors. In the U.S, it was more challenging because of the economy and things like that. And the country was moved by this day quite a lot on new nuclear, and SMR was in Canada with the SMR Roadmap. And OPG was a company which is regulated in which you could probably more easily develop such kind of SMRs. Sometimes, you know, life is curious.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:13:58] Yeah.
Dominique Minière [00:14:00] And at this moment they were looking for someone, the CEO was looking for someone for the fleet. We got in touch, and finally I said, "Okay, why not try to go to Canada and try to develop based on the Roadmap that has been already developed to build something more concrete." So I have gone to Canada to align the industry in Canada and to do also the selections of the technology. And now we are with a developer for an SMR BWRX-300 and I am also CEO of GFP, which is the company that we have built with USNC to develop the very small SMR for remote communities and mining.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:14:57] Well let's come back to Global First Power in a second. I'd love to talk a little bit about OPG's project with the GE BWRX-300. So you've been working with this project for the whole time you've been with OPG. We've heard a lot about this partnership at this conference here, but I'd love for you to kind of talk about it because technology selection has been a theme between both your work with OPG and with Global First Power, with the MMR. So tell me what that process has been like. Getting to know several different technologies, how you guys came to the decision to move forward with GE Design and where you're at now, because it's been only a few months since the last major announcement. So I think this is a good time to give everyone an update.
Dominique Minière [00:15:50] We can have a look at both. I mean, why USNC MMR? Probably because on MMR and very small SMR we were looking for a technology of sort of five megawatt electric and the range was a good range for the remote communities and for mining. USNC was developing that. We were looking for technology that was innovative, but I'm always careful, not too much innovative, because in this case, it's sometimes difficult to reach a scale.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:16:20] We stille have regulations, we still have a supply chain.
Dominique Minière [00:16:22] So technology developed by USNC is a high temperature gas reactor. There are already some high temperature gas reactors developed in the world. So it's not new. We know that it is working. From this point of view is traditional, but in the meantime, it's a bit different on some other aspects, some innovations which are quite important, the size and other ideas like that. But I saw that probably, we saw, I was not around, that technology developed by USNC was probably a good fit if we want to develop a MMR on one side. And we are doing the other technology for on-grid SMR. We are looking really for on-grid technologies that could be connected to the grid, be integrated before the end of the '20s with good safety levels, with a possibility to benefit Canadian industry. So there were a lot of parameters, and in fact all the technology we looked at, they were all good. I mean, globally they were all good, some of them, I don't speak of the ones for which we have a new PHG with one computer, but for the other ones, for example, the final ten ones we had to look, we had ten technologies, good technologies. But as a matter of fact, when you try to find a compromise between how to be there before the end of the '20s with certain innovation, but not too much because if you have too much innovation you will never succeed, and that could benefit from the Canadian industry and what are your industries that could benefit from function point of view and things like that. You put all the critera together, it's not metrics and you are not adding in numbers, but the end, the results appear quite, quite easily that we need probably to start with BWRX-300 technology because we think that it could fit globally with the parameters, we are having a look on. We will probably based on that, develope several of them, including Canada, including in Ontario, first for OPG, but also I think in other jurisdictions of Canada, probably in the U.S. also. We have now an agreement with TVA, maybe in Eastern Europe if they need something like that. And we have a lot of people in the U.S., in Eastern Europe which are interested by that. And I think when it goes to such a kind of thing, when you have a look, it's a bit like a demonstration that we can really develop this kind of SMR.
Dominique Minière [00:19:13] And when we commit on the schedule and on the budget, it means we will have a certain level of certainty, not before end of 2024 at the earliest estimate. At this moment we will commit on a timeline and on a project like we have done for refurbishment. And the most important is to deliver on time and on budget in order to get the confidence and the trust of the world community. The public, but also the financial community, because nobody in the financial community will invest in your nuclear program if you are underdelivering on time and on budget.
Dominique Minière [00:19:52] So it's really how we are getting this confidence to do the first one, to duplicate, and then probably when we are obviously demonstrating that we can develop SMR in this way, there will be other technology that will come. There will not be only one technology like for cars, because like when Ford has developed these Ford cars then you have only one model. I mean, progressively there will be other models, maybe not 1,000, but we can imagine that we'd have three, four, five in the future. It's just to open the way. I think we really see ourselves as opening the way for not just solutions for climate change but one part of the solutions, one part of the answer.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:20:36] Right, right. So building out the GE design at the Darlington station, which the whole team there has been working on this refurbishment for quite a while. You have kind of the workforce, the schedule, the commitment to schedule, the commitment to budget already at that site in terms of that management.
Dominique Minière [00:20:57] When you have a look, in fact, you have five reasons for which you don't succeed, usually, and we have difficulties with international nuclear reactors. First one is that you need really to select a technology, which is quite simple. If it is too complex, more complex technology is the most difficult is to deliver it. Second point, usually you need the supply chain, a very strong supply chain. And we have rebuilt the supply chain since the refurbishment. You need a good project team, and once again since the refurbishment we have been able to reset the good project teams. You need one of the topics that we have still to demonstrate, like the simplicity of the design. We have to demonstrate that we can develop completely the design, including the basic design, including the drawings, including everything before the start of construction.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:21:58] Right.
Dominique Minière [00:21:58] Because the first of a kind is very key. And it's not the case, for the time being, for large reactors. And five conditions, you need, I would say, a nuclear safety authority which is strong regarding nuclear safety but which is eager to developing with you this kind of technology. If they are not, if they don't mind, I mean, it's a catastrophe. But it's not the case with CNSC. CNSC is very strong on nuclear safety. It's very strong on nuclear safety. But in the meantime, they would like to see the success of SMR. So we're in very good condition.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:22:28] And so, Global First Power. Explain what Global First Power is. You mentioned CNSC.
Dominique Minière [00:22:36] So we have selected the technology which is a technology of a high temperature gas reactors developed by USNC, so the challenges you have with such kind of technology is that they are small one.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:22:50] Very small. You said five megawatts.
Dominique Minière [00:22:52] Five megawatts, ten megawatt thermal, five megawatt electrical. So it's a small one. So you have the cost competitiveness of that. You are not, I would say, challenging the on-grid cost of electricity because in not for on-grid. So you are competing with diesels, it goes to diesels. So cost of electricity is quite high, so you can compete with such small modular reactors. But in the meantime, we want to put a good condition to do that, and the best way is probably to partner much more and not to have a supplier-customer relationship, but to put everyone together in order to bring from USNC's technologies or other technologies on the range of developing small projects, to bring from OPG our competencies to deal with CNSC and to deal with nuclear safety and of future operation. And you put that together and you create a joint venture, you name it GFP, in order to be more efficient together and not in the, I would say, customer-supplier relationship. And this is typically the idea of GFP, how to put the competencies together in order to succeed.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:24:10] And so something I'm personally very curious about. So with the grid scale application in Darlington with the BDRX-300, the site is there, the crew is there. With the Global First Power Initiative, we're talking about remote communities where we're not looking at grid applications, but you mentioned mining and other types of remote power applications in Canada. So how does that work in terms of site licenses?
Dominique Minière [00:24:43] First, why we have we moved through to what we call remote communities and mining because, you know, we are OPG so our entire operation is mainly to utility, to develop electricity on-grid. It's because OPG is really... I like OPG like I liked EDF in the past because of social license. I mean, we are more than generating electricity. At OPG, we are using the work to supply power with purpose.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:25:23] You mentioned this earlier in what you brought you to nuclear in the first place.
Dominique Minière [00:25:27] Social license is very important. I think we are doing that. Of course we are. We are making money because in each business you need to make money in order to go in and to develop. But the purpose is not to make money, a huge amount of money to do money. It's much more than that. It's for the development of humanity and it's more than only money. So that's why I think when it goes to remote communities, even mining but for remote communities you have a lot of people living in the north of Canada who are relying on diesels which are polluting, for which you need to bring a lot of oil there, and transportation is a nightmare.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:26:10] It's also incredibly expensive.
Dominique Minière [00:26:12] Incredibly expensive. And people sometimes are living in conditions which are very difficult with houses which are cold, very cold, and they have difficulties to live. So if we can bring them a solution, of course they will decide because it's part of the license, it's up to them to decide if they think it or it. But if you are able to propose them a solution which is less polluting, which is working like a battery, a nuclear battery for 20 years, we preserve the battery, you have electricity and heat, and in this case, you are improving your standard of life, I think it's something we have to do. That's why we have moved to that, and we have first to do a commercial demonstration. That's what we are trying to at Chalk River.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:26:56] At the Chalk River site.
Dominique Minière [00:26:58] And after that, it will enable us development for the future. But we have to first demonstrate. Like for Darlington, I think you have seen that we have made steps, we have policy developed. I mean, we are not like in 2019, we have moved quite a lot. But in the meantime, we have to stay humble because we still have a lot to demonstrate, both on Chalk River and other development.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:27:24] That's absolutely amazing. It sounds like a capstone, if you will, to a really long career bringing this technology across France to China, now really kind of helping Canada pave the way for the future of nuclear. As parting words, when you think about the legacy that you have brought and the legacy that these organizations that you're working with today will bring to these communities that will benefit from clean power, what is that like?
Dominique Minière [00:27:57] I think first you have to to stay humble. I mean, you live for a certain period of time. So most important is not to let your name... so most important is to let what you have done. And what you have done is more important than to let your name, I think. So that's why I'm trying to support Canada and support developing this technology not only for Canada but also for other parts of the world. I think it's important. I think if I can explain to my grandchildren that, okay, I have done that and it's good for the future and I can interest them in that, I think that's the most important. Your name is not so important. I mean, the most important is what you have done.
Michelle Brechtelsbauer [00:28:40] What you're leaving behind, right? Well, that's amazing. Well, thank you so much. This has been a wonderful conversation. I very much appreciate it. Thanks for coming on Titans.
Dominique Minière [00:28:50] Thank you.