Oct 21, 2019

Ep 209: Ed Kee - CEO and Principal Consultant, Nuclear Economics Consulting Group

CEO and Principal Consultant
Nuclear Economics Consulting Group
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Show notes

Naval Academy and Nuclear Power School
0:48-15:29 (Ed discusses his Naval background and introduction to nuclear.)
Q. How did you get started in the nuclear field?
A. (0:48) Ed Kee is the founder and CEO of Nuclear Economics Consulting Group, a consulting
firm that focuses on the economics of nuclear. He got his start in the nuclear field by attending
the Naval Academy and attending Nuclear Power School. While he was in school the 3-Mile
Island accident happened, shutting down a number of civilian nuclear power operations. After
leaving the Navy, Ed attended graduate school before ending up in energy on the non-nuclear
energy development side. He got back into nuclear in 2007 and has been in the field ever since.
Q. Why did you go into the Navy?
A. ( 2:49) Ed grew up in Texas and knew he wanted to go to one of the military branches’
academies. He ended up at the Naval Academy majoring in engineering where he learned all of
the basics about the field. The Admiral Rickover model means students have to understand
everything from a fundamental baseline, so when things happen students have a deep
understanding of fission and nuclear plants. Ed left the Navy in the early 1980s because it was a
peacetime Navy and Ed felt there weren’t a lot of opportunities. If he’d stayed, his career path
would have been to become a commander of a nuclear-powered cruiser; however, those were
eventually phased out. The cost of maintaining a cruiser plant was illogically high compared to
the cost of turbine reactors on other types of ships.
Q. Why do you need so many people to run a nuclear power plant?
A. (8:39) The Navy approach is to have trained people rather than machines operating. Civilian
nuclear power plants have different types of technology and skill requirements. Ed is potentially
onboard with the idea of plants that don’t need operators to run them but acknowledges it would
be a pretty big shift and doesn’t know anyone that is currently working on it.
Q. Where do you think the nuclear workforce would go if plants became mostly machine-
A. (13:53) Since the Navy nuclear program is a feeder to the civilian nuclear program, Ed
theorizes that maybe people wouldn’t go into the Navy at such high rates. That being said, over
the past five years there’s been an upswing in the nuclear engineering field but some
uncertainty on where that population will end up in the workforce. Especially when nuclear
plants are closing for economic reasons, putting hundreds of people out of work.
Engineering to Harvard Business School
15:33-28:14 (Ed explains his post-Naval career path before rejoining the nuclear field as an
economic consultant.)

Q. What did you do after you left the Navy?
A. (15:33) Ed went to Harvard Business School for graduate school; he flew directly from an
aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to his first week of classes. It was an abrupt transition, but
worth it since he was ready to do something else.
Q. What did you do after graduate school?
A. (19:30) Ed joined a startup firm called Catalyst Energy where his job was to work on the
business side of project development analysis and investment analysis. Ed hasn’t done much
control system engineering since he left college, but the private power industry was booming
during the 1980s, so that’s where Ed ended up. Ed then ended up at an energy practice based
in Washington, DC and was traveling all over the world for work. Next he ended up in economic
consulting, at a firm that does economic analysis in respect to witness testimony during
litigation. His work ever since has been about half in litigation, giving expert testimony, and half
in advisory work. After a couple big litigation cases, Ed finally ended up back in the nuclear field.
Regulated vs. Market System of Power
28:20-1:01:05 (Ed describes the American model of electrical power.)
Q. Who is the economic regulator for the nuclear sector?
A. (28:20) In the United States it’s state-based utility commission, they determine the rates
Q. So, energy markets are really built off of 100 year projections?
A. (34:12) Some plants are using the 100-year model, but others in different parts of the US are
not. In places like Texas and California, the markets are based on short term supply and
demand. However, most of the gas, coal and nuclear plants operating on those markets were
built before the markets developed, under the regulated approach. So, there aren’t enough new
plants being built, and the ones that are may not be focused on the long term process.
Q. Why did the US switch from a regulated system to the market system?
A. (37:37) The idea was to move electricity systems into a market-based world, according to Ed.
The United Kingdom did it first in the 1990s and eventually moved to the US, but only some
states adopted this system. Ed thinks state should now get rid of those markets, because
building short term assets like natural gas plants, will lead to dirtier and more expensive costs in
10 years. A nuclear power plant is a 100-year commitment, but the markets only focus on today
and don’t plan like regulators would have done.
Q. What do you think of the idea of having areas designated as “nuclear only” that operate in
regulated systems?
A. (51:57) Ed believes that nuclear needs to be a government or regulated asset, and China is
doing exactly that - regulating nuclear. China is able to build a lot of plants often on time and
maybe even on budget. China is building 10 plants at a time; that’s the only way to be
successful in nuclear. Building one at a time is always going to be a problem. But it’s difficult to

build more than one in the US at a time due to various issues. Ed things having a federal
government utility could supply energy to a huge consumer, the government, through nuclear
power. But Ed says getting Congress to agree to that idea, is difficult. Instead, some states have
decided they want nuclear plants and are working to keep existing plants open. For example,
New York came up with the Zero Emissions Plan, to give nuclear plants ‘clean air’ money to
stay open. A lot of plants are closing early because of the market system driving the cost of
energy lower than the operating costs of the nuclear plant. This hits at the idea of how to make
nuclear power more competitive - one idea is to provide more plants more revenue taking into
account clean air, extra jobs, and system resilience. New York, Illinois, Connecticut, New
Jersey, and Ohio have done something on a state level to save nuclear plants. Another idea is
to have a carbon tax because we’re currently not charging plants for polluting the environment.
Ed says if we charge a carbon tax, or set a strong emissions limit, it would drive up the
operating costs for other types of plants. That would increase the wholesale market price of
energy and potentially make nuclear power more competitive. However, globally, this type of
effort has been small and inconsistent.
Domestic and Global Future of Nuclear
1:01:20-1:14:03 (Ed discusses his work in the US and abroad, and his thoughts on the future of
Q. Do you think there’s hope for US plants that closed early but weren’t decommissioned?
A. (1:01:20) Ed doesn’t think so. He explains that in the US, no one has ever reopened a closed
nuclear plant. Establishing regulatory rules around such a thing would likely take 10 years.
However, Canada recently did reopen a “mothball” plant, so there is hope globally. In the US
possession only permits need to be looked at as permanent, according to Ed.
Q. What do you how for the future of nuclear?
A. (1:11:29) Ed works inside and outside of the US, and most of his work in the US is saving
plants from closing early. But outside of the US he focuses on the world nuclear market. Right
now, the Russians and the Chinese are leading in nuclear with maybe the French and US
trailing along. But Ed says you have to look at the broader safety, economics and geopolitical
issues and ask yourself – Do you really want to have a long term, 100-year relationship with the
Chinese or Russian governments?

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