Ep 413: Emma Wong - Senior Nuclear Technology and Innovation Advisor, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency
The second installation of the SMR Dashboard: http://www.oecd-nea.org/smr-dashboard-ii
Olivia Columbus [00:00:58] We are here today with Emma Wong, who is the Technology and Innovation Advisor at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Emma, welcome to Titans.
Emma Wong [00:01:07] All right. Thank you, Olivia.
Olivia Columbus [00:01:09] It's really great to have you here today. I'm excited to learn all about what you're doing with the OECD. But before we do that, let's learn a little bit about you. Where did you grow up and what did you study that sort of brought you to nuclear?
Emma Wong [00:01:20] Oh, that's a long story. I hope you have a lot of time for this. So, I grew up in Michigan, actually. The Mitten State, right? Like, out in the Midwest.
Olivia Columbus [00:01:29] Where in Michigan?
Emma Wong [00:01:30] Near Detroit.
Olivia Columbus [00:01:34] Oh, are you from Michigan? My family's from Michigan. They're from all over the state, but the western side, so.
Emma Wong [00:01:38] Oh, well, you know, I won't hold that against you right now, but like, on the eastern side. My family is basically... I'm a child of the Big Three. If you know, that means my father worked at General Motors. So, the Big Three is the big three auto companies, right? When you come from that, you're supposed to go into the auto industry, but obviously, I am not in the auto industry right now.
Emma Wong [00:02:04] Growing up, my dad was an engineer, and I was good at math and science, so everyone's like, "Oh, math and science. You should go into the sciences." And I really liked chemistry. Chemistry plus engineer in my life means chemical engineer. And I had no idea what they did, I was like, "It sounds like a good thing to do." But I also liked doing research. I really was like into learning, always continually learning. I got to the University of Michigan, so alma mater, and I was like, "I'm going to get my chemical engineering degree. I think it's great."
Emma Wong [00:02:42] But then I looked around and they have... In your intro, your first year as a freshman, they want you to actually see all the different majors there are. So, I actually was looking around and I saw that there's like this thing called nuclear radiological sciences, and I was very interested in that. And I was very close to double majoring in chemical engineering and nuclear engineering. But I didn't because my parents were like, "You need a career when you're done. You're going to be a chemical engineer." I'm like, "Okay, fine." But being an independent, strong-willed woman, I was like, "Well, okay, but that means I'm going to have to just learn about what this nuclear thing is on my own."
Emma Wong [00:03:25] So, what I did was I worked in a radiochemistry lab as an undergrad. I did a project in radiochemistry learning about uranium-239 and the separation of it to look at the gamma ray spectrum and what did that look like. So, that was my first exposure into, really, nuclear science and what it could mean. I actually got one of my first papers published in that, so it was really exciting. I actually got to work at the Phoenix Memorial Lab. I got to do separation science. I got to actually devise my separation of these isotopes and then actually take spectra of it and then do the analysis myself. So, I did all of these different things and I was super fascinated by this.
Emma Wong [00:04:14] And then after that, one of my other undergrad projects I worked was in tissue engineering. I was dead set that I was going to be work in the medical field. I was going to save the world; I was going to create synthetic tissues. And so again, I was working with the Phoenix Memorial Lab; they had our test reactor there. And I was actually doing scission of different polymeric chains to try to figure out what the optimal was in order to grow like bone tissue. So I was like, "Oh, nuclear can do so much besides just this nuclear power thing we think about. There are so many other possibilities."
Emma Wong [00:04:48] I was for sure that I was going into nuclear science, into medicine. I was completely sure this is what I wanted to do, right? And then in the back of my mind were my parents, like, "You need to find a job. Is nuclear really thing?" You know, okay. Fine. So, I went to grad school thinking I was going to go into biomedical science. And in going there, I figured out a lot of things that were more practical in my life. And I was like, "No, I want to really focus on materials research, and I want to focus more on maybe something more near term that's really tangible to society." And biomedical science is that way, but when I entered it, a lot of things that I was looking at looked a little bit further afield than I was thinking about, originally.
Emma Wong [00:05:39] So, nuclear is in the back of my mind, but I was like, "Okay, materials. Do other things. There's like energy... Blah, blah, blah, right?" And so, interestingly enough, then I worked at the Army Research Lab in Aberdeen, Maryland, under the ORISE program. It's a governmental program to bring in postgraduates to see if you like these areas. And I was actually working on composite batteries, solid-state composite batteries. I was looking at systems analysis to see what types of materials would be the best, what kind of chemistries would be the best, and then doing a lot of material and functional testing of these batteries. And so, as you know today, energy storage is a big thing. Well, the Army was thinking about this long time ago. Like, "How do we get the best energy for the space and have it to be also a multi-functional aspect to it?"
Emma Wong [00:06:34] So, I was already thinking about, "Okay, I'll go into energy or some sort of energy capture there." And then eventually, I kind of grew out of my research phase and I was like, "I want to try to do something more impactful." When you think about research, there are those technology readiness levels. You go from like one to seven or one to ten, depending. Well, where I was sitting at in the Army Research Lab, I was definitely at a technology readiness level of like two. That means, you're going to be working on this for 20 years before you see it being implemented anywhere. That's on a good day. I mean, it could be five or ten, but the reality was, I was probably going to be sitting and doing the same experiment over and over again, and I wanted near-term, immediate impact, meaning within a few years.
Emma Wong [00:07:30] I then went job hunting again and I was like, "What do I want to do with my life? I've had all these interesting experiences." It was either... I'm from Michigan, right? I'm either going back to the car industry to work on fuel cells or I'm going to try this new thing in nuclear and actually try it out, tell my parents I'm going to try this out as a career option and see if I like it. If not, I'll come back to Michigan and live and work in the auto industry.
Emma Wong [00:08:01] And so, I kind of got what I wanted and I got to try it by going to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They're like, "Yeah, that sounds good. Sounds like a good career path." My parents did not know much about it, so they were like, "That seems safe." I was like, "Okay, that's great. You think it's safe? I'm going to try this. I'm going to learn as much as I can, learn as much as possible." I started off as a technical reviewer. I was a chemical engineer. So, if you ever heard about a chemical engineer, you're very adaptable. You can learn a lot of different systems. A nuclear power plant is just like any other power plant. It just uses nuclear fuel to make the energy. So I was like, "Oh, yeah. I can do this. Not a problem. I'll just learn this really quickly so I can then apply this new way of thinking, and then I'll learn the regulation part."
Emma Wong [00:08:55] What I didn't realize is that I really fell in love with it. I was like, "Regulation? There's a set of rules or a set of parameters you need to think about, then you can start thinking about how do you risk inform this? How do you make it risk-based?" And so, I kept progressing through my career. I was learning so much. I actually got to visit, audit, and inspect nuclear power plants. So, I got on the ground, did some hands-on. I didn't get to repair anything, but I got to actually ask a lot of questions, got to explore around, got a full experience.
Emma Wong [00:09:29] And from there, I was like, "I want to do more in this industry." I was like, "I'm regulating it. I'm making sure the public health and safety is first and foremost. Now that I've been able to review so much and get under the hood, so to speak, of these plants themselves..." As a regulator, you get to see and ask questions about anything. I was a firm believer that, yes, nuclear power needs to be there. It needs someone to actually be able to do those evaluations, to push it forward, to be innovative.
Emma Wong [00:10:06] However, when I first started that, I think it was in 2007, that was in the height of the nuclear, so-called, renaissance back then. So, I lived through the height of the renaissance. And then I went through and I know there was kind of like this lull, as we all know. It was like, "Oh, no, what's happening? The renaissance doesn't look real." And so at that point, I was like, "Okay, this is interesting." I'm working on operating reactors. I worked on relicensing. I did the initial licenses to 40 years of operation and relicensing now was from 40 to 60 years. And then I started on looking at subsequent license renewal, that was going out to 80 years. But I was like, "Okay, that's interesting and all, but I need a challenge. What's the next thing?"
Emma Wong [00:10:56] And you won't think this is interesting, but I found it interesting... The back end of the fuel cycle. Where does everything go after you're finished, right? So I was like, "Well, I'm going to learn about this." So, I went over to the back end side, dry storage and transportation. It's basically the long-term storage of spent fuel. Like, "What do you do with this after it's done?" And so, I learned a lot about the regulation, how it's stored, how it's transported. And it was absolutely fascinating. For me, it was like starting to complete that full picture. Like, "I've operated this now." You're going into decommissioning, you're going into where does this go? So I was like, "I'm learning so much." I also participated in trying to revamp the regulatory and licensing processes in that area. I got to participate in rulemakings, how do you update guidance? I actually got to update rules as well, which is... How many times can you say you've updated a rule? I was like, "Oh, this is fascinating. I never knew how any of this worked."
Emma Wong [00:12:11] And then after that, I was just like... I'm going through it. Believe me, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, I have very fond memories. I thought it was great. And then, I needed that next challenge. As you can tell, I'm always looking for the next challenge. And so, I then moved on to the Electric Power Research Institute. I'm also getting back to my research roots, right? I've been a regulator for quite a while. I'm going back to my research roots. And they hired me into doing long-term operations, which means going from 60 to 80 years of operation. Now, I had already worked very much on going from 40 to 60 years of operation. Now, we're going to go to 80 years of operation. I'm like, "Okay, I can think about this. I know how to do this."
Olivia Columbus [00:13:07] Can you quickly explain for those who maybe aren't quite as familiar, what EPRI's role in the broader nuclear space is, exactly?
Emma Wong [00:13:15] Sure, of course. So, EPRI is a nonprofit organization. It's a research organization. Completely independent. And what they do is... Basically, all of the utilities in the United States are members of EPRI, and most of the nuclear power plants, their utilities are also members around the world. So, it's a global organization, very much international. They participate in a lot of international discussions, writing international technical bases, and things like that. So, there's a long story on how EPRI was created, but it was basically a need for research to be done for maintenance considerations, long-term longevity situations, and anything else, at that point.
Emma Wong [00:14:13] The premise of all of this is... If you think about it... If you are an organization, say you're one utility. You need to do research to say, "Okay, all of my materials in my plant will have this life and I need to do this remediation," or something like that, right? Your dollar, or however many dollars you have, will only go so far in how much research you can do. But say all of the power plants or all the utilities get together and pool all of their money together, how much more research could you get done with that money to further all of the research for the whole industry? That was the premise of EPRI and that's why it got started. Basically, what happened was there was a blackout in New York City, of course, in the summertime. And if you're in New York City in the summer, it is hot and humid. And they want to know why their electricity is not on.
Olivia Columbus [00:15:18] Yeah, I remember that blackout. It was not great.
Emma Wong [00:15:22] So, what do you say? Like, why are the power plants not running? So, it's all about reliability. It's all about consistency. And so to do that, you need research and you need preventative measures to do that. And so basically, EPRI was formed to help give that research and technical bases to do that.
Olivia Columbus [00:15:43] Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not just nuclear, it's all different types of power plants that EPRI focuses on?
Emma Wong [00:15:48] Correct. So, EPRI started with nuclear, and then spread out to all power generation systems, even including transmission and distribution. We even have an area looking at the environment, looking at equity, environmental justice. We have a whole technology innovations area. It's very dynamic. It's very exciting because you are there. You can actually participate in anything to do with energy and electricity, and there is an expert there to answer any question you almost have.
Olivia Columbus [00:16:23] Awesome. Well, that's really cool. Well, keep going with your with your career because I didn't mean to cut you off on that.
Emma Wong [00:16:28] Oh, no, no. Feel free to... If you haven't noticed, I can keep talking forever. All on my own.
Olivia Columbus [00:16:32] No, go ahead.
Emma Wong [00:16:35] So, I got to EPRI. They had me working on long-term operations, which meant 60 to 80 years of operations in the United States. Today, if you look in the news, you see things... "It's been licensed already." "Now, we're only looking at the environmental part of that licensing, and soon, hopefully, they will work through that and do those evaluations." But when I started at EPRI, that long-term operations project had already been going on for many, many years. And it was getting to like that last hurdle. You see the finish line there. It's so close, but they needed someone to help push it over that line.
Emma Wong [00:17:16] And there were still some issues... And I don't even want to call them issues. They were just technical knowledge gaps that needed to be filled for the regulator to say, "Yes, I have confidence we have enough knowledge that, yes, you can operate up to 80 years of operation. And if something were to happen between whatever you are now to that 80 years, there's enough time. We would have seen it before any safety problem would have actually occurred." So, that's all about aging management. And so, I was brought in to try to assist with that.
Emma Wong [00:17:53] And I really got into like, "Yes. These power plants, I don't see a reason why they can't operate until 80 years." If in the evaluation that each plant has to do, individually, shows that they can't, then of course they're going to either remediate whatever it is or replace that part. They're going to put in more rigorous maintenance or inspection plans. Or, if it doesn't make economic sense, they can just retire and decommission the plant. It is the evaluation they need to do, each one needs to do, to see if they can get to 80 years of operation.
Emma Wong [00:18:34] What EPRI did and what I was able to assist EPRI with was to get together that technical basis, the technical information. We actually have three sets of what we call tools documents. There's electrical, mechanical, and civil structural "tools," tools in quotations, because they're just documents to help do that evaluation. Because if you can imagine a plant of anything, not even just nuclear, any plant, it's giant. If you're going to do an evaluation if it's going to operate for a long time, how are you going to determine this without some sort of guidance? So, that's kind of what EPRI did. They put together these tools documents to help anyone around the world do this evaluation.
Emma Wong [00:19:17] And I thought that was great. It's like near-term, immediate impact. I'm having an impact on power generation and, hopefully, energy security around the world. I'm now at a global institution. I was just in the United States, US NRC. Now, I'm at a global institution, so I'm having an impact, globally. I'm having conversations with the Japanese, with Europeans, all over. I'm taking part at IAEA events. I'm having a big impact, which is kind of where I wanted to see my career go, having a larger and larger impact to basically create energy as a... I actually do believe that energy should be something that everyone has access to, like water. In order to do that, you need to make sure it's reliable and sustainable and then make it available. You're going to see my career kind of moving in that direction.
Emma Wong [00:20:21] That is one of my biggest accomplishments, I think, is to push that over the line. And actually, having the courage at times to stand up and be like, "This guidance that EPRI is writing right now, I think it's not clear enough." I walked into it with fresh eyes saying, "As a regulator, I probably would have asked a few other questions. Maybe we might want to just address them in the documents now. It's an open document. There's no reason not to try to add a little bit more, to have a little bit more technical robustness at this point." And to that vein, I also challenged a lot of the EPRI staff. I'm like, "How can we make this so anyone can use it and they don't need a Ph.D.?" And in some areas, I was like, "I should be able to understand this document. If I can't, that means maybe we need to retool it so it's accessible to more people and they can use it, especially around the world, because some things are just very technically dense." And so, in challenging that, I found a lot of value in that myself because then I'm adding value even though it's not my technical specialty.
Emma Wong [00:21:35] Additionally, another revelation I had and one of the other impacts I had was I looked at these documents and I'm like, "Okay, we're going out to 80 years. What's special about the year 80?" There's nothing special about the year 80. It like saying, "At 80, for some reason, everything turns gray and falls apart." There's no such thing. And when you're looking at the age or something aging, it always depends on what materials are you using and what environment are you putting in it, right? And so therefore, everything is very site specific.
Emma Wong [00:22:16] So therefore, the age has no bearing on anything. So I'm like, "Okay. All of these documents that say that the technical basis is going to be guaranteed 80 years. I mean, let's not write a year in here anymore. Let's just say that the critical parameter is X, and once you hit this, you need to do further evaluation. Why don't we be more scientific and less..." Because they say, what is it? 50 is the new 40, 40 is the new 30. I'm like, "Okay, nuclear power plants. 80 is the new 60."
Olivia Columbus [00:22:55] Right. Why are we holding everyone to this 80 when it actually is completely insignificant? Absolutely.
Emma Wong [00:23:01] Absolutely. That's why I'm like, "Well, you can say nuclear power plants might be able to operate to 100, but why should I even say 100?" It's just whenever it's no longer feasible and economical to operate is when it should retire.
Olivia Columbus [00:23:17] Absolutely, yeah. No, that makes sense. Okay, cool. Well, how did you transition from your role at EPRI to what you're doing now with the OECD?
Emma Wong [00:23:27] At EPRI, the last job I did was I was actually the lead in nuclear innovation. So, I was very much into innovation. I was trying to get everyone to be more innovative, trying to change innovation culture. I participated and helped create some of the Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation that happened in 2022 in London. And it really opened my eyes to what the international stage really was, to how much impact you can have with just a voice and just trying to change things.
Emma Wong [00:24:06] So with that, I was always thinking about how could I have more impact, internationally? At EPRI, I was already doing it on a technical basis, but I was like, "Well, is there any way I could have more of an impact?" And an opportunity came up to be on loan to the Nuclear Energy Agency here in Paris. I'm in Paris. I thought about it and was like, "Well, this is a great opportunity. It is kind of a disruption in my life." And I thought, "Well, I'm kind of a disruptive type of person. I want to drive things forward. I want to be different and I want to create change." So, how better than to create change and to try to instill change in myself and do something radically different than anyone would expect me to do than move to Paris, France, and work at the Nuclear Energy Agency?
Emma Wong [00:25:08] And it wasn't just the location. It was really this new aspect of the Nuclear Energy Agency. A lot of what they can focus on is more international policy, looking at things at even a bigger picture than I had ever seen them. It was a new way of thinking, changing how I saw things. I have, now, this opportunity to look at it through a lens of that there are emerging nuclear nations that need advice. There are current powerhouses that have lots and lots of nuclear. They've got a great voice. And like, how do we learn from them? We have nations that are kind of in the middle. What do we want to do next? Maybe we're retiring them. Maybe we shouldn't retire them. Maybe we want new nuclear. Maybe we want...
Emma Wong [00:25:58] There are so many questions going around, and it's an easy way... And the NEA actually has this great convening power of bringing people together for coordination and collaboration to have these discussions. Like, "If we want to go into small modular reactors, what could that look like? What do we need to study? What are the open questions? What are the gaps that maybe need to be focused on?"
Olivia Columbus [00:26:25] Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, especially in Europe, I think there's such a shift towards prioritizing nuclear, all the way from sort of the EU level to the individual country level. Especially in Eastern Europe, we're seeing such a need for it right now that it's such an interesting and important time to be working on these topics.
Emma Wong [00:26:45] I completely agree with you. I got here kind of with the US lens on, I'm going to say. Even though I was working internationally, I definitely had a very heavy US lens. I've only been at the NEA for six months now working as the Technology and Innovation Advisor. And just being here and working and looking at all these different things, I have a very different perspective and appreciation on how people look at things from many different aspects. I think it's already made me a very different... I don't want to say evaluator, but my analysis of how I look at things is very much different.
Olivia Columbus [00:27:29] Absolutely. And I think that's why international collaboration, especially at the regulatory level, is so important because those differences in how we evaluate things and how we look at different conditions or factors based on what's going on in a certain country or sort of how different individuals or different regulators evaluate different topics, they're so important because it's going to allow us to think about things in a way we might not of otherwise considered them.
Emma Wong [00:28:00] Yeah, I agree.
Olivia Columbus [00:28:02] Awesome. Okay, well, let's talk a little bit about the SMR Dashboard. This is a really incredible resource. I was just looking through it last week and there's so much information. So, I would just first love to hear a little bit about what the SMR Dashboard is and how it was originally conceived or what the need was that it was trying to fulfill.
Emma Wong [00:28:24] I don't have the full story on how it was conceived. I've only been here for six months. It's definitely been more than a six month effort, right? I think at the NEA... Diane Cameron, who is the head of my division, she really drove this one forward. What it really does, at the heart of it, is kind of show you, visually... Because a lot of people are visual people, which is very important to communicate and is where they are... And tell parts of the story. So, it's not just that we're saying, "Okay, this is where you are in your progress meter," but it also gives the context behind it.
Emma Wong [00:29:27] The SMR Dashboard, though, is a compilation of all the publicly available information out there that we could find. And I say that because we evaluated SMRs from around the world. And I am not an expert in Russian and Czech and Polish. And we had to use translator tools. We had to use our experts, other experts here at the NEA to help us find information. So, it's the publicly available information that we could find because there may be some more out there. So, that's really the basis behind it.
Emma Wong [00:30:05] We use that publicly available information to look at and track progress of these SMRs towards deployment. The NEA, before I got here, they actually launched in October the SMR Strategy, the NEA's SMR Strategy. If you take a look at that, it actually outlines six enabling conditions for deployment. And so, these six enabling conditions are the criteria that we developed and put together to do this evaluation and analysis.
Emma Wong [00:30:41] We start with licensing. So, licensing kind of looks at where are you in the stage of licensing? Are you in pre-discussions? Have you submitted anything or have you already gotten some parts of it approved? In different countries, their licensing schemes are very different. So for instance, the US, Canada, and UK, they're very different. And so, if you look at the criteria out there... If you're from one of the countries, say Canada, I think one of those criteria, they'll never actually ever hit that criteria. They'll just go to the next one. And we're like, "Well, that's okay, because we're trying to measure. It's not all completely linear. It's just where you are in the progress in your journey of licensing." And so, if you go from one part and you skip one, it doesn't mean you did it. It means this is where you are today, type of thing.
Emma Wong [00:31:38] And it took my full team, which is probably about 10 members on the team right now a lot of discussion with the member states, with other vendors, within ourselves, to come up with that criteria that's in the document. It's the one... Like, that matrix. And I will say, even as we were doing the evaluations, we were still refining that criteria to make sure it fit with the SMRs that we're evaluating. Now, 21 SMRs were evaluated, so it was quite an undertaking. So, the first one was licensing. The second one we looked at was siting. So, how far are you along with siting an SMR? Because you can do all the work you want, but until you're thinking about actually putting it somewhere, like a site, are you really progressing on your journey to deployment?
Olivia Columbus [00:32:37] And in certain countries, those two things are interconnected, right? Like, having a site unlocks licensing opportunities. So, they all work together, in some ways.
Emma Wong [00:32:47] Oh, yes. I will say a lot of these criteria are interconnected. Which makes it quite interesting, because it's like, "Can you do one without the other?" And a lot of interesting insights did come out from doing an evaluation, globally. Because if you just did it in North America, you would think, "Okay, this is the stepwise how you have to do it," but it's only really applicable in that part of the world. If you were to do it only in Asia...
Olivia Columbus [00:33:24] Right. And how did you guys look at or was there any consideration of evaluation of first time regulators versus regulators that have sort of a history of licensing nuclear power plants?
Emma Wong [00:33:41] Unfortunately for this first 21, there were no real first-time regulators in the mix. Now, we're in our second phase of the project where we're looking at an additional 30 plus reactors. And there will be in this batch some first time regulators. So, I will have an answer for you when we're finished with this batch. There's going to be more refinement, I think, to our criteria. There's going to be more internal discussion, which we're actually starting in about a week to see, "Okay, what do we do with this other situation?" And I'm going to tell you, I have a list now of things I have to start considering, because now it's not completely straightforward. There are more emerging nations coming into the mix. There are different financing schemes. For one of them, defense is the one funding it. So, how do you count that? And then, there are mobile reactors. So, how do you do siting for something that's supposedly mobile?
Olivia Columbus [00:34:50] Absolutely, absolutely. And to jump ahead a little bit, but not to jump ahead too much, how are you guys thinking about fuel constraints and some of these new issues we've been seeing with how the fuel supply chain is getting disrupted with issues with Russia and things like that?
Emma Wong [00:35:07] Oh, that's a great question. That is definitely a concern. And we have great members at the NEA and other areas who are thinking a lot about that and having those discussions on where is that fuel supply chain going to come from? As well as looking at what other ways are there to look at the problem. A lot of the discussion that needs to happen is on supply chain. Supply chain of the fuel is going to be one of those hurdles that will need to be overcome. And it's going to take a lot of governments and private industry and utilities to come together and have that really honest conversation on like, what are we going to do? What are we willing to commit to if we want to... Say, in the United States, you're kind of already seeing this. They're starting to commit to, "Okay, we're going to build some of these enrichment plants here in the United States."
Olivia Columbus [00:36:05] Yeah, exactly. In the United States, government, Department of Energy really got behind Centrus. That was publicly announced recently. I know they're working really hard on it. But it's also... I think one of the biggest challenges is some of these things just take time. Enrichment is not a fast process. It literally needs that time. So, it's definitely something that I think is going to impact some of these timelines pretty significantly.
Emma Wong [00:36:31] I think so, but an interesting thing is we can't see into the future and what's actually going to happen, globally. But for instance, to have a new supply chain of highly-enriched fuel in a country, you kind of almost need commitments that there's going to be a buyer and a real demand for this fuel to actually spin it up. It's a centrifuge, right? But to spin this up, you need to know that someone's going to buy your fuel.
Olivia Columbus [00:37:03] No, that's completely right. Yeah. And that's definitely something that needs be thought about as we're making some of these long-term decisions.
Emma Wong [00:37:16] And it's definitely on the NEA's radar to have these conversations. Supply chain is one of those really big areas that needs to be focused on, especially in fuel.
Olivia Columbus [00:37:26] Yeah, absolutely. One of the areas in the Dashboard that I really found most interesting because I think this is a topic that is so important is the heat. You guys did ranges and sizes of temperatures for heat applications. Specifically, looking at how SMRs can be used for industrial decarbonization. I think this is such an interesting topic. How did you guys sort of decide that this was something you guys were going to focus on?
Emma Wong [00:37:56] I'm glad you asked this question, because really what we did is we went to the member states. So, the NEA has... Countries are the member states. And so, they actually got together and we asked them, "What are these industrial use cases? What do we want to be looking at?" And they actually came up with 11 of them, and this happened to be one of them that they ranked very highly. So, we actually went out and had a discussion with the NEA members on what are the things that are most important for decarbonization, and this is where they came out.
Emma Wong [00:38:31] This is the product, I guess you could say, from having these international discussions at a high level on what are the priorities and then going after it. And actually then, doing the analysis and pointing it out to people that these are the priorities of a lot of smart people getting together. And then, let's have that focus and move forward with that.
Olivia Columbus [00:38:54] Yeah. I mean, this is so fascinating, and I think, such a valuable resource. Industrial decarbonization is just not something we think about enough. And I mean, nuclear has this unique aspect of being a way to create zero-carbon heat. And whether it's district heating or these applications, I think it's just such an amazing aspect that maybe from a communications perspective, we're not championing that enough as one of nuclear's most unique aspects.
Olivia Columbus [00:39:30] Another thing I wanted to talk to you about is I think it's really interesting the way you guys broke up the reactor configurations, land-based, multi-module, marine, and mobile. How did you guys sort of come up with those four categories? Especially when you think about land-based versus multi-module... I mean, everyone calls themselves an SMR. But how did you guys define what is actually multi-module versus land-based?
Emma Wong [00:39:56] Okay, so you can be land-based and multi-module. So, you can actually fit multiple of the filters. Just because you're land-based doesn't mean you can't be multi-module. And so, it's basically the information that comes from the vendors. Obviously, land-based, that's an easy one; you're on land. And there are some of the reactors in the Dashboard itself that are marine-based. They're being in water, right? And they're actually already being built and they're going to be sitting on a ship and then hooked up to the grid, which is super interesting.
Emma Wong [00:40:36] But the multi-module is interesting because you would think, "Well, a lot of these could be multi-module," right? But it's really what the vendors tell us, if they intend it to be multi-module or not. So, that's the modular part of it. I will say that a lot of people use "SMR," and I'm going to put it in quotations, very loosely. We have kind of just been on the definition of being more inclusive with that. Personally, I have been seeing more governments just using SMR to mean anything that's a little bit below mid-range, like so under 300 megawatts electric. Anything under that, I'm like, "Okay, that's probably just small." And then, we just all use the SMR to go with it.
Olivia Columbus [00:41:27] Super interesting. In terms of this resource, it's a fascinating document. Is there any discussion about turning it into some sort of interactive, actual like dashboard online as a resource to sort of learn more about these different designs?
Emma Wong [00:41:46] Yes. So the first priority, though, is that there are 80 plus SMRs being designed, and there's more and more every day. So, our priority for the NEA right now is to just do that first baseline evaluation. And then, we definitely want to move into putting it online. I can't say what that timeline would look like. That may depend on resources and personnel. The NEA actually has only about 120 people who work here. And so if you think about it, we are doing a lot for how many staff who are here. So, getting the analysis done is priority one, and then we really do want to put it online, interactive. Maybe have interactive maps, interactive like you can do interactive filters on it. I have grand visions for what this could look like, even maybe a mobile app one day. But as of today, it's going to be a paper version until we can actually fully do the baseline analysis.
Olivia Columbus [00:42:54] Yeah, well, it's a really amazing resource. I encourage everyone who's listening to go check it out because there's so much information and the way you guys are analyzing it is just really incredible, especially if you're a visual person. I know I really appreciated all the visuals in there.
Olivia Columbus [00:43:13] So for you broadly, clearly you're very passionate about nuclear and the role it plays in enabling human prosperity. What is your vision for nuclear's future?
Emma Wong [00:43:26] I think nuclear's future is very bright. I think that with the new technologies we have out there, there is almost infinite possibility. They're even talking about space exploration, putting a reactor on the moon. So, I think there's a universal need for a nuclear to exist. I think if you ask me, the existing fleet is going to lead the way. It's going to bridge that gap until we can deploy that full suite of whatever the new reactor fleet is going to look like. So, it's going to keep bridging it along until it's ready to go. The deployment of the new nuclear fleet, I think, is a lot closer than we think.
Emma Wong [00:44:16] However, what the Dashboard does indicate is that there are probably some barriers that we, collectively, as a global community, could work together to maybe try to either figure out how to get past them. Like supply chain of fuel, how are we going to get past that? Supply chain, in general. Workforce of the future. How are we going to train the new workforce? If we have 500 new nuclear plants, who's going to SAP them? Who's going to regulate? There are so many questions that this little Dashboard brings up. And if you think about it, I think there's a lot of working analysis that needs to go into it. But I think this Dashboard shows that it's completely feasible. And if we get together as a community, we work together, coordinate, collaborate as a global community, we have a bright future for everyone to have sustainable energy, accessible energy for everyone, and therefore, hopefully, global prosperity as well.
Olivia Columbus [00:45:25] Well, that sounds like a pretty amazing future. Emma, thank you so much for joining us on Titans of Nuclear.
Emma Wong [00:45:31] All right. Thank you.