Ep 199: Federico Puente - Intl. Nuclear Expert and Professor, Tecnológico de Monterrey
Working with nuclear in 5 countries (2:10)
2:10-14:47 (Federico discusses his educational background and how he came to work with nuclear in 5 countries.)
Q. How many countries have you lived in?
A. (0:11) Federico has worked, lived and studied in 5 countries: Mexico, Spain, Germany, Sweden and the US. Federico’s interest in nuclear drives his movements around the globe.
When Federico was a teenager, he moved with his mother from Mexico to Houston, Texas. Federico focused his Master’s on Sustainable Energy Engineering with an emphasis on Nuclear Power Technology. Federico wanted to work first before pursuing a PhD at Penn State, so after finishing his Master’s thesis at Westinghouse in Sweden, he moved to Spain to provide services to the nuclear power plant. This provided him with a good understanding of what actually happens within a nuclear power plant, moving his knowledge beyond the theory. Federico chose Penn State for his PhD because it offered him the opportunity to become involved in a nuclear project in Germany with Areva, a competitor of Westinghouse.
Federico was grateful to work with Westinghouse and Areva during his graduate education. After his Master’s taught classes, Federico applied and was accepted to do his thesis project with Westinghouse Sweden. He then stayed in Sweden because, at the time, Sweden’s electricity was split evenly between nuclear and hydropower. Prior to his Master’s, Federico studied both economics and mechanical and electrical engineering simultaneously at different universities in Mexico. He focuses on sustainability and believes nuclear can complement renewable energies to provide for the high demand for clean energy. Federico is now an International Nuclear expert and Professor at Technologico de Monterrey.
Nuclear as part of the solution (14:48)
12:48-23:19 (Federico explains why he chose to enter the nuclear industry rather than focus on battery storage. He also discusses the importance of including nuclear in clean energy strategies.)
Q. What made you go into nuclear rather than battery storage?
A. (12:47) Federico was impressed with nuclear. No other energy source can produce as much electricity per unit of fuel. Nuclear is a clean energy, generating no greenhouse gases during production. While the capital investment is high, the variable costs are low, meaning nuclear is an economically sound electricity source. Additionally, nuclear does not depend on weather conditions and can continue producing electricity during difficult weather conditions. Nuclear can be used as a baseload alongside renewables.
Battery storage makes sense in small grids, but in large grids, the grid distributes energy directly to where it is needed. Nuclear-produced electricity can follow this grid, creating efficient electricity flow. Batteries can be a part of the solution, but the overall energy solution requires developing a strategic solution that combines a mix of different electricity sources. Achieving climate goals requires including nuclear power in energy talks and in the renewable energy team. It is no longer enough to only solve the climate problem, but we must also reverse it. Nuclear power can help us achieve this.
Federico’s interest in sustainability (23:20)
23:20-27:24 (Federico discusses how he became interested in sustainability.)
Q. What first got you thinking about sustainability?
A. (21:18) Studying both economics and engineering during school enabled Federico to view problems in a different way. He began focusing on efficiency, which he gained different perspectives on from his time in the US and Europe. He then became interested in how to be effective and efficient within sustainability and how to extend the macroeconomics and the importance of sustainability to society.
Nuclear from an economic perspective (27:25)
27:25-32:32 (Federico explains how he views nuclear from an economic perspective.)
Q. How do you see the nuclear industry from an economic perspective?
A. (25:25) From an economic perspective, nuclear projects must be on time and on budget. Federico has worked in private nuclear companies as well as in technical research for government, giving him a variety of viewpoints on the topic. Federico sees the need for a mechanism to be established by the market or government to help raise capital investment. Because of the changing nuclear policy landscape, private capital investment is risky, creating the need for governments to lower risk or provide subsidies.
Creating public acceptance (32:33)
32:33-41:47 (Federico explains how public acceptance is needed for governments to support nuclear power.)
Q. How do we convince governments to subsidise or include nuclear in policy?
A. (30:31) Infrastructure must first be considered from both a financial and regulatory perspective. While the government must make decisions based on fact, there is also sometimes a political cost. Politicians can be afraid that nuclear is not popular because the public is not informed about the benefits of nuclear. Public acceptance is a huge barrier, so the industry must transmit the benefits to the public.
Federico stresses the importance of educating the next generation about how nuclear can be used alongside renewables. Creating acceptance requires educating the public about the facts of nuclear in an objective manner and for the industry to be informers instead of promoters. Federico believes one of the best ways of doing this is by using the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nine of the 17 can be benefited by the adoption of nuclear.
When we talk about energy, we talk about quantity and quality. We must provide huge amounts of energy to provide for growing populations and to avoid energy poverty, which is the absence of access to modern energy services. In terms of quality, energy must be clean, reliable, affordable and flexible. Nuclear can cover each of these requirements.
Transferring nuclear knowledge (41:58)
41:58-46:47 (Federico explains how newcomer countries can be supported by the IAEA and experienced countries.)
Q. How do you transfer knowledge from countries that are succeeding to countries that are falling behind?
A. (39:57) The IAEA is doing an amazing job with this transfer of knowledge. They provide guidance, guidelines and recommendations. They are internationally accepted and are reviewed by experts. Newcomer countries interested in nuclear power approach the IAEA and the Nuclear Energy Agency, who create a networking platform to share advice. The experienced countries also have the responsibility of taking the bigger steps. There are also internationally accepted tools and methodologies in place to help newcomer countries understand the facts about nuclear.
Federico’s nuclear energy future (46:48)
46:48-52:59 (Federico explains what he is currently focused on within the nuclear industry. He also discusses what needs to happen to establish nuclear as a global energy solution.)
Q. What are you focusing on right now and what are you trying to push in the nuclear field?
A. (44:47) Federico primarily focuses on the economics and the legal and regulatory frameworks of nuclear infrastructure. In his prior positions, Federico was the Director of the Scientific Research Division of the National Institute for Nuclear Research and a Distribution Manager at GRS in Germany. In these positions, he learned about the successful elements of a nuclear project. He designed a strategy to bring external funding to the National Institute and established interdisciplinary groups to create well written proposals. He also works in capacity building in academia and overall focuses on economics, management, funding and finance.
Establishing nuclear as a global solution is a complex, difficult challenge. It requires us to understand that there is no one unique solution that can be applied to every country. Some countries can support large nuclear power plants while other countries can only support small reactors because of the available grid infrastructure in place. Federico is also excited to see young generations working on new designs. He sees the need for a common goal for sustainable development, meaning the requirement to better communicate the benefits of nuclear energy to the public.