Ep 18: Josh Freed - Vice-President, Clean Energy, Third Way
"1:55 - Third Way and Energy Policy
Bret Kugelmass: How did you get into the nuclear space?
Josh Freed: Third Way has been advocates for nuclear as part of climate solution since its founding of its clean energy program in 2009. Advanced nuclear was recognized by Third Way as a serious and viable part of the solution in 2013. Josh Freed started off getting a Master’s degree in American history and was motivated to get into a career in politics doing research for campaigns. Freed worked on campaign trails for a variety of candidates, aiming to understand their story and the story of their opponents. Very few people read entire policies, but are instead looking for a synopsis and an elevator pitch, specifically ways to connect it to whatever constituency that they care about. Their story sticks with them and motivates action. Third Way is a central left think tank based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on federal policy in four different program areas: economic issues, national security issues, social policy issues, and the clean energy program. In 2008, Josh Freed met with friends who had founded Third Way, who made the case that they were going to play a big role in helping shape the policy ideas behind the incoming Obama administration. Third Way recognized early on that there were a variety of policies already in place that were going to be considered an unlikely move and had to determine their value add. Third Way needed to identify what wasn’t being focused on with their allies in the climate community that could help have a big impact on reducing emissions and identified nuclear energy early on. In 2009-2010, there was an assumption there was going to be a nuclear renaissance and Third Way worked to identify what policies and actions they could support and advocate for to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. significantly. While the environmental and renewables community worked to advance deployment of renewables, Third Way decided to support that, but also take the lead in Washington advocating for light water nuclear power. Waxman-Markey, the cap and trade clean energy bill that started proceeding through the House and the Senate ultimately failed. By 2013, Third Way had heard a lot about the possibilities of advanced nuclear.
13:28 - Third Way and Advanced Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: How did Third Way get involved in advanced nuclear?
Josh Freed: In a relatively short period of time, the energy landscape changed significantly because of natural gas and the Obama administration was committed to action on climate. Carbon emissions needed to be reduced in the electricity sector, but also the industrial sector. Third Way asked a variety of people what could be an important tool to reduce emissions, including Ray Rothrock, who talked about why he was excited about advanced nuclear. There were a number of niches that advanced nuclear could serve and, if scaled up sufficiently, could play a big role in reducing emissions. Third Way built a map of the state of innovation in the advanced nuclear sector and updates it annually. Third Way challenged themselves to determine if advanced nuclear was a real emerging sector with a lot of companies and private equity or whether it was a theory on paper. The Department of Energy (DOE) has many issues it focuses on, including nuclear weapons and security, recovery act programs, and an expansion of renewable energy. Third Way presented on Gen IV advanced reactor work to Secretary Muniz at the DOE, who has a background in nuclear and recognizes nuclear as a key tool for climate change.
21:48 - GAIN’s Role in Nuclear Technology Development
Bret Kugelmass: How does GAIN play into advanced reactor concepts?
Josh Freed: Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) came out the work that Third Way and allies, such as Breakthrough Institute and researchers at companies, to help spur the federal government to say there is a lot of innovation in nuclear and create an ombudsman to advocate for nuclear innovators. Innovators need help interacting with National Labs and understanding what resources are available. The civilian nuclear industry came out of government programs and were developed and built by very large companies that interacted with very large government institutions. GAIN emerged from the Department of Energy (DOE) to support the startup model to provide the research support and funding to proceed in their development. GAIN is very different from the way the civilian, large light water reactors in use in the U.S. today came up. The nuclear sector struggles with the changing landscape and the key rationale for nuclear has changed. Previously, the only actors needed were the government, utility, regulator, and the host community for the nuclear power plant. This small universe served the model well through the early 1980’s when no new nuclear reactors were being built and demand flattened. Climate change came in and brought nuclear back into the conversation. Natural gas came in and significantly undermined the competitiveness of certain plants. These circumstances have demanded that nuclear, and its advocates, operate in an entirely different environment.
29:46 - Third Way Advocates for Advanced Nuclear
Bret Kugelmass: What strategies is Third Way putting forth to support nuclear energy?
Josh Freed: When Third Way did the math and determined that advanced nuclear could be a very important tool for reducing emissions, the team aimed to get three or four advanced reactor types licensing by 2030. There needed to be change so developers and innovators had access to the tools the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Labs had and the regulatory process needed to be modernized to match the applications for a potential advanced reactor applicant. Decisions rest on a small group of policymakers, the people that influence them within advocacy organizations, and the media. Third Way focused producing reports, directly engaging, and hosting education efforts for this small group showing significant, but not expensive, changes that need to be made to the DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC has stepped up to the challenge with, first, the application for NuScale, a small modular light water reactor, and a further iteration of modernization for non-light water reactors. This process must be streamlined and responsive to the amount of time it takes to develop and build a new technology. The overall majority of funding for the NRC comes from people paying for licenses, but for startups, the funding isn’t necessarily there. The NRC needs some funding to help bring its staff up to speed on a given technology as it gets ready for the application. Nuclear energy has turned out to be more bipartisan that anticipated. As the need to get the technology from the labs into electrons on the grid, they are figuring out the method to get this done and speaking to others about the success the renewables industry has had.
37:59 - The Advanced Nuclear Race
Bret Kugelmass: What else needs to be happening over the next few years to expedite the nuclear process?
Josh Freed: The rest of the world is investing significant government funds to develop new technologies and are committed to acting on climate in a variety of ways. That consensus doesn’t exist in the U.S. right now and there is a lack of commitment to address climate change. Nuclear can start engaging in broader communities more. There needs to be more development of carbon capture and air capture technologies and there are opportunities for advanced solar technology. In Illinois and New York, the deals that move through the legislature and utility commission paired keeping existing reactors open with funding for more renewables. There are a variety of organizations Third Way works with to say clean energy innovation is critically important for the United States. There is a real opportunity while Washington is stuck to figure out the plans for when things move in a different direction. The renewables industry worked with environmental groups, labor unions, and the Obama administration to figure out how to bring the technology to scale. The urgency to deploy zero or low carbon emissions technologies to get our energy system cleaner will only get greater. There must be a partnership between public sector to provide funding and research to catalyze the private sector to turn it into products they can sell. Seventy-seven different advanced reactor projects are currently ongoing in the U.S. There is more infrastructure and engagement across everything that needs to be done in nuclear policy. The bigger questions now include how quickly companies can get developed, which ones will go first, and whether it will be done in the right time frame. "