Ep 418: Juan Pedro van Hasselt - CEO, Pacific Andean Nuclear Power Services
Adam Lenarz [00:00:56] Welcome back to the Titans of Nuclear Podcast. Today, we have an exciting and very experienced guest, JP Van Hasselt. JP is the CEO of Pacific Andean Nuclear Power Services, or PAN Power for short. JP, welcome to the podcast.
JP Van Hasselt [00:01:16] Hi, Adam. Thank you very much for having me. I'm very excited to convey our business model to your long list of viewers. Thank you.
Adam Lenarz [00:01:27] That's great. Typically, before we get into the specifics, we'd like to get to know a little bit about you. And so maybe if we go all the way back, sort of your foundations, where did you grow up and how did you grow up?
JP Van Hasselt [00:01:42] Yes, I think we have to make a kind of a journey back to the past century. That's when I was born. I was born and grew up in Lima, Peru. I studied law at the largest local university, then got a Master's of Law degree at George Washington University in the States. I was fortunate enough to hold an international position for the Procter & Gamble company. I was stationed initially in Cincinnati, but later in Caracas. At this stage and point in time of my life, I had regional responsibility and started traveling all over South America. In fact, I know almost all the countries except Uruguay and The Guianas. But I know extensively all of the region, which will probably enter later into our conversation, why maybe it makes sense to where we are in terms of nuclear energy.
Adam Lenarz [00:02:54] Any reason you stayed out of Uruguay, or?
JP Van Hasselt [00:02:59] Maybe I'll go there in the near future. I hope so. Another highlight of my life has been working in tech. I worked as legal director for a mobile company, a telecom. And this allowed me to gain a lot of insight of what technology is, where it was. And we've assembled a long list of co-workers. We stand together in this new venture, all of us very curious on what technology is. A lot of synergy, a lot of teamwork. And I think this is what is going to be the success to what we want PAN Power to be.
Adam Lenarz [00:03:50] That's great. Maybe zooming back to your undergrad and graduate degrees. I'm curious as to what brought you into the law side of things.
JP Van Hasselt [00:04:04] Well, that brings me some sweet and bitter memories. I think I've been very geared towards what injustice is. I've seen injustice very close in my surroundings. And I think I wanted to do something about it. Do something, probably to give my piece of advice on making a better world. I collaborate with the Peruvian government a lot. Actually, I'm a member of the Advisory Council of the Competition Authority in Peru. So, I do a lot of pro bono work whenever possible. So, I think I'm geared towards that. That's what made me become a lawyer, perhaps. And besides, I'm not that good at math.
Adam Lenarz [00:05:08] I think we share some of that in common. I started my career in Ethiopia with a general bent towards wanting to improve systems and do good for the world. So, it sounds like there's some commonality there.
Adam Lenarz [00:05:23] So outside of that, I mean, I think your background is super interesting. You obviously have your hand in a lot of pots. I heard... So PNG, so consumer goods, mining, construction, et cetera, back there. What led you to the next step and to enter the nuclear industry?
JP Van Hasselt [00:05:46] Actually, from our group of techies back from the telecom industry, we have our quasi-scientist wizard who's very curious on what's going on in the world. And he brought us to validate this idea on what the Northern Hemisphere was doing in terms of energy, the environmental concerns, and also what was going on in Europe because of the war with Russia and the evasive measures that were taking place by the European countries that were affected by the gas shortage. And the SMR came up as as one of the solutions that civilization is looking towards as a solution in this crisis.
JP Van Hasselt [00:06:44] So, our quasi-scientist brought this idea. We started studying about it. This was last year. We even went to validate this idea with local authorities in neighboring countries. Interesting enough, I visited the National Atomic Energy Institute of Peru. And they handle a risk assessment of where energy is going to be in the future. And climate warming is a true fact, and gas production also is going to come to a halt because of depletion of resources in the 20 or 25-year term.
JP Van Hasselt [00:07:37] This is something that probably... I mean, certainly is going on in the neighboring countries. I read the news yesterday also that Bolivia has depleted its gas resources. Colombia, on the other hand, has a 65% grid coming from hydroelectric resources. And climate change and global warming is taking a strong blow to the generation of energy through hydroelectrics. Probably in 20, 25 years we're going to have a crisis. And what I know is that currently, in dry seasons, these hydroelectric generators have to be powered by fossil fuels. So, imagine the contradiction on that. What's going on with the world? We think it's time to come up with a solution. And we are very positive that SMR technology is going to have a very strong hand in what we will see in the near future.
Adam Lenarz [00:08:54] Yeah. And maybe if you could... Based on all that research and your discussions with the national atomic agency, how did you get into to PAM Power specifically? What's the mission and how many employees do you have? What's the goal in the next two to three years?
JP Van Hasselt [00:09:17] Yes, we need to change public opinion. Throughout the Americas, three countries allowed atomic energy, but only used by the state. And we want to change first the public perception of what atomic energy is. And second, we want to allow the governments to issue laws which favor civilian use of atomic energy as long as it's in a safe configuration, which probably would be SMRs or even microreactors, which are technology we're seeing that is coming across. We have reviewed facts from the International Institute of Atomic Energy, and there are approximately 70 technologies which classify as SMR. We want to have a comprehensive law in place in each of our neighboring countries which will allow SMRs. And what we want is to source from Lima the demand that in the future there may be throughout the Americas.
JP Van Hasselt [00:10:40] We have taken one step already by obtaining a draft bill for exploitation of atomic energy by civilians here in Peru. We'll be filing it to Congress probably the first days of August. And we're going to replicate all of these steps country by country, which will require, of course, a lot of investment. And that is the way that we are going to handle it. Let's say, the legal and corporate affairs approach. Because we believe in the technology. We think that's what needs to be done throughout our countries.
JP Van Hasselt [00:11:24] South America, for example, hosts the largest rainforest, the Amazon, and we need to do something about it. And also, we are thinking that it cannot be that... We're within this blue sphere. What's the point of having the Northern Hemisphere producing exclusively an emissions free environment when the Southern Hemisphere is still suffering? The atmosphere moves around. We want to, all of us comply with zero emissions. So, our task is bringing this safe technology to the Southern Hemisphere, to South America, and allow a better environment for for all of us throughout the world.
Adam Lenarz [00:12:30] Yeah, I have some experience in Ethiopia, a lesser developed country, but similarly reliant on hydro and other forms of traditional energy. I'm interested from Peru and maybe Latin America's perspective, what are maybe the core differences that you see between sort of the Southern Hemisphere and the growing energy demand coming from that area of the world versus what we in the Northern Hemisphere have?
JP Van Hasselt [00:13:03] Well interestingly enough, I saw this documentary by Oliver Stone, Nuclear Now, which has really been an eye opener. It's really a wonderful instrument to spread the gospel on what nuclear will do to the world. It's been a really, really fantastic piece of art, this documentary. We believed in the technology, but after seeing this film we thought, "Wow. We're on the right track."
JP Van Hasselt [00:13:39] And I'm citing this documentary because I recall a scene where Oliver Stone is interviewing Ashley Finan, Ph.D. from the National Reactor Innovation Center. And she indicates that while in the Northern Hemisphere and the United States the demand will stay kind of stable because it's covered, the real opportunities will come from all over the world, i.e. Southern Hemisphere, where for example, we see that there is demand that needs to be satisfied. We see it in agriculture, we see it in mining. Many projects that are looking for energy, various forms of energy to go ahead with their project. But there's a demand that needs to be covered. And we want to be there to cover it and allow our region to grow.
Adam Lenarz [00:14:50] Yeah. Well, you mentioned this a little bit, but in South America, a large percentage of the power comes from hydroelectricity. I think that there's some other coal and natural gas. Maybe the flipside... Could you share about the landscape of consumption? I mean, it sounds like SMRs could be a good fit in particular for some of those off grid, if there are large mining consumers, et cetera, that are maybe not tied to a national grid. What does the landscape look like for power consumption?
JP Van Hasselt [00:15:38] Most South American countries are hugely large. Peru would fit in one-third of Western Europe, for example, covering Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and so on. So, the grid that you need to build is humongous. Is that a good adjective? It's huge, extensive. And we see that generators cannot power these extensions of land that much. Rather, with modular generators and technologies, we can offer these to villages, let's say, to the city halls, to huge mining concerns. Most of the South American countries are mining producers. There are the clients that could benefit from SMRs. And maybe they can spread this energy through what we call their area of influence and use this modular technology to spread the energy throughout their own areas of influence benefiting society as a whole. So probably, large cities can of course continue with their traditional grid, but the opportunity for SMRs, modular technology would be locating them at very far, far extensions of land where you're in the middle of nowhere.
Adam Lenarz [00:17:39] Yeah, I think that's such a great point. I think it's easy to get caught up in the Western world looking at how grids were built out in the early 1900s and seeing this big centralized system. But then, like you said, when you have to cross mass amounts of land and forget that land has mountains and rivers, the Amazon River running through it, it's an entirely different sheet. So, it certainly makes sense more from a microgrid perspective than otherwise.
JP Van Hasselt [00:18:13] We have, for example, just met with some key investors from Colombia. We're trying again to spread throughout the geographies, the territories, what we are doing. And they have become very interested in the technology and what we are doing. And two universities are going to host us in a Zoom meeting to let them know what we are doing and what this could do for their country. So, we're very happy that our business model is carrying on.
Adam Lenarz [00:18:56] That's great. Can you speak a little bit about more broadly how you see the different countries, personalities, politics of the countries in Latin America cooperating towards a common goal around nuclear development?
JP Van Hasselt [00:19:16] This probably is like a global issue. So, we perceive that there will be a lot of cooperation among the countries. This is not a military issue. I mean, this goes to the core of society, to the core of advancement of industry or of any economic activity in the country. I think that there is going to be, from a public perspective point of view, probably there will be a negative image initially, like collectively. Because I remember Fukushima. I remember Three Mile Island; Chernobyl. And we have to let people know that these accidents were a product of different issues. Fukushima came from a tsunami. Three Mile, it was a handling error, but it got magnified by the China Syndrome film. We read about that. And Chernobyl is, yes, actually a human error issue that happened 20 or so or more years ago.
JP Van Hasselt [00:20:46] We're letting everybody know that this technology, adequately handled, does not produce any leaks, does not produce any accidents. And I think we have to have a concerted effort and probably build a network of contacts within each major city in each of our neighboring countries to help us disseminate the worth among all of us and have a united front.
Adam Lenarz [00:21:22] Yeah, that speaks very well with me. You mentioned earlier that discussion and part of the mission of PAN Power is change of perceptions. You mentioned that some of what's happening in Ukraine, and for other geopolitical reasons, there is sort of this push in Peru and otherwise for energy security. Can you speak maybe to that to some extent? But also, in your effort to win over stakeholders to the nuclear production of energy, what have been the best arguments, the best bullet points to bring folks from maybe undecided over to pro or maybe from against over to to undecided?
JP Van Hasselt [00:22:23] Actually, I think that maybe now information travels so fast. People are seeing now what is going on. Not the magnification, but actually the high visibility that the Ukraine situation has right now throughout the world, and what it has meant in terms of the energy resources from Russia to Europe has people interested. What is going to be the alternative? And they are reading what Great Britain is doing, Canada, the United States, Germany and so on.
JP Van Hasselt [00:23:13] For example, from our corner of the world, we can believe... And I hope I don't get a visa revoked or something... That Germany has completely pulled out of atomic energy due to the Green Party probably for some other time. I think that juncture is completely harmful for them as a society. On the other hand, look at France. 72% of their grid comes from nuclear, which is fantastic. And we hope we bring our region towards the direction that France is taking, which is, I think, the safest in terms of environment and national security as well.
Adam Lenarz [00:24:11] And what are maybe some of the opponents who don't have too much experience with nuclear? Is there a broader push for renewable deployment or solar, wind, et cetera? What does the landscape look like for renewables in Latin America?
JP Van Hasselt [00:24:32] Well, the trend is kind of global. With solar and wind, it stays at around 12%. They have grown. I think they have done good lobbying internationally. Laws have come into place with incentives for them. And they are, in fact, growing. And we have no problem about that because we know that all of these technologies need to complement themselves. And we want to complement wherever renewables can not provide. Let's say, probably in night conditions, foggy conditions, and any other environment where we know those renewables can not deliver. We'll be there to provide, let's say, a backup. So, we have no problem in having those technologies around. I think there's a big market. There's an unsatisfied demand throughout South America.
Adam Lenarz [00:25:42] Yeah, I love it. All of the above approach, because certainly all forms of energy complement each other. Maybe zooming in a little bit on Peru, you mentioned earlier the start, at least, of a definition for regulatory process. And I would guess that your legal background can have particular oomph or power in setting up a regulatory regime. Can you talk a little bit more about how that process has gone and what hopes you have for the future of smoothing, whether it be the site licensing process or the permitting and approvals process. How does that look like in Peru?
JP Van Hasselt [00:26:30] Well, who knew, Adam, that my law career would pay off someday? Had I known that I would be working in nuclear issues now... I mean, unbelievable. But well, of course. When our quasi-scientist Pedro brought this idea to us, I immediately researched our regulatory framework and determined what needed to be done. I started studying on what needed to be done and made an action plan about it. We secured the consulting services of a US law firm that was expert on this matter. And we have jointly drafted our bill proposal.
JP Van Hasselt [00:27:34] So, initially we are going to seek the feedback of the engineering grid of professionals, engineering schools. There is nuclear energy being taught at some of the engineering schools in the country. And from there, we'll take it to Congress and see what will be the reaction in Congress. Because of course, there will be opposing forces. The conservative generators of energy will probably try to somehow neutralize whichever efforts. This is the source of democracy at work. So, we have no problem with it.
Adam Lenarz [00:28:34] And do you have any timelines that you're targeting in terms of how long the process should take?
JP Van Hasselt [00:28:43] Well, we think we're synchronized in what the industry will deliver. Three of us attended the SMR Reuters conference early this year in Atlanta, and we were really surprised. It was such a learning experience getting to know all these huge titans as well on what they are doing. We're just dwarves over here. We see that production will probably start in 2025, '26. The commercially available products will be there in the market. And I think we are kind of running in the same direction, maybe synchronizing what we expect will be a law for SMRs and having commercially built products here in the market. I think we're there on the same time frame.
Adam Lenarz [00:29:55] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think Argentina has some operating nuclear plants. Brazil has some as well. Have you guys been consulting with them in terms of licensing and the process development?
JP Van Hasselt [00:30:14] Yes, we have very good contact with the largest nuclear reactor company, INVAP. They're in Bariloche, Argentina. Excellent relations with them. And I think we're going to do something together. We have talked, and I think they're going to tailor-make something for our South American market. And we'll be very eager to help them penetrate the market with their product.
Adam Lenarz [00:30:47] That's great. And are they of a similar mind around sizing? Are they going after large gigawatt reactors, or are they also looking at the SMR route?
JP Van Hasselt [00:31:00] They're experts on their mega-gigawatt reactors. The famous CAREM they have, I think it's about to be completed soon. They have built reactors even here in Peru for national use and in some other countries. But the last time we spoke, they told us... And I think it's confidential... That they're developing something that is narrowly for our region.
Adam Lenarz [00:31:37] Well, that's great to hear. Maybe sort of rounding out the last 10, 15 minutes, shifting gears towards the future. We talked a little bit about this throughout the landscape side of the conversation, but what do you hope for? What are the big milestones that you'd like to see Peru or South America at large make in the next 5, 10 years?
JP Van Hasselt [00:32:08] We see ourselves working to change the grid, to bring atomic energy in the same way as it's used in Europe, in that same trend, and that it be accepted. One thing I picked up at this SMR conference is that, for example, for all of us here in South America, it may be very easy to import products, let's say, a portfolio of finished products, SMRs, maybe from Japan, from Canada, from France itself, maybe even from Great Britain. We've spoken with representatives from companies from all of these countries. But there is one issue, and probably I think this is what was the suggestion of having me here live to speak about it. It's about the US exports control. Which I totally understand, of course, but I would like to suggest that the industry as a whole needs to work because probably national security is in a balancing interest versus commercial interests of the private sector.
JP Van Hasselt [00:33:40] I think it'll be very difficult for us, and as much as we like the US technology... For example, NuScale, which has already obtained certification from the Atomic Energy Agency, that will be the easiest reactor to bring along with a US certification. No, National Atomic Energy probably would object to having a duly-certified nuclear reactor. But again, we have those US exports control that hinder the imports of products from your country. Because again, I understand there are national security concerns. But maybe, South America as a whole probably should be considered as friendly nations, as a friendly region towards the US. So, I think that the industry would need to work out some sort of a path for us to be able to obtain that technology.
JP Van Hasselt [00:35:04] An interesting thing is that I was reviewing what's going on around the world. I entered the US embassy web page in Romania, and SMRs are offered on the web page of the US embassy. Why can't the one South American country that's as friendly and has no adversary issues grasp whatever collaboration is going on there with the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Energy Department, and probably deploy those products here in the region? That would make US products probably very interesting, available, and desirable to all the nations around the region. So, that's something I wanted to make a point of.
JP Van Hasselt [00:36:02] Maybe if I can leave a message for all your viewers, it would be that as a whole, from the Northern Hemisphere, from the US yourselves, and as from here, we could jointly work on devising some sort of collaboration among nations so that there would be some sort of fast track for importing US products of this technology here into our region.
Adam Lenarz [00:36:33] Yeah, I think that's a really great point. And you see this in other areas in nuclear as well. There may have been a safety case designed around specific size or type of technology, and then when you try and scale that down to an SMR, it doesn't quite fit. So maybe, some of the protections that exist for highly-enriched uranium and the reactors that might process them, maybe they don't apply specifically to low-enriched uranium and particularly, SMRs that use low-enriched uranium. I think it's a great point and it's something that we hope for some progress and a pathway on as well.
JP Van Hasselt [00:37:21] I mean, it's been done in Romania. Maybe we need to find out what has happened there. I hope we can replicate the model.
Adam Lenarz [00:37:31] Are there any new technologies? You mentioned NuScale, but any anything on the horizon that you're particularly interested in outside of just the sizing of an SMR?
JP Van Hasselt [00:37:45] We're looking into microreactors. We're also very interested with a technology that VEST Energy is also going to offer. Commercially-wise, I think it'll be a hit in this region. So far, I think that's about it that we are looking for. But as we gathered when we went to the conference in Atlanta, they told us, "Listen, the technology in energy is going to change fast. So don't get hooked on anything, because tomorrow there might be an improvement." So, that's a lesson to be learned for us.
Adam Lenarz [00:38:35] Yeah, that makes sense. So, you already mentioned one of these, but I'm interested maybe your analysis of like the top three things. If you could control the government, multiple governments in Latin America or anywhere in the world really, because you already mentioned export controls... What are the three things that you would change that you think could accelerate the transition most?
JP Van Hasselt [00:39:12] Well, the experts control, some fast-tracked method. Lower tariffs, incentives on new technologies that are zero emissions and environmentally safe like SMRs. And I think a number of incentives for this technology to replace old energy producing generators. I think that's what I would think of.
Adam Lenarz [00:39:54] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.
JP Van Hasselt [00:39:57] I mean, being around the Amazon, I think there should be some sort of regional authority that would somehow indicate, "Listen, we need to preserve the rainforest. Let's bring out some methods or some technology that will be only environmentally friendly, because we cannot afford to lose the Amazon rainforest." I think maybe some United Nations agency could take care of that.
Adam Lenarz [00:40:36] That's great. So in closing, any final message you want to leave for our listeners?
JP Van Hasselt [00:40:47] Well, we are here in our corner of the world, South America. We're in the same continent, believe it or not. But we're so far away in terms of culture and distance as well. But we are trying to have South America grow economically and in terms of living by bringing the first-world technology to our region. I think that allowing to have energy available to people that have the unsatisfied demand is what will help our markets and our economies grow. So, I really appreciate this time, Adam, that you have given us.
Adam Lenarz [00:41:41] Well, I really appreciate your time today and sharing your story and your wisdom for the path forward. Thanks for coming on today, and I look forward to connecting in the near future.