Ep 148: Neal Cohen - Senior Vice President, Nuclear Energy Institute
1 - 03:40
Naomi Senehi: What is your background and what was your path to nuclear?
Neal Cohen: After acquiring a Masters degree in public policy at UC Berkeley, Neal Cohen went to Washington D.C. where he worked for a government commission focused on figuring out the relationships between the state, local, and federal governments. Cohen proceeded to Capitol Hill and worked with a new member of Congress on how to turn a superfund (hazardous waste) site into a useable space. For the next 30 years, Cohen worked for a consulting firm where one of the clients was the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), where he learned all of the benefits of nuclear energy that he was previously unaware of growing up in a very liberal democratic household. NEI was searching for somebody that didn't know anything about nuclear to run the campaigns to convert people from the political establishment into supporters of the industry, and reached out to Cohen who accepted the job offer. Neal Cohen advocates for representatives of the industry to analyze nuclear energy from an objective standpoint, independent of the engineering mindset that had previously dominated the conversations. Cohen emphasizes the importance of using language that resonates with the target group of people and provokes them to take action. Climate, clean air, national security, electrification, labor, and community are all problems nuclear can solve. The public’s fears need to be overcome by educating the population about nuclear energy as a technology that can save the planet.
2 - 11:23
Naomi Senehi: How do you, as a converted supporter of nuclear energy, convince people that nuclear isn't as bad as people believe?
Neal Cohen: Neal Cohen recognizes challenges in converting the public to be supporters of nuclear due to existing myths and fears that are overpowering the nuclear industry. A united and redundant message can impact public perception when supported and promoted by advocates for nuclear. Industry leaders with technical knowledge and a passion for nuclear can be the spokespeople so that senators, congressman, and state representatives become messengers support nuclear and take action. In order to support the future of nuclear energy, plants that are in jeopardy need to be saved and the infrastructure and workforce preserved. The battle is ensuring that nuclear is part of a broad portfolio of energy products. If nuclear power goes away, there are not enough energy sources to fill the void. Cohen looks to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and PJM (a regional transmission organization) to push the consideration of externalities on energy prices. Without consideration of externalities, nuclear is always more expensive than natural gas. U.S. politicians need to promote the ability to export U.S. technology abroad so the U.S. is a world leader in the nuclear industry.
3 - 16:20
Naomi Senehi: How long do we have to convince people to get on board with nuclear?
Neal Cohen: Neal Cohen recognizes that the industry and country allowed nuclear to be something the public should be fearful of, stalling development and production which is needed now to produce clean energy. NuScale is learning from the past mistakes of nuclear in order to offer something better in the future and UAMPS (Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems) has committed to purchasing clean energy from NuScale. The Idaho National Labs has committed to siting the technology. Cohen fears that the U.S. is not keeping pace with what is required for technology and nuclear needs to be at the forefront of reversing climate change. A political consensus supporting clean energy needs to be formed to allow conversation about nuclear. The life of the existing nuclear plants can be extended for another 20 years with the use of new technologies, such as 3D printing and artificial intelligence. The grid needs smaller reactors that are more malleable and able to be constructed off-site and moved in, in order to bring power to new locations. The emergency zone around small modular reactors (SMR’s) allows these sites to be located closer to populations. Nuclear plants need to be efficient and run with well-trained employees.
4 - 22:59
Naomi Senehi: Why should we care about climate change and how does nuclear help?
Neal Cohen: Neal Cohen imagines a future planet filled with rising waters, conflicting economies, and displaced populations if climate change is ignored. Nuclear energy currently carries 55% of the clean energy in the U.S., while wind and solar only make up about 20% each. When there is no wind or sun to provide power, the renewables are backed up by fossil fuels, specifically natural gas. Nuclear is a 24 hour clean energy source and is essential for reducing carbon emissions. Education about nuclear energy should be implemented at all levels of schooling. This generation sees technology as a remedy to solve problems, and may not see nuclear as a bad thing, but don’t necessarily understand the core principles behind it. When technology leaders like Bill Gates step up to support nuclear, it impacts public perception in a positive way. Nuclear power plants are technically proficient and committed to a safety culture.
5 - 31:57
Naomi Senehi: What goals does the Nuclear Energy Institute have for nuclear energy on the power grid?
Neal Cohen: Neal Cohen sees the development of nuclear energy limited by regulators and politicians, who control design and construction. Nuclear energy, as an industry that reduces carbon, needs to be valued and needs to be competitive. Cohen advocates for the nuclear industry providing consistent power at 20% of the grid and ensuring it gets the recognition it deserves. This support opens up nuclear to further development. Cohen is working towards a better society so his children to see a future without a threat of climate change. Multiple generations need to collaborate to solve problems around climate, air quality, and jobs.
- Neal Cohen’s role at the Nuclear Energy Institute and what nuclear energy has to offer to society - The importance of having advocates for nuclear energy that communicate the benefits of nuclear energy - How to overcome the general public’s concerns about nuclear power through education - New technologies being used in old power plants to improve efficiency, production, and safety - The economics of exporting nuclear power and why the United States wants to lead this movement - The importance of established nuclear energy as a base load power source to support renewable energy - How early education about nuclear power can influence public perception about the industry and its technology - A call to action for cooperation between generations to work towards a future without global warming through the use of nuclear technologies.