Ep 401: Nils Diaz - Fmr. Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:00:59] Hi, I'm Maddie Hibbs-Magruder, and you're listening to another episode of Titans of Nuclear. Today, we're here with Dr. Nils Diaz, who's a former chairman of the US NRC, and a prominent figure in the nuclear space. Nils, welcome. Thank you so much for for joining me.
Nils Diaz [00:01:14] Thank you. Glad to be here.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:01:16] Terrific. And we can go ahead and get started. I'd love to hear a bit more about you as a person. Where did you grow up?
Nils Diaz [00:01:23] I grew up in Cuba a few years ago. The reality is I went to school at the University of Villanova in Havana. It was an American university in Havana and was the only one that kept working during the Revolution. And I finished in there; it just happened that my major professor and tutor was actually a nuclear physicist. He also eventually came to this country and became a very famous professor in several universities in this country. But he kind of took me under his tutelage and started to teach me the, let's just say, the basics.
Nils Diaz [00:02:08] And I went to work with them, actually, in the national bank. And his field included whatever was going to be done with electricity. And the first thing that happened after the Revolution was that, of course, there was not enough electricity. And General Electric came and proposed to build a 60 megawatt electrical reactor in Havana, just like the one in Vallecitos, California. And we kind of accepted that. And that's how I started my connection with nuclear energy. Of course, I didn't know anything, but I had taken like three courses in the basics of it, and that's how I got started on how do you actually design, place, set up all the things that are needed for operation from transmission line to everything else. And that was essentially my first year after I finished school. I was dedicated to that and then it changed.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:03:12] Interesting. So beyond some classes, you didn't have any kind of more formal training in nuclear engineering? It was mostly all on the job?
Nils Diaz [00:03:22] Yeah, mostly. I had three courses in the basics of nuclear engineering, and that was about it. Careers in there is different; there were five years and you have to do projects. And so, my project became taking a look at how to design a nuclear power plant or learn from people that have done it. What are the things that you have to do? And so, that's how I got started.
Nils Diaz [00:03:46] Eventually, my major professor left the country, just like everybody else was leaving Cuba, and I was left behind. And so, I inherited a bunch of major projects. And because of the main reason that my brother was coming in the Bay of Pigs invasion, I stayed in Cuba until the Bay of Pigs invasion came in. And so, I was able to, somehow a very young age, see how projects get developed and so forth.
Nils Diaz [00:04:20] And then I kind of escaped Cuba. Actually, I spent seven months in an embassy under political asylum and then eventually was released to the Mexican government. They took a military plane, picked me up and dropped me off, first in Mexico, but later on I went to Panama and then to Miami.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:04:46] Interesting. And in this phase of your life, as you're starting to get more experience with nuclear energy, did you have any hesitations about it or did you see it as a big necessity for getting baseload power?
Nils Diaz [00:05:01] I didn't know enough to have any hesitations about it. I just thought it was going to be great. And it has been or it should have been. I just took it as that. I came to this country and I started to work as what I really knew, which was design. I was a designer; plan design. But that brought me very close to the University of Florida, where my brother had actually graduated with an engineering degree. And being there, I met this incredibly good and talented nuclear engineer or physicist at the time. He proposed that I just drop what I was doing and start learning again. And that's what I did.
Nils Diaz [00:05:52] I went to school beginning in October of 1962, and then got my master's. And then, when I was going to leave the university because I had to feed my family, they offered me a job to stay there. In 1966, I became a faculty member four years before I got my Ph.D. So, I was kind of new, but obviously I made myself useful, which is not a bad idea for a student. And so, I was able to stay at the university, do my Ph.D. and then became an assistant professor at the time, 1969.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:06:39] So, you had a lot of exposure to real projects early on in your career, then going more academic. How would you compare the two? Do you see them as necessarily linked or are you more in favor of the project development side, like actually putting these plants online?
Nils Diaz [00:06:58] They are necessarily linked. You learn a lot of things that you wouldn't know if you'd just be doing projects. So when I finished, I really started a dual career. My dual career was being a professor and the other career was, very quickly, I became a consultant and my consulting was in finishing nuclear power plants, plants that were being built and they're having problems. And they were needing people with, in my case, knowledge of the nuclear components and regulations and law and, actually, the process of design. So, I was a very a strange professor. I practically spent only a third of my time at the university, and the rest of the time, I spent it in industry, working.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:07:48] That's a terrific balance. I'm sure you also brought a lot of real world experiences back to the classroom that would be really valuable.
Nils Diaz [00:07:56] Right. I really think so. In fact, one of the things that I did after five years of being out there is I transformed the curriculum to be more engineering. What I actually did is look at what do students need to know when they get out of here? They can afford two years of learning everything, so I created three courses. A nuclear design and technology course, a nuclear operations course, and an integral nuclear course that looked at all of those things together. And the students just loved it. The fact of 50 years afterwards, if I made one of them... In fact, not many of them are alive, I have outlived them all. The bottom line is they say, "Those were the only courses I ever used. I didn't use any other." But of course, that's not true. They actually have learned some of the basics of all of the things I needed to do.
Nils Diaz [00:08:58] But yes, I actually went into the industry before I did that and became a senior nuclear reactor operator. So, I spent months in all of the vendors. I trained with senior reactors operators, and I then I became a consultant for all of those vendors. And that link was so strong that it kept throughout my life. And it still does. I still keep those connections and things. It is just a matter of what do you do when you leave college? The kinds of things that people do, how can I make it easy and how can I learn more so I can teach better? And eventually, they complement each other. You start going deeper and deeper into things that are actually what people do outside.
Nils Diaz [00:09:56] And so, I became mostly a consultant. I spent several years of my professorship, actually an entire year or a year-and-a-half outside living in a plant under construction or going to where the problems were. I became kind of a problem fixer. There were problems and I got called and I got paid for it.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:10:19] That's terrific. Yeah, I'd love to hear more about that. Let's start with the most exciting problem that you got to solve.
Nils Diaz [00:10:28] Oh, gosh. Early in the career because...
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:10:35] Actually, let's take a look at the entirety of your time as a consultant. What was the most exciting problem or the one you still think back to as, "Oh man, I kind of wish I was back solving that. That was a really cool challenge."
Nils Diaz [00:10:49] Well, I got simple problem that we're as obvious as not having the right person in the right place. At the time, the nuclear industry was using a pool of people where some came from school, some came from the submarines, some came from industry. And many times, when I found people have problems it's because they had the wrong person at the wrong place. It was really an issue that came over and over again.
Nils Diaz [00:11:27] I found out that it required a better educated person, not only in the things of science, but in the things of how you make things work, how you make organizations work, how organizations get funded in doing things better so they can do things better. How to avoid the pitfalls of doing the wrong things. And so, we developed a team that I had that were like five people. We'd go into different places at different times and just try to get the right things going. And there were some people having problems with the NRC. So, I have been dealing with the NRC since 1969.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:12:17] Wow, that's so impressive. I'd just like to hear a bit more about this kind of wrong person, wrong place. Is it typically a wrong person because they don't have the right experience or the right temperament or the right leadership skills? What makes a wrong person?
Nils Diaz [00:12:36] It's all of those, but many times somebody does good in one type of a job and they think that they can do good in something as complicated as building a nuclear power plant, and in some cases, even operating a nuclear power plant. So, they needed to have the right training which some had bypassed because they already were managers themselves. They needed to have the right knowledge of the industry, by right knowledge of the industry, I mean, what is this industry doing? What is the NRC doing? Is the NRC doing its job or is doing more than that? How do you stand up to the NRC? How do you stand up to a committee in government?
Nils Diaz [00:13:29] So, I started to get involved in government as early as 1974. I started to write things for people in Washington, just little things if they had problems. And I just wrote a paragraph or a page. I eventually got involved with the Freedom Act. And I spent months writing that, and I think maybe 20% of what I wrote made it, which is good.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:14:01] That's impressive. That's incredibly impressive.
Nils Diaz [00:14:05] So, it is actually getting there to actually help, but not to help so then people will say, "We really need Nils." No; it's making leaders in the industry so that when the teachers leave, they say, "You know, I did it myself. I know how to do this. This is something that I can do. I understand it now. I should do it." And that was very, very, very good to hear and to do, yes.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:14:43] That's incredibly rewarding. But how did you go from going in as a consultant, seeing maybe some issues directly related to the NRC, how did you go from that to your chairmanship at the NRC?
Nils Diaz [00:14:57] Oh, that was a long road between me and going... But I have always been tied into the NRC. So for example, when TMI happened, I just happened to be licensed as a senior reactor operator by Babcock & Wilcox, so the NRC immediately reached out to me to look from an external body. So you know, those people were looking with a microscope. Sometimes before you get to the microscope, you need to take a look back and see the whole thing. And then you can start increasing the power of notification. And so, I was very much involved in trying to see what happened. I understood the systems; I was trained on it. In fact, I was a consultant for Babcock & Wilcox at the time, and I was teaching their teachers of reactor operators on what are the key safety issues and so forth. So, it was easy for me to get in there and out of there. I kept the connection and I did several things.
Nils Diaz [00:16:05] In the middle of all this, I went to Europe and spent... Actually, it was a year and a half as the Principal Advisor to the Nuclear Safety Council of Spain. They were starting the NRC, and they were starting the NRC, probably, the wrong way. The first thing that they did was try to endorse all the actions the NRC had done for TMI, which half of them were wrong. So, my job in Europe was to prevent not only Spain, but all the other countries, to use actions taken by the NRC, which the NRC didn't like very much, but it was the right thing to do. Many years later, everybody agreed we didn't need those; those were overreactions.
Nils Diaz [00:16:54] And that's one thing that is a problem with regulation or maybe with nuclear energy, is that people tend to overreact to issues that happened. And the majority of the time, it's because there are not enough people with sufficient, in depth knowledge of what is happening to say, "Hold the horses. Let me find out. Let me see what it is and take the right actions." It's a difficult thing to do when people want to get going and show that they're great at doing things.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:17:31] Yeah, so I guess diagnose that problem that you saw at the NRC early on both in their response to Three Mile Island... Because having that depth of knowledge, one would assume anybody at the NRC has the depth of knowledge to understand what is and isn't a risk to the public. So, kind of what are those major issues?
Nils Diaz [00:17:51] I don't think that's correct.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:17:53] You don't think so?
Nils Diaz [00:17:55] No, I don't think that everybody in the NRC understands what are the real risks to the public and how it meshes with what they need to do. There are a lot of good people in there, but there are people from all characters. Many of them don't have the background. Many of them have not been, ever, in a nuclear power plant, many. So, like all government agencies, there's a pool of people. Many of them are very good. Some of them are in there because they need a job. And I'm being very frank with you, and the reason is nobody can hurt me. I'm untouchable.
Nils Diaz [00:18:35] So, the bottom line is that there are misconceptions in the NRC. For example, I can read you one, if that interests you, that goes on to the other part of your thinking. You read the mission of the NRC, which has changed a little bit since the last time I wrote it. It says, "The mission of the NRC is to license and regulate the nation's civilian use of byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials..." Correct. A hundred percent, correct. But then it says, "...in order," So, all of that is in order, "to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment." Wrong word. It's not in order, it is consistent with. Because the main duty is not the safety. The main duty is to license and regulate the nation's byproduct, source, and special nuclear materials. So, safety is a necessity, but it's not sufficient. You can create all the safety in the world and get zero results, none. What can you apply absolute safety to?
Nils Diaz [00:20:03] We tried over and over, for years, to make this point. And I always start many of my speeches... I said, "If you don't know the Atomic Energy Act, you really should not be practicing nuclear engineering, or you should not be regulating." And the Nuclear Energy Act, Section 5, Paragraph 2 says, "The policy of the United States states that the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall..." It doesn't say shall be regulated. "...shall be directed as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise." When was the last time you heard that?
Nils Diaz [00:21:03] But it is the fundamental cornerstone of atomic law. It is what created all of this. And clearly, you can read in this that, yes, we need to have things as safely as they can be, but that's not the reason it exists. The NRC exists to license and to regulate. They don't exist to create safety. Safety is a necessity and it's safety to a level that is acceptable to its primary principles, which are to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise. That's why it exists. It doesn't exist for creating safety issues. It exists for the welfare of the people of the United States and nothing else.
Nils Diaz [00:21:57] It's valid. Nothing else is valuable, and nothing else is good. Does it have to have safety? Yes. The question we always have is how much is too much? We answer that question 50 times, and a year later, somebody is trying to go around it and change it a little bit. A little more safety, a little more safety. All to what? All in detriment to the welfare of the people of the United States. It's not all to create more safety. The reality is we have too more learning. We did need much learning, but we are missing the point. We need nuclear power. And we need it in a good form, a safe form. But you make the automobile safe, you will never run another one again.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:22:50] Exactly. Yeah, I guess the safest nuclear power plant is the one you don't build, but then you don't get the the advantages that nuclear power has to offer. I couldn't agree more. So what is a better model, in your mind? Where in the world... You've traveled a lot, you helped Spain build up their nuclear regulator. Where is the best model for nuclear regulation that you've seen?
Nils Diaz [00:23:15] Oh, we keep saying the NRC is the best model. I am not so sure of that. Many of the Western countries... And I know them all. By the way, for three years I was the the Chairman of the worldwide nuclear regulators, of all the associations, so I know all the principal ones, or I knew all the principle ones. The bottom line is a kind of a smorgasbord, because everybody tries to protect their turf, a very natural human emotion,. You know, "Yeah, you yankees, you do good things, but I do it my way," you know? So, the lack of, let's call it... It's not homogenization. The the lack of a model that will serve everybody is really still missing.
Nils Diaz [00:24:14] Because we tried in 2003... I tried to implement a smaller step of that called the Multinational Effort which was trying to say, "Okay, you regulate the power plants when they're working, but building a nuclear power plant... Let's approve the design so once somebody approves it and the other approves it, it's approved by everybody." That was 2003, 20 years ago. They are still arguing about it. Because regulators, in general, are very concerned that they're going to lose some of their independence. And I think that's nonsense, in the present word. I think it might have been true 20 years or 40, 50 years ago, but with the visibility of everything and how everything is well-known and publicized, it just doesn't make any sense anymore.
Nils Diaz [00:25:17] There are many things that should be kind of a standard for nuclear regulation. The principal one is when you actually approve the construction of a reactor whose reactor was designed someplace else, 98% somebody else designed it, well, what's wrong with looking and analyzing and getting a group of nations to agree, "You know, this is a sufficient set of standards and norms to make this acceptable to whoever wants to build this reactor." Then, the country that's going to build it puts the people in that they need and additional things. But the bulk of it, and the bulk of the problem in nuclear, is construction.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:26:10] Oh, definitely. Definitely.
Nils Diaz [00:26:12] It's not operation. So, I think we still have a way to go. There are efforts ongoing and I am all for trying to provide a certain standardization in these area so people will not spend their lifetime trying to find another standard or another rule or a different thing to do.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:26:37] How do you have that degree of collaboration without... I see two main challenges. One, it's the turf. Like, "my regulations are better than yours." But also, it's going to the lowest common denominator. So, if we have a lot of regulators collaborating, how would you prevent them from putting the harshest standards that are not proportional to either economics or safety? And maybe you've already thought about this in your plan. How would you make sure that doesn't happen? Because if you put together a standardized set of regulations, but maybe they're just too high of a bar for anybody to actually meet, it won't be as effective. How have you thought through that problem?
Nils Diaz [00:27:22] Well, we already have, in many ways, tested the basic model, even between ourselves. The reality is that these are doable. And if anybody tries to do less than that, that is quickly caught up. The system is set up to prevent anything that is too low. It's not set up to prevent anything that is too high, because a lot of people think this is the right thing to do. That's where we need to really put most of the effort. To accept that regulatory structure is necessary. That an effective and efficient regulatory structure... Those are two different words. Effective is not in the time domain, which means it's about quality, and efficient means that something is done in the right time and the right place.
Nils Diaz [00:28:26] There is absolutely no reason today with the things that we know for, let's call it, the approval of a site for a nuclear power plant to take this much time; it's just wasting time. And whose time is being wasted? It's our people's. The citizens of the United States who are paying the price. And that's why this is such an incredibly difficult problem, because people claim I am the defender of the faith. And I'm saying, "No, you're not. The people need to eat. They need to eat well. They need to have the ability to be able spend their life to believe that they have a future."
Nils Diaz [00:29:15] And energy is now, at this time, the cornerstone of progress, and I think we don't have it. And we're seeing that there are constraints in our energy infrastructure. And in order to fix it, we need something that gives us baseload power at a reasonable price all the time. And that requires addressing what I will call the four cornerstones of the nuclear industry, which, sometimes, are not as well connected as they should be.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:29:55] Yes, I definitely see that. I would be so interested to hear... So, having your role at the NRC, you were there for 10 years?
Nils Diaz [00:30:04] Yes.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:30:07] Talk me through that period of your career. What were some of the main highlights? But also, I would be so interested to hear the lowlights. Like, where did you really feel like, "Oh, man. We may not push through this."
Nils Diaz [00:30:25] When I went to the NRC, I was already a well-prepared scientist and technician. I was one of the most technical people that the NRC has ever seen. And it was not one year, it was many years working on many reactors. Working in the repositories, working in the mines. I mean, I have worked the entire field all the way to the actual nuclear utility. When I was in California, I used to go every other day to San Onofre. So, it was a compound of experience, which I loved. I'd spend my time, and I loved it.
Nils Diaz [00:31:12] So when I got there, I pretty much had an idea of what we needed to do. Of course, I was shocked by the frequent, "Stop. This needs to be safer." I said, "Well, no, the law says you need to be safer." "Oh, yeah, but I don't agree," generally what they say. So you know, people will, let's call it, resurrect issues that I've dealt with 40 years before, like safety during loading or reloading. Or, safety while shuffling fuels, things like that which I thought we had resolved. All o a sudden, somebody thought about it. "Oh my gosh, we need to stop the power plant. You cannot load or reload. There is a major issue." I said, "There is no issue. There is no issue." "No, we need to hire The National Academy of Science." "Hire whoever you whatever you want. There is no issue."
Nils Diaz [00:32:19] And I sat with a lot of them and they brought me the problems, and I would say, "Okay, this is how you solve it." But it costs a lot of money. It costs people to slow down. And at the end, the conclusion was there really was no issue. But it's very hard when you have this flag that you wave around, "Safety! Safety! We don't want to kill people or irradiate or get things..." Well, where are the people that look at places like Chernobyl. Chernobyl, people think is like... Look at the distribution of radionucleides. Look at Fukushima. Nucleides are normally heavier than the earth, they tend to fall right away. This is why we can reduce the exclusion zones. We have the knowledge. What we need is the will and a proper framework that unites industry with government and maintains an independent regulator, but a regulator that is regulating the right things instead of creating issues to slow things down.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:33:40] Definitely. So yeah, maybe that was a bit of a low, just like maybe the bureaucracy or this overemphasis on safety. What was your largest accomplishment out of your time at the NRC?
Nils Diaz [00:33:54] I think to bring the NRC to confront their technical knowledge and background. It's having people stop bringing things that were pretty stupid, because I called them stupid. And they started to get a little sensitive about it. And somebody came and said, "We need to shut down the power plants because the spent fuel pools are very dangerous." "Okay, when was the last spent fuel pool that had an accident? "Well never, but any moment now." "But, why? "Well, it's the cooling." I say, "The cooling?" And he says, "We really have a problem with cooling." And I sat down with a piece of paper and said, "What is the thermal load?" And so I went on and I said, "A two inch hose will cool your spent fuel pool." He said, "That cannot be."
Nils Diaz [00:34:50] Two hours later, about 20 of them showed up and said, "Yeah, you can do that, but it's not available now." I said, "How much time before the system starts running out of water? You don't think you can get a two inch hose into the spent fuel pool?" They said, "Well, you could, but it might be that radiation..." I said, "What radiation?" And so, it is lack of depth in certain areas. There are a lot of very good, very deep, very intelligent, very knowledgeable people at the NRC, but sometimes they prefer to be quiet and see what happens. And I think that's wrong. I think those are the ones who need to be speaking and say, "No." This project with the spent fuel pool went to the National Academy of Sciences, and I won. There was no issue. It was dropped. No issue.
Nils Diaz [00:35:58] Then, 9/11. You asked me... One of the most interesting projects that I did was after 9/11. And it was the reality that there was a possibility, a remote assurance, but a possibility that somebody could actually destroy a reactor, break the barriers, and actually create something that would not have enough coolant. And so, we created what is called B5b. B5b was a response to the potential for a major sabotage, bombing, whatever you want to call it. And what we did was extremely good. It was not expensive to the point that it would bankrupt anybody, and it set up the basis of what the industry, actually, did better than what we did. After Fukushima, the entire industry realized we have to do this.
Nils Diaz [00:37:05] So, what do we have now? Nuclear power plants in this country that can laugh, really laugh at a loss of coolant accident, and proceed with actions and mechanisms that will keep the plant safe. And that was good. But when you add to all that, "This is going to destroy everything. This is a problem. You know, we'll just shut it down. Let's study this for five years and..." No. And that always come from those who have less depth. I mean, in every organization, there's some of them. Like I said, I have tremendous respect for people in the NRC, but in any other organization, there's always somebody who is looking for, "I need to get something done, and I create this." And that's not going to wash up for much longer. And the reason is the capability that we have of researching things in a day instead of a year. And that is in our favor.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:38:12] Okay, so you see the environment or everything improving, maybe due to access or due to a renewed interest in nuclear. You see this issue at the NRC, or maybe even more broadly, in the nuclear industry as improving this overreliance on safety?
Nils Diaz [00:38:30] I think we have reached the point that we understand safety issues. The important ones; not that we understand everything, but I think we understand it. I think we have the measures in place. And I think that nuclear is about ready for a rebound. We've been saying '22, '23, '24, and it's here. However, there are, I would say, the four things that need to come together for this to happen. I don't know if you want me to take a minute and go through them, but...
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:39:07] Sure, I definitely would.
Nils Diaz [00:39:09] But it's very old; it's nothing new. We always said there are four key parts of the forming the nuclear infrastructure. And the first part is, obviously, you need an industry that has construction has operation and that takes care of the expensive fuel. And there is something that is necessary and it's good to have it, what I already said, which is regulation. Regulation has to be there, but it cannot be super safe or it cannot be negligent. You have to leave the right balance and you have to connect with industry. It cannot be independent of industry.
Nils Diaz [00:39:49] I mean, when I got to the NRC, somebody said, "Well, we don't meet with the industry anymore." I said, "I'm sorry. I'm finishing with that today. I'm going to pick up the phone in front of you and I'm going to call this fellow and I'm going to ask him to come to my office. I want to hear what he has to say." "What? This is treason. You're talking to the industry." "No, these are the people I license. These are the people that I need to hear from. This are not somebody out there that I don't know or have any... I'm responsible for what they do and how they act. We need to talk to them." And that was also a major thing.
Nils Diaz [00:40:34] So you know, industry, regulation, and then governance, which is the upper level. Politics and government, as we know, they're always there. We like to be independent of it; we can't. They have to be in there. And to be able to create the right governance, industry and regulation need to be able to work together for the welfare of the people, dependent on the government, and get things done right.
Nils Diaz [00:41:06] And the fourth one is the most important. And the fourth one is economics and financing. The problems of the nuclear industry, then, 1970 and now, are still financing and economics. And we screwed it up time and time again. We did not do this end right. I mean, it is not possible to spend 10 or 15 years building a reactor and think you have the economics. And that's why small reactors are coming. It's not because they're prettier. It's not because they're safer. People say, "They're safe." We can make the big reactors as safe, or just about. The issue is that you can build them in a smaller period of time and deployed them. And because you can do that, you might be able to finance it much better.
Nils Diaz [00:42:06] So, it kind of goes together, the probability of building, of putting into operation, and the financing. And there might be no way around but have models in which things are shared. There is sharing between the vendor, the reactor vendor, and the architect, engineer, and the utility. Some sharing of financial risk and profit, something that allows people to see you're putting it in the right way. There is no doubt that this is too complex to have just a utility do it themselves.
Nils Diaz [00:42:49] The vendor made the decisions. It doesn't make any sense. "No, no, no. I am the vendor." "Big deal. You're the vendor. You cannot do it yourself." "Well, I'm there to protect..." But together, there will be three, four, five institutions. They could share in the pain and in the profits, and that might be the model of the future. Somebody smart and powerful would actually get these things done. It may be that the industry decides to do it, but it is not possible to do it... This is too complex and there are too many strings attached to everything to just get a couple of people to make the decisions and you go forth. You have to be a model of risk sharing and profit sharing that drives the industry forward.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:43:41] That's incredible. I definitely agree, and I see that. I would love to hear more about your current work at ND2. Is that something, specifically, you're focusing on with ND2, or is that just a side path that you're still looking forward into the future of the nuclear industry?
Nils Diaz [00:44:01] ND2 has... In fact, 75% of the work has been outside the last few years. I actually consult and have consulted, many times, directly for prime ministers, the president. So, I have the fortune of getting the entry point to somebody that can do something with what I say, and I love it. I love to be there, and I love somebody to hear. So, I have been doing a lot of... It's not politicking, but as a policy advisor.
Nils Diaz [00:44:39] So, for example, I was in Abu Dhabi. I wrote a lot of the things about what Abu Dhabi is doing. I was in Japan after Fukushima. Of course, I've been with the Prime Minister of Britain, France, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and a few other people who are just very selective. People that wanted somebody to tell them the truth and not pull them up. And when they were finished, they don't have more bills. They just pack up and go. And I love to do that. I love to finish, pack my bags and go.
Nils Diaz [00:45:27] And here, I've been doing a lot of work for the utilities regarding how they interact with the public service commissions. There are sometimes many issues between the utilities and vendors that need to be resolved in a very deep manner. We're talking about issues of hundreds of millions of dollars. And so, I have been doing that for more than 10 years. I actually go deep and I work for for Florida Power & Light, or work for Duke or for Minnesota Power, or work for Bechtel. So, I work for architects, engineers. And issues of complex policy issues is what I've been doing. When the policy and the work get mixed together and there are rules to be followed, somebody has to pull them apart and show them where they belong and how they fit. And that's what I do; I love it.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:46:36] That's exciting. And you're doing that policy work in the US and internationally?
Nils Diaz [00:46:43] Yes.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:46:43] Perfect. And this is, maybe, a bit specific, but I'm sure you're aware that Poland has actually rewritten a lot of their atomic law, recently. Do you have any thoughts on that recent news?
Nils Diaz [00:46:54] No, I really have not seen it. I knew some guys who were working in there, but they're all gone now. This is a new generation. So, I don't know anybody in there. I haven't looked at it, but I might.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:47:08] Yeah, I would highly recommend. Yeah, it's really interesting what they're doing over there. Exactly as you're talking about, being much more focused on how the industry and regulators need to come together so that the regulations are aligned to actually bringing plants online quickly. So yeah, I highly recommend taking a look at that.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:47:26] But I guess, what are kind of those critical issues? It looks like there's a lot of progress, there's a lot of interest, especially in the small reactors, but what critical issues do we need to resolve in order to have the nuclear power industry really be all that it could be?
Nils Diaz [00:47:42] Well, I think... And some people are not going to like this, but one of the issues is eventually we need to reduce the number of reactors that are in the marketplace. We cannot support 500 concepts. It'd be nice, but we can't. And so, what it does, seems to me, kind of slows down. So, I think that the knowledgeable industry needs to start reducing to those who are more economically viable, that offer more advantages in different parts of the power cycle, that are attracting the funding. We cannot do it all.
Nils Diaz [00:48:35] And we went through this... You were not even born, in 1962. In 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission was being faced with the fact that there were some 50 concepts floating around and there was only so much money. And there was the Director of the Atomic... Not Commissioner, the Chairman, but he actually got enough power to say, "Enough. We can't do any more. We're only going to do light-water reactors and fast reactors. That's it."
Nils Diaz [00:49:14] If you have a limited amount of money, what would you rather do? Do a good one that will stand the test of time, or spread it around? And 20 years from now, we're still asking which is the best one? So, I think the industry needs to focus on selecting a number that are viable. We don't want to just say, "Oh, we're going to select one." No, that's not correct. But there will be those that have a definite advantage. And we practically know which ones they are. I'm not going to tell you. I'll charge you for it.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:49:58] I was going to say... Yeah, I have my own ideas about what the best reactor technology type is like, especially for a near-term deployment. But I'd be really interested to hear what you think both the ideal number or the ideal type of reactor is.
Nils Diaz [00:50:13] But to finish, the second thing is we need to... Besides just having a reactor or having the company behind it, we need to develop how do we put these things in place? How do we tie the issues of economics, of personnel, all of those things that need to happen and happen well. You know, I lived in a time where it was not strange to have a reactor being been built for 20 years. I lived them. It was not building the reactor, it was trying to get around all the other problems. They didn't have the money, they didn't have this. This happened, an accident happened. There was always something. There was always lack of foresight. A group in the industry needs to have the foresight to set the indispensable elements to go forth well set and have those reactors that are worth it to go forward under that set, because other sets will not work. We have proven it over and over again, that we can do it.
Nils Diaz [00:51:29] Right now, France spending from 13 years, 10 years building a reactor. That's just crazy. It's expensive. It's just crazy. I mean, we were not ready. We then decided not to do it. You know, Georgia Power, wonderful people, I love them all. But they were not ready to take over the reactor, and they shouldn't be ready. They're a utility. They're not the architect engineer. They're not a vendor. So, how do we not start a reactor unless we have all the pieces in place? Don't start it. Don't try it, because it won't work. We have proven it in this country, over and over again, that it will not work.
Nils Diaz [00:52:16] There was a time in 1971 when I was a principal consultant for Exxon Nuclear. People don't even know there was an Exxon Nuclear.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:52:29] Yeah, I was unaware.
Nils Diaz [00:52:30] The first question that came was, "What should a model to build nuclear power plants contain?" And I said, "Well, let me see. What are you following now?" They said, "We don't have one." I said, "What?" "We don't have one. We want you to build one." I said, "I'm nobody. I'm a kid. What are you asking me for? I mean, you get the right people, you get them together and you drill through it for a year, and then you build the model." And we might still need to do that now.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:53:07] Interesting. Yeah, I wonder who is best positioned? You kind of talked about three distinct groups. You have your industry, you have government officials, and then I would separate regulators out from the government. Which one of those stakeholders, or a fourth I don't know about, is best positioned to put forward a model, whether it's around financing, the technology, or the regulation? Who is best positioned to set that framework?
Nils Diaz [00:53:37] The industry, assuming they realize that they have to to do it properly. With a proper assessment and the proper things, they are the ones to do it. And then, they need to convince the politicians, or at least a majority of them, that this is the right place. And then, they need to convince the financing, because the last thing they need to do is convince the utilities. There will be utilities and governments to do it. But you have to be able to do that. And it has to be able to be done not as a private matter, "I'm going to do this and I'm going to keep it in here." No, do it in the open. Let people know that you're doing the right things. Let everybody see that there is transparency and there is knowledge and that things are being weighted. And that puts out a model that can be done and be taken forward.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:54:41] Wow, that's incredible. You've given me a lot of interesting ideas and a lot of hope for the future of the industry. I wanted to see if you had a final message to share with our with our listeners about the future.
Nils Diaz [00:54:54] I love the nuclear industry. I could have been something else, and I stuck with it. I still am.
Maddie Hibbs-Magruder [00:55:01] Terrific. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this episode of Titans of Nuclear, and I look forward to seeing you again.
Nils Diaz [00:55:08] Thank you. Take care.