Ep 205: Tim Stone - Chairman, Nuclear Industry Association
From Oxford University to the UK Treasury (3:06)
3:06-11:04 (Tim discusses his background and how he transitioned from teaching chemistry at the University of Oxford to working in the British Treasury.)
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. (1:03) Tim Stone grew up near Sheffield in the north of England. Both of his parents were in the steel and coal industries. Tim went to the University of Oxford where he studied chemistry and later specialized in physical and theoretical chemistry. He became an atomic spectroscopist and taught physical chemistry at a US college as well as at Oxford. The Oxford University undergraduate structure is different to many other universities. The University is made up of over 30 colleges, each with professors who teach a small number of students. In Tim’s case, he was able to teach just two students each week. This meant he taught only ten students in a year, creating a personalized educational experience.
Tim always wanted to study physical and theoretical chemistry, originally planning to stay in academia to teach and conduct research. But Tim realized that it would be a long time before he would be able to replace one of the existing professors and secure a permanent job at the University. At the end of Tim’s doctorate degree, he knew the job prospects for an atomic spectroscopist outside of research was low. Tim considered becoming a professional double bass player, but decided instead to pursue computing. His first job was writing IT systems for Accenture. Tim found the transition from academia to industry to be shocking because he had no previous knowledge or experience of how businesses are run. The differences between making decisions based on science versus based on people also came as a surprise to Tim.
The first major job that Tim held was with the British Treasury. Cash limits on expenditure were set to deal with the high inflation of the time. Tim’s role in this project focused on creating a different budgeting system for the government. This introduced Tim to how a professional discipline worked.
Tim’s journey to the UK nuclear industry (11:05)
11:05-18:03 (Tim explains how he entered the nuclear industry via the financial sector and government.)
Q. What introduced you to the world of nuclear energy?
A. (9:04) It took a while before Tim entered the nuclear industry. After the Treasury project, Tim built a financial modeling system to price leases of large assets. He then sold this to 160 London banks. Chase Manhattan then offered Tim the job to run the bank’s software in the US. This work made him realize that he understood the financial side well, sparking his shift to the banking side of the business. Tim later ended up running Chase’s international leasing business. He then became involved in the financing of large infrastructure projects and began working with governments.
In 2003, Tim was placed on the board of the European Investment Bank as British Director. He then became interested in carbon and wrote a paper for the Treasury on what needed to happen to build more nuclear power stations in the UK. Several years later, Tim was put forward to help the UK government deal with waste and decommissioning of new nuclear power stations. Tim discovered that his scientific background enabled him to easily understand technical details and his involvement in nuclear grew from there. It became clear to Tim that many things would need to happen to lay the ground to build new nuclear, such as producing white papers for legislation, figuring out planning permissions and determining if the regulator had the structure and capacity to deal with nuclear. Essentially, Tim used his scientific and business background to figure out how to restart the UK’s nuclear industry and advised both the energy and finance ministries. Tim is now the Chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association and Chairman of Nuclear Risk Insurers.
Refinancing the nuclear industry (18:04)
18:04-28:37 (Tim explains the need for the UK government to help kickstart the nuclear industry. He also discusses how the industry must focus on manufacturing a product to reduce costs and remain competitive.)
Q. We need some innovative financing to roll out the new nuclear, right?
A. (16:01) The climate crisis has caused the realization that markets have limits. Not many private companies are able to take on high risk, thus it is the government's responsibility to ensure that needed infrastructure is in place and maintained to support industry and a country’s economic competitiveness. Keeping carbon emissions low and costs down is complicated and using only markets to hit carbon targets within the critical time frame is difficult. Governments must therefore ensure that the much needed nuclear projects begin. In other carbon projects, governments provided subsidies to attract investment. For example, the UK offered £400 per megawatt hour more than the going rate of electricity to kickstart the solar industry. As more facilities are built, costs decrease and schedules become more predictable, lowering risk and making investment more attractive. Restarting nuclear requires high initial costs, something that private companies are unable to provide alone. Once it has been proven that new nuclear facilities can be built and can operate correctly, nuclear could attract large pension fund investment.
If the UK is unable to kickstart the nuclear industry, industry will move elsewhere. Tim uses the example of Bitcoin (a digital currency) where most mining, or the process of creating more of this digital currency, occurs in China and Iceland where electricity costs are low. Similarly, autonomous vehicles and home heating systems rely on large amounts of cheap electricity, something the UK will need to produce to remain competitive. Tim states the need to transform the nuclear industry into a manufacturing industry in order to produce a product that people can purchase. Tim uses the example of the evolution of computers and how they evolved from large industrial machines to something that individuals can buy online. Tim sees the need to efficiently create smaller nuclear products to reduce the cost of nuclear and help the UK’s industry regrow.
Increasing supply chain and regulation efficiency (28:36)
28:36-36:26 (Tim discusses the ways in which the nuclear industry can improve reactor design, supply chain and regulation efficiency.)
Q. Why not just focus on older designs and creating better production lines for the components needed to build those plants?
A. (26:30) Tim agrees with Naomi. There are enough large plant designs that have proven their ability, so there is no need to design new large reactors. Instead, the most efficient few designs should be chosen and built. This avoids a segmented, inefficient supply chain. Using standard parts also avoids unnecessary paperwork associated with licensing new components.
Tim hopes that small and advanced reactors will be designed by working backwards from the idea of a product. This strategy requires designing an efficient and cheap product that meets safety standards. He does not see the need to spend resources improving safety because nuclear is already safer than most other industries. Tim believes this requires a shift in risk perception. A good starting place is increasing nuclear physics education in schools, demystifying radiation risk. The UK government is currently looking into moving forward four of seven proposed advanced reactor designs, which they will help finance.
Tim would like to see more cooperation with other countries to create an environment where countries learn together. This will create a common approach to design, supply chains and regulation. This approach avoids different regulators requiring different changes to the same design. The UK and Canadian regulators are already cooperating in this, creating a more efficient system.
Increasing confidence within the sector (36:27)
36:27-40:37 (Tim explains how a lack of confidence is the largest roadblock within the sector and how governments can help overcome this.)
Q. Are there any roadblocks to making the supply chain run smoothly?
A. (34:25) Confidence within the industry is the biggest roadblock. A better workflow and profitability will bring more trust and confidence to the sector. Governments must play a role in creating trust and confidence by issuing statements explaining clear nuclear goals. It is key that governments stick by these statements as backtracking on nuclear can further harm the industry. Governments must also financially support infrastructure construction and maintenance. This lays the groundwork for successful projects, leading the nuclear industry as a whole to succeed.
Post interview question to be moved here:
Improving the UK’s nuclear regulator (59:18)
59:18-1:05:40 (Tim explains the UK’s nuclear regulator review and how the regulator has since improved.)
Q. What was your review for the nuclear regulator like and what did you determine?
A. (57:14) Tim looked at the effectiveness of the regulator as an organization with the goal of exploring how the organization could work better. The review resulted in making the regulator more independent from the governmental department from which it came. The attitudes of the regulators have since shifted to focus on outcomes and consequences of their work. They also focus on how to decommission faster and safer with lower cost. The UK regulator focuses on outcomes, whereas the US’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) focuses on processes. The UK’s strategy fosters creativity and flexibility. They do this by eliminating unnecessary constraints with the belief that more constraints produce worse outcomes. Tim believes the regulator is now one of the best in the world and has a stronger relationship with the industry than they did in the past.
The Hinkley project (40:38)
40:38-45:08 (Tim explains why he is most excited by the Hinkley project.)
Q. What do you think is the most promising project or the one you are most excited about?
A. (38:34) The Hinkley project is Tim’s most exciting project because it is making great progress. Projects that are underway excite Tim more than new designs because they are on the way to providing the trust and confidence the industry needs. Hinkley is an existing nuclear site in Somerset with a reactor due to be decommissioned. A new large reactor is being built in an adjacent location, known as Hinkley Point C, and is the first new facility to be built in the UK. The next project will be at Sizewell and will be located in East Anglia. The two sites will provide the framework for other new large reactor projects in the UK. Tim is also excited to see a small or advanced reactor be built in the UK within the next 4 or 5 years. The EDF teams are providing the inspiration and determination to reinvigorate the UK’s industry.
The UK’s net zero by 2050 goal (45:09)
45:09-51:27 (Tim explains the UK’s net zero by 2050 goal and the need for government funded infrastructure changes to support this. He also discusses how energy consumption education begins with children.)
Q. The UK just had a new goal implemented for an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, correct?
A. (43:05) The UK’s Committee on Climate Change was created as an independent organization to advise the government on climate change strategy. In 2008, the UK was the first country to put legislature in place to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. The Committee then made a statement that the UK should adopt the net zero carbon target by 2050, encouraging the Prime Minister to put this into law. This requires restructuring the UK’s energy industry, including heating and public and private transportation infrastructure. Tim forsees a rise in autonomous private vehicle sharing within the next decade. The government must then ensure the energy infrastructure is in place to meet the demand for electricity. Additionally, the energy infrastructure of homes must be updated to support high heating demands as well as private electric vehicle charging.
The Nuclear Industry (NI) Association is looking into helping schools increase energy education. This will catalyze public discussion as children go home to speak with their parents about what they learn. Sparking discussion is important because many people do not think about where electricity comes from because they are able to rely on power without understanding it.
The future energy portfolio (51:28)
51:28-58:45 (Tim discusses the future energy portfolio. He also explains the challenges of reaching a net zero or net negative carbon goal in the UK.)
Q. What should the energy portfolio look like in the next 10, 20 or 30 years?
A. (49:25) Reaching the net zero carbon target on time requires nuclear to be deployed alongside renewables and carbon capture technology. Changing the energy portfolio is a monumental task and requires each low carbon, low cost option to be used together. Nuclear power must be developed to produce enough power to sustain the UK.
Both wind and solar should be used where resources are plentiful. For the UK, wind power facilities can be developed offshore. The UK’s weather, however, places limitations on solar development. Additionally, there is a limit to the amount of energy that can be captured from the sun. Nuclear energy is 400 times more efficient that renewables when considering the amount of energy produced in a set space. Because the UK is much smaller than the US, the economical use of land is of concern, making nuclear the most efficient energy option for the UK.
Tim hopes that it is possible to reach a net zero or net negative carbon goal, but achieving this will be difficult. Reaching these goals depends on how people live. In the UK, many houses are old and thermally inefficient, some of which are historically protected and have building upgrade restrictions. New builds, however, can be extremely energy efficient but present the challenge of building enough of these homes to support the population. Determination is needed to make the innovative ideas about how to reduce everyday energy consumption come to life.