Report from ANS Utility Working Conference

I spent Sunday night through Wednesday noon at the 2012 American Nuclear Society Utility Working Conference. That’s a mouthful, so most people refer to it as the ANS-UWC. Marginally better to say, but a lot easier to type. The conference them this year was “Nuclear! Still the one! The right business, The right results, The right way forward”. I guess we like long titles in this business. T-Bow Thibault of TVA was the conference chair and told all speakers that we wanted to learn something new this year. I’d say they hit the mark! Attendance was about 750. Not a record, but a solid number of professionals gathered in one place.

To be honest, until last year, this conference wasn’t on my radar. I’d heard of it through colleagues at GE-Hitachi but mostly as a vendor conference/quality program kind of thing. As an engineering leader, it was simply not on my list of things to do. But it should have been. If prior conferences were anything like the two I’ve attended, there’s great information and really great people to meet and talk to. Describing the great information and people would take far more than a single blog, so I’m just going to hit highlights. If you want to know more, e-mail me with specific questions.

Vendor Technology Expo

Breaks, meals, and evening socials were all in the Vendor Technology Expo that accompanies this conference. The venue was great in that there was plenty of space for networking and talking with non-vendors, but also a number of interesting displays to see from companies all over the industry. I talked with several new folks and learned about some interesting new technologies.

I am particularly intrigued by a display (Bloxr) I saw with a new shielding material that is being used quite successfully in the area of nuclear medicine. The material is significantly lighter than a similar shield made from lead and reduces mixed waste in disposal, both excellent features. I’m looking forward to talking more with the company and getting this material out into the nuclear energy industry as well.

Also interesting to talk to some firms that are working in the Wilmington, NC area where I make my home. I tend to see business as a long ways from home, but there are a number in my own back yard as well.

Opening Plenary

Tom Kilgore, CEO of TVA

This year’s opening plenary speech was given by Tom Kilgore, CEO of TVA. His message was so important, he talked of the need to communicate about this industry clearly and widely. Nuclear energy is the only emission free baseload and we need to let the world know how important that is – not just greenhouse gasses, but particulates, mercury, and other emissions are also zero from nuclear energy facilities. To quote Mr. Kilgore: “Nuclear Energy is not always the easiest option, but jobs, economics, and environment make it the best option.” Change your words, change your worlds. He closed emphasizing that good, safe performance is not enough, we need to communicate, demonstrate, and deliver every day.

Kilgore then switched gears a bit and talked more specifically about TVA. TVA currently has a fairly balanced portfolio with about a fourth each nuclear, coal, and hydro, and a fourth the rest (gas and renewables, mostly). He sees a future that is about 40% nuclear and very little coal. Current growth rates indicate that TVA will need 22% more electricity in 22 years. That’s lower than the prediction of a few years ago, but still represents substantial increased needs. He sees very little coal making that electricity. Good news for the environment, I think.

Finally, he talked pretty frankly about some of the recent issues that TVA has had with their nuclear fleet. He stated quite clearly: Safety first, public and workers. Second, system reliability. After the tornadoes in 2011 shut down transmission lines for as much as month and affected Brown’s Ferry units, they’ve added backups and better transmission lines. 2012 was less severe, but they had no outages. As he spoke, they have some coal units down unexpectedly, but the nuclear stations are all running at 100%. Kilgore talked about the fact that it ultimately comes down to people, well trained, competent people. He’s been trying to drive collaborative improvements in TVA – all stakeholders, undustry, education, regulator.

He closed exhorting all of us to talk more about nuclear energy in clear, understandable terms. The more people know about nuclear energy, the more they support it. We need to keep talking, using simple language, stop hiding behind our jargon. Let employees talk to the public. They want safety as much as, maybe more, than the public does. We most definitely need to stop talking to ourselves and start telling the world!

Josh Bleill, Indianapolis Colts Speaker

After Tom, we were treated to an inspirational speech by Josh Bleill, Iraq war veteran who lost his legs in defense of this country. He talked about his experience and journey through 22 months, multiple surgeries and learning to walk again (two times!). The Colts hired him to be an inspirational speaker. He told us about practicing with 3rd graders. (I’ve talked to 3rd graders, they are a much tougher crowd that we adults.)

He reminded us about service AND having a sense of humor. Closing line:

Don’t do the same things because you always have. Do the right things!

That’s all I have time for today. I’ll be providing insight and comments about the rest of the conference all next week.