Mark Nelson is the managing director of the Radiant Energy Fund, which advises governments, nonprofits, and industry about nuclear energy.
Mark works tirelessly to prevent early closures of nuclear plants around the world and has attended the UN climate conference in Glasgow as a delegate from the American Nuclear Society. His efforts span the globe, working to save nuclear plants from Germany to California.
Mark holds an MPhil in Nuclear Engineering from Cambridge University and degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Russian Language and Literature from Oklahoma State University.
In this episode, Mark and Aaron discuss the differences between France & Germany, the complexity of the US electric grid, and reasons for hope.
Mark Nelson’s Challenge; Find out where you get your power from, what nuclear plants are nearby, and communicate to politicians that you don’t want them shut down.
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Mark Nelson: Nuclear is a big cone of silence and secrecy. Not because there's embarrassing things to hide, but because of fear of the public, that's
Aaron Watson: a very, a very interesting jumping off point. So, so maybe let's just kind of explore that. Let's, let's try to just paint a picture for people of the state of nuclear, because I would actually say you're talking about a cone of silence.
I would say that almost as a starting point it's. The thing that's grabbing the headlines. It's really the extremes. I would say of either, you know, wind and solar being the end, all be all savior or, you know, dirty coal oil prices. Like to me, I see nuclear as being lower in the kind of popular zeitgeist conversations, unless you're really paying attention to the space.
So, so what's actually just kind of going on with nuclear. Where is it growing? Where's it being shut down? Where are there, uh, you know, trends that we need to be paying attention?
Mark Nelson: Well, Aaron, first of all, thanks for having me on to talk about nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is the strangest most interesting topic in the world, in my opinion, because it way beyond the technical information, it gets to the darkest core about what it means to be a human, what it means to have a society, what it means to think about one's own death or the death of the world, nuclear energy.
Is the most powerful force that we have and the public understands this, what the public is trying to figure out for itself is whether it's powerful, more for good or powerful, more for evil. And that's the tension of the heart of nuclear energy. And I think I should mention something, a fundamental fact that almost everything about nuclear energy ends up following on from, and that's this, when you split.
One uranium atom nuclear fission is what this is called scientific term. That means you're taking a really big chubby atom and you're splitting it apart. And in splitting it, you release more energy fusion, which I suspect you may have a show on. Eventually is when you take little tiny atoms and you shove them together into one, one slightly larger Adam, that releases energy.
And so large atom splitting is what we mean with nuclear efficient. When you split, you break apart one Uranian, atom, you release a lot of energy. How much energy? Well, one of the ways that physicists can talk about energy of a reaction is to use a very, very small unit called an electron volt. It's a unit of energy.
So. When you burn one natural gas molecule, when you burn one molecule of methane, C H for one carbon or hydrogen, uh, atoms put together. When you burn that you release 10 electron volts, approximately of energy to get a lot of energy. You burn a lot of those molecules. When you break one uranium, atom, you release about 200 million.
So we're talking about 200 million in one reaction. And in the other reaction, 10, these are very far apart. That's what seven, eight orders of magnitude. Apart in that, in that one little fact, which I know is maybe not as useful because it's using strange units and it's, it's a little bit too technical.
That is the power of nuclear. Capturing that energy is a whole process like that that's more difficult. And then what you do afterwards, what you do to fuel it. Those are all, um, definitely issues that people bring up. But the central fact is that the amount of energy release with a tiny bit of manipulating matter is immense.
Aaron Watson: And that density has a number of implications. Number one, you know, as we're looking at something like the Ukraine, Russia conflict, and the inability to get tankers of petrol out to all of the other markets that are accustomed to, uh, having access to it, needing in some capacity, there's a whole transportation mechanism there that is, uh, cumbersome, you know, specific ships capable of doing that.
Targets because they move incredibly slow across the water, um, or, or, uh, you know, pipelines that make that possible. Or in the case of, you know, wind farms or solar farms and enormous amount of real estate that needs to be, uh, dedicated to something like this. A nuclear plant requires its own real estate and there's conflicts, you know, people don't necessarily want to live right next door to that.
But when you're actually talking about the, the energy units itself, it is an unparalleled amount of density to be able to. Power homes, power, these things that make society possible.
Mark Nelson: Yeah. I mean, let's put it this way. Let's say a hypothetical European country of 10 million people could be almost completely powered in electricity by just a few nuclear reactors.
And those nuclear reactors can be fueled with say one cargo jet, uh, or two per year of fuel. Or if you're, if you're sailing it by ship one, barge one, a few trucks. Right. So when people say clear, maybe very energy dense, but we're still getting the uranium from this country or that country. Well, the truth is that if you like, you can stockpile as a national policy for your little country of 10 million people.
You can stockpile many years of fuel for all of the electricity in your country in a fairly short period. You just have to spend a little bit and stack them up, but if you won't go bad, you can just store it. And some countries do this. In other words, it's the most independent of the energy. Uh,
Aaron Watson: So you referenced Europe and in the case of nuclear energy, we actually have these two countries right next to one, another, a lot of history who are going from my perception in very different trajectories, as it pertains to nuclear, France, and Germany, Germany has been reporting or planning to close different nuclear facilities.
Uh, they find themselves now. At, uh, basically under the control of Russian's willingness to release natural gas to them in order to power, a lot of their economy and meanwhile, France, which has had a kind of more consistent commitment to nuclear and the building out of nuclear, uh, finds themselves in a different position.
So can you basically use these two countries? Uh, same geography. Relatively similar kind of, uh, economic might population size. I know it's not perfect, but th th it's it's not like we're comparing, you know, the U S to some island out in the Pacific here. Um, can you just kind of use those to, to, to paint two pictures of how different, uh, countries are utilizing nuclear and what that is enabling for them?
Mark Nelson: Sure. Okay. So only 20 years ago, Germany got almost a third of its electricity from nuclear. If Germany had kept that nuclear power, we'd be having a very different discussion. Now, there might not even be a Ukraine war right now. France had a nuclear program. Clearly Germany did if they got up to 30% at the year 2000, but what happened in France is that after the oil shock, it had an almost total commitment at the highest levels of French society of government to just a top-down demand.
We're going to build nuclear and it's going to be all of our electricity and they went for it and they had very capable managers who made decisions that in hindsight were very correct, but were extremely controversial at the time. Here's one, they gave up the so-called French reactor program and bought licenses to build American reactor.
And then they made it French and called it a French name and all sorts of other French things. But, but they fundamentally chose a reactor system that it wasn't, that it was necessarily going to be the best technology ever. It wasn't that the French understood it best. It was just, they knew it worked and they knew people were going to ask for it as an export.
And France had this image of itself being a power player in the energy world, even though it has almost no energy resources by modern, uh, point of. Not that many forests to burn some dams in the, in the Alps, but not like an amazing number. And it doesn't have the coal deposits that Germany has. Germany has massive, really filthy, dirty, ugly coal deposits, but they've got them right.
So. Uh, there wasn't really a choice in the eye of the French leaders. They wanted France to be France, to be grand. They wanted it to be independent. They wanted it to be powerful. They wanted it to be a shining light to the whole world. And they knew that that meant that they had to go with nuclear energy and they happened to do a really good job.
That means that France should be getting about 75 to 80% of its electricity from nuclear. They have severely squandered their nuclear program. They have severely squandered, their nuclear advantage and they're struggling. Fleet barely hit 70% availability. It's it's really terrible. I have to have to tell you the French, the modern French generation.
Um, wasted and abused their nuclear fleet and it's doing really poorly, but that still leaves it with about 70% nuclear electricity and that nuclear, electricity didn't change costs just because there was a war in Ukraine and commodity prices went crazy. In fact, France is able to, uh, subsidize their entire nation's electricity bills just by expropriating earnings from the, from their national nuclear.
Now that means that money isn't going to build nor nuclear or maintain it. But you know, you don't win them all Aaron. So over in Germany, Anti-nuclear movement was able to take much deeper roots than the same anti-nuclear movement did in France. There are theories about why this happened. You can look at the German national culture or the French national culture can definitely get into trouble making generalizations about Germans versus French people and, and the basis of not proceed national character.
Let's just say. France had nuclear weapons. And it meant that at the deepest level, some part of the nation, the state was always going to be dedicated to nuclear technologies in Germany. They did not have nuclear weapons. There's an ongoing debate at the highest levels of German politics about whether Germany should get nuclear weapons, but as it is during the cold war with a split right down the middle and crawling with spies and counter intelligence agents and propaganda of all types and both east and west Germany.
Germany did not have nuclear weapons, but had nuclear weapons pointed at it. Germany lost world war II was humbled and disgraced before the world. So Germany could only build back peacefully. What this meant for nuclear energy is that as brilliant as the Germans were at building and managing nuclear plants, it did not take root in the culture and the M the state as deeply as it did.
Uh, France. And then when, um, Russian, you know, the Soviet union fell and Russian natural gas money came, Russia was able to purchase key German decision-makers for relatively cheap amounts of money and make sure that any of the anti nuclear tendencies in German politics were acted on to shut off. German nuclear energy and turn on gas pipelines from Russia.
I think it was a brilliant move from Russia. A lot of respect from, from there for their ruthlessness and effectiveness and in getting Germany off its own energy supplies and onto Russian energy supplies. The turning point was really when the major pro-nuclear party, the Christian Democrats headed by Angela.
The turning point came when she saw how stressful and difficult it was for leaders in Japan after their nuclear meltdown and decided that that was enough of a reason for her to not want to deal with that problem. If there was some disaster in Germany and she decided that. Greatly accelerate the getting out of nuclear energy.
And since she's part of that crowd of politicians, who's totally fine. With a hundred percent dependence, if necessary on Russian fuels directly straight from Russia, it was a natural, it was a natural thing. Oh yeah. All that stuff about renewables, this and that. None of the really serious people actually think.
Uh, anywhere it's just a, it's just words. The real thing is the energy that's on demand and turns on and powers industries. That's going to be, you know, uranium or, or gas or coal or.
Aaron Watson: And to put a really fine point on something that you said, uh, more on the French side is, you know, we've seen explosive amounts of inflation.
I was actually literally just looking at something here before the interview started about, uh, inflation in Spain at being at like 46% or something. People that listen to shows like this can sometimes be, uh, to some degree insulated from the harsh realities of the cost of energy. Going up, when we're talking about electricity or heating your home prices going up, there are people who live on the margins, who that means, you know, the, the furnace, it doesn't come.
And, and people are really cold in the winter. That means that, uh, you know, the bill for the refrigerator and basic things to keep people going are either taking up the entirety of the budget. And then that has downstream ramifications on the rest of what little is left over or just not being able to access things.
Most of the people at the, you know, middle-class and above parts of the developed world completely take for granted. And so when these choices are being made, we can look at it at the abstract, you know, geopolitical contest level. We can look at it at the machinations of this politician, in that politicians policy position, but fundamentally what.
I've always. And I've heard that I've listened to a wide range of different energy folks, coal people, oil people, natural gas, people, nuclear people, wind solar people. They really boil down to two things. Are we in some way, shape or form reducing the amount of carbon that is being emitted up into the air.
And are we using, or making energy accessible to people who do not have the kind of financial might to weather wild fluctuations in its.
Mark Nelson: Yeah, so a lot to unpack there. First, I want to say that, um, Spain was on the fringe path of nuclear. They were building nuclear as rapidly and intensely as France was, but with a lot less centralized approach, different designs, different companies, they were also doing it under a, a dictator of, uh, general Franco.
And when he was kicked out, Um, the pushback on nuclear was intense. We've seen this a lot of places where a bunch of dictators fell around the late eighties around the same time as Chernobyl and a bunch of pro-democracy or, um, popular movements, defined nuclear as dictatorship and getting rid of nuclear as public, uh, public.
Now that was a really unfortunate, I think a really unfortunate timing because it meant from countries from Spain to Philippines to, uh, you know, Eastern Europe, Bulgaria Czechia Hungary, Poland may have had nuclear by now, for example, without this association of that hated dictators or the hated state with new.
And us, the people, the Democrats with votes, with openness and without nuclear, without necessarily saying, you know, what's going to replace nuclear. So in Spain, nuclear became such an intense partisan issues. That is one of the few places where separatists, uh, terrorist groups, as a matter of policy, kidnapped nuclear plant construction directors and execute.
Um, and, and, you know, there was a weird overlap with like eco stuff and that kind of terrorism. Um, there was ecoterrorism against nuclear people in nuclear facilities in France, for example. And I'm not trying to say you have to be an eco terrorist to be against nuclear. It was just, it was the times man era, and it just felt right.
You know, you could, you could protest Vietnam, protest capitalism, protest, environmental destruction by attacking a nuclear plant and tackling a nuclear program either at the ballot box. Or in the schools or on the construction site. I mean, you could, you could act and feel like you were doing the right thing.
It turns out it was the wrong thing, but old ways of thinking die hard in Spain, they have an issue in that they don't produce their own fossil fuels. Yup. So they're not going to get that cheap fossil fuel costs next they've got powerful wins and a lot of. It tricked them into thinking that that made cheap electricity?
No, it makes cheap projects like the so on or the wind farm is going to be able to maybe build less equipment for more output, but that doesn't make cheap electricity for consumers. It's like saying if somebody gives you an amazing deal on a truck, because they say that they got an excellent price on the interior, the seat cushions and the steering wheel, like leather and stuff like that.
You'd say, oh, well, that's amazing. That should save us some money. How much does the truck costs though? That's the grit, the whole product, the whole system and its cost to build, maintain, and operate is not, it doesn't appear now that that cost goes down just because your wind and solar is cheap. And that's the trap that Spain came into.
But Spain had it even worse because the amount that they paid for the solar and wind that they do have was extremely. I don't know whether it's corruption or badly designed programs, but Spain had horrible, horrible pricing on the wind and solar that they did have. And so you roll all of this together, stopping the nuclear, which is the way that Spain gets cheap electric.
Um, too much wind and solar that isn't part of this complete breakfast. Isn't a total, the person using the grid. They can't just use wind and solar. They have to use a mix of everything. And that means fossil fuels. If you haven't a nuclear in your building, that intermittent on off seasonal wind and solar, you put all that together and you get an awful wreck in Spain.
You mentioned inflation. Where does electricity come back to you and inflation? The answer? Aaron is absolutely everywhere. Can you get inflation without energy costs going up? Sure. That we've seen this sometimes. Can you get energy costs going up without inflation? It appears no. And it appears much more severe because let's say the cost to go on a vacation goes up.
You may, you may not be able to go on vacations if the cost to not live in squalor, if the cost to be a member of . Your refrigerator to have lighting whenever you need it in the evenings to, to be able to participate in the national dialogue or national events by watching a TV with, um, you know, that's on during, when the game is on, not just when their electricity is cheap, because the sun's up or something like that.
Like those are things that have been a great gift of grid, electricity service, and that service being cheap. That possibly falling apart in countries like Spain. This is a very, it's a very dark tiding for what's coming up in the next 10 years or so, because if, if, think about this, if it took strong right-wing dictatorship governments to build something like nuclear that made cheap electricity, what happens when the elected democracies fall?
Because they couldn't keep the electricity cheap. Do we do we get whatever government with whatever social or environmental policies is willing to say, we will do whatever it takes to make cheap energy. We don't care if that's coal and we're going to get rid of any laws that stop us from doing that because the last guys, they broke the grid.
If you break the grid, that becomes the single most important thing about the times about your government, about, about life, right? Everything else becomes less important. And I think we're coming to. Of change in Europe, that's having to, uh, decide which direction to go on energy. And they're going to decide it in ways that are going to be surprising or unpleasant for.
Other things in society.
Aaron Watson: And, and this has ramifications everywhere. Energy is not a cheap or a completely, you know, non consideration outside of maybe like the Persian Gulf locally. They care about the exports of it. But, you know, Saudi Arabia is not gonna worry about powering their own, uh, lifeforce. They have other things to worry about.
I guess maybe your face suggests maybe we could debate that to some degree, but, um, you have some interesting.
Mark Nelson: Yeah, that's right. And it's that, um, the Gulf states are going towards nuclear as hard and as fast as possible. And we need to understand why, because it's too lazy to say, oh, because of the geopolitical strategy of being a nuclear state, and maybe if they get nuclear reactors, they'll be able to get nuclear defense.
I'm not going to say that there's zero interaction between, you know, the ideas of nuclear defense and nuclear energy among the Gulf states. Certainly they must be thinking. Historically, almost every country that has gotten nuclear energy has done it while thinking about considering or acting on getting nuclear defense.
However, leaving that aside, the United Arab Emirates took a very risky move in deciding to get a giant nuclear plant. In 2005, they got the idea 2006 and seven. They started setting up the contracts to deliver the. In 2000 8, 9, 10, they'd selected a reactor builder, 2012. They started official construction and Korea built them over the next 8, 9, 10 years for colossal nuclear reactors on the Persian Gulf.
Those reactors are turning on now and they are an obvious, extreme success, both in terms of UAE, getting to tell America. Bugger off and that UAE deciding exactly what it will or won't do based on its own needs. Also, it was a success in this way. Cutter thought about getting nuclear failed to do it, and then used Al-Jazeera to attack UAE over its nuclear program.
For years now, they're having to turn around. They're going to go ahead and I'm almost certainly work towards a nuclear program. They'll still have to do it effectively. And competently like UAE. Did they want to see success like UAA did, but for example, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia is absolutely going to get a nuclear program and they're going to do it very rapidly and they're going from today and they will move as fast as they can.
And they have a model directly next to. And now a whole industry of people that can work with Arabic and to work on nuclear with the, with the cultures and the languages and the, in the Gulf. And
Aaron Watson: that's helpful for desalination of water and all sorts of other things that, that are highly energy intensive, but, um, just to bring it back.
Mark Nelson: Every, every barrel of oil you use or every bit of natural gas you use in Saudi Arabia is oil and gas that you can't sell at much higher prices abroad.
Aaron Watson: Right. Um, less existential, more about profits, but that was a good clarification there. So I'm going to take this back to mark your story. I want to clarify for folks, what is radiant energy fund basically?
Like, what is your role in all this? Because. Um, you know, in a certain corner of energy, this like folks that don't really want to talk about it, they don't want to, um, candidly like make themselves a target of, uh, you know, the, the media hailstorms and the lobbyists and the other, uh, weapons, uh, of this type of space, so to speak.
There is also all sorts of folks who candidly are talking their own book, right? Like that's, that's one of the rules of wall street is, you know, whoever pops up on CNBC, I can, I can't necessarily be sure much, but I can be sure that they're going to talk their own book because that's kind of the nature of having your incentives aligned towards a specific
Mark Nelson: endeavors, a specific enterprise.
So I have two organizations, radiant energy fund and radiant. Radiant energy fund is not a fund. I'm sorry. I've disappointed. A lot of people who asked if they could be an LP. And I said, I had to say just like environmental defense fund. I mean, they don't really defend the environment that much, in my opinion, but that that's the name of their group.
It's like this sort of sixties and seventies, mainstream environmental groups named after, uh, things that sound corporate or very respectable, even if they pursued radical politics, radiant energy fund is an attempt to save nuclear plants all around. You'd be shocked. How, how poor of a business thing that is basically, if you're fighting to save a nuclear plant, it either means that it's being shut down at the pleasure of its owner.
In which case you're fighting the owner of a nuclear plant to save a facility that. No, uh, not, not a lot of Gloria fortunate in doing that. I'm afraid Aaron or your fighting a government you're fighting, uh, other NGOs or special interest groups. It's kind of an ugly world. We want to talk to anyone in society around a nuclear plant who wants to save that plant, find ways to work with them.
Find, find where they're being effective. Learn from them, help them get with stories about all the other nuclear plants. We fight, fought to save some we've saved some. And it's a, it's an organization dedicated to, um, stopping this world. I described in Spain where we're losing the gift of Darren modernity D at the very moment, we need it most, um, due to, you know, changing climate, changing weather conditions, changing, uh, inequality.
If that's an issue that people are blaming for, um, bad conditions for the working poor. So radiant energy. Is my, is what I do with soul in the game, rather than skin in the game. It's what I wake up each morning to fight on. Right? Radiant energy group is an advisory firm, an independent advisory firm and consultancy.
And I advise governments, industry and nonprofits on clean energy on electricity, electrification, uh, nuclear wind, solar, fossil fuels. And
Aaron Watson: so in. Part of that, that I'd like to dig into a little bit more is the nature of our utilities. So we're, we're used to having these conversations about either to an extreme degree, nationalization.
This is a completely, you know, uh, market or industry that is, is managed entirely by the government or these other, uh, you know, industries that tend to more towards something like a free market or free enterprise. And then there's candidly all sorts of, uh, industries that fall somewhere in between. Uh, utilities being one of the, kind of, um, more peculiar ones.
So can you talk just a little bit about some of the, either a common myths or, or the, the nature of the market itself that makes it a peculiar and candidly worthy of clarification to the officials who are actually making these policy decisions, because it can be opaque and they're managing 18 other things and need
Mark Nelson: someone to help bring some.
Yeah, so that you've opened up about five different cans of worms at once. And the worms are already starting to crawl out and fight each other for supremacy. Let me say this. Anybody coming with economic etiology to the subject of electricity will eventually make stupid and potentially dangerous errors.
Okay. Electricity is not like anything else. It is a network. It is a system that has. Extremely tight, physical coordination, over thousands of miles, linear distance and, and millions of square miles. Let me give an example. If you plug in an electricity monitoring tool, like a volt meter down in Southern Florida, and you plug one in, in Ottawa, Canada, you will see the same wave form.
Okay. There might be tiny, tiny differences in that frequency, but what you're seeing fundamentally is one giant mission. Connecting those two ends over, you know, what, 160, 170, 180 million people on one grid. And there are different authorities that make sure that it's staying in balance in different regions.
Um, sometimes you have cascading failures where, you know, a squirrel sneezing in Ohio's leads to. Uh, a thing that happens and it links up to another bad thing and another bad thing and another bad thing and another bad thing. And suddenly tens of millions of people have lost power. The last time, something really giant like that happened on the Eastern grid that I'm.
In our example here that was in, uh, I think 2003 and tree branch following in Ohio led to the disconnect of a nuclear plant that led to overwhelming the, uh, the backup power systems across this massive area. And a lot of changes of common. So the reason why I'm just describing some of those physical quirks of the grid is because it's not like other systems and trying to regulate it as if it were a, this type of company, but it's actually the.
Eventually fails saying that my free market principles say we ought to do X that we'll fail saying I believe in state power. Therefore the only stopping of getting whatever energy mix that I want is that the state hasn't taken enough power. That's wrong too. So there's a lot of public power people who are obsessed with public power in New York.
And didn't even notice when the biggest single chunk of new York's power supply, Indian point nuclear plant got shut down. And then everybody's bills skyrocketing. And if they had gotten their wish and it was all like run by the state, then the state would have gotten the full blame for any way I could go on and on and on almost everybody with a bone to pick who doesn't get electricity is going to fail or cause problems if they're ever in a position of power influence.
So very, very broadly what happened was about a hundred years of electricity. Being, uh, invented by private entrepreneurs, little bit ad hoc systems rising up mainly in cities first, starting to grow outwards and connect with each other democratic, uh, new deal politics, forcing electricity companies to connect rural consumers that ending up working way better than economist or the electricity companies ever dreamed, because it turns out that when you electrify a farm, they fight.
A hundred different, amazing things to do with electricity. And as you grow the system, it got cheaper per unit of energy for everybody. Then in the sixties and seventies, the anti-nuclear movement combined with the environmental movement. And they said that the grid was bad and wasteful, and that the only way to save the earth was efficiency, whatever that means.
And then that anti-nuclear pro efficiency movement got caught up in the electricity deregulation. So electricity and deregulation regulation. What are we talking about? Well, these utilities that were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and starting to link up, it led to a completely different type of governance.
Where in exchange for the state, either a state or the country accepting the physical reality that an electricity grid is a physical monopoly. You shouldn't have like three different companies competing to put their own power lines through the air for their own brand of electricity. That doesn't, that's completely preposterous.
Everybody has always known it. So in exchange for accepting that this is a monopoly. States then took public regulatory control over the utilities where the voters vote for parties or for elected officials who will choose regulators or voters choose the regulator directly on their ballots, who will be in these public utility commissions to monitor the electricity.
Right? So that system came up against the people who were saying, well, if we destroy the utilities and we destroy the grid, then we can get rid of nuclear. So there was a wave of, of brilliant economists who had never even been to power plants in their entire life, much less worked a real job, claiming that they had cool economic theories about how to run the grid, which they didn't understand.
Didn't need to understand because they have. The power of economics, right? The science of economics. So the deregulation movement was then kind of sponsored by the anti nuclear guys, um, and the natural gas guys, because if you build all the nuclear plants and all the coal plants that you seem to need, then somebody discovers a bunch of natural gas and they say, Hey guys, we've got cheap, natural gas.
You should build it. Natural gas plants to burn it. Well, if you already have the power plants you need. And they're not burning natural gas. How can you justify tearing down a power plant? You already have just to build another plant and then power it off of a commodity like natural gas. That's highly, uh, chaotic and it's pricing.
Right? Why would you do that as utility? Well, if you're forced to do it, that's one reason. So public utility commission. Demanding that you do it, but a much better way is if you break the utility and you separate out the power generation from the lines and wires and billing, and then you say we're going to have an open market, anybody who, and comes up with money to build a power plant of any type anywhere, we'll just, you know, they'll pay a fee to connect to the grid and then they can, they can have the right to put their power on whenever they.
That system broke the backs of a lot of the utilities, at least so far as making their own electricity goes. The deregulation movement also called the restructuring movement emerged in the late nineties and continues today. That's the push to make it to where utilities have fewer and fewer monopoly functions.
Ideally in many people's mind, they should have no functions beyond. I dunno, the most basic or maybe they shouldn't even say so utilities shouldn't exist instead we should have. Variety of companies with a very different levels of cash reserves and credit worthiness compete to build a nuclear plan or go bankrupt or buy other power plants or build gas plants.
I mean, really this system was about making the decision-making horizon of electricity so short that only a few technologies could actually ever get built. That would be the wind, the solar and the natural. It turns out that this doesn't actually make cheaper electricity. And then when the natural gas prices go up, it turns out it makes brutally expensive electricity, but it's too late.
We're kind of stuck with this system for most of the population in the UK. The areas that got liberalized and their electricity market are that Eastern seaboard, Midwest, um, plain states, Texas, and, uh, California, the states that have resisted this system, which I think your listeners are going to be able to tell.
I don't really care for it. Well, those have been the Southern states, um, some of the Midwest and the west much of the west. So those are states where it's still a utility commission. Monitors and regulates the actions of the big, uh, utilities and says, no, we don't like this plan. Come up with a new plan.
Utility comes up with a new plan. The regulator says, okay, we'll let you do 70% of that plan. You can bill. Your customers are voters. You can bill your customers and pay for the upgrades you need as you go. So that's the, I think that's an immense amount that we could have. 10 different shows on any number of those sentences that I said, and we wouldn't run out of a material, but broadly speaking electricity is complicated enough that it can be broken and destroyed politically behind the scenes.
And nobody will notice until their power bill starts soaring. That's the world we're in today. Also nuclear ends up making very cheap electricity. It makes for a cheap electricity system, but it is expensive to be. Uh, if you cannot spread the construction cost over consumers early, which some people say you shouldn't, shouldn't be allowed to, then you're not probably going to build a nuclear plant and we're going to be stuck on whatever technologies cheap or expensive happened to fit the, the financing that's available.
And in that case, in the U S it's mostly gas and wind and solar, which combined to produce extremely expensive electricity when gas prices.
Aaron Watson: Powerful mark. I want to be respectful of your time here and aim towards wrapping up. But, uh, basically what you're saying here, we we've heard also from Dr. Rita barren wall, um, in, in, in our last interview about nuclear, which is something that, for me, I've worked really hard to kind of train myself to, to.
Um, flip the incentive structure. So I'd rather take the kind of short-term pain for the long-term gain, but it's candidly the hardest thing to sell, particularly as a politician to, um, you know, sell that to constituents when it's like, Hey, I can bring cheap energy. Well, Hey, I can bring more expensive energy in the short term right now.
Down the line. It's going to be great. That's, that's always the hardest sale, uh, for someone to make. So I think that's why my ears perk up when I learn more about this space. Um, and before we kind of wrap up with our standard, last questions, I wanted to see if there were, you know, notes of optimism, notes of hope, uh, generally that you think can, um, you know, start to tend to stem this tide as it pertains to creating more affordable energy for folks, but also.
Uh, contributing to these goals that a lot of people have have of decarbonizing the economy and, and making
Mark Nelson: things a little bit better. Sure. Here's the notes of hope. Young people like nuclear. Once from the moment they hear about it and they continue to like it. Old people are often against nuclear, but can convert almost.
No one is converting away from nuclear, almost all of the, the direction on nuclear around the entire world is towards it becoming more popular and more people liking it. Uh, nuclear gives people hope because once it, once it does work, it works extremely well. And for extremely long periods of time, Um, I think some people are a little nervous.
Are we leaving a bad legacy with nuclear waste, but then they see anybody who gets to tour a nuclear way facility. We'll never think that again, it's a, it's an example of a, a scary image or a scary phrase, haunting people's minds. That's banished. The second you see a nuclear war, nice facility. You're you're just totally fine.
There's a, there's an absolutely gorgeous one in the Netherlands that I am recommending people go seek. They built it for tours. They built a museum and they have a cafe. I mean, it's, it's designed for the public to see their own, uh, highly radioactive nuclear waste. And we get to interact with it in a safe manner that helps them realize that nuclear is a permanent solution, not a temporary solution, it's a permanent solution.
So I think the optimism that people can see and, and, and, uh, good science fiction, they can find an outlet for that optimism in nuclear. When they hear things like, oh, nuclear is a problem because it's expensive and we can't build it. Well, they think, well, how about we build it? Well, right. It's like somebody telling you don't be interested in space.
Rockets are expensive. So your answer might be, let's make rockets cheap. I'm not giving up space. And in the case of nuclear, we're not giving up living a good life. We're not, we're not saying that because so many of the ways we make energy may be limited by what the fuel narratives cross we should give up.
And there's enough fuel towards, until the sun expands and cooks the earth to a crisp there's no fuel for nuclear. So why not think of beautiful things? Why not think of big things you mentioned the land use? Well, once people hear that nuclear takes a tiny, tiny fraction of the space needed for wind and solar for the same amount of energy.
I think a light bulb goes off. Wait, what if we released a lot of. Footprint for industrialized, uh, nature. And we just released it and did a little bit of nuclear. And then we did other things to shrink our footprint and then built our cities upwards, or even made the suburbs a little bit, not, not skyscrapers everywhere, but you know, a little thicker.
Those are the sorts of dreams that pair perfectly well with nuclear, almost like a miracle technology. And I think that the optimism I can share with your viewers is that a lot more people are discussing. Yeah. Like how 40, 40%, 40%. I think it is of electricity in, uh, Pennsylvania comes from a few old nuclear plants and we're finding that that nuclear plants that are old, they're not old.
It turns out they can last probably for a century or even longer. Meaning if you build well today, you've created an environmentally beautiful solution, a socially beautiful solution for the ultra long future. So anyone with a desire to build. For the future can find their heart going towards nuclear and it's it's happening.
Aaron Watson: That's a powerful note to wrap up on a mark. I want to make sure that folks can learn more about you learn more about radiant energy, um, and connect in the digital world. What coordinates can we provide for people that want
Mark Nelson: to learn more best way to get ahold of me is Twitter. Um, at energy bands, that's energy, B a and T.
British joke. Don't worry about that. Anyway, my DMS are always open. Anyone can always reach out to me there. I can also be contacted at mark at radiant energy fund dot.
Aaron Watson: Perfect. We're going to link all of that in the show notes for people to, uh, check out, going to be their.com/podcast or in the app, or people probably listening to this is the easiest place to find all the links to connect with mark.
Uh, but before we let you go, mark, we end every episode with a personal challenge for the audiences as an opportunity to end on a note of action. And to speak directly to listeners from all sorts of different backgrounds, about something actionable they can do in the next day, week or month, uh, that, you know, it could be connected to nuclear.
It could just be connected to, uh, personal professional development in some way, shape or form. So before we let you go, I'd like to give you the mic one final time to issue an actionable challenge to
Mark Nelson: the audience. Wherever you are. Look up. Does your state, does your country, does your region have nuclear energy?
If so, what? And is it, is it, uh, in danger of closure and if not, why not? And then get involved either by contacting me or just, uh, getting involved on Twitter or looking up any pro-nuclear organizations in your area. A surprisingly small number of people destroyed the prospects for nuclear. Uh, in the last generation, a surprisingly small number of people are going to be able to save nuclear in our time.
It's the biggest single thing you can. For climate change while also keeping a future for modern life is to save a nuclear plant near you or to get one belt. And that is happening now
Aaron Watson: in terms of the decision makers for this, you've talked a little bit about these utility commissions and I'm sure it's different in so many different ways in different locales, but.
To what degree is this? Uh, you know, uh, a state issue, a federal issue, a like down to the, you know, small sub region type of issue in terms of who the decision-makers are, is, are just basically a web of.
Mark Nelson: Uh, it depends. So for example, in California, a tiny click of people decided they wanted all the nuclear plants gone and they acted behind the scenes to do it both in legal and illegal fashion.
So for example, current governor of California, organized to kill the last nuclear plant in the state because he thought he would need it in 2016 as like a way to get away. Um, and he doesn't really care one way or another about nuclear. He just, the world is a game. The world is a toy people's lives are just a toy for him.
So Gavin Newsome organized. Uh, Diablo canyon to shut down in 20 24, 20 25. So a lot of action in California is about exposing that effort, either getting him out of office or putting enough pressure on him, that he decides that it's more advantageous to his presidential ambitions to save Diablo rather than close.
It that's a special case because the plant is profitable at the high energy cost environment in California for a nuclear plant like Palisades and Michigan, which is due to close in one month. It's more of an issue that the plant. It's just like probably different words you can use. They just didn't operate.
They didn't choose good nuclear plants to buy. They didn't operate them well. And now that the white house wants to say that nuclear plant they're barely interested in working there. Just, um, I mean, they say that if, if somebody comes up with a business offer for that power plant, they'll consider it. But otherwise we're going to lose a collage, like 2 million people's worth of electricity here in, in, uh, A few days in a time where we have a shortage of almost all energy sources, right?
So it's completely preposterous. The more public attention on that, the better, the more public exposure and pressure on the plant owner, the better, and the more support for the governor and the white house in saving that nuclear plant right now, the better. And, uh, and of course, if anybody's into buying distressed assets and running them, uh, for a nifty profit over the next couple of decades, that's a great thing to look at.
Um, obviously Bitcoin miners need to be all over that sort of thing, right
Aaron Watson: on, uh, well, Mike, this has been so educational and I am hopeful that we'll be able to do it again at some point in the future and continue to have our minds expanded. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
Mark Nelson: Of course, therein, best wishes.
Aaron Watson: went deep with Mark Nelson, hoping out there has a fantastic. Hey, thanks for watching to the end of my interview with mark. If you enjoyed it, there are two great interviews that you should check out. Also on this channel. The first is with Dr. Rita barren while she formerly served in the department of energy for the U S government focused on nuclear energy.
You should also check out our past conversation with doom Berg, who goes a little bit further down the trail of the implications of energy shortages. Spiking energy prices and the stress of that could cause for people around the globe,
Mark Nelson: check them out.
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