Dr. Rita Baranwal served as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy in the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Dr. Baranwal led the office’s efforts to promote research and development on existing and advanced nuclear technologies that sustain the existing U.S. fleet of nuclear reactors, enable the deployment of advanced nuclear energy systems, and enhance the U.S.A.'s global commercial nuclear energy competitiveness.
Dr. Baranwal previously directed the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative at Idaho National Laboratory and served as Chief Nuclear Officer at ESRI. She is currently the CTO at Westinghouse.
In this episode, Aaron and Rita discuss how a nuclear reactor works, how nuclear energy is part of an energy solution, and why she dedicated her life to this technology.
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Watson: We need to start at the really kind of ground floor level and work our way up so we can get into some interesting conversations here but the starting point is the basics of how a nuclear power plant works. I think that, you know, people turn their lights on, and it's often not necessarily powered by nuclear energy, but they take for granted whether it's coal or natural gas or solar or renewables or whatever. The thing may be powering that if a nuclear power plant is behind that what's going on. What's happening.
Baranwal: Okay. So the way a nuclear power plant works in a nutshell is you have uranium fuel that fissions and creates heat. That heat is used to create steam. So the way a nuclear power plant works is in a nutshell, you have uranium fuel and it creates a fission reaction. And that vision reaction creates heat. That heat in turn is used to heat up water. That water is heated to steam and that steam in turn turns, turbine blades, and that turbine blade activity then is converted to electricity. So really nuclear power is a heat source. That's used to create steam. That's used to create electricity
Watson: And in general power across the board is that idea that we need to heat something up so that a turbine can be turned. And that's where the power is generated the differences. Where is that heat coming from and what are the costs that we pay for that heat? So very conventionally you know, you're consuming media in some way, shape or form you think about burning coal. You think about some of these other ways we do it. There's this carbon that's emitted into the atmosphere and we've all sorts of expectations about the potential ramifications of that. No carbon basically whatsoever when nuclear is being burned.
Baranwal: Exactly. Nuclear energy has always been a clean energy source. It has not been a carbon emitting source and really it's very important as states in the us and countries around the world. Move forward to. Achieving their decarbonisation targets and their clean energy targets to include nuclear energy as one of those facets in that portfolio, because it's always been a clean energy source
Watson: And the basic, you know, the other side, the risk factor that people perceive it. And there's one of the elements is people, you know, from an environmentalist standpoint, they see something like Chernobyl and they say, wow, there's like a whole part of the environment that's somewhat unlivable or has like lasting damage to it. There seems to be this gap between we don't want to emit carbon in the environment. So therefore solar, so therefore wind and nuclear sometimes doesn't necessarily get allocated into that same realm. Is it really attributable to its kind of history being used as a weapon that, that causes that? Or what's your perception as someone who's been in the field of nuclear for such a long time?
Baranwal: I think that that perception is changing. So, so that's a good thing, but I think some of the perhaps preconceived notions are based on what folks are familiar with. So I'm really appreciative to have this chance to chat with you and talk about what the benefits are. And we can go into more detail on what those are, but. Since those accidents. Let's talk about Chernobyl. Let's talk about Fukushima and three mile island. Yep. Many, many lessons have been learned. Technology has been substantially improved and regulations have been strengthened and tightened. So. In today's technology, today's commercial operating power plants. Some of those accidents could never even occur. So while yes, those, those accidents were tragic. Some were due to technology. Others were due to human error and. Those lessons have been learned internalized and technology has been,
Watson: Can you give some examples of that? Cause one of the things is I was doing my research was the concept of a nuclear reactor being walkaway safe, which means everyone walks off the job tomorrow. headed down this dangerous route of catastrophe, but basically for lack of a better analogy in my mind, it's like a very small campfire on the ground with a few embers and more likely than not. It's just going to kind of fizzle out because there's no ready fuel to kind of continue to perpetuate
Baranwal: So technology that is walk away safe is designed with passive safety features in mind. In the very unlikely event that something like that happens, you, you can walk away. And some of these designs are, for example, they have a 72 hour window where within 72 hours, everything will be shut down. In PR per the design, right? No human interaction, no human intervention and intervention is needed. No operator intervention is needed. And so those are some of the lessons that have been applied. The technology advances that have been applied to existing power plants and new reactor designs.
Watson: Got it. Can you just talk about where the current state of things is like, like w you know, in the us or internationally, wherever your kind of purview is.You talked about it being something here in Western Pennsylvania, where people getting it, where people know where close to getting it. And what are the trajectories in terms of more reactors are coming online versus summer being shut down and taken offline.
Baranwal: Ok, let's talk about the U S in the United States, nuclear power is responsible for 55% of this country is clean energy. But it's only responsible for generating 20% of its electricity. So you're getting a lot of clean energy bang for the buck, right? We are holding steady in the U S at about 20% of our electricity coming from nuclear. We have two new plants that are being constructed, almost ready to come online. Those are Vogel 3 and 4 in the state of Georgia. Around the world, the construction of new power plants, it has experienced such an uptick that the US frankly is probably falling behind with respect to construction of new power. The interest from countries around the world in a constructing new nuclear is that they do appreciate that it's a clean energy source that they do need to decarbonize their electricity portfolio.And many of them are looking to the other benefits that can be offered from nuclear power plants, such as generating clean hydrogen, such as desalinating water, such as providing high that. To the transportation sector to help decarbonize that very, very currently pretty carbon, carbon heavy industry that should also be department.
Watson: And in terms of the business model of a nuclear plant, my understanding is that it's very expensive to build relative to other power plants of other kind of energy types, but on the back end, the long tail of a nuclear power facility. It doesn't need to have the same types of costs because of just a different input ratio. So can you kind of talk through that, maybe contextualize that versus other types of plants?
Baranwal: Sure. So let's kind of frame it as we're talking about larger 1000 megawatt size plants, right? That's that's generally the average size of an existing power plant these days. They are expensive to build, but they last, some are licensed for 40 years, but they can easily get there license extended for 20 years and an additional 20 years. So in the United States, there are some plants that are going for a second license extension to allow their plants to safely operate for 80 total years. That's a pretty good investment when you, when you look at what needs to be put in upfront, and then you have this, this power generation source for, for 80 years. So there's that piece of it. The cheapest way to decarbonize any society is to keep existing power plants online. Those are already sunk costs. They're already generating clean electricity, clean energy, and. W we'll probably get to it, but you will see some plants around the world. And even in the U S shutting down in the U S the Mo most of the recent shutdowns have been for economic and political reasons, not technological reasons.
Watson: So there are some of those political reasons that maybe this is like a, just very cynical, jaded take, if I'm in say oil and gas or I'm in some of the other renewables, I would love to have more of the grid be my energy source that I'm economically tired. Versus another, is it, is it that reductive or are there other factors at play when it comes to the political headwinds against nuclear?
Baranwal: There’s a little bit of that just as you described. And then, there's this also push from certain pockets of constituencies, right? They want more renewables and, and our decision-makers will certainly listen to their constituents. And so that's why it is important for us to have these types of conversations to say nuclear doesn't have to, it's not, I'm not saying it has to be a hundred percent of the solution, but it needs to be. A sliver of that solution. And the reason is that there have been studies after studies that have shown, even if we were to take fossil off the table, which I don't think is realistic in the short term. Or you have carbon capture, for example, let's leave all of that on the table. You set up. The rest of that with as much renewables as you can, there's still about a 20% slice that's left. That needs to be fulfilled, that can be filled with nuclear and it should be
Watson: And even in that world of ex exclusive renewables, you need a lot of batteries in order. Happened just to store it through, you know, with sunlight, sunlight's only up for a portion of the day. Wind is intermittent. And if you're going to be able to continue to power things and you batteries, which are not exactly the most carbon neutral.
Baranwal: Commodity out there, they're definitely not carbon neutral. They're definitely not inexpensive. And we can. A bit more about you know, what it takes to develop those batteries, how expensive it is. The mining operations that go into the critical minerals that are going to be needed to fabricate those, those said batteries, but let's also talk about the footprint, right? The physical. Print that is needed for a nuclear power plant is much smaller than that. That's required for a wind farm or for solar. So for example, wind farm requires 360 times the landmass, the land area, sorry, the land area to produce the same amount of electricity as a nuclear power plant and solar photo take plants require 75 times more space. Land is at a premium in most parts of the world. So that also needs to be considered while, while. The hearts and minds of folks might be, yes, we want to push renewables. You also have to consider the value of the real estate that's going to be needed in the impact of the communities around, around the solar farms and wind farms, et cetera. Gotcha.
Watson: So we've talked a little bit about these kind of like big almost like regional powering type of plants, but another thing that. 99% over my head, but I've heard the buzzword for it. These mini nuclear reactors, can you talk about the differences, like what, what that entails and then what that could potentially unlock that other forms of energy generation wouldn't necessarily be able to do?
Baranwal: Sure. So let me categorize it first. So we've got the micro reactors, which are generally speaking about 20 megawatts or something. Okay, then you have small modular reactors, which are 300 megawatts or smaller. And then we have the traditional larger 1000 megawatts or so sized reactors. So the micro reactors are the smallest of the ones that we're talking about right now. The niche markets that these smaller reactors, the micro reactors can serve, include portability. So then you start to think about, oh, well, can the military use them in terms of helping support operating basis?
Watson: And they have with nuclear submarines for decades too, right?
Baranwal: Absolutely. So I started my career at Bettis atomic power laboratory here in Pittsburgh and nuclear power has been used in our U S Navy's aircraft carriers and submarines for decades
Watson: Without like any sort of major knock on wood here, but like any sort of major issue in any
Baranwal: way, shape or form, correct. Safely powering tens of thousands of miles of. US Navy activity.
Watson: Got it. But there's other forms of transportation. So what are just some of the implications of, okay. You know, we could think of large ships medium sized ships, cruise ships, I guess, in different forms. What are some of the other applications of something like that for Micro?
Baranwal: So for micro reactors the, the, some of the. More near-term applications include helping power island and communities or remote communities. So in the U S let's think about Alaska. Diesel is very expensive to truck in and out, right? If you have a micro reactor, that's powering the community costs costs for for the fuel that's needed for electricity generation goes down. Let's talk about Puerto Rico, where you you want a reliable energy source that can withstand. Climate events and nuclear can do that. Nuclear power is resilient. It's reliable. It's always on, it can be tapered back. If you want to supplement you know, your portfolio with solar with wind, with hydro. It plays well with others as a kind of reductive framework
Watson:. So once again, I'm like coming at it from this kind of very newbie mind, but I think a lot about allocations of a portfolio in a, in a finance context. So, you know, you want some bonds, you want some equities I'd argue on some crypto. You want some real estate, you want some other entities in there. And to me, the notion of we've got this one specific play that like you said, has. Hi, upfront cost, very low long-term costs and very basically no kind of carbon release seems like an absolute no-brainer in the context of a larger portfolio, but that's a very kind of reductive view. You have literally dedicated your life to this technology. And just like in past conversations, when I, when I meet someone who's in those shoes, I'm really curious about the origin stories of that one. When did the light bulb come on? When, when did you decide, man, this is really something that you know, years and years of work would be worthy of setting a goal for.
Baranwal: Okay. So it starts back when I was looking for my first job out of graduate school. All of my degrees are in material science and engineering. I am not a nuclear engineer by degree. But my first. Opportunity was at Bedus Tomich power laboratory. And what really enamored me was the high-tech laboratory equipment that I would be able to use if I went to work there. So it was really the innovation aspect of the field. And once I was there really got to work on exciting work and develop new technology for the U S Navy's aircraft carriers and submarines. But what sort of was my aha moment, if you will, was when I got to take a van full of summer interns down to Newport news shipyard to watch ships being built, aircraft carriers, being built, separate submarines, being built. And that year we had the opportunity to stand inside the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, as it was being constructed. And I stood inside where the nuclear reactor was going to go. So the reactor compartment area, and I looked up several floors and I realized that thing that I'm working on back in this little lab in Pittsburgh, the little thing that I'm working on, the fuel powers, this behemoth of to help defend our country. Yeah. So the energy density of uranium that is leveraged to create nuclear power was, was turning point. number one for me,
Watson: Can you, could just contextualize that real quick, just like, you know, I don't know if it's cubic feed or how you would quantify that versus say like the tank of a, you know, an oil rig or something like that.
Baranwal: Oh my goodness. Fuel in commercial reactors is the size of a like a pencil eraser on a pencil, right? So it stacked up into, into rods. And then those rods are put into an assembly and you have several assemblies, a few hundred assemblies in a nuclear power plant. So every about 18, one-third of the fuel assemblies are removed re repositioned to optimize the heat output and eventually taken out and considered as, as useful.
And we can go down that road in a moment. So, so turning point number one was, was when I visited the, the shipyard. What has kept me in this field is the fact that nuclear power is a clean energy source. I'm a mother of two teenagers, and I sincerely want them to inherit a world that is cleaner than what we have today. And I know that my work and my career in the nuclear industry will help them inherit a world that is cleaner than it is.
Watson: And so contextualize that from a global view, we talked about the U S here a bit are there specific, you know, countries, geographies that do nuclear relatively well, because like you said, we could fix this all. I know that there's these international kind of climate agreements, but we could fix this all say in one country, but then if on the other side of the country of the globe, they're just spouting out coal that's. Not even canceled itself out, that's still going to be a huge problem. So, so what does that look like? Like an international field.
Baranwal: Yeah. Internationally, there are countries that have existing nuclear that are continuing to build out and increase their nuclear portfolio. Unfortunately we also have countries like Germany that have. Decided that they, they want no nuclear in their portfolio and they're shutting down plants. So at the end of last month new Germany shut down three of their nuclear power plants.
Watson: Prematurely, is that all political from your constituency is saying that that's not something that we're interested
Baranwal: In Germany I believe it was. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So
Watson: I know. So, so unfortunately one of the other things that's in the news is that kind of a political unrest in Kazakhstan, and that is a major location for uranium mining. Is there a kind of a connection there where, you know, I would imagine not that the Kazaks have a particularly out-sized role in terms of effecting international kind of energy policies, but I have to. In areas where uranium would be mined, there would be a kind of connection to optimism or kind of the proliferation of nuclear power as a specific source. Is there, is that, is that seeing the board correctly or not so much?
Baranwal: It's there, there's definitely a uranium source, so well done on doing your homework. And there is some tension right now in terms of what's going on there and what's going to happen with the uranium market, but the beauty of nuclear power in terms of the commercial aspects of it is that you can store your fuel. And you can have that supply at the ready. And so we are not at the whims of the immediate turn of tides of, of politics or, you know, unrest in countries. So that's one aspect of it. The other, is that just because you have a. Country in this case, that is a critical, crucial source in the nuclear supply chain does not necessarily mean that they are also a user of said critic critical or crucial resource. Russia and China are both. Big players in the nuclear power plant arena. They are the two countries that are developing and constructing new plants as well. Certainly leaving the U S in their, in their dust. India is another player. There are many countries around the world that are, like I said, continuing to expand their nuclear portfolio. But to me what's really, really exciting is the countries that are now exploring, deploying new nuclear. They're new to nuclear. They've never had it, but they realize the benefits of it. And they want to have nuclear power as part of their electricity portfolio. And then you've you expand to. Yeah, desalinating water. And possibly even de-carbonizing the transportation sector to helping those areas as well.
Watson: So one of the other points there is if you build up a nuclear power industry and you're able to provide not just cleaner power to the grid, but potentially more at an effective cost, what we're really talking about is more energy per person being able to be used. And that's kind of an underrated part of the just macro. Energy store, I'm sorry. The macro economic story of emerging from poverty, it takes power to cook your food. It takes power to heat your home. It takes power for all these things that, you know, when people in a developed world probably take for granted. But that's really part of the appeal, as you're saying in, in these places that are maybe new to nuclear, but even just the proliferation of like you're saying remote areas, whether that be in a desert or some of these other areas that would struggle to have. A consistent connection to the grid in some way, shape or form.
Baranwal: Right. You may not have the ability to even extend the power out to a remote area or to develop a robust grid in a certain area. So what you're touching on is a little bit of what energy justice starts to talk about and address it. It is very, very, I think, important to our industry to make sure that we consider elevating communities to a quality of life that we all deserved. And you're right. That us in a developed country can very much take that for granted. And we will bemoan if our lights went out for even 30 minutes, right. There are. Communities and, and parts of countries that go four days without power on a regular basis. And so nuclear power is just one reliable source that could be deployed. And especially if we went back to that micro reactor conversation or an SMR where you can start to positively impact a community that may not have that access to reliable 24 7
Watson: So an example like this interview, I would say is like me doing a very, very, very small part to contribute to that type of move and in a general way, but getting back to you and your kind of career arc and the commitment to this technology. One of the expressions of that was working as the assistant secretary in the office of nuclear energy at the U S department of energy. That is a mouthful. I did practice that before the interview. But from, from sitting at. Position in particular, so that in one seat, you're the engineer actually, you know, constructing and iterating upon the design for its implementation. And then I have to imagine something there it's much more playing political games, understanding, you know, regulatory policy, making decisions that enable this to be unlocked. What did you learn from sitting in that position about what the. Roadblocks are to this being implemented more widely.
Baranwal: There is a lot of policy decision-making that goes on. I would say limited voices in the room. So it is really important to make our voices heard. So not only as a policy maker, but more importantly, I would say, as a constituent the squeaky wheel really does get the grease. And so if there is a group of folks that go and talk to their Congressman or Congresswoman wanting X, Y, or Z, Sometimes that's what it takes for a change to come to fruition. And really, what was most surprising to me was oftentimes when a nuclear energy decision was being made, I was the only. Voice in the room with that technical depth to contribute to that conversation. So being present, being represented is really, really important. And so, you know, my challenge to the audience would be make your voices known, make your opinions known now more than ever today, more than ever. It is so easy to do so you don't have to go and walk into a staffer's office on Capitol hill. You can tweet it. You, you can text it whatever way you would like, but interacting with those folks with your representatives really, really does make a difference. In my role, I was able to, to interact with representatives and Senate and senators that were on the decision-making committee. And tell them what our priorities were for my office, for the office of nuclear energy. But then there, I also had to help represent all of the, for example, the technology developers in the United States or the commercial entities in the United States that work in the nuclear industry. And we, we did achieve a lot of really good things during my time there.
Watson: What are some of the ones you're most?
Baranwal: So the one I'll focus on one, the one that I'm most excited about is the launching of what's called the advanced reactor development program. It's a very large funding program where in we, we challenged developers to apply for funding, using a concept that they could deploy in five to seven years, a new reactor concept that they could deploy in five to seven years. And. So pleasantly surprising to me was we had numerous applications from numerous different technology sizes. We talked about the different sizes, but also technology classes. So we have, I talked about how the fission reaction heats water. Steam to generate the turbine. There are other technologies where the fission reaction actually heats liquid sodium liquid led it can heat molten salt, or can heat a gas. So there's different technologies. Each of them has their own benefit. Some of them, for example, are that you don't have a pressurized system, like you might in, in many of today's existing technologies. So it makes it even safer than today's technologies. And today's technology is today's technology is very safe. So to be able to launch that advanced reactor development program. To challenge our community, our nuclear industry community, to act with a sense of urgency, to be able to deploy new nuclear in variety of sizes for RD of technology classes, to help suit a community, a state, a country's needs is, is one of my most exciting achievements, five to seven years.
Watson: Just to contextualize that versus what was because like you're saying that like, man, that's really fast, but for many outsiders, they don't necessarily know. It was in terms of shortening the window for these types of approvals and implementations.
Baranwal: Right. It's it can be decades long. Yeah. So we are really challenging, not only the developers, but arm-in-arm were, we are also asking the regulatory authority. So in this case, in the U S it's the nuclear regulatory commission, we're also putting the challenge out to them saying you will be. Accepting you'll or you'll be seeing new designs that are going to be at requesting you and RC to review and hopefully approve these designs in a much shorter timeframe because their deployment plan is also much shorter. Now I want to be clear the NRCS first and foremost mission is to ensure the safety of the public. So they will never. Accelerate anything just for the sake of accelerating.
Watson: It’s an inherently conservative organization, because it's all about risk mitigation, risk management, just any organization, whether you're an insurance company or a regulatory body, when you're about risk reduction, you're always gonna have. Move in that type of way, right?
Baranwal: It is a very, it's a, I say we're a stodgy industry, but yes, we a very conservative industry and the regulatory bodies first and foremost objective, their mission is to protect the safety of the public that said we have in the U S the regulatory authority that is also looking to modernize. They understand that everything has to evolve. And what worked for the NRC 30 years. It's different than what would work today. Yeah.
Watson: Back to the context of the United States, you referenced two nuclear power plants that were coming online in Georgia. We talked about one, that's located here in Pennsylvania. I've got an uncle in upstate New York who works in a nuclear power facility. And. One of the kind of premises of the Federalist system is that you have state by state experimentation. We've covered that in the past here in the context of autonomous vehicles and the streets of Pittsburgh, you know, hosting Uber and Argo, AI and Aurora and all them. What is, so where's the delineation there? Cause you're talking a lot about federal kind of policy and regulatory bodies, but also like, are there states that have kind of. Tried to tend them the direction of being those zones for nuclear friendly regulatory subsidy type of bodies,
Baranwal: With respect to, to nuclear the regulatory Framework is federal. Okay. And so what applies to a plant in Illinois applies to a plant in Pennsylvania and they actually have site inspectors that are considered resident site inspectors. So they reside at each of the power plants in the United States. So you really can't the rules, the same rules apply to all of the plants in the United States. Let's put it that way. Where things differ has to do with how the markets are handled. So there's a deregulated market and there's a regulated market. The regulated markets, the, the rate payers will take on the burden of the costs, whatever they might be, they're distributed and I'm not privy and, or well-versed on how that works, but it's. It's a less taxing environment for the utilities in a, in a regulated environment, in a deregulated environment, it is very much a capitalistic. And those are the markets where we're seeing some plants shut down prematurely or, or claim to be. Beyond the bubble tip for premature shutdown, just because of financial considerations. One of the cost of natural gas was so low. It, it, on paper, it looked like nuclear was not cost competitive.
Watson: Got it. And maybe this is me kind of being too pie in the sky, but from a geopolitical standpoint, you've referenced Russia and you've referenced China, which are in the great global game competitors with the United States. And so I have to imagine that in the. Spectrum of what you would want a competitor to either be doing or not doing to me, like my view is it would behoove a competitor for us to fall behind in something like nuclear. When they're saying we have this capacity for. Highly portable. Very low carbon, maybe carbons, not so much in like the competitive sense, but you know, very long-term cost efficient sources of capital to all sorts of remote applications. Does that track with you, like in terms of the, that the nuclear competition game at a geopolitical level?
Baranwal: It does and, and part of why we're seeing. So when I'm talking about, when I was at DIA, we, we would see interest from other countries in us. Technology was because they understood the geopolitical. Ties that might come with non U S technology. Let's put it that way. I'm not going to call anyone out. Right. But they appreciated the trustworthiness, the transparency and the technology that these us technology developers could provide to them. And that's why they were being considered. And we have the technology here.
Watson: That's also part of the gap that. Is w you know, we're falling behind some of these other entities in terms of the implementation of nuclear, but in terms of like, what's coming out of an academic institution I'm going to butcher these, but like you mentioned, like liquid led, led, you know, molten, salt, some of these other entities that could be heat up to spin the turbine. Like we're at the cutting edge in terms of developing those things. It's about actually getting it from the research paper, from the kind of concept into practical.
Baranwal: Right. The technologies, those, those advanced, what we're calling advanced technologies are not advanced. They were invented decades ago. The reason why the time is right to deploy them now in new nuclear technology and new nuclear plants is. All the ancillary ancillary advances that have come about. So you've got remote sensing, you've got modeling and simulation tools. You have advances in materials that are now not going to corrode. Like they might have 30, 40 years ago. You have all of the wireless technology that can be implemented in a plant. You have. Digital digitization that can be implemented in a plant as well. So all of those ancillary advances, which I don't want to minimize because they are very, very important are really, what's helping propel the heart of these advanced reactor technologies and is, is making it right for them to be deployed in this time.
Watson: Got it. So as we aim towards wrapping up the conversation here, Rita, I want to kind of come back to that kind of career arc story. And just as you're thinking about applying leverage to this problem, there's a, there's a nice kind of reality that as you establish yourself, your options and your kind of choices become less about like, what is like the, you know, the job that gets me my foot in the door, but now you have a reputation. You have a standing within the field of nuclear and I can go. Maximize that impact. How are you thinking about the high leverage places to push similar to the policies that you rolled out when you at DOE
Baranwal: My focus is on moving with the sense of urgency. We are, you, you touched on it. We're conservative industry. We are slow to embrace change. And we are a very risk averse industry. All of that can still be true. But when you look at what is happening worldwide, you look at all of the devastating climate events that have happened just in the past year, right? Past 12 months, you look at what decarbonization targets are out there for, for countries that are, are whose populations are suffering. We as an industry need to move with a sense of urgency. And that's where my focus is, is to push this community, which the, the nuclear industry really isn't that big. So it pushed this small community to move faster and to do so certainly in a conservative manner, but also to take calculated risks. And all along the way, every step of the way where we're the only sector of the energy industry, that's fully regulated from cradle to grave. And so it's no corners will be cut in this push, but it's to get folks out of their comfort zone a bit and just say, well, just because it took you five years last time doesn't mean it can't take you. Let's let's shoot for two and a half years this time. And that was the goal behind the advanced reactor development program. And that's really where my focus is going forward to beautiful.
Watson: I want to aim towards wrapping up before I ask the standard last questions. Anything else that you were hoping to share today that I just didn't give you a chance to?
Baranwal: We, we talked a little bit about use fuel. One thing I wanted to share was that fuel in a commercial. Come in a commercial power plant once it's considered used has actually only been used 5%. Wow. And so it still has 95% of its utility left in it essentially. And so, you know, I want folks to, to appreciate that we're really talking about. Almost new and box kind of fuel when it is actually considered used and is put into storage in the U S at the moment, it's put into dry storage casks for storage on site at the moment. And it's safely stored and has been for many, many years and can continue to be stored onsite safely for the entire life of the plant. Even if that life of plant goes out to 80 years.
Watson: Gotcha. Is there the potential for this rod with 95% of its capacity left in it? Is that the potential in like some sort of reduced capacity to also be reutilized or is that not necessarily optimal?
Baranwal: Oh, it absolutely could be reutilized it could be recycled. And in other parts of the world fuel like that is recycled and in the United States at the moment, it's just not a position or, or a policy to, to recycle.
Watson: Interesting. Well, that sounds like it needs to change. Awesome. Well, this has been fantastic. I want to make sure that people can follow along with your career and the stuff that you're up to. What digital coordinates can we provide people if they want to. LinkedIn, sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't prep you on this. Usually, usually this is usually, this is where we like promote the like company websites, stuff like that, but we're not gonna do that. So I would just say, if you want to share your LinkedIn, if you want to share any other kind of like relevant, just digital links where someone could
Baranwal: Just like my Twitter handle.
Watson: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly it. Okay. All right. What digital coordinates can we provide for people that want to learn more?
Baranwal: My Twitter handle is @RitaB66, and I I'm also on LinkedIn. So you can connect with me there.
Watson: Awesome. We're gonna link that in the show notes, going deeper there and.com/podcast is the place to find it for every single episode of the show or in the app. We are probably listening to this right now, but before I let you go, Rita, I would like you to, it sounds like reiterate your personal challenge for the audience.
Baranwal: So a challenge would be to. Make sure that you are talking with your representatives in the United States and your I guess, political leaders around the world to ensure that they understand that you want nuclear power to be part of your energy portfolio. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Watson: I love it. Something from all my understanding that I am certainly in favor of. I have not done the requisite research to, to match yours, but it does seem like a, it holds an immense amount of promise in both the energy independence conversation and in the decarbonization conversation as well, which, you know, from the political spectrum, it really feels like those are like different ends of the spectrum in terms of people's kind of talking points and positions. The fact that you can thread a needle between those two is always something that kind of perks my ears. Rita, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Baranwal: Thanks for having me, Aaron.
Watson: We just went deep with Rita Barnwell over there has a fantastic day.
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