Exclusive interview with Greg Kaser, Senior Project Manager at the World Nuclear Association and regular nuclear expert speaker on the African Utility Week programme. The event is taking place in Cape Town from 13-14 May.
1) Let’s start with the World Nuclear Association. Can you give us an idea what your position with the WNA entails?
As a Senior Project Manager I support industry cooperation in supply chain issues. I act as the staff director to the Supply Chain Working Group, which provides WNA’s member companies with a platform to discuss issues of concern to the industry generally. At the moment we have been looking at export controls, quality management system standards and on what we can learn from the aerospace and automotive industries on vendor oversight and the control of critical manufacturing processes.
2) Why the decision to take part in African Utility Week again?
The World Nuclear Association is supporting African Utility Week for the first time as a knowledge partner to raise the appreciation in Africa of the part that nuclear energy can play in emerging industrial economies.
3) With regards to discussion on nuclear in the programme, what are key considerations around the legislative, regulatory, security and safety for developing nuclear generation capacity in Africa?
Embarking upon a nuclear energy program is a strategic question for any developing country with significant pay-offs in terms of achieving energy self-sufficiency and around-the-clock power availability for industry and cities. Although there is some support available from the International Atomic Energy Agency for developing countries, ‘going nuclear’ has a low priority among African governments and their partners in the international development agencies and financial institutions. While this is understandable I suspect that the dynamic will shift gear as China’s example is seen to work. The fact is that every newly industrialising country, starting with Japan, India and Argentina in the 1960s and continuing with Brazil and South Korea in the 1970s recognized the advantages of nuclear power as part of their energy strategy.
4) What are the challenges in establishing robust regulatory frameworks in Africa?
Human resources are first and foremost the largest challenge but the nuclear industry is an international one and gaining relevant education and experience abroad could be encouraged as a way to build up a qualified cadre. The nuclear safety regulator has to be a credible authority to gain the public’s confidence that the technology will be deployed safely and efficiently.
5) Where does a government start to create an environment for the development of safe and affordable nuclear power?
The regulatory regime has to be in place well before the country starts the technology appraisal and procurement process. On past experience it took at least ten years for newly industrialising countries to pass the enabling legislation, train and recruit, and to eventually start nuclear power plant construction. This timetable is likely to be even more protracted given the importance of winning over civil society, sections of which will be vocally opposed to building centralized energy systems that serve a modern and urban economy. The Indian experience is a case in question, where a country with a long history of scientific and technological achievement has found it difficult to address the complexities of attaining public confidence. I think you need to start with education and public consultation and keep at it, with the schools, colleges, community associations, local governments and chambers of commerce.
6) Tell us more about the work of the WNA Working Group on Cooperation in Reactor Design Evaluation and Licensing (CORDEL).
The mission of the CORDEL Working Group is to promote the standardization of nuclear reactor designs, which would be based upon a worldwide nuclear regulatory environment. In practice, this would mean that a generic reactor design certification and safety evaluation undertaken by one national authority would be acceptable in other countries without having to repeat the entire process. A simplified validation procedure would be sufficient, taking account of adjustments to comply with national regulations, to approve a design already given approval in another jurisdiction. It would involve sharing of licensing data between regulators, the development of harmonized industrial codes and standards through convergence (i.e. to reduce or eliminate divergences in codes) and common acceptance criteria. This is very much a work in progress and WNA’s CORDEL is engaging with a number of external stakeholders who share similar aims, such as the Standards Development Organization Convergence Board and regulators’ groupings. But it offers a great opportunity for countries embarking upon a nuclear program.
7) What does a nuclear safety culture mean in practice for vendors and operators?
It is hard to imagine what a safety culture entails until you live it. No amount of lectures at the ‘Springfield Nuclear Power Plant’ would alter the irresponsible behaviour of its staff, including Homer Simpson, or that of its owner Mr Burns! Fostering a safety culture within an organization goes hand-in-hand with human performance improvement and developing business excellence so that individual and corporate goals are integrated. Instilling a safety culture is an evolutionary process and at heart involves a commitment to identifying problems and putting them right.