The Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation brings Innovators Together to Accelerate Ambition into Action
- Jun 1, 2023 12:29 am GMT
This item is part of the Innovation in the Power Industry - May/June 2023 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more
How do you create a future that you can’t wait to arrive and to live in? Put a little differently, how do we minimize or avoid the negative effects of climate change while working towards a society improved and enhanced by technology? This is among the most significant questions that many wrestle with and one humanity is constantly trying to address. Common wisdom dictates to “begin with the end in mind,” which works well for small-scale innovations over short time horizons (1-5 years), but how do we plan for technologies that haven’t been developed or deployed yet, much less those that haven’t even been imagined? As such, when we peer further and further into the future, the outlook becomes cloudier with countless branching possibilities. One thing we do know about the future is that we need large quantities of clean energy as soon as possible to both support the growing global demand for energy and fight the negative effects of climate change.
The nuclear industry has been working for many years to support these ambitious goals to create a better future and continues to innovate today at an increasing pace, but it wasn’t always this way. The nuclear industry has traditionally taken a cautious approach to adopting new technologies with a primary focus on maintaining systems that were tried and true. This resulted in nuclear plants not realizing the full benefits of technological enhancements that could improve efficiency and safety. Realizing this, the mindset of industry experts and executives has shifted to one that recognizes the importance of innovation in making operating plants safer, more efficient, and reliable. This adoption of innovative technologies is coming at a time when the nuclear industry is playing a critical role supporting the response to global climate change.
The nuclear industry is committed to reducing the impacts of climate change by producing safe, abundant, emission-free energy as well as providing energy security and supporting collaboration and innovation. However, the industry is not yet fully implementing what’s needed to make this ambitious goal a reality; or, turning this ambition into action. The Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation (GFNI) arose as a global call to action in 2018 to address the need for innovation in the nuclear industry and continues to rally the industry around innovation today.
Since 2018, efforts led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), OECD-Nuclear Energy Agency, National Nuclear Laboratory (UK), EPRI, and local host utilities have convened a global community with not only the ambition, but also the ability to drive innovation and positive change in the nuclear sector. To better understand where we are headed and how to get there, it is helpful to briefly review where we have been:
In 2019, the first GFNI took place in Gyeongju, South Korea with “Technological Innovation” as the theme. The focus was on gathering a global cross section of key industry executives and thought leaders to gain understanding and inspiration from learning what companies outside the energy sector were doing to accelerate innovation, creating awareness and a desire for change.
The theme of the 2022 GFNI in London was “Innovation Culture,” focused less on intellectual outcomes and more on providing the culture needed to support innovation via a combination of a practical skillset, mindset, and toolset needed to generate ideas, promote dialog, and encourage the diversity of thought that is so very essential to fostering and sustaining innovation. There in London, through interactive activities designed to break down barriers and encourage “leaning in” to disruptive change and innovation, nuclear changemakers identified four Grand Challenges facing the industry. These grand challenges include:
1. Operating a Lean Machine – this grand challenge focuses on improving operational efficiency in an increasingly competitive landscape to maintain safe, affordable, and decarbonized power across the globe. In order to support the world’s energy transformation, nuclear power must continue to modernize and undergo digital transformation. The driver for these activities initially is to continue to provide low cost, carbon-free energy for the world’s power needs. As plants extend operational licenses, they will likely need to incorporate technologies, processes, and methods proven in other industries to both modernize and transform into the nuclear power sector of the future. The digital transformation will allow utilities to remove or streamline mundane, repetitive tasks from workers, allowing utilities to be more efficient with how they deploy workers. This will be done through a variety of means, including automating dull, dirty, or dangerous tasks, implementing digital work processes, streamlining plant operations, etc. In addition to pending retirements, the nuclear industry is already facing a shortage of workers concurrent with an urgent need to attract the next generation of the workforce for an energy future that requires significantly more zero carbon emission sources. Nuclear utilities will need to operate as “lean machines” to achieve these goals.
2. Beyond Electricity – Nuclear power can play a key role in providing electricity as well as other forms of carbon-free energy. Humanity’s development and wellbeing are directly tied to its ability to acquire cheap and abundant power. The Industrial Revolution ushered in great improvements in the way of life for millions around the globe, and at the same time energy consumption grew exponentially. Much of this energy came from the combustion of hydrocarbons in the form of oil and coal which were discovered to burn hotter and cleaner than wood. As a result, while society was generally improving living conditions of the masses, we were also emitting large quantities of carbon dioxide and the effects would not be felt for decades. Today we recognize the need for non-emitting energy sources, but the options for harnessing these at the scale required to affect appreciable change are currently limited. . Therefore, this grand challenge seeks to identify and address energy-related needs that can be supported by nuclear power, such as hydrogen generation, water desalination, district heating, among others.
3. No Talent, No Sector – there is a significant demand for a flexible, yet highly-skilled workforce today. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Pathways to Commercial Liftoff report indicates that the U.S. nuclear industry alone may need as many as 375,000 workers to meet the workforce demand for 2050, more than three times the number the industry employs today. This gap between employer need and workforce skills threatens not only future capacity but current operation as well. Nuclear utilities have historically demanded highly-skilled workers. The No Talent, No Sector Grand Challenge seeks to identify creative approaches to developing and retaining this workforce. Utilities have become more creative in their approach to both recruiting and training strategies, which may include internship or apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training, and educational partnerships with local universities or online training/education platforms. Leveraging a variety of formats and tools such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and asynchronous learning opportunities helps to “meet learners where they are,” and are quickly becoming necessary to attracting and maintaining a flexible, skilled workforce.
4. Safe Doesn’t Have to be Slow – this challenge faces one of the largest issues in the nuclear industry today: maintaining high standards of safety and quality while executing the right work on time and on budget to create a culture where safety, security, and efficiency work hand in hand to support operating plants, regulators, and the public. For example, long, expensive, and unpredictable construction timelines have challenged the completion of new nuclear power plants due, in part, to material and human capital resource challenges and the implementation of costly, unplanned design changes. Delays in construction are extremely costly and the primary driver for nuclear power plant construction cost overruns. In addition, modifications to nuclear fuel can take 10 years or more from concept to implementation; whole industries are transformed in a fraction of that time. External factors present a potential existential threat to the nuclear industry if it is unable to adapt much more rapidly in the future than it has done in the past. This grand challenge seeks to accelerate the pace of innovation in the nuclear industry while maintaining or enhancing safety and cost-effective operations.
The four Grand Challenges above will help to accelerate the pace of innovation in the nuclear industry. These were outcomes from the 2022 Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation meeting – a key enabler for continuous innovation in the nuclear industry.
Innovation is a journey, as is the evolution of the Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation. The 2024 GFNI will be held in the United States and the focus will shift to “Ambition into Action.” Building upon the groundwork laid in the previous GFNI events, a growing network of nuclear innovators will be encouraged in 2024 to think bigger and be bolder as they are further equipped to accelerate innovation to impact change in their organizations and in the nuclear industry.
The GFNI 2024 event will review progress made in enhancing culture, progress towards achieving the Grand Challenges identified in 2022, and the industry’s collective commitment to investing in, supporting, and implementing innovation.
Event details will be available soon. To join the contact list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get Published - Build a Following
The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.
If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.