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The 21st Century Nuclear Resurgence: Opportunities and Challenges

Understanding Tomorrow's Nuclear Energy lecture series

Oct. 24, 3-4 p.m.
Purdue Memorial Union North and South Ballrooms 
Presented by Director-General William D. Magwood, IV, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency

Recorded Presentation

Director-General Magwood of the Nuclear Energy Agency will review the factors and considerations that have led to a surge in interest in nuclear energy around the world the likes of which have not been seen since the beginning of the nuclear energy era more than 60 years ago. While this interest and the plans and programs that it has spawned provide a clear and practical path toward enabling our societies to meet the goal of rapidly decarbonizing our economies, there are serious challenges that must be overcome. Director-General Magwood will highlight the issues that could lead to failure if not quickly and adequately addressed and to the structural barriers that will require new thinking by regulators and policymakers in many countries if success is to be in our reach. 

Post-lecture summary

As Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency, William D. Magwood, IV, brings countries together to push the boundaries of knowledge about nuclear energy and to make nuclear technology safer and more usable.

According to Mr. Magwood, vision is crucial to advancing nuclear power.

“I’m an optimist – I’m hoping that the future is going to be a brighter place than it is today. And that’s a characteristic of those of us in the nuclear sector. We think the future is a place worth working towards,” he said. “That’s why the vision of what you’re looking at is so important. It sends a message that we’re not looking at next week, or next month or next year. We’re looking at 10 years from now, 20 years from now and even 100 years from now. That’s the kind of vision we need these days.”

Mr. Magwood noted how a study Purdue University and Duke Energy are conducting to explore the feasibility of using advanced reactor technology to meet the campus community’s long-term energy needs demonstrates this kind of vision.

As international conversations on energy security begin to merge with talks concerning climate change, Mr. Magwood said that nuclear power has started to enter these discussions. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, showed that installed nuclear capacity must at least triple to achieve net-zero carbon emissions worldwide by 2050.

“Is it possible to triple nuclear capacity overall by 2050? The answer is yes, but it does require kind of everything,” Mr. Magwood said. “Everything” means keeping existing nuclear power plants in operation as long as possible, building new, large generation III reactors, developing small modular reactors and looking at non-electric applications, such as nuclear-produced heat and hydrogen.

Mr. Magwood believes that nuclear power is advancing now more than ever. When the nuclear energy era began in the 1960s, government interest primarily drove advancement, but now there is drive from the private sector as well, he said.

But for new nuclear energy to be successful, key challenges must be addressed. Mr. Magwood said these challenges are industrial, regulatory, and involve changes to markets and infrastructure. He named a number of ways to address these challenges. The industry, for example, must take breakthrough technologies from the drawing board to commercial reality and deliver projects as promised. Electricity markets, on the other hand, must be adjusted to support long-term environmental and energy security goals.

“Failure isn’t the failure of the nuclear sector. It could well be the failure of our society to rise to the climate challenge. This is a challenge that many people see as our generation’s greatest test,” Mr. Magwood said.

More about Director-General Magwood

Mr. Magwood took up his duties as Director-General of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) on Sept. 1, 2014. He has extensive experience in both the regulatory and developmental aspects of nuclear energy, including at the international level.

From 2010 to 2014, he served as one of the five commissioners appointed by the U.S. President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). While a commissioner, he advocated the importance of nuclear regulatory independence and the necessity of maintaining strong, credible and technically sound nuclear regulation in the United States and all countries that use nuclear power.

Prior to his appointment at the NRC, from 2005 to 2010 he provided independent strategic and policy advice to U.S. and international clients on energy, environment, education and technology policy issues. From 1998 to 2005, Mr. Magwood was Director of the U.S. Government’s civilian nuclear energy programme at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). During his tenure, he established the Idaho National Laboratory; created activities that reversed the decline of U.S. nuclear technology education; and launched important initiatives such as the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) and the U.S. “Nuclear Power 2010,” which helped restart nuclear plant construction in the United States. He was also actively involved in the work of the NEA, serving as a steering committee bureau member from 1999 to 2005, including a term as chair of the steering committee from 2004 to 2005.

Prior to his experience at the DOE, Mr. Magwood managed electric utility research and nuclear policy programmes at the Edison Electric Institute in Washington, D.C., and was a scientist at Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mr Magwood, a U.S. national, holds Bachelor degrees in Physics and English from Carnegie Mellon University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pittsburgh.


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