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WANO CEO chairs IAEA Conference

Closing Speech by WANO CEO Ken Ellis, Conference Chair

IAEA International Conference on Operational Safety

Vienna, Austria

Closing Speech by Ken Ellis, Conference Chair

Mankind, from the dawn of ages has had an ever growing appetite for energy that rings true today. It will ring true in the future.

The quest for this energy, and its sources, has evolved through the ages as well. The four attributes of desirable energy sources currently are, and which will unlikely change for a long time, if ever, to be: safe, reliable, affordable and sustainable.

Energy sources are varied, and new ones will undoubtedly surface, and nuclear power has an important role to play in the mix.

But this industry’s future is by no means guaranteed, and it will not be handed to us who work in this industry on a silver platter.

Nuclear must earn its rights to be part on that future energy mix, and to leverage off its substantial benefits. The nuclear industry, with its clean base load capability, is in many ways a facilitator for the inclination of many countries to move increasingly towards renewable energy sources, with their intermittent energy production, restructured grids and controls required for a distributed grid network.

However, our industry certainly has its critics, and I can confidently state that it has not fared well in the court of public opinion. Nor has the industry remotely educated the world on the science of nuclear energy and we have all failed to speak in understandable terms with respect to the hazards posed by radiation in relativistic terms. Instead we insist on taking about mRem and mSv, and Becquerels in factors 10 to the 10. It means nothing to the average person. They absolutely cannot quantify what it means, and it merely feeds their visceral fear of radiation. All they know is radiation is peculiar due to its sensory deprivation. They can’t see it, smell it, taste it, hear it, or feel it. It can harm them, and hence it frightens them.

Nuclear certainly has its competitors; wind, solar and natural gas all want an increasing share of the energy market. These industries are also full of clever people and are continuously trying to improve their energy products to meet the four attributes I mentioned earlier. Good for them, and I applaud their efforts. It is all for the betterment of mankind.

So, how does nuclear earn its right to remain a part of the future energy mix?

By helping each other, and continuously striving for excellence and not merely achieving compliance.

The world’s nuclear industry has created not only a learning organisation, but a learning industry that is unique in the industrialised world and is a model for others to study and emulate. Our competitors have not achieved this, nor are they likely to. That gives nuclear a huge advantage.

The nuclear industry has learned to embrace the reality that an event at one plant is an event at every plant. We have a profound responsibility.  Nuclear safety has no borders, nuclear events have no borders, and the spread of radiation certainly does not honour borders. Fortunately we have shed the shackles of perceived competition, embraced the principles of sharing operating experience, and truly welcomed the scrutiny of their peers, all in the name of continuous improvement. Use Operating Experience or be Operating Experience.

As an industry, we must also have the courage to identify those amongst us that represent an undue operational nuclear safety risk to our industry, and use our collective support to help them ameliorate their situation quickly. We are all in this together.

I ask you, how resilient do you think the nuclear industry would be to another major nuclear power accident & release of radioactivity causing societal disruption? All of you know the unfortunate answer. 

Another challenge is the unrelenting pursuit of excellence. Mediocrity is not sufficient, nor is mere compliance. We would not expect that of the airline industry, and the public certainly expects us to have an unwavering quest for excellence, as they should. We must continually look at how to do things better, more efficiently, and most of all - safer.

Our performance is our offense, and is also our defence for our future.

So why is it so important for nuclear to be part of that future energy mix? Each energy source has its advantages and disadvantages, nuclear is no exception.
Nuclear also holds a promising transformation. While we are continuing to contribute to mankind’s energy needs through nuclear fission, the nuclear industry complex is developing commercial use of FNRs and FBRs, which can convert the current inventory of used fuel into thousands of years of fuel, while at the same time lowering hazard levels of the waste fuel. Admittedly, mankind will need to overcome the considerable associated social and political hurdles this technology represents.

Further, fusion beckons. Mastering that technology will solve mankind’s energy needs for 30 million years which is an incomprehensible amount of time. 
Without our current ‘fission’ nuclear complex, we would not have the impetus, the bright minds, and the R&D to make commercial fusion power a reality. We represent that admirable stepping stone. We owe it to the world.

All of what I’ve just discussed will take passion, determination, energy and above all leadership. You, you are the ones who can make it happen.

As the Conference Chair I would like extend my thanks to the IAEA for organising this conference, and for the use of this fantastic venue. A tremendous amount of work goes into organising such an event.

Thank you.

Ken Ellis
CEO WANO & Conference Chair​​​​