William D. (Bill) Magwood has spent his career in the nuclear sector and now serves as the Director-General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris. In this episode, Magwood explains why regulatory experience is a top challenge in the global nuclear renaissance, why France will likely lead the nuclear comeback in Europe, how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “supercharged” interest in fission, and why the U.S. remains an “indispensable nation” in global affairs. (Recorded September 12, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I think we're going to cover all of those today with my guest, William DT Bill Magwood. He is the Director General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. Bill, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Bill Magwood 0:22
It's pleasure to be here.
Robert Bryce 0:25
Now, I didn't. I didn't warn you. I weren't some of our guests. But I didn't warn you. So total ambush here. Guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So if you don't mind, people aren't familiar with you, you know, you arrive somewhere you don't know anyone. It's a cocktail party, you have less than 60 seconds to introduce yourself, please do so.
Bill Magwood 0:43
Okay, well, there's somebody out there who doesn't know me. They don't deserve to know me by now. I have been around for a long time. I came up in the industry. He's working Westinghouse first job is at Westinghouse. I moved to Washington work that day. Edison Electric Institute trade association, became an appointee in Bill Clinton's administration. I'm not very political, but I needed somebody to spell neutron. So I went to the Department of Energy, where I ended up staying for 11 years, and ran the Office of Nuclear Energy there during a time when it was being rebuilt. So when I when I took over the research budget hit zero. And so my job was to rebuild from the ground up. And so that's why I did after leaving the Department of Energy, and it was in our city commissioner for four years. And then, nine years ago, I was asked to come to Paris, and here I am. And I've been here for nine years now. And it's kind of hard to believe it's been that long.
Robert Bryce 1:44
Well, so this was one of my later questions, but I have to ask, so is this hard duty living in Paris?
Bill Magwood 1:51
It is actually because I'm not really into Paris to be perfectly honest. Oh, really? Yeah, I It's so I'm here by myself. All the family relatives rolled back in, in Maryland, so I have to get back as much as I can. But I came here with sort of a mission to do some things. I'm not here to drink wine and sit in cafes. I've been pretty much hard drive ever since I got here and haven't slowed down. But trying to get a little tired now.
Robert Bryce 2:20
Okay, well, fair enough. So Well, let's talk about what the Nuclear Energy Agency does. Now. We met briefly a couple of times, I think and I know kind of generally but what is the difference between what the the OECD is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development? It's the it's generally seen as the organization for the wealthy countries or the developed countries and there's what 27 members something like that. Am I remembering correctly?
Bill Magwood 2:47
OECD has 38 Members, we have 34, slightly, slightly different membership.
Robert Bryce 2:52
Okay. So then, so what is what is the difference between what NEA does and what the International Atomic Energy Agency does? And we're World Nuclear Association, those are the ones I kind of think of those three acronyms kind of together. Am I wrong to do so? What do you what do you do that's different than
Bill Magwood 3:09
we were? I think it's fair. First I was saying we work very closely with with all those organizations and others beside me of Mo use with the end with a W in May with one or world sociation nuclear operators with every electric car resources to so we have a lot of relationships, including the IAEA, which by statute is a Pittard participates in our various meetings and activities and we participate in there's the biggest difference is first W in us easy wha easiest, because they are an industry organization. We are in association with governments, we have 34 member governments in our country. These are typically those with the deepest experience the nuclear technology safety research, policy, regulation, as opposed to VI E, which is a global institution, which has everybody,
Robert Bryce 4:05
and so on. And it's part of the I sorry to interrupt but IAEA is part of the UN.
Bill Magwood 4:12
It's in the UN system. It's not under the UN specifically, but it's part of the UN system. Okay, thanks. And I think it's fair to say when you come to any aid meetings, it's a very different conversation, you get the IEA. I think we you, you are surrounded by the experts. You're not. There's not people in the room. They're just learning and coming up to speed and their countries have aspirations to build nuclear plants are countries of the experts. And so it's a very expert level conversation that results in expert level recommendations and policies. Gotcha.
Robert Bryce 4:47
So I'm gonna jump around here, I guess, because I've already hit on some of the things that I wanted to discuss. But the one question is, I think about where nuclear energy is today and I'm adamantly pro nuclear have been for a while Long time, what are the biggest obstacles today to deploying new nuclear at scale? Well, there are, you know, there are a lot of tailwinds. And we can both, you know, lay those out why there are things that are positive that are happening. But let's focus on the on the big challenges, because this is one of the areas that I've been thinking about and writing about lately and talking about what what are the biggest obstacles today in terms of new nuclear deployments in in Western Europe and Asia? You name it, what are the biggest obstacles?
Bill Magwood 5:30
I think it's actually pretty simple to talk about probably hard to solve. I think if you look at the Voegelin summer projects in the US the Bogle of course is coming online. Now summer was a project that didn't go forward. If you look at what went wrong in those projects, I think that tells you a lot about what could go wrong elsewhere in the world. What were the issues? Certainly a big part of the issue was supply chain, the many different suppliers and build valve pumps and other components that go into a nuclear power plant, which there 1000s simply weren't practice didn't have the experience, didn't know how to fulfill the quality assurance rules. There were a lot of issues with the supply chain, I think that is magnified across the planet, where there is a dearth of suppliers who are ready to leap into action to build these plants. I think that's going to be a big challenge for us. I think regulatory experience is not the one I was at the NRC at the time, I think NRC staff did a great job. But they but it was a new, a new regulation, a new, a new approach to licensing and I think we learned a lot along the way. But when you learn a lot, that means you're making mistakes, or you're you're you're taking longer than you needed to or could have. And so anytime is the first one that kind of anything, you're you're you're in jeopardy, and I think that's what we saw in that case, I also think that skills is a big issue, it's an even bigger issue outside the US. There are countries that have talked about building nuclear power plants and 3040 years. And you can imagine there's no young people coming up with nuclear engineering degrees have the right kind of backgrounds to be able to help build these new plants in the future. So skills, not just not just the highly educated people with nuclear engineering degrees, but you know, people know how to weld stainless steel, there just aren't enough in those go around. Right? People that know how to do pipe fitting in nuclear power plants. And really, perhaps most importantly, people that know how to build a large complex project, like a nuclear power plant just are not that many people. So those are all issues, they're all going to be very difficult to solve. And on top of that, on top of everything else, you know, the global situation has changed because of the war in Ukraine. And now, supply of fuel has become a critical issue for nuclear plants in the future. There's not enough enrichment capacity outside of Russia to satisfy the growing demand. There is no high sa low enriched uranium, which is needed for a lot of these advanced technologies. And we have not solved that problem yet.
Robert Bryce 8:07
Well, let's talk about that. Because that was one of the main issues I wanted to discuss. I had Daniel Kahneman. I think you know him from Central energy on the podcast just a couple of weeks ago, and we talked about not just hey, Lou, but the broader issue of low enriched uranium, low enriched uranium as well. So you're an American, I'm obviously American 25%, roughly, of the fuel used by the US nuclear fleet comes from Russia today. So this is a key problem or key challenge, I guess, I'd say is the you know, to put it slightly differently, but I wrote this question down. So how do we this is the question I wrote down, how can the US put a dent in Russia's dominance in enrichment, because Russia now controls or has 47% global market share something like that of the uranium enrichment business? That's a massive hold that, you know, if Russia is so chose, they could really put a crimp in a lot of nuclear aspirations. So what's what's the how is the world responding? And how is the US responding? And is it enough?
Bill Magwood 9:11
Well, once this is a simple problem to solve, and that is because the technology, the industrial ability to build the the, the centrifuges necessary to replace Russian supply, we know how to do that. That's something that is well within our abilities. The problem is, who is going to make the massive investment to build that extra capacity with so much uncertainty? Do I know for a fact how many small modular reactors are going to be built need the needing highest a low enriched uranium? No, nobody does. Do I know how many new nuclear power plants we built to take over take up this new supply? No, nobody knows. And is as was pointed out to me by one senior executive in the business, how do we know that the war in Ukraine doesn't end in some period of time, a year or two from now? Russia is back in the world market. So how do you how do you invest billions of dollars because you don't have certainty with that, in my view, the only way to create uncertainty is for governments to step up and make, make basically guarantees that they will provide a market for new capacity. They have not done that yet.
Robert Bryce 10:29
Well, this is what Dan Kahneman and I talked about at length. And I've talked about this with Ray Rothrock. Other people who are very familiar with this, the nuclear fuel cycle, it's a chicken and egg problem, right? That who's going to who's going to build the future? Who's going to build the centrifuges to start refining the fuel? If they don't have an order for a reactor? But then who's going to order a reactor if they don't know that they can get the fuel? So
Bill Magwood 10:53
sometimes, I think the whole nuclear business is a chicken and egg problem. Uh huh. Because you're always you're always running into this sort of
Robert Bryce 11:00
thing? Well, but you hit on the key theme here about governments having to step up. And this seems to be it. As I said, I'm adamantly pro nuclear. But am I wrong to think that you have to have a very strong government role in the nuclear sector for it to succeed on a decadal timeframe? I mean, when I look at what's happening, why is Russia so dominant? Well, racetam is controlled by the government. You look at France, or Riva, or I don't know what their latest name is, the French nuclear sector, very strongly tied to the French government, China, the same South Korea, the same United Arab Emirates the same, and yet in the US. I think this is just an observation, not a criticism, we're gonna think, Oh, well, we'll just let the market decide, well, no, because that's not this is not this. This isn't just selling jelly beans, this is a different type of business. So the question, do you have to have that strong? You said governments have to step up. But our government's like in the fuel, particularly in the fuel issue, in particular, are they going to have to be the ones that step up and say, we're going to do this, and we're going to get the government right in the middle of the industry.
Bill Magwood 12:06
So what I see is, first of all, I am I am very much a market based industry. Believer, I think that markets tell you things that governments make bad decisions about. So I don't think you want the government's running all your markets. But there is a high bar of entry in a nuclear sector. First of the kind, anything is very expensive, and in higher risk. And as we've seen, in case after case, the private sector simply can't absorb all the risks. So the only way that a lot of these things are going to get moved is if the government steps up. And quite frankly, we've done it before. When I was at DOD, there was a program called nuclear power 2010. And the whole point of the program was that we had suppliers like Westinghouse and GE, they had concepts for new reactors like the AP 1000. And we had, we had utilities that wanted to buy a new nuclear power plants. But the utility said, look, it's not our books are out to help these guys design your plants. Go design your plant, and then bring us the design who will decide whether to build it. But the vendors were saying, Well, you know, we can't afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing these designs unless we know you're going to buy the plan. Right. So there was there was this chicken and egg problem it was created. And what happened, the government stepped in, we stepped in with this program and put in the hundreds of millions of dollars to get these designs completed. And it worked. We did it was a co funded. So it wasn't just it wasn't just the government. It was a 5050 CATIA, between government industry. And he got done. And we have really with the AP 1000. Anyway, one of the premier technologies on the planet. So government has done in the past. And I think if you're going to solve these issues, anywhere near the timeframe that everyone is talking about, government's going to have to step up again. I just don't see another way.
Robert Bryce 13:57
Well, I definitely agree with you. I think there's no there's no other way forward. But so where would those government dollars be spent first, then is it in the enrichment side now? I mean, that's what you know, Dan parlimen represents publicly traded company. And so you know, I'm, he's going to talk his book I expect him to write but is that going to be the first place that you put government money is on the enrichment side? If you were, if you were writing the checks, where would you put the money right now?
Bill Magwood 14:24
It's got to go everywhere. Honestly, I mean, it because because of the timeframes is the we have this energy transition that everyone's been talking about. It's not a it's not, it's not 30 years, it's 10 years that oh, this has to get done. This is I just don't believe that the processor can do that in that timeframe without government assistance really across the board, and to help us supply to you to help us skills and education to help with fuel. I think all these areas are going to require government investment, or at least at least government financing. Perhaps the loan guarantees something to enable the industry to go forward, because otherwise the industry won't be able to get it done.
Robert Bryce 15:04
Okay, but I'm gonna press you here, Bill. So I said you're writing the checks. Okay, well, so you have a checkbook and you have we You said we need all of it. But you've he's got to start with one. So where's the first check gonna go? Does it go to Central fuel?
Bill Magwood 15:18
I don't think you can start with one. Like, I'm sure Dan would tell you essentialist is probably the first place to go. But it's it's a critically important area. It's an area that affects us right now. But it but the trouble is that there are so many competing priorities, that I think the decision is going to probably need to be made on a country by country government by government basis. And, and for some countries, the Richmond issue is gonna be a bigger issue than it is for others and for other countries supply chain will be a bigger issue. So it really depends on what your what your situation is right now and what you're trying to accomplish.
Robert Bryce 15:56
A good answer, and I can see where you're in the diplomatic corps, so I had a boy so which countries are leading now then in? Let's just look at Europe, you're in Paris, if you were going to wager and now I'm pressing you again, because this is what I do. And you know, ask him pertinent questions and people are going to answer the important nod. Which country in Europe will be the first to deploy new nuclear?
Bill Magwood 16:21
Well, you know, UK is building right now. So that is Hinkley Point. That's Hinkley Point C. Finland just completed the plant
Robert Bryce 16:30
at aka Ludo, three right? Glue, right.
Bill Magwood 16:33
And other other countries have also have projects under underway Hungary, Turkey already already going on. But there's this next tranche. There'll be really interesting to watch that tranche includes countries like the Netherlands and Sweden, for example. And they're really just getting started. So it's hard to know how long that will take. They have very, very aggressive plans, we have to see what can be done to speed those along. Honestly, Francis, best place France has the infrastructure they have the political will, President Macron has been very, very forward leaning in and pushing forward with new nuclear in France. He personally chairs a council that looks at the industry and France. So it's pretty impressive what he personally has done to push this along. Very unusual to see a leader taking that such a hands on interest and an issue like this. But But honestly, I think that's that's the sort of effort is necessary to solve these problems. So I so next one product, probably of the countries that haven't actually broken ground yet, I would put my money on a friend, certainly,
Robert Bryce 17:45
because they already have that infrastructure. They have the political support, they have the all those different, they have the fuel supply issues solved and actually fuel the use fuel disposal as well. Right. So they have this, they have the entire cradle to grave, I guess would be the way to think about it management of the fuel cycle. So and the personnel so well, that's interesting and makes sense to me. Well, you mentioned President McCrone. So, you know, I'm not I'm not a partisan, but is that what it is? Is that what it will take in the United States? Is it going to take President Biden or whoever's in the White House to to pound the table and say, We gotta get serious here and really push this nuclear issue forward? Because there does seem to be some more bipartisan support in Congress. And that's, that's heartening. But is it going to take leadership from the White House for the US to really get behind nuclear?
Bill Magwood 18:38
Well, let me say, I think US government is doing more for nuclear right now than it has probably since the Atomic Energy Commission days, I mean, you have to go back a long, long way to see anything like what's happening, a doe State Department, NRC, across the board, it's really impressive. I would say, however, that having more coordination from from the White House will probably move things along more smartly. But as far as level of effort, it's, it's dramatically different from the days when I was in the government. You know, Katie Huff, who has a job I had, the 1000 years ago, you know, she's got three, four times more money than I than I had at the time. And so, you know, that enables them to put resources where they need to go to get problem solved. And they're also doing something which was almost unheard of, until a few years ago, which is US government's actively engaging with overseas countries, to promote us technologies and to get plants built, you know, is this, you know, if you had told people that 20 years ago, their mouth would trump open, but that's what's been happening and so it's bipartisan. It's deep, it's broad. It's real. I talk to a lot of the senior people they are fully on board First. And so you know, US government's doing a lot Canadian government's doing a lot. UK government's doing a lot. So you're starting, you're really seeing these governments really beginning to rise to the occasion. The question is, are they doing enough given the timeframes? And that's, that's, that's the question that will have to be solved by history, I think.
Robert Bryce 20:19
But what I hear you saying is they're not doing enough that there's going to have to be a more aggressive support. I mean, we talked about that just a few minutes ago that, especially the US and is it correct to think that the US in particular, is going to have to be more aggressive, particularly on the fuel supply front and partake and potentially mining of the uranium itself?
Bill Magwood 20:38
It's the timeframes. If we're going to meet the timeframes, more aggressive government actions gonna be muted across the board. I just, I just don't think there's any question about that. If you had 20 years, or 25 years for all this to sort itself out, I think everything we're doing now would be great. But if you're talking about 10 years, I think I think is a lot harder. And let me say this, I also think that this is more about first MCI than it is continuous support. I think if you can solve these problems, break through these, first of the kind barriers, deal with these initial risks, establish the supply chains, I think the government can get out of the way. But getting all this together quickly is going to be a huge challenge. And I think it can't be done unless the government's taking big role.
Robert Bryce 21:25
I agree. Well, so let's talk about that. First of the kind. Well, you mentioned Vogel before, and I've, you know, I've written about it, and it is what many years late and almost 3x over the original cost or something on the order of 3x. Over the original cost estimates. There are a lot of reasons why. And you touched on some of those. If you were going to say is there, is there a sweet spot in terms of deploying new nuclear at scale? Is it the Giga is the era of the one gigawatt reactor over? Or is the world going necessarily going to go to SMRs? Which I would say is anything maybe under five? It's kind of a squishy term, but under under 500 megawatts? Is there a is there a sweet spot in terms of new deployment and in the scale of their new reactors that you see unfolding?
Bill Magwood 22:14
Well, my personal opinion, though, I don't think there is a sweet spot, I think that we're going to see both. I think there's no question that there's still a role for large, like water reactors and the first index decades, several decades. But I also think there's an important role for these small modular reactors, and some of them could be used in place of the large reactors. There's no question that's a possibility depends on the strategy that each company or each country takes. But I certainly think that there's room for both that there's going to be a need for both. For example, the some of these advanced SMR technologies that work on say Gas, gas cooled technologies can replace fossil fuels and industrial applications, you can, which be very difficult to do with a light water reactor. So I think you're gonna see both, and then we'll talk then there's also micro react, which some people are very excited about, which can be used for a wide range of activities. So I think I think you're going to see that there's a reactor for different needs and for different purposes. And as the market sorts itself out, and we see where it goes, needs are, there's gonna be there's gonna be plenty of work for everybody, no matter what the technologies look like.
Robert Bryce 23:26
And so is their head it will handicap those technologies. Do you think like water then the days of light water are not over? Does? Are there? Do the molten salt designs have a certain you see an easier path to licensure and deployment for chemistries other than like water?
Bill Magwood 23:45
I think you've been talking about the next decade or so I think like water has a huge advantage is it we know Light Water regulators know like water. There's a lot of confidence in how lightwire performs some of the new design bring massive enhancements and passive safety to to lightwater that make it even more viable in different different parts of the world. So no light water is not dead, like water, light water will be around for a long time, I think. But I think there's room for these other technologies as well. And you may find that there may be some countries and some applications where light water is desired that people want to move on to something else. That's also possible. And I've heard discussion about that. But but my guess is in most cases, you're going to see a combination rather than a choice in combination. And obviously, you know, nuclear can do this all by itself. I think I've seen this in combination with all sorts of renewable technologies as well as advanced technologies like hydrogen, I think all this is going to be part of the picture in different countries are going to use these technologies in different ways and in different quantities.
Robert Bryce 24:55
So you mentioned was simple since we're talking about technology and then tech analogy risk. But with that technology risk comes regulatory risks they go hand in hand, right? And when I asked you to handy to talk about the biggest challenges, as I wrote it down here, you said regulatory experience is number one. So different countries are going to have different regulatory regimes. The US NRC is kind of considered as I understand the gold standard. And if the NRC approves it, then it's likely to be approved elsewhere and deployed. Here's the short question. You worked at the NRC for four years, a lot of people pointed the NRC as being its intractable organization that needs dramatic reform before it can really embrace or be more agile in approving new SMRs. How big of a problem is the NRC? And what are the key reforms that need to happen there?
Bill Magwood 25:56
No, I mean, there's always room for improvement in the organization. I don't think people in our city would, would be surprised that people are so I think there's there's room for change. And I think it is changing, I think it has evolved. I think that there has been a serious internal left for the day called transformation to try to prepare for the future. Could they go further, some areas, probably. But you know, people have a habit of whenever something doesn't get done quickly. It's gotta be the regulator's fault. Right. And, and I know, I can tell you the absolute fact that there are a lot of industry participants vendors, who claim that the problem is the regulator, when they brought a rotten package to the regulator to look at, or they decided they didn't really want to invest at this time. So it's easy to blame the regulator for not having the right framework available. So there's, there's a lot of that kind of finger pointing that goes on. So I don't think it's productive to say that the regulators are the problem, because I think a lot of them are really trying hard to get ready for all this. But at the same time, I will tell you that in some of the countries we work with, they are not going to be ready. And that's that's that's a big challenge for the future. Because these technologies, especially the small technologies, need a large market. And if if you develop a new technology with with with tremendous passive safety systems, you take it to a country that just simply isn't ready for it. And they treat your technology like a traditional gen two reactor, you're not going to bother building it there. So that limits the market. So there's going to, there's going to clearly be an evolution that will take place with the regulatory sector. Some will be at the forefront, some will not. And that's that's life.
Robert Bryce 27:43
We'll see you put with that you said was regulatory risk and then skills, will they kind of go together? Right? You got to have regulators that have the skill set you have, you're going to need university systems as I think about you're going to have to have skilled and trained engineers, people technicians, people, mechanics, we mentioned welders, pipefitters, all of that. human infrastructure, I guess is how I would put it. And so is that I'm just referring back to what you said it all has to come together. Right that you can't it can't be one, you're going to need it all. And France is clearly well positioned. China's building I think 21 reactors, is China. Now the the put China into context for me how, how dominant is China in terms of the new rollout of new nuclear at scale, they have deployed a gas cooled reactor in Shandong Province, if I'm not mistaken, in late 21. They seem to be on the cutting edge. Is that a fair assessment have put China into context, if you would.
Bill Magwood 28:51
So China is building at a rate that we've probably never seen before. Is this the huge number of construction projects at the same time, they've become very good at building these plants, their, their cost and timeframes are invaluable, you know, $3,000 per installed kilowatt, 60 month construction period. And they can do that pretty routinely. And there's there's probably not a utility in the US they wouldn't take that deal, if they could get it. So that's that's impressive. But that comes from practice and what what other countries don't have, is that established practice within the countries that I work with, in the in our membership, probably only Korea can lay claim to being able to duplicate that. The others including France and Japan and United States. That remains to be seen. I think they all have learned some lessons from the past. You know, France has certainly learned from the projects they've built with EPR projects and US infrastructure has learned a lot from AP 1000 projects. So now they have to apply that to the next projects to make sure that they've learned those lessons and can go forward. But it's not the sort of thing you can just pick up on day one and say, What's a let's all build nuclear power plant, you got to have people know what they're doing. You have to have these established supply chains and the expertise to put it all together. And that has been a challenge for many countries. China has that expertise. But what China hasn't proven is it hasn't proven that they can export that technology to establish nuclear markets, that that that has not happened yet. And so that's something we'll be watching.
Robert Bryce 30:39
So why hasn't it? Why hasn't China began exporting that technology? Are there is this part of China? First, we're going to do it for ourselves first, before we go somewhere else?
Bill Magwood 30:48
No, they have tried. They have discussions with with they've had discussions with various countries. But you know, building plants overseas is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of negotiation, I think so far than negotiations haven't landed a project for them yet. Doesn't doesn't mean they won't get one they have exported to Pakistan. But you know, I don't see that as the same kind of challenge as exporting to say, UK or someplace like that. But so they haven't shown that yet. We're still waiting to see it. Russia, on the other hand, has done it. Russia has been able to export to two markets where there was a standing, well funded regulator. And I suspect that they'll be doing a lot more as we go forward. They're they're really very aggressive with their marketing campaigns.
Robert Bryce 31:36
So we'll put that into context. Because you lead me right into the next question. Why has Russia been so successful rise, Ross Adams been so successful at exporting their famously the Bushehr reactor in Iran? Why is Ross hadn't been so successful in exporting its technology?
Bill Magwood 31:54
I think one clear reason is that they bring with the technology, a financial approach that fits the budgets of most people, they can do a build, Own Operate, approach where they come in, they build a plant, they operate it, and the host country basically just sit there and watch it all happen. That's not going to be acceptable in a lot of countries, but in some way it is. And and I think it provides them the ability to, to get these projects built, where it's much, much more difficult, you go into an OECD country where, you know, the financial rules are going to be different. And again, built under sort of regular commercial circumstances. So that's, that's an edge they have. Having a state, as you said, having a steel and company that's this, this building these things that can do the financing that can take on liabilities and risks can take spent fuel back. huge advantage, especially for countries that don't have the deep infrastructure. Right. So it's not surprising that they're being successful places like Egypt and Bangladesh, it'd be very hard for a US vendor to go to a country like that and build a client. But But Russia can do that. And it's a big, it's a big, it's a big, big plus for them,
Robert Bryce 33:13
because they have the balance sheet of the Kremlin behind them. And they can they don't necessarily need a big upfront payment from Egypt or Bangladesh, they don't have the money to they don't have that money to put up front. But let's jump back with since we're talking about Russia and China, right now, there was an I wrote recently about uranium and the uranium shortages or enriched uranium shortages. And hey, Lou, there was an interesting news item about the competition between China and Russia for uranium coming out of Kazakhstan do handicap the uranium side global uranium supply right now I've been very interested in the issue of mining and what's going to be required if you know, for different alternative energy technologies, we're going to need more uranium we're not mining any uranium in the US. We're not processing uranium oxide we used to in the 80s. And then we had the megatons to megawatts program, the US enrichment capability wizard. Talk about uranium mining and the availability of uranium globally. And where if Russia is off the table where the global nuclear sector is going to get its raw materials.
Bill Magwood 34:24
Honestly, this comes up from time to time. It's probably one of those areas where I did my reflexes, tell people not to worry about that yet. I think we're a long way from worrying about your race. There's a lot of uranium out there.
Robert Bryce 34:39
So there are a lot of worries. There are a lot of worries that you'd put in front of the uranium supply.
Bill Magwood 34:43
There's a lot of worries I put in front of that. I mean, Kazakhstan is a big player in the global market isn't they just they don't sell just to Russia and China. They sell everywhere, right? There's a lot of uranium in Africa. There's a lot of uranium in Canada. There's a lot of uranium in Australia and there's a lot of Have mines in places like the US aren't operating because their costs are too high. So if your aim becomes more deer and the prices go up, you can start to see some of these old these older mines come back into operation because they can be competitive. So I'm not worried about this yet. I don't think it's the first thing I would be concerned about. I think the issue of nourishment supplies much, much more urgent issue. Sure.
Robert Bryce 35:25
So I did a little research on you. And oh, well, so your your William D. Magwood. The fourth, you know, I know a couple of juniors and a couple of the thirds, I don't know many the fourths. Tell me about your family, your William D. Magwood. The fourth, who was William D. Magwood. The first and the second and the third.
Bill Magwood 35:49
Well, my, my, my grandfather moved to Pittsburgh, from the south, way back when and took a job in the steel industry. My dad also worked in the steel industry after getting out of the Air Force and then decided he didn't like that and move into the got a job at the post office where he kind of worked most of his professional life. And, you know, I was the first generation to go to college. And, and that line, so you know, just sort of Pittsburgh, who Pittsburgh working class kid went to public school and just happened to have a knack for the science stuff.
Robert Bryce 36:29
But you didn't mention too much your great grandfather would be William D. Magwood. The first is a Where's
Bill Magwood 36:33
him? I didn't I didn't I didn't know him. I only know about him was apparently he was a roaming preacher who went around the Midwest, preaching. And that's that's, that's, you know, other than that in the name, it's kind of all I know about him. I'm not I've not spent the time to research that maybe after I retire, I'll spend some time to go dig up all the old records and find out what was going on.
Robert Bryce 36:56
And you said your grandfather moved from the South to Pittsburgh, where in the south?
Bill Magwood 37:00
South Carolina. Gotcha.
Robert Bryce 37:03
So but you so you're in the midst of the some very high tech business with the nuclear sector, you got a bachelor's degree in physics and English and a Master of Fine Arts from University of Pittsburgh. That is not necessarily the resume that I see for nuclear technology guy. So was there was there a switch when you were in graduate school or something went what and Master of Fine Arts and what kind of fine arts? Well, that's
Bill Magwood 37:31
just the lack of discipline, I couldn't make up my mind about which direction I want to go in. I love working. So I got the bachelor's degree in physics. And because I had gone to college a year early, I felt like I owed myself a year. So I stayed next year in my bachelor's degree in English. And then I went, I was planning to go to either go to work or go to graduate school for something technical, but I did I did, too well, with the English stuff I got. I was sort of recruited by the University of Pittsburgh to go to the master's program. So I did that. And that was, that was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. And but But I realized while I was doing that missed the tentacles work. So I That's why I decided to start working with working with snails working in nuclear waste
Robert Bryce 38:18
in the fine arts was written in English then is that what am I
Bill Magwood 38:21
creative writing? Yeah, my thesis was I faced this was a novel wasn't very good novel. So I have I bet some I have to work on fra after I get out of Paris.
Robert Bryce 38:34
Good luck with that. There are a lot of frustrated novelists.
Bill Magwood 38:37
I'll be one. Actually, actually, I when I left the A we, I took a year and I wrote screenplays. That was really exciting. Yeah. It was very exciting. I actually had an agent who was marching screenplays around Hollywood. And so for about two months, I had this exciting where I get these missives from him. I'm gonna go see go to Paramount today. We'll see what happens. Obviously, I'm here. So we didn't get picked up. But it was it was a lot of fun.
Robert Bryce 39:04
I gotcha. So is your dad still alive? Do your folks, they get to see that where you know, Could you have imagined? Will you said you're the first generation to go to college, that you would be in Paris with this kind of a job? I mean, was that even within your within your imagination when you were a kid?
Bill Magwood 39:26
Oh, my imagination was pretty big, pretty big. So yeah, probably would have been but it wasn't something that I've thought about doing. But I never saw any limitations. I always thought I would be able to do whatever I want to do. I wanted when I was in high school, I really wanted to be I wanted to do more in the biological sciences. I wanted to be like an ornithologist, you know, the bird research I was kind of into that. And then I discovered physics and then want to do it be research scientist. And then when I was working summers and research lab I discovered I really hated research labs. So That's when I moved in. So I knew I was gonna go to Washington and get involved in policy. And then I like, I like working in policy. That was that was a lot more fun to me.
Robert Bryce 40:10
I could do. I could go. I could go birdwatch, yeah, I'm all about that. So what about, then you're, I'm guessing you're I'm 63. I'm guessing we're about the same age as this. You're going to be your last job. You quit after this. What are you? What? Are you looking forward? You said, You're, you're in Paris. But you don't necessarily love Paris? What? What's after what comes after this?
Bill Magwood 40:34
Good question. No, I've never, I've never thought about the next job. When I when I leave here, I'll leave clean. And I'll take some time. And you will figure it out. At that point. I've never I've never planned the next job. And that's, that's probably irresponsible. But it works for me that way. I don't feel like I'm ever, you know, trying to couch what I'm doing today, in terms of what I want to do tomorrow. Gives me a complete free hand to do things, I think the right way to get the job here done. And then when I leave here, I'll leave and I won't be looking back. I'll just be looking forward. So I don't think this is my last job. I think. I think it would go nuts. If I you know, listen, we're gonna do go to a Walmart and be a greeter, I don't know. Might be overkill. Find something
Robert Bryce 41:25
might be overqualified for that. But and so you're held now do you mind me asking?
Bill Magwood 41:31
Yeah. What year is this?
Robert Bryce 41:34
Bill Magwood 41:37
Yeah. Forgive me if you do have to calculate 62. So yeah, you're born
Robert Bryce 41:42
in 61. Right. So well. So just back to Europe, then? Because I will I was intrigued by your your background at Carnegie Mellon. And then at Pitt. So how important was the Ukraine in the Russia's invasion of Ukraine in terms of catalyzing this new push for nuclear? Was that was that something that was overdue? Was this was was the rejuvenation of the nuclear sector inevitable? Or was the cheap Russian gas? The thing that is restrained? The growth of nuclear in Western Europe? How do you How important was the war to this to this new, this new push?
Bill Magwood 42:20
Well, I think it was a game changer. I don't think you can overstate it. Either. There was clearly a trend that I saw taking place, more or less around the same time as cop 26, the Glasgow conference. And what I saw in Glasgow was that, for the first time, countries weren't just setting targets, they were being asked to bring plans to achieve those targets. And when we talk to countries after that, it was pretty clear that a lot of them had figured out that they were never going to reach net zero by 2050, the way they were going, and that created a conversation in many places about the possibility of getting back into the nuclear business. So these conversations were buzzing at various levels in various countries. And then when the Ukraine war started, that just changed everything because it brought the term energy security back to the top of the agenda. And it had disappeared, it literally energy security had vanished from the conversation for for many years, it came back with a vengeance. It is now at the top of the agenda, along with the desire to reduce co2 emissions. And we put those two together, the natural solution is nuclear. And so that's, that has that has supercharged, the interest and we see it really, all over the world. There's really, very, very few countries we work with, we're that where this isn't happening at one level or another. And it's been pretty interesting to watch. Some countries have changed their policies, almost 180 degrees and almost overnight. And it's just not the sort of thing you usually see. But you're seeing it now. And it's, you know, I just hope we can we can we can collectively satisfy all these desires, and all these aspirations because none of us is going to be easy. But we're going to do what we can to help. In fact, we're holding a big conference, a ministerial conference at the end of the month, where we have ministers, including the Secretary of Energy who'll be coming to talk about how do we solve all these problems? How do we get this done? And how do we do this in a practical way? And so we're looking forward to that. And it's gonna be a very important conference for us.
Robert Bryce 44:32
So you mentioned energy security and climate change is, I was in Japan earlier this year. And, you know, the home of the Kyoto Protocol, and in talking with the government, ministers, ministers, they're the associate heads of the associations. I asked about climate change. And they said, Yeah, well, energy security is more important to us now than climate change. I'm paraphrasing what they said but that was that was the message that I heard from where you sit is that is In terms of this resurgence of nuclear the supercharged interest in nuclear, as you said, is that due to is, is energy security trumping climate change in this? Are they co equal? How do you see that?
Bill Magwood 45:14
I think it depends on where you are, what the vulnerabilities are, I would say overall, they're co equal overall.
Robert Bryce 45:22
That may, because it may be in Poland, for instance. So energy security would be more that would vary by country. But Poland, has a long history with Russia and all of its bad. So energy security would be more important there.
Bill Magwood 45:34
Well, I'll let Poland speak for Poland. But I clearly there's some places where security is going to be more important. And there's other countries that are dead serious about climate change, and see it as a threat to human existence. And I think they see it that way, as well. So it different different philosophies, different governments. That's what makes my job so much, so much, so much fun, different points of view,
Robert Bryce 46:00
what's the hardest part of your job?
Bill Magwood 46:03
hurting the cats, you know, even when people know what the right thing to do is getting countries together to do it at the same timeframe, extraordinarily difficult, because countries are very rarely looking at things the same time, on the same at the same intensity. And sometimes if you're trying to do something significant, it's hard to get them all together to do it. So that's, that takes a lot of times where I've tried to do that, and it hasn't worked out. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But it's very, very difficult. And, you know, certainly in this conference, which we call roadmaps for new nuclear, we hope this brings people together, that have common interests and common timeframes. And hopefully we can pull we can work with them to do things together to really advance this cause.
Robert Bryce 46:56
And so those roadmaps, I guess they're gonna include rock and roll band out the window there. Is that the noise? That is coming from your end? Isn't it? The No, I don't hear anything? Well, I don't know. It's not coming from my side. So anyway, we're getting some interference from somewhere. So this roadmaps conference, then you're going to be talking about the supply chain issue, I guess, would be one of the key issues that would be top of mind. What else?
Bill Magwood 47:25
Supply chain financing human capacity, regulation, we're gonna really cover all the major issues, and there'll be ministerial panels addressing each one.
Robert Bryce 47:36
So talking about finances, that is the World Bank going to play a role here. How do they multi the multilateral lenders? Do you need their money? Is it going to be the global banks? Is it going to be bilateral lending? Where's where's the money going to come from? Or from? Where will my mother would correct me from where will the money come?
Bill Magwood 47:52
I think we're looking at every possibility, including the multinational institutions, they, they typically are not financing nuclear projects today. We like to at least engage in a conversation about that. But right now, like the World Bank, for example, isn't isn't doing it. But you know, we'll see, we'll see how, you know, they will be responsive to what their member countries want to do. And we'll see where the countries are. Next year. So know about goes by.
Robert Bryce 48:21
Gotcha. So, what's next? You've got this and what is the actually, let me ask this other question. So you're an American guy. You're Pittsburgh and just listening to you. You kind of lived the American dream, right? Your dad worked at the post office, and here you are international diplomat has. So you've had a long, long view on how things have changed for the US? is America's stature in global politics? Has it changed? And if so, how, over the last few decades?
Bill Magwood 48:57
Well, I think it always changes, doesn't it? And you certainly the dominance that came in the post war era, that that wasn't going to be sustainable forever. But one thing, and I felt very strongly that was in government state now, I still see the United States as the indispensable nation. I think that the US brings people together in a way that other countries simply haven't been able to do, can build coalitions can build alliances in a way that is very, very difficult for others. And, you know, I think while while you can certainly criticize what I hope is good music. But wait,
Robert Bryce 49:42
I'm just trying to figure out what may be coming from out my window here. But anyway, I'm sorry. Go ahead. You're saying indispensable nation?
Bill Magwood 49:51
Yeah, I mean, I think that you know, as I look at, you know, the sweep of American history, we've always been a country. That is key. capable of doing things not necessarily because it's in our in our own interest, but because it's the right thing to do. I know that's an old fashioned way to look at it. I know there's always people who can find, you know, dark motivations and everything that happens. But but we have done that we have we have we have, we have come to the aid of countries, we didn't have to a really good example. I have a lot of friends in Japan, that I knew during the Fukushima Daiichi accident that during the tsunami event, and many of them were were amazed to see how the US jumped into action and provided resources, people got on airplanes and flew to Japan. You know, other other embassies were being evacuated. People were going on. They were panicking, getting on airplanes and leaving Japan, Americans were showing up at the airport and going and going into Tokyo. They see where they can help. That's that's to me. That's That's who we are at our best. And I think we're still that that country. I know, there's certainly some pulling back from from being involved in a lot of conflicts overseas, which is completely natural. But I still think we have that are we still have that stature? And I think that I think that that very little of significance gets done, unless the US has a role in it. And I think it's going to be that way for a very long time.
Robert Bryce 51:29
We you sit indispensable and as because the scale of the US economy, is it just that that the US is you said indispensable. But is that big? Is our will I'll put it this way, or is it becoming a more bipolar world with Russia and China on one side and the US and its allies on the other? Because that's your seems to be the case, and particularly in the wake of the Russian invasion?
Bill Magwood 51:51
Yeah, sir, feels that way feels like we're entering a new Cold War, which would really be said, you know, there's so much that the world can do together. You know, I know, I know, a lot of people in Russia, I know a lot of people in China. They're there. They're focused on improving technology, improving quality of life. And it's a shame that, that these barriers are going up because of the politics. And sometimes I'm meeting with with people. And I think it's such a shame that we can't do more together. This is such a shame, we can't have more constructive communication. Let's just the reality of the situation is reality of the current geopolitical situation. And, you know, I hope it all hope it has a soft landing. That's all I can say. I hope it all has a soft landing, I hope we can rebuild the kind of cooperation that we had, you know, 10 years ago, where we I think, it was like a golden era where we were everyone can work with everyone. But that's that that's, that's, that's now in the past and afraid?
Robert Bryce 52:59
Well, it does seem that way that and by the way, the music, I don't know, something went haywire. On my end, it was on my end, so not on your end. I thought there was a car parked outside your office window or something. Anyway, it's Monday, the noise was coming from my in Europe, though the many of the countries in Europe are now struggling, the German economy is shrinking, partly because of the lack of low cost natural gas coming from from from Russia. What's the mood like in Paris? What's the mood like in the European countries now? Because they, as I see it, when they, when I look at their energy policies, I'd see it very clearly, they drove themselves into the ditch, right? They, you know, Germany, for whatever reason, closing its nuclear plants relying too heavily on Russian gas, you know, thinking they could solve all this with renewables? You know, I have some sympathy, but only some what's the if for for their predicament? What is the overall mood in Europe these days?
Bill Magwood 53:56
I think it's mixed. I think it's like anywhere else. I think people in general are has some apprehension about the future. Not sure. You know, I think that this is probably the first generation that really doesn't seem to be sure not just that there, but in the US and other places as well, that the next year that the generation that follows won't be as well off as the current generation. I think there's, I think there's that feeling of decline that sort of everywhere. The funny part is, the numbers don't show you that. I think that there's an emotional feeling of the things that are not going well. But you saw some statistics from the OECD that long ago that showed that the US share of global production is pretty much what it was 30 years ago. Yeah, I mean, China has risen but it hasn't really written in the expense has really risen more at the expense of Europe more than anything. And but the most but there's a lot of Americans who think that there's just as long decline it's it's it's unstoppable. Is it the numbers don't show us that But it's an emotional thing. And I also think that we're in this sort of post Cold War period, where there's so much less clarity. You know, the Cold War is horrible that was grew up in the Cold War. It created a clarity that I think, in some ways people miss because you knew you knew who the bad guys were, you knew who the good guys were, you knew where the markets were, it's all pretty static for a long time. And all that's gone now. Now, it's all all up in the air. And I think just all that uncertainty just creates angst. And and I think people people think that, in general, that things are worse, or worse than they think of this. Yeah. And they're not optimistic. And I think that's true over many, many countries.
Robert Bryce 55:45
It's interesting you say that, because it's, I've talked about this before on the podcast that, you know, we're roughly the same age. And it feels today that there's more uncertainty than ever, right, that we, you know, with the US dollar, the status of the America of the United States, the, you know, the word in Ukraine, China's increasing apparent belligerence and desire to, you know, take over the South China Sea and invade Taiwan. But is that uncertainty real? Or is this just because we have so much more information now, and we're plugged in, you know, we're looking at our phones all the time saying, Oh, my God, you know, there's a, you know, whatever it is, right, that the crisis of the moment? Is it? Is there. You're you're in the diplomatic corps here, you're talking to international people and in foreign governments all the time. Is there more uncertainty? Are we do we just perceive more uncertainty?
Bill Magwood 56:40
No, I think it's both. I think we perceive more uncertainty, I think there is more uncertain. I think it's both. And I and I often think about it in terms of the especially the democracies, democracies are in a transition period. And I And it's, we're in the middle of it analysis, kind of hard for us to see today, where it's all going to, it's going somewhere. But I think it's going to be one of those cases where 50 years from now, people will say, wow, it was obvious what was happening, why couldn't they see it? We just can't see it. We're in the middle of it. But I think in the future people gonna look back at these times, and I think it's gonna be these are gonna be significant, a significant period in history. I think there's a lot of realignment, and there's a lot of change and a lot of a lot of points of view that are in dire conflict that weren't before. So it's a it's a very, very interesting time. And maybe the most interesting time in global politics since the early 19 hundred's you know what happened then?
Robert Bryce 57:46
Well, we went in, we went into war.
Bill Magwood 57:52
We went into also, but it wasn't just, it wasn't just war. It was also the really the end of the old monarchies and empires, right, you know. So it was that that was the transition point. We went from that old war that was ruled by these, these families. And they had these colonies all over the world. And all that basically started to collapse at the beginning of the 20th century. And basically, it was all gone by the end of the Second World War. Almost all done. And so I think that this is that kind of transition, but I don't know, I don't know where it's taking us, and I'm sure people are
Robert Bryce 58:31
more multipolar or bipolar?
Bill Magwood 58:35
We'll see. We'll see. Fair enough. Stay to ask me 50 years.
Robert Bryce 58:42
Okay, I'll check back. We'll find each other at the nursing home. My guest is William D. Bill Magwood. He is the Director General of the OECD, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, you can find out more about them and firstname.lastname@example.org I always finish my podcast Bill asking two questions. So here's the first one what are you reading what's on the top of your book list bookshelf book stack these days?
Bill Magwood 59:15
Oh, that's a really interesting question. I for some reason, I started reading stories about your niche stories about when Gilgamesh was building mash, okay? Gilgamesh Yeah. I for some reason, I have a sort of seeds with wanting to read that firsthand. So I started reading that and, and I'm also planning to reread. Joyce's Ulysses. I've read it twice over the years is now time for another reading. And I want to do it again, because every time I read it, I'm 20 years older, and I have a completely different perspective and probably gonna be a lot more sympathetic Leopold bloom right. used to be?
Robert Bryce 1:00:03
Well, I've never I've been, as I said, I've done 200 podcasts or more. No one's ever mentioned James Joyce or Ulysses. So Well, good for you. And do you have much time to read? I mean, how many hours a week? Are you working? I'm just curious. This wasn't on the list here. But how?
Bill Magwood 1:00:18
I don't count I don't I if I counted that you lose my mind? No, I most when I get I usually get three on airplanes, which is frequent.
Robert Bryce 1:00:27
But you're so and it will show on any given month? How many days are you traveling?
Bill Magwood 1:00:33
If you look at the last few months, I was I was in. I'll give you an example. In August, I was in my office two days, in August. Otherwise, I was I was on the road. Gotcha.
Robert Bryce 1:00:46
So my last question, and we've touched on some of these things, but here it is what gives you hope?
Bill Magwood 1:00:53
Oh, everything. I'm an optimist. I believe in the human condition. I believe in the future of our countries or democracies, I believe in the future of technology. I believe that the world would be a better place 20 years from now than it is today. I believe we will cure cancer, I believe will go to Mars. I'm an optimist. I believe in all that stuff. And I'm just hoping around to see a lot of it happen. So I'm completely optimistic. I'm never pessimistic about where we're going. I know we're going to have bumps as we go. We always had bumps as who we are. And we grow from those bumps. But I think ultimately, I think the role is gonna be was going to be fine.
Robert Bryce 1:01:36
Well, that's a good place to stop. And so we will stop there. I'm not sure I agree about going to Mars, but I'm an I'm an optimist as well. My guest has been Bill Magwood. He's the Director General of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. He is in Paris. You can find out more about email@example.com. Bill, it's been a pleasure. Glad to catch up with you. And the really interesting, you have an interesting job and an important one and I wish you luck with it.
Bill Magwood 1:02:02
Thank you very much. It's been a real pleasure talking with you.
Robert Bryce 1:02:05
And all of you out there in podcast land, make sure to tune in to the next episode of the power hungry podcast until then, see you