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Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness Edward Teller Lecture, Marvin Fertel, Oct. 21, 2013

Marvin S. Fertel
President and CEO
Nuclear Energy Institute

Notes for the Citizens for Nuclear Energy Technology Awareness Edward Teller Lecture
Oct. 21, 2013

It’s a real pleasure and an honor to join you this evening to present the Edward Teller Lecture. 

Edward Teller was a prophetic leader in the nuclear science and energy fields.  Beginning in the 1940s, he was a visionary on the uses of nuclear technology, an early advocate for developing nuclear safety standards and a leading academic who gave back to his field, particularly in the University of California system.

Dr. Teller lived a remarkable life that was greatly influenced by two world wars, ongoing global political disruption and the brilliance of a mathematical prodigy. 

He was at the center of the development of the hydrogen bomb, which was a matter of some controversy in the scientific community. Yet, for all of his contributions to our lives, Dr. Teller said that “if I claim credit for anything, I should not claim credit for knowledge, but for courage.”

I am really proud to follow others who have lectured in this series, inaugurated by Dr. Teller himself in 1992, including industry statesman Bill Lee, James Schlesinger, Sens. Howard Baker and Pete Domenici, Congressman James Clyburn and NRC chairmen Dale Klein and Nils Diaz.

These are among the leaders that have maintained U.S. leadership in nuclear technology and innovation. And one could argue that there’s never been a more important time than now for leadership and innovation in the global nuclear community.

The past three years have been challenging for our industry on a global basis for the following reasons:

  • Fukushima and South Korea
  • U.S. recession has been decreasing electricity demand since 2007, which won’t return until approximately 2020
  • Impact of fracking and natural gas use in the electric sector
  • Four reactors have shut down this year and another will close in 2014
  • Political situations in Germany and Japan are devastating the nuclear industries in those countries.

Two billion people live without electricity, which underscores both the need to raise the standard of living globally and the importance of electricity to our daily lives.

  • Environmental protection is one benefit of nuclear energy.
    o    Nuclear energy is the most significant technology to reduce greenhouse gases in the electric sector
    o    Proven over four decades to meet Clean Air Act standards
    o    Poised to meet the emerging challenge of clean water availability
  • Nuclear energy is expanding, with 70 reactors being built globally and more than 160 in planning stages.
    o    U.S. companies are well-positioned to participate in a $740 billion global market for nuclear energy over the next decade.
    o    American companies in this sector have added some 25,000 jobs over the past five years and are expected add another 20,000 through 2018.
    o    Policy support is needed on 123 agreements and export policies. A US-Vietnam agreement signed a few weeks ago, while others are being negotiated.
  • Job creation continues to be one of our industry strongest benefits.
    o    We are expanding as we develop new technology and build new reactors.
    o    We've seen a significant transition in industry’s workforce.
    o    The industry is committed to hiring veterans who have defended our freedom, as seen with the signing of an agreement between industry and the U.S. Navy.
  • Our industry needs to be more active in telling our story: engaging traditional and social media platforms, using groups like CNTA, NAYGN, Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and WIN to support that message in the classroom and our communities.

The global nuclear community has a tremendous responsibility each day to be the appropriate steward of nuclear technology in the following areas:

  • Safe operations and safety culture
    o    Focus on safety and innovation in operations
    o    Greater transparency and guard against complacency and distraction
    o    Dedication to continuous learning
  • We need to maintain a strong, credible regulator
  • Supplier/testing/QC-QA/infrastructure
  • It is imperative that INPO and WANO be successful
  • Nonproliferation issues
  • Competition is a reality in the electricity market, but it can’t jeopardize these necessary facets of our industry.

With that overview, I would like to spend a few minutes reviewing the status of America’s nuclear energy industry.  Our commitment to safety and efficient operation of 100 reactors remains steadfast, and the metrics support the dedication that the men and women have toward operating safely each and every day.

  • Nuclear makes up about 20 percent of electricity production thanks to high reliability and efficiency and power uprates.
  • Five new reactors are under construction. The Vogtle and Summer projects are among the largest construction projects in the history of Georgia and South Carolina and are massive job creators. One important facet is the sharing of lessons learned from MOX facility at SRS to the Summer and Vogtle projects.
  • Small reactor development, including the DOE cost-shared program, has seen tremendous public interest.
  • The industry is advocating a new path for spent fuel management and the U.S. Senate is in the formative stages of developing new policy.

o    Based on BRC recommendations
o    Bipartisan leadership in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
o    Aiken and the state of South Carolina are deeply involved in legal action, including recent decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals instructing NRC to complete its review of the license application for a repository at Yucca Mountain.
o    As a result of the Fukushima accident, some members of Congress are advocating expedited transfer of fuel from storage pools, but the industry does not endorse that action.


  • The Yucca Mountain issue is one demonstration this year of the bipartisan support in Congress for nuclear energy.

o    335-81 vote during appropriations consideration on Yucca
o    81 House members signed a letter to NRC to complete SERs on Yucca application.


  • Public support for nuclear energy has rebounded since the Fukushima accident.

o   Seven out of 10 favor the use of nuclear energy, according to a September nationwide survey by Bisconti Research.
o   Eighty-five percent say nuclear energy will play a greater or same role as today in our electricity portfolio in the future.
o   Seventy percent give high ratings to safety at nuclear power plants.
o   Public support is even stronger among residents within 10 miles of U.S. reactors.


  • There continues to be growing recognition of nuclear energy’s clean air benefits among environmentalists, including Patrick Moore, Mark Lynas, Michael Schellenberger, Ted Nordhaus, James Hansen and Carol Browner.

o   "Pandora’s Promise" is reinforcing this notion. The film's CNN broadcast premiere is Nov. 7 at 9 p.m.—help us get the word out and support this broadcast with your friends and neighbors.


  • In some respects, these are very difficult times for the industry.  We simply must communicate the full value of nuclear energy at a time when nuclear energy’s value chain is more important than ever, yet not fully valued in many electricity markets.


  • The impact of natural gas drives market prices, but there are long-term implications to fuel diversity. Challenge: pipeline infrastructure to deliver gas where needed. One baseload combined cycle gas plant uses 60 billion cubic feet of gas a year—more gas each year than the total natural gas use for electricity in any of 22 states!

o  Competitive market structures that don’t recognize important attributes of nuclear. Market monitors recognize these and other flaws.
o  The burden of the cumulative impact of regulation is a potential cause for distraction.


  • It’s important that we have a competent, effective regulator in the NRC.
  • INPO is an essential force in driving industry excellence.
  • FLEX is the foundation of the industry’s response to Fukushima, which has been underscored by a historic trip to Japan by U.S. chief nuclear officers.

‚ÄčIn today’s environment, we must remain vigilant to safe and reliable operation of our nuclear energy facilities. We must do a better job managing the cumulative impact of regulation to avoid complacency and distraction and promoting operational safety with the FLEX strategy.

  • We also have to adapt to new platforms and time demands for communicating events at our sites, including the expanding use of web and social media platforms.

I have spent most of my time this evening focused on the broad industry issues, most of which deal with electricity and the challenges and opportunities that we have in the coming years.  But perhaps no single nuclear technology center has the impact on a state and the surrounding communities that Savannah River Site has.

  • The SRS mission is critical to our nation’s national security and energy security and to the nuclear technology industry.
  • Few facilities have the scope of expertise, staffing or vital national research or projects that SRS has in the areas of analysis, radiochemical separation, tritium production, nuclear waste handling and storage and, in the future, mixed oxide fuel production.

The merging of the SRS mission and the values of the nuclear energy industry are critical to our nation and to all Americans. They have been built upon the legacy of Edward Teller and others who pioneered nuclear technology and fostered by many of the leaders who have provided the Teller lecture in previous years. 

I want to close with a few words that Teller himself said related to peace and the improvement of people around the world, but they certainly apply to the work we do as well. 

Teller said: “Total security has never been available to anyone. To expect it is unrealistic; to imagine that it can exist is to invite disaster. 

“What we do have in our technological capabilities is an opportunity to use our inventiveness, our creativity, our wisdom and our understanding of our fellow man to create a future world that is a little better than the one in which we live today.”

That is part of the Teller legacy that each of us can apply in our daily lives.

Thank you.