Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A Framework for Turning Nuclear Ambition into Action

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A practical tool to drive innovation and progress will be introduced at this year’s Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation (GFNI) in Miami.

A recent survey neatly crystallized the fundamental challenge and opportunity faced by the global nuclear energy industry. On the one hand, 83 percent of the professionals in the nuclear sector surveyed agreed that they work in an industry full of ambition.

Today, more than ever, ambition is exactly what is needed in the nuclear sector. Already the world’s second-largest source of carbon-free energy, over 20 nations came together at last year’s COP28 in Dubai to launch an initiative to triple nuclear energy capacity by 2050. As the world increasingly relies on variable generation like wind and solar, nuclear is poised to provide critical supply flexibility and help meet the demand from large energy consumers, like data centers and manufacturing.

While an overwhelming majority of nuclear sector professionals agreed that their industry is filled with the kind of ambition the world needs, a nearly equal number of respondents pointed to a worrying disconnect. Indeed, 77 percent of those surveyed said there is a disparity between the ambition animating the sector and the daily actions of people working in the industry. The chasm between the society and livelihood improving ambition in the nuclear industry and the day-to-day work and activities of those in it must be closed for real progress to be made. Put simply, ambition must be turned into action.

Why a Tool is Important to Transform Great Ideas into Reality

But the question is how? Answering that question will be the focus of the Global Forum for Nuclear Innovation (GFNI), which will be held in Miami, Florida, June 24-27. This year’s GFNI builds on the progress and momentum of the past two gatherings. The 2019 GFNI in South Korea centered on technological innovation, and identified four innovations that could drive progress. The 2022 GFNI in London focused on what constitutes an innovative culture and identified four necessary behaviors to accelerate innovation.

But, one gap that was identified at the 2022 event was the practical need for innovation tools. In other words, translating ambition into action necessitates specific tools that can be used by people at organizations of varying sizes and in diverse locations around the globe. Over the past year, a framework that can be used across the global industry as a tool to accelerate the transformation of ideas and ambition into tangible and meaningful action was developed.

The research that resulted in the framework included journeys of personal and professional ambitions as well as barriers and enablers. “We wanted to identify what ambition looks like, where it comes from, whether they are good ambitions, and how do we then get that ambition into action?” said Jon Salthouse, who was the Principal Investigator in the project and is a Consulting Partner at Prologue Communications in the United Kingdom. “What are the barriers stopping us from getting where we want to go, and, of course, what kind of solution can we provide at the Global Forum?”

A Framework Built on Research

The imperative to develop a concrete and tangible framework for translating ambition into beneficial action is important enough that it could not be based on guesswork. For that reason, with initial guidance from the GFNI steering committee, EPRI led a five-month, research initiative to answer three fundamental questions:

  • What is the roadmap that connects ambition to action?
  • What are the barriers that slow down the process?
  • What are the tools that enable the process?

To get answers to these questions that can be applied to the diverse set of people and organizations that constitute the global nuclear power sector, EPRI conducted a five-phase research initiative. “We went through five different layers, and every layer became more specific to the nuclear sector and provided more targeted insights,” Salthouse said.

Putting It All Together into a Tool for Turning Ambition into Action

Past GFNI gatherings brought insights and important lessons to drive innovation. Building on that, the GFNI in Miami aims to provide a tool that will help participants accelerate innovation upon returning to their organizations after the conference.

One of the benefits of designing a framework based on extensive research is that it can dispel some preconceptions about what may have been hindering innovation in the past. “You expect things like regulation or technical challenges to be significant barriers in the nuclear industry,” said Ben Arwine, Global Innovation Effectiveness Lead, who helped develop the framework. “An ah-ha for me in this work was seeing that the things we are struggling with in this industry are more around practices of collaboration and work and project management that are being overlooked.”

The framework, which will be introduced and used at GFNI, follows three steps:

Common Steps, But Execution and Context Matter

There is plenty of nuance to each of these steps. For instance, the framework research made it clear that barriers and enablers could be the same thing; execution is what determined whether they were a help or hindrance in achieving an ambition. “Some people told us if we get communication right, we are really going to be able to turn ambition into action. Communication is vital,” Salthouse said. “We also had people telling us that communication is a barrier. Nobody really sets expectations, and everything is muddy.”

The key, then, is to ensure that the attributes of a project’s success serve as enablers rather than barriers. A project’s context matters in ensuring an attribute is an enabler. With communication, for instance, a commitment to hear all voices and perspectives, and experiences can be invaluable in a long-term research initiative. But that same approach to communication can be counterproductive in an emergency when time is limited, and a single source of authority can accelerate action.

Attendees at the Miami GFNI will have the opportunity to learn about and use the framework. Earlier this year, at EPRI’s Nuclear Power Council’s general session, the framework was introduced and tested on four specific ambitions. One of the ambitions was to develop and deploy new and existing materials to support the licensing and long-term operation of advanced non-light water reactors (ARs).

Scott Hunnewell, vice president of the New Nuclear Program for Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), attended the session. Hunnewell and his team at TVA are evaluating advanced reactor technologies and materials; many of the reactors being developed will operate at temperatures and pressures greater than the current fleet, and the materials used must be qualified to withstand those conditions.

Hunnewell and others used the framework to examine the ambition of the qualification of advanced reactor materials. “We were all new to this framework, which I think was a good thing,” Hunnewell said. “It really focused us to think in new and different ways.” For Hunnewell, the experience of working with the framework emphasized the critical role of communication in achieving the ambition of qualifying advanced reactor materials and identified a way to make communication an enabler rather than a barrier.

While the framework will be introduced and tested at the GFNI, its real value will be when attendees bring it back to their organizations and implement it to advance their innovative ideas. Put simply, the success of the framework is not its development. Instead, its value will be determined by the myriad ways it is applied to help translate ambition into action to benefit companies, societies, and the planet.

EPRI Technical Expert:

Heather Feldman
For more information, contact techexpert@eprijournal.com.