New nuclear group CEO Korsnick talks future of industry under Trump administration

How will a shift away from climate action during a Trump administration affect the future of the nuclear industry? During today's OnPoint, Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, discusses her industry's plans for lobbying and outreach as the energy and climate conversation shifts in Washington.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With me today is Maria Korsnick, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Maria, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Maria Korsnick: Thanks. Glad to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: So a lot of recalculating here in Washington over the last week following Donald Trump's win. How have the election results impacted your industry's planning, and what have the conversations looked like in your office over the last week?

Maria Korsnick: Interesting and thanks for asking. We actually enjoy bipartisan support for nuclear energy. So we were prepared for either administration, but there are definitely changes.

In a Trump administration, as you might would imagine, the carbon conversation and the environment conversation is going to be a little bit less than say it would have been in a Democratic administration. So we're looking at that and you'll see our messages pivot a bit from that.

But from a nuclear what value do we bring, the value proposition is still there. Jobs, it's good for the economy. So energy diversity. That still stands.

Monica Trauzzi: We've seen a series of plants being decommissioned recently. What do you think a Trump administration would mean moving forward for the decommissioning of plants?

Maria Korsnick: Do you mean premature decommissioning? Plants shutting down early? So we're optimistic there because jobs message is very strong in a Trump administration. Let's look at who put Trump in office. So it was the Rust Belt. We have many of our plants in neighborhoods like that. The rural America.

So we think very strongly that they'll be looking at those plants, looking at the communities that those plants operate in and want very much to keep those plants in a vibrant portion of the community. So we're optimistic.

Monica Trauzzi: He also very much supports natural gas. Natural gas is a chief competitor for nuclear. Do you think that there may come a point where natural gas sees more favor from the Trump administration?

Maria Korsnick: I think so. Natural gas right now obviously is at a very low price. I think actually too low. In other words, nobody's making money in the way that the marketplace is today, but natural gas requires a lot of infrastructure, gas pipelines, et cetera, to serve those plants that they would be placed.

That's one thing, going back to what that nuclear proposition is, all that fuel that that nuclear plant needs is right on site for the 18 months or 24 months that that plant will run. That fuel firmness is something that we should value and that the marketplace needs to value.

Monica Trauzzi: So what's the single most important thing a Trump administration could do to benefit your industry?

Maria Korsnick: We really want to connect today's nuclear fleet to infrastructure. Infrastructure is something that you've heard about in the Trump campaign, and we look at nuclear as part of that vibrant, critical, electric infrastructure for the United States.

Monica Trauzzi: So the Obama DOE was largely favorable. Secretary Moniz, certainly largely favorable on nuclear energy. Do you anticipate any difference in a Trump Department of Energy?

Maria Korsnick: We still think that we'll have nuclear favorably. One thing that we are looking for is that we're looking for funding for R&D, whether that's advanced nuclear, maybe some new types of fuels for today's nuclear plants. There's lots to be had there.

We're thinking that in the next DOE administration, perhaps you'll see more funding in that arena.

Monica Trauzzi: As you mentioned earlier, there's a bit of a shift on climate with the Trump administration. President-elect Trump has signaled he would scale back the Clean Power Plan or completely do away with it. Also step back from the Paris climate agreement. What's your view on the dramatic shift on climate policy and ultimately what it means for nuclear when nuclear is often touted as a solution to the climate question?

Maria Korsnick: Absolutely. I do think, as we said, the Clean Power Plan, might be something that he'd back away from. The Clean Power Plan really as written didn't help the current fleet nearly that much.

So that's not as huge an impact, but what it does depend on is how are the states going to take that on? Regardless of what a Trump administration does, do the states follow that lead or do the states want to still stay with whatever plan it is that they had. That'll be something that'll be interesting to see as it plays out.

But my guess is, again, nuclear has a value proposition that's broader than just carbon. In fact, there's no emissions from nuclear. So no NOx, no SOx. So there's other valuable propositions that nuclear brings to the marketplace.

I think at some point as the Trump administration needs to point to at least maintaining carbon or having somewhat of a message there, they can tout nuclear. They can like nuclear for jobs and other reasons, but they can also use the fact that nuclear is good to the environment as something they can point to when they're in arenas that that's important.

Monica Trauzzi: Putting a price on carbon would be something that could ultimately benefit your industry. Will you be lobbying this Republican Congress and the Trump administration to move forward on that?

Maria Korsnick: We would love to see a price on carbon, but I don't think in the current administration that's going to be as popular, but there are other ways to value the market that we bring. So perhaps it could be in tax legislation. I know tax reform is going to be a big thing in this administration. So we'll be looking for those arenas as a potential player, if you will, for nuclear.

Monica Trauzzi: You are new to the CEO post at NEI. How do you expect the organization will be different under your leadership?

Maria Korsnick: Well, I appreciate that and yes, I am new. I'll tell you, this new administration is going to be a big part of my leaving my mark on this new NEI because we're going to have to look at different messaging to get the nuclear message out. As you said, we're going to have to be not all about climate. Although climate's a good point, that's not going to be what we'll be leading with. So we'll be looking at rebranding NEI and new messaging about nuclear.

Monica Trauzzi: Very interesting. Look forward to it. Thanks for coming on the show.

Maria Korsnick: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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