Dive into the dynamic world of nuclear power with insights from Ken Ferguson, a distinguished expert in the utility sector focused on nuclear energy. Ken’s extensive background includes leading interfacing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulators’ reviews and acceptance of operational and advanced nuclear reactor concepts, leading integration efforts for company collaborations, and participating in teams influencing decisions on future nuclear power plant designs. Ken currently plays a pivotal role at Global Nuclear Associates (GNA), a company known for leveraging senior experience to support major initiatives in the power industry. Because of these expertise, Ken has recently been added as a member of our Network of Experts covering the Generation Professionals Group.
In this exclusive Power Perspectives interview, Ken shares his journey in the electric utility industry, from lead roles in interacting with NRC in its reviews of operational and advanced reactor designs to leading teams in decision-making processes for nuclear power plant procurements. Discover the transformative impact of nuclear power on carbon emissions reduction, explore exciting innovations like Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), and gain a global perspective on effective global teams. Ken’s wealth of experience at Global Nuclear Associates (GNA) adds a unique layer to the discussion, offering a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities shaping the future of commercial nuclear power. Don’t miss this opportunity to gain valuable insights from a seasoned leader at the forefront of industry advancements.
Matt Chester: Thanks for agreeing to be one of our experts, Ken. Can you give your background in the utility sector? How did you get started and what is the work you do these days?
Ken Ferguson: My responsibilities and involvements have been predominately in the electric utility sector, in particular power generation. My initial responsibility was to establish effective communications and achieve a timely and effective interface with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in its review and acceptance of an advanced nuclear reactor concept, a nuclear reactor design that would create more fuel material than it consumes
I led an integration of companies and activities resulting in a Limited Work Authorization achieved from the NRC. Follow-on assignments involved safety evaluations of a variety of nuclear reactor designs currently in operation at numerous nuclear power plants in the United States and elsewhere, as well as interfacing with the Electric Power Research Institutes on joint development projects.
I have been a participant on teams that supported electric utilities making decisions of future nuclear power plant designs procurements including current operational designs options as well as small modular reactors. My current focus involves working with electric utilities and their fleets to achieve optimized, prioritized operations and maintenance enhancements including improved approaches to the preparation, planning, and execution of outages for a wide variety power plant designs.
MC: Can you tell us a bit about the role of the Global Nuclear Associates (GNA) for Energy Central members who may be unfamiliar?
KF: The driving force and role of GNA is leveraging very senior experience though our teams comprised of GNA staff and a resource base of consultants involved based on related credentials, success, and excited interest to participate. GNA is a small, focused company that participates in major initiatives in the United States and elsewhere serving power plant owners as well as governments and international agencies. Its founder and CEO is Mike Baron, formerly a senior executive at Exelon. I am pleased to serve GNA as its Vice President, Advanced Technology.
Our teams and contracts deploy detailed knowledge of power plant design, operations, maintenance experience, as well as program management attention and rigor. Our role is working with utilities to collaborate our team and corporate experience with the plant and enterprise-specific experience and objectives of clients.
One example of recurring success has involved improved outage practices. More background of the GNA involvements and accomplishments can be found at www.globalnuclearassociates.com.
MC: In your extensive experience, what major transformations have you witnessed in the commercial nuclear power sector, and how have these changes impacted the industry’s trajectory?
KF: The biggest transformation has been the widespread recognition and acceptance of nuclear power as a key solution to carbon emissions reductions worldwide.
Thanks to that trajectory, we’re witnessing the following impacts:
- Worldwide interest in additions of nuclear power as electricity provider
- Emerging interest for non-utility ownership of nuclear power plants (for example, Dow Chemical)
- Numerous, new types of nuclear power plant designs under development
- New companies involved in new nuclear plant designs, ownership, and operations
- Many new alliances underway for development of advanced nuclear technology
- Mant exciting possibilities for future careers in the commercial nuclear sector
MC: What are some key nuclear innovations you’re excited about, and how do they address current challenges in the industry?
KF: Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) as a displacement for existing fossil generation (especially coal) offer an obvious action to reduce levels of carbon emissions.
MC: With your global involvements in the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa, can you highlight any notable differences or common challenges you’ve encountered in navigating the regulatory landscape for nuclear projects across these regions?
KF: The most direct advisory involvement of mine that involves global differences and challenges is associated with development of best globalized teams and the cultural challenges that exist and need to be addressed. If world class teams are made up of companies from different regions, there may be important differences in key attitudes that contribute to maximum success. Speed of response, attention to detail, attention to teamwork, the power of seniority, and tendencies for collaboration or not are all examples of cultural differences that need to be appreciated and managed.
MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform?
KF: I appreciate gaining the awareness of the issues that others confront and what is being done to address effectively. Getting feedback from others on the information I submit and possible collaborations are all key benefits.
MC: What is your last message you’d like to share with our readers?
KF: These previous responses offer my overall positive assessment of commercial nuclear power and its future. However, there are some key attentions and considerations that accompany that view for the future. Challenges exist some with clear paths, some requiring even more additional effort.
For example, consider the following:
- Favorable economics of advanced design concepts need to be a performance attribute and validated.
- Effective communications with regulators, and effective reviews of new designs, all need to be occurring.
- Effective and validated optimized utilization of machine learning technology solutions should be a key advanced analytic strategy.
- New companies that become involved in the design, ownership, and operations of advanced nuclear power deployments need to carefully involve excellent organizations, experienced individuals, teamwork, and rigorous program planning, preparation, and execution management.
- Digitization investments need to be accompanied and protected by effective cyber security programs attending to technology, cyber security related front end decision processes, and an informed and cyber-accountable enterprise-wide workforce. Cyber security success needs to be a “technology and more” matter to have maximum success.
- Regarding power plants in operation, significant success has occurred, important opportunities remain in economic benefits achievable through outage time reductions.
For anyone who wants to get in touch, I am reachable through a LinkedIn message or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Ken for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights and expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Ken will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see him across the platform.