I must say I am pleased with the discussions that have taken place here over the last few days… I have enjoyed digesting all the information that has been provided and considering the different views.
It got me thinking, what actually are the major issues surrounding the renaissance (or, instead of renaissance maybe we should just call it “The Future”).
(Wow, is it just me or would a really cool conference theme be “Back to the Future”!)…
I thought long and hard and what I came up with is a “model of the future”… it seems to me that all the issues in nuclear power can be broken up into 3 broad categories/ issues with, of course, significant overlap and interplay between each of them.
The categories/ issues are:
The complex interplay between these issues lends itself to my personal favorite type of diagram, the Venn diagram. I have uploaded a picture of the model but I am not sure if the listserv supports this…
Anyway, as you can (or maybe cannot) see, a three circle Venn diagram produces 7 distinct regions. I will discuss each of these in turn…
Region 1: The Nuclear Future… the overlap between all three issues is what will actually decide the future of our industry. Region 1 is a complicated mesh of many ideas. While it would be useful to discuss the integrated whole of region 1, unless the regions which make it up are first defined and resolved my personal feeling is that any discussion will only lead to endless bickering over details and finer points to the detriment of the Future as a whole.
Region 2: This region represents the technology sphere of Nuclear Power. Much of the past few days’ discussion has been firmly rooted in this area. As has been pointed out there are many different views and interpretations on: what is the best technology, how safe is safe enough, should we use proven, evolutionary, or revolutionary technology, etc.? One could extend the argument to such fundamental issues as should we reprocess or not reprocess our (waste, used, spent) used once nuclear fuel and other “like” issues. I think this is, among the nuclear community, the most divisive of the categories. It is for this reason I won’t spend any time on it. It is related to an earlier post of mine, what we have is several entrenched camps of rational people, each with their own data and facts, each coming to a different conclusion. This will be the hardest Region to define and, ultimately, maybe the infighting about what is the “best” path to take may preclude ANY path from being taken…
Region 3: The Project Management (cost and schedule) sphere relates pretty much directly to each of the renaissance killers I mentioned earlier this week. Part of the reason, I think, is the misuse of the term.
Traditionally, nuclear power has been pretty weak on project management (you may argue this, but I’m gonna leave it as is). Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about: Budget! Schedule! Project Management!
On the face of it, this is great news. Many, many industries have been able to improve their way of doing things by rigorously budgeting, rigorously scheduling, and applying (for example) the guidelines of the project Management Institute.
I think, however, and this is strictly an opinion based on anecdotal observation, that Nuclear is in danger of using “Project Management” as just another management buzzword.
Think of the last budget or schedule you had involvement in. They key here is not on HAVING a budget or schedule… the key is the PROCESS you used to create it.
Too often I have seen the following approach used:
This approach is what is often called project management. But what it is is merely lip service. A proper way to do it is to actually examine how much time it takes to do, Y, Z, A given your current resource load and then define your end date. Only then can we be assured some sort of accountability for our schedules and budgets. Otherwise, project management becomes analogous to the well known model of a computer… GARBAGE in, Garbage OUT! This is exactly what we don’t want, and I suspect what we can’t afford.
A subset of this issue is the phenomenon where “everyone knows” that a schedule or budget is unrealistic but for whatever reason (politics, management pressure) we put it out there anyway. Call me naïve, call me an idealistic, call me stupid but to me this is such a blatantly evident faux-pas that I actually have trouble putting it into words. This approach makes a mockery of that other trait we consider important: accountability.
Region 4: The Public perception and awareness sphere is a topic that has been discussed forever. By itself, one could spend a lifetime examining the subtleties. I guess the one thing I want to say about it is: we should focus.
As a complete guess, I would say that roughly 99% of the talking we do is aimed at a very small segment of the population who, no matter what we say, will never be convinced that Nuclear is a good thing. Why do we do this? I know why I do it…. It’s because I have an unhealthy need to be “right” in arguments… but, the fact remains that the overall general population is not interested in nuclear power at all. They generally do not think about it. They are neither strongly opposed nor strongly in favor. They have a general unease with the technology (from years and years of propaganda) but the one thing they don’t have time for is to digest the detailed arguments we put forth in response to the 1% of the population that is genuinely anti-nuclear… the path of least resistance is to just do without this complicated technology.
I will admit I have no idea how to deal with this region as a stand alone… I will talk a little about overlaps with other issues but, by itself I am stumped when it comes to public perception…
Region 5: The overlap between cost/ schedule issues with technology issues is, I suspect, a fairly constrained topic. Probably analogous to what some have pointed out for the (entirely region 2 topic) of safety. The relative differences (between the different technologies) are dwarfed by the absolute differences (between nuclear and other forms of generation).
It is often said, that nuclear is the only industry where each player is a hostage of every other player. Usually this is put in the context of “another Chernobyl” or “another TMI”. But does this concept not apply to cost and schedule? Regardless of the technology, a cost overrun on a western build nuclear power plant transcends technology.
Region 6: The region of overlap between technology and public perception. Again, I think this is a constrained topic. Does the public really differentiate between CANDU and AREVA or Westinghouse technology? Not, I think, on the basis of the technology itself… other ways of thinking about it, i.e. “made in Canada” are different than what I am talking about here.
Nuclear is lumped completely together. This is why the “nuclear cult” in Ontario is still a prevalent expression.
Region 7: If I downplay Regions 5 and 6 a little bit it is only because of the prime importance I see in Region 7. The overlap region between Project Management and Public Perception.
There are a myriad of reasons for this… mainly it is because it is the one region where our opposition has a leg to stand on.
Think about it… although the general public may have a low level but persistent “fear” of nuclear we can, given enough time and ingenuity make our case... we ARE a safe industry. We know it and we can prove it. (Assuming, of course, we go about proving it the right way…)
But where is our proof that we can build these things on-time and on budget? There are examples out there but the vast majority of (domestic/ western world?) cases do not tell a good story.
Furthermore, in terms of the renaissance, we told everyone: we’ve learned our lessons from the past. This time will be different.
So far… is it?
A thought that recently occurred to me that it is our ability to deliver on our promises, i.e. the value of our accountability for the things we say, affects more than our credibility as project managers. It affects our credibility in every area.
Is it to much to imagine the layman on the street saying: “How can they keep that nuclear plant safe when they don’t even know how long and how much it costs to build it… incompetent fools”.
Our ability to deliver on our promises WRT budget and schedule could conceivably act as a surrogate for our ability to deliver on all our promises… the effect his has on the acceptance of our industry could be phenomenally huge… “These plants are safe, I promise.”
I know what you are thinking… and I fought against the thought… but: “other industries with major projects (i.e. military, infrastructure) routinely go way over budget”…
I’m going to have to react emotionally to that one: “So what! Who cares!” If we want to survive, and thrive as an industry we can’t just be like everyone else. The connectivity between all three of the major issues precludes that possibility. We need to be better than everyone else.
Is it an impossible task? I don’t think so. Just don’t make promises you can’t keep.
In conclusion I want to sum up the previous essay in three points:
I really don’t think the future of our industry lies in a “my reactor is better than yours” argument. Certainly these arguments will happen. Eventually there will be winners and losers. But while we technical folks get very excited/ passionate about it for the general public and, I suspect, the politicians who eventually decide these things nuclear is nuclear is nuclear.
If you take the population in general… probably 1% are die hard anti-nuke. 1% die hard pro-nuke. Say, 10-15% either side care about the issue. That means at least 70% of the population could really care less. Sure, when asked most of them have an opinion but they usually don’t give it a second thought. Our arguments are designed to “convince” the 1% of the population who cannot be convinced. Given that we are trying to reach them, the arguments are framed base don how they see nuclear. All the 70% sees is the frame… they don’t listen to arguments but since the starting point is nuclear is unsafe that’s the way they lean.
I have framed this in terms of project management arguments, but they could be extended to other areas. Everyone, whether or not they are technical or non-technical, pro or anti nuke, etc. knows how a billion dollars “feels”. They also know how they feel when the nuclear industry goes billions over budget on an already 20 billion dollar project. The feeling is not good.
Now, obviously this model I have presented is a simplification (as all models are). And I have only scratched the surface of each of the regions. This was by design because this e-mail is already almost 2000 words long, and because I have been primarily thinking about PM related issues lately.
Some of the limitations I am aware of… (I have approached this topic from bright eyed idealistic view point... overver I am quite aware that the specter of politics (both political and "office type") that hangs over each and every decision/ promise we make), others I’d like you to point out to me.
How do you see the future of our industry unfolding? What are the major issues you see moving forward? Where do you think we should focus our energies (i.e. outward to the public, inward toward ourselves, etc.)?
Anyway, as always I am primarily looking to stimulate discussion among those with far more experience and far better informed opinions than I have… your responses continue to educate and enlighten me… GO!