Presentation of WNA Distinguished Contribution Award
During its 25-year history, the organisation from which we grew, the Uranium Institute, chose from time to time to award a Gold Metal for distinguished service to nuclear energy.
I mentioned earlier this morning that a recent recipient of this award was our honorary chairman, Hans Blix, who was cited in 1997 for his historic service in building the International Atomic Energy Agency into a great intergovernmental institution.
This year, as we embark on a new century as the World Nuclear Association, we have continued this award but modified it slightly.
First, we have altered the title. The award now refers explicitly to distinguished contribution to the peaceful "worldwide" use of nuclear energy. Our purpose was to emphasize the nuclear industry’s wide horizons and the need for visionary leadership if this marvelous technology is to be employed on an expanding global scale to meet humanity’s accelerating demand for clean energy.
Second, we have changed the physical character of the award from a gold metal to what I hope you will agree is a handsome crystalline plaque. This is so that its recipient might be more inclined to display the award than to place it in a safety deposit box or to melt it down.
Our overall intention remains the same to honor one among our industry’s numbers whose role in the world of nuclear energy has been truly distinguished.
Unchanged also is our intent to bestow this award not as a ritual, on an annual timetable, but rather only when our Board of Management identifies a qualified recipient of such caliber as to warrant a rare and special honor.
This year the Board found that an easy task. In our deliberations, we quickly discerned a remarkable coming together of a man and a moment:
Thus, with no doubt as to merit and with great enthusiasm our Board of Management decided to present the World Nuclear Association’s first distinguished service award to Corbin A. McNeill, Chairman and Co-CEO of Exelon Corporation.
Nuclear power today is in the forefront of clean energy technology for the 21st century in large part because Corbin McNeill has been in the forefront of a nuclear revival in America.
Corbin’s leadership has spurred the spectacular growth in efficiency in the American industry, so that nuclear energy today is not only clean, reliable and safe but also increasingly cost-competitive in the world’s largest energy market. He has led an American nuclear renaissance that can truly inspire the entire global industry.
Corbin, I would have taken great pride in bestowing this award myself. But our dynamic chairman was also eager to do the honors. So I yield happily to rank and beauty in order that Agneta may talk further about the achievements that made you such a deserving recipient of this award.
Corbin McNeill’s career is indeed a tale of great achievement and one that reflects an interesting phenomenon in the American nuclear industry.
Since the end of the Cold War, there has been much talk about converting large quantities of enriched uranium and plutonium from military to civilian uses in a way that removes the material safely and permanently from weapons and extracts from it valuable quantities of clean energy to meet the needs of society. This process represents a modern-day opportunity to turn swords into plowshares.
Although it has not been so widely discussed, a second process of constructive conversion from military to civilian use has also been under way. I am referring to the recycling of people from the American nuclear navy into the world of civil nuclear power. That process has brought us three leaders here today: Zack Pate, who heads the World Association of Nuclear Operators; Joe Colvin, who heads the Nuclear Energy Institute; and our honoree this morning, Corbin McNeill, who is leading not just Exelon but the American nuclear renaissance.
I trust that these colleagues will not object to being described as the products of recycling, for I mean this in the most positive way. Like other kinds of recycling, I see this one as having a highly beneficial effect on the environment!
When Corbin McNeill retired from the Navy some twenty years ago, he began to recycle immediately. He entered the civilian nuclear industry near the top, first serving in a series of senior executive capacities with the New York Power Authority and with Public Service Electric and Gas.
Then in 1988 Corbin joined PECO Energy, and the rest is history. By 1990 he had been elected President and Chief Operating Officer, and by 1997 he was PECO’s Chairman, President and CEO.
At that point Corbin had reached the summit of his profession. But he was not content simply to preside over a major American utility. He also made it the best. Under Corbin’s leadership, PECO Energy was named Utility of the Year and was recognized for its "exemplary performance" in the full range of business practices from finance to investor relations to operating efficiency and market competitiveness.
But there was more to come. Only a few years ago, pessimists were certain that deregulation in the energy industry would mean the end of nuclear power. But Corbin McNeil viewed these developments through a different lens. He saw that, by consolidating, the nuclear industry could achieve great gains in efficiency and cost gains that would enable nuclear not just to survive but to thrive in a deregulated market.
Under Corbin’s direction, PECO began to expand its fleet of nuclear plants. Corbin McNeill had perceived the possibility of a revival of nuclear power in America and was now moving to bring it about.
Last year together with John Rowe of Unicom Corbin brought about the $32 billion merger of PECO Energy and Unicom to form Exelon. This merger represents the most significant step thus far in rationalizing and revitalizing nuclear electricity generation in America.
Today, Exelon is the largest US nuclear generator and one of America’s largest utility service companies. Exelon operates 17 nuclear reactors, three of them purchased in its AmerGen joint venture with British Energy.
But Corbin McNeill also had his eye on the horizon. His vision translated to the global scene when Exelon joined with British Nuclear Fuels to support South Africa’s Eskom Corporation to develop the pebble-bed modular reactor. A PBMR prototype will be constructed this year, with the aim of achieving operational status in 2005.
In supporting new nuclear technology with worldwide applications, Corbin has served notice that we can expect far-sighted American leadership in an expanding global nuclear market.
Over the years, Corbin McNeill's style has been marked by a focus on the way people work together in an organization. He is noted for building teamwork to achieve ever-greater levels of efficiency and reliability.
Corbin, it is for the combination of those management skills and your strategic vision that we offer this Award today.
The World Nuclear Association and its members are grateful for your leadership and proud to honour your "Distinguished Contribution to the Peaceful Worldwide Use of Nuclear Energy."
We present this Award with only one condition that your work is not yet finished. We need your continued leadership in taking this industry on toward "new build" to constructing modern, 21st century nuclear power plants in large numbers in America and around the world!
Our warmest congratulations to Corbin McNeill.
Please allow me to begin by expressing my gratitude to the World Nuclear Association for the honour you have bestowed upon me this morning. Recognition of this type by one’s peers is among the highest tributes anyone can achieve and I deeply appreciate being selected for this year’s Gold Medal.
I am also humbled when I review the list of past recipients of this award. To be included in a group that includes such distinguished leaders in our industry such as Hans Blix, your honorary chairman who spoke earlier this morning; Dr. Eric Benat, who helped make France a leader in nuclear power; Dr. Hiroshi Murata , who helped develop Japan’s nuclear energy policy; Mr. Rieh Chong-hun, who helped develop nuclear power in Korea; and the other distinguished former recipients of this award, is a deeply rewarding and humbling experience.
This is an august group and I will always be proud to be included as a member.
This morning’s speakers have presented a vision of the nuclear power industry in the 21st Century that is optimistic yet realistic. There is really very little that I can add to what has already been expressed today.
But if you would indulge me, I would appreciate the opportunity to briefly share with you my views on the current state of our industry and how certain conditions are converging that place the nuclear power industry in its strongest position in more than 20 years.
Exelon began expanding its fleet of nuclear plants several years ago when it was becoming clear that a resurgence in nuclear power was imminent.
Three factors are presently at work that I think bode well for the future of our industry.
First, the growing worldwide demand for power. The economies of the developed world as well as developing nations depend on an ample and reliable supply of electricity.
Second, society’s demand that we take steps to protect the environment, especially in assuring that we have clean air.
And third, new technologies, such as the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which I think hold tremendous opportunities for building new nuclear plants that are cost efficient and which can give shareholders the return of their investment they expect of competitive, unregulated companies.
Let me just briefly touch on each of these points.
This past Spring the attention of the media in the US was focused on California and its problems with a flawed deregulation effort. I am not going to take time today to discuss in any detail the situation in California. However, there is general agreement that California has a serious shortage of electric generation. In the past decade not a single new major power plant was built in that state.
While California’s problem has been painful for its citizens, it has helped raise awareness among Americans across the nation that we must build more power plants to meet the energy demands of the future.
President Bush’s energy plan estimates that the US will need to build between 1,300 to 1,900 new generating plants to meet the nearly 400,000 megawatts in new capacity our nation will need by 2020.
In order to do this, we’ll have to build plants at the rate of about 60 to 90 a year – or at least one new plant every week for the next nineteen years. That is an enormous challenge.
Many of these plants will be natural gas-fired and some will be coal-fired. But there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that some of the new plants must be nuclear powered.
One of the reasons I am so confident on this issue has to do with the second factor I mentioned a moment ago – society’s demand for cleaner air.
I am extremely pleased by public opinion polls taken over the past few months in the US that show that Americans are beginning to understand the environmental benefits of nuclear power. We still have a way to go on this issue, but we are making progress.
I am also confident that we are moving closer to solving the problem of storing spent fuel – a challenge that has impeded the growth of our industry for a number of years.
With the worldwide demand for electricity growing and the public beginning to understand the benefits of nuclear power, we come to the third factor that augers well for our industry – the development of new technologies.
Work is being done in a number of areas on the next generation of nuclear power plants. Some have been discussed today.
I want to touch briefly on the technology that Exelon is looking at most closely – the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.
Exelon has invested in a research project with ESKOM, the electricity utility of South Africa, looking into the feasibility of building a reactor using this technology.
The research is now complete and the various parties to the project are reviewing it. Later this year we will make a decision on moving forward with the construction of a demonstration plant in South Africa.
If the demonstration plant proves successful, I believe that there is tremendous potential for taking the pebble bed technology and using it to build plants in developing nations as well as in the US and parts of Europe.
It is a safe, efficient technology based on the high temperature, gas-cooled reactors that were developed in the early years of commercial nuclear power.
It is cost effective. Modules can be built in 100-megawatt units, with additional modules built as demand increases. The footprint for the plants is small, which means that a number of them can be built on the sites of existing power plants. This could help us over come the "Not In My Back Yard" or NIMBY obstacle that has stood in the way of building all types of power plants.
With more and more nations deregulating electric generation, the pebble bed technology should also prove attractive to shareholders. Since a module can be built in 18 months to two years, shareholders can begin seeing a return on their investment in a much shorter period of time – a major factor of competitive, deregulated generating companies.
I strongly believe that this is the most exciting time since the 1950’s when we began building the first nuclear power plants. For 20 years we’ve lived in the shadow of the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Now we are moving out of the shadow into the light – light that very well may be generated by nuclear power.
So, all of us here today have good reasons to be optimistic about our industry’s future. Our success will not come without hard work, but I have never met anyone in our industry who is not willing to work hard for what they believe in.
In closing, let me once again extend my deep and sincere thanks and appreciation to the World Nuclear Association for the honour you have bestowed upon me today, and for the hospitality you have shown me during my visit.
You have given me a tremendous honour - and it is one that I will always cherish.
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