August Interview

Now, I would say from the standpoint of energy diversity and energy security as a hedge against future fossil fuel prices, there’s a place for nuclear plant construc- tion even now, but we have to get around the economics of it. We have to be able to build plants more economically to be able to compete in the future. I’m pretty opti- mistic about modular reactors and some of the advanced reactor technologies that we see. They are starting to attract capital in the way commercial space started to attract capital … So there’s some interest- ing things going on in nuclear technology … and I think they’re pretty promising for the U.S.

VB: What is the status of the mPower program? Geveden: The mPower program is in a wind-down phase. It’s almost dormant by this point. We didn’t find a customer for that product, and we were spending a lot on it, so we’ve wound it down. We own the intellectual property for it. We own lots of interesting design ideas, patented ideas, and we’ll hold on to that. Hopefully that market opportunity re-emerges in the future. But we’ve made an investment, and we have the products of that investment.

VB: Are you able to find talent that you need for the work you have? Geveden: We do. Let’s take Lynchburg as an example … We’re in a college town that happens to be bracketed geographically between two very large public institutions [Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia] that produce very high-quality students … We’ve never had a serious shortage of technical talent. We recruit nationally for some executive-level positions. Fundamentally, we’re an industrial company, and a lot of what we do is manufacturing. We have needs for machinists, welders, techni- cians and areas like that. The feeders for those are the community colleges, with which we are affiliated … These jobs are really attractive because we pay well, for one thing. But maybe more so, there’s visibility into our backlog that’s really decades [long]. We can see the Navy shipbuilding playing out to 2065 in the case of the aircraft carriers. And if you look at the [nuclear] plant life extension work that’s going on in Canada, that’s a

88 AUGUST 2017

Geveden talks with Joe Miller, manager of Advanced Reactors & Engineering Business Development, on a visit to BWXT’s Fuel Technology Center in Lynchburg.

20- to 25-year project, give or take. If you look at what we do at the Department of Energy sites, you can see environmental remediation projects into the 2050s, and you can see weapons complex work that’s going on indefinitely … So we don’t have too much trouble recruiting, and we certainly don’t have any trouble keeping our employees.

VB: What attracted you to this company? Geveden: What attracted me to the opportunity were probably two or three things. One is the fact that the company was going through a spin, and I was being offered the opportunity to participate in a material way, first as the chief operat- ing officer and eventually as the CEO, in the formulation of the strategy of the company … We’re a fundamentally new public company … That’s a pretty exciting opportunity for me. I also liked it because it was a very pure, strategic entity. It’s very clearly a nuclear company, and I really liked the portfolio, and it looked like it had a lot of financial capability … I’d say the third thing that attracted me was I’m always hap- piest when I’m learning at a high rate. I had been at Teledyne for eight years and had a good run — it was a very good company. But I had learned the business. This was an opportunity to parachute into a new com- pany with new people and new markets and new technology that’s relatively new to me. That’s pretty intriguing for me.

VB: What was your most memorable event from [your career at NASA]? Geveden: When we did the space shuttle return to flight after the Columbia accident, that was just an incredible moment for all of us … I was deeply involved in the return to flight efforts. And it was literally an emotional moment

for me when we finally launched Gravity Probe B, which is a program I led for nine years. It was a very complex and very sophisticated spacecraft that was an incred- ible challenge to build and deliver. [The spacecraft, which involved 350 scientists and engineers, tested two fundamental aspects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.] You put your blood, sweat and tears into something like that for eight or nine years. It either works at launch or it doesn’t work … Happily, it worked.

VB: Do you see the future of space exploration being a commercial endeavor? Geveden: This is the way we were thinking about it when we put together the commercial cargo program [at NASA]: If you ask yourself, “What is the reason for the existence of a government entity like NASA?” I think you’d have to say that NASA should exist in the United States of America because there are certain things our nation ought to do when there’s no business case. There’s no business case for flying a spacecraft by Pluto and taking images … But there’re a lot of reasons a nation should do it, in my opinion. One is, of course, advancing knowledge. [A second reason] is that, in order to do things like that, you create technologies that are economic multipliers for the people of the United States of America. The third reason you do it is: You want geopolitical power. If you’re the nation that’s flying by Pluto, if you’re the nation that’s putting people on the moon, if you’re the nation that’s launch- ing shuttles delivering earth science, that’s collecting gamma rays, there accrues to that nation a certain geopolitical power that’s hard to get otherwise. So that’s the begin- ning of the discussion. … Now, if parts of that endeavor become routine, like putting cargo into lower earth orbit, for example, and can be commercialized to some degree, I think you should do that … I would like to be able to commercialize certain aspects of NASA. But I don’t believe that you could privatize all of space exploration or all of space science. There just isn’t a business case for that. There is an inherently govern- ment role that should remain — in this person’s opinion.

Photo courtesy BWX Technologies

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