5 Years of CELI | An Interview with Lenka Kollar

Lenka presenting at the 2017 Women in Cleantech and Sustainability Talks

Lenka presenting at the 2017 Women in Cleantech and Sustainability Talks

Lenka Kollar is the Director of Strategy and External Relations at NuScale Power. NuScale is a carbon-free nuclear power provider that intends to provide cleaner, smarter, and cost competitive nuclear technology to improve the quality of life for all humankind. In addition to her role at NuScale, Lenka has been a member of the Clean Energy Leadership Institute community since Fall of 2017 when she participated in and completed the fellowship. Lenka will be speaking at CELI’s upcoming emPOWER conference and we had the pleasure of interviewing her for the 5 Years of CELI campaign.

Tell us a little bit about your career path and how you reached where you are today.

Growing up, I was always fascinated by science and the way technology and humanity would evolve in the future. When I took a seminar in college on nuclear technology, I was inspired by how the technology could not only be used for energy but also for medical imaging and treatment, agriculture through food irradiation, and even space exploration. I thought, this is the future, and decided to become a nuclear engineer.

Throughout my academic and professional career, I started to see how many of the issues associated with nuclear energy were societal, and not necessarily technical. So, I decided to focus on the intersection of technology, policy, and communication while working at the U.S. Department of Energy and United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, in addition to getting an MBA at INSEAD in France and Singapore.

Today, I’m honored to be working for a company that is at the forefront of nuclear energy and with a mission to provide electricity, heat, and clean water to improve the quality of life for people around the world. NuScale’s small modular reactor is one of the most exciting nuclear technologies out there for many reasons, including, its simple operation, inherent safety features, manufacturability, and low cost. But the most important thing to me is how it will be applied – to improve the lives of people around the world.

There are conflicting opinions on using nuclear as a form of clean energy. What are some common misconceptions about the energy resource that you’d like peers in the industry to better understand?

The first thing people ask me about is the nuclear waste - or what’s really used nuclear fuel. First of all, nuclear energy is the only energy source that accounts for all of its waste and includes it in the levelized cost. It’s also important to keep in mind that used nuclear fuel still has considerable energy available, and could be recovered. Other countries, like France, already recycle their used fuel and there are existing and new nuclear energy technologies on the drawing boards today that could utilize the used fuel. We have options for a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle, but they have unfortunately been held up in political issues.

“Transitioning to 100% clean energy is going to be hard. Rather than limit our options, we should be open to all clean energy technologies and include all people working in energy and passionate about these issues in the conversation.”

How is NuScale different from stereotypically “frightening” nuclear energy technologies?

I know that even the word “nuclear” is scary to most people, so I encourage everyone to read up on nuclear energy, talk to a nuclear engineer, and even visit a nuclear power plant to get all of your questions answered.

At NuScale, we are developing a new modular light water reactor nuclear power plant. This groundbreaking technology features a fully factory fabricated small modular reactor (SMR) capable of generating 60 MW of electricity – with up to 12 modules for a plant. The innovative design has unparalleled safety and reliability features, and its modular design makes it flexible, and cheaper and faster to build. NuScale's technology is also ideally suited to supply energy for district heating, desalination, other process heat applications, and even load follow with renewables.

How do you define clean energy?

Clean energy minimizes impacts on humans, animals, and the environment while maximizing the benefits of having access to energy. No energy source is perfect and the impacts and benefits need to be considered accordingly to make the best decisions for every region.

What do you think the role of nuclear is in achieving 100% clean energy goals?

Worldwide, we still rely on fossil fuels for about 80% our energy needs and over a billion people still don’t have any access to electricity. Transitioning to 100% clean energy is going to be hard. Rather than limit our options, we should be open to all clean energy technologies and include all people working in energy and passionate about these issues in the conversation. I appreciate CELI for creating that inclusive community.

How has your involvement in CELI supported your career progression?

I’ve been involved in student and young professional groups in the nuclear field but wanted to expand my knowledge and network within clean energy – CELI helped me do just that. The fellowship gave me a better understanding of the energy sector as a whole and since then I’ve been able to interact with the CELI community even more through continued learning, networking, and even book clubs!

What will you be speaking about at emPOWER?

I’m speaking on the opening panel on “Uniting the Clean Energy Industry” with other young professionals representing a diverse set of technologies. We’ll be talking about how we can work together between different industries and technologies to achieve the same end goal of clean energy. I especially want to encourage others to get outside of their comfort zones and interact with people in other sectors, and I’ll talk about how we’re doing just that at NuScale.

What recommendations do you have for someone looking to become involved in CELI?

Come to emPOWER on October 24-25 in Washington, DC!

Liz Dalton