Romania: Daniela Lulache, female leader of the nuclear industry
The organization of the ‘European Nuclear Young Generation Forum’ (ENYGF) next June in Paris is an opportunity for the SFEN Young Generation to make you discover the actors of the European nuclear sector. Livia Chitu from the Romanian Nuclear Young Generation interviewed Daniela Lulache, CEO of ‘Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica’ (SNN), the company that owns Romania’s nuclear reactors. Here is a written transcript of that interview:
Could you present yourself and your career?
I am Daniela Lulache. I am 48 years old and was born and raised in Romania. I am an economist by profession, having graduated from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies in 1993. I continued my career path in economics, mainly in corporate finance and restructuring, structured financial products, brokerage and strategic management, management of change and the principles of communications.
I have held strategic top management positions over the years in both the private and the state-owned sectors, which required a high level expertise in financial management due to their inherent complexity.
Before being recruited for the position of General Manager of Nuclearelectrica in 2013, I occupied the position of Counselor of the Vice-Governor of the National Bank of Romania, with responsibility for restructuring the contingency plan in the event of commercial banks defaulting. Prior to this, I was General Manager and President of the Board of Directors of Fondul Proprietatea (Property Fund), managing the entire activity of the Fund (Euro 4 bill. investment fund) including the start-up, the establishment of corporate structure and corporate governance, the investment strategy design and implementation, and portfolio management.
I also have a long experience in banking and financial consulting sectors.
In May of 2013, I was hired as Chief Executive Officer of Nuclearelectrica (the only nuclear energy producer in Romania) as part of the Government’s strategy to apply corporate governance to state-owned companies.
As Europe strivs to diversify its energy sources, reduce dependence on external suppliers, and reduce fossil fuel emissions, what is the role that Nuclearelectrica can play for Romania and for Europe?
Romania is one of the few countries that can ensure security of supply, diversity of energy sources while at the same reducing dependency on external resources, which is already very low, based entirely on its internal resources. Currently, the country has a well-balanced energy mix comprising nuclear, hydro, coal, gas and renewables. As European energy policy gives great emphasis to the reduction of CO2 emissions, with a level of 40% by 2030, the mix will most likely focus more on those sources that able to meet decarbonisation standards. Technology neutrality in meeting these standards will move investment strategies from the one-source-fits-all approach in terms of decarbonization towards a more balanced approach, incorporating all energy sources able to deliver the expected results. Among these sources, nuclear energy is the most stable one, with no need for back-up, no negative impact on the grid. It is also long-term oriented and affordable for consumers.
With its two operating units Nuclearelectrica satisfies approximately 20% of Romania’s energy consumption needs. Whenever a country has developed a complete nuclear fuel cycle, doubling the nuclear capacity is a wise long-term investment that leads to a balanced choice in which source diversity and technology neutrality play a significant role. In 10 years’ time nuclear production will either replace obsolete coal-fired plants, or ensure the long-term sustainability of the energy system. Of course, there is always room for exports provided some changes are introduced into the legislation and interconnecting capacities are further developed.
From an environmental and a commercial point of view, how competitive is nuclear energy in Romania, compared to other sources?
Very competitive! This is a clean energy source that has no impact on the environment. With regards to radioactive waste management, this is 100% safely controlled. I don’t know any other industry whose safely is so strictly regulated and standardized, and whose output satisfies so many energy system, long-term sustainability and consumers’ needs. Nuclear production has one of the lowest production costs on the market. Therefore, not only do we support environment protection, but also help consumers. As regards nuclear new build, the construction of new units may be cost intensive, but their operation is safe and profitable. All these factors are integrated into the broader picture of security of supply, diversity and decarbonization. I am personally not aware of any other resource that is so stable, so predictable and so environment and consumer- friendly.
Romania has ensured its energy independence with nuclear energy for years. Where does potential growth for nuclear lie, given the post-Fukushima world?
Romania has been oriented towards nuclear growth for some years now. Due to the impact of the financial crisis the development of the two additional units of Cernavoda NPP has been delayed. However, since August last year we have been actively involved in following the steps outlined in the new governmental strategy for the continuation of the two units. Currently, we are negotiating with the selected investor a Memorandum of Understanding for the joint implementation of the project, followed by the set-up of a new joint-venture (Project Company). Given all these preliminary stages, the construction of the units can be initiated no sooner than at least three years from now. Once the project is completed, a doubling of the nuclear capacity will be achieved simultaneously with the downsizing of the coal-based production. Romania has control of the complete fuel cycle, the necessary expertise and a rich experience of operating the existing two nuclear units at a very high level of nuclear safety. This was highlighted by the results of the stress tests, so we meet all the conditions required for advantageously increasing nuclear production.
I think that Europe needs nuclear if it wants to simultaneously address a series of challenges that have previously been addressed on a case-by-case. A lot of market failures are solved by major energy investment projects. As familiarity with investment is associated with well-known conventional energy projects, we have to take a leap of faith and move towards a new energy paradigm. If one wants different results, one has to start applying different measures.
Nuclear power has long-term potential. Opting for nuclear energy is a big decision that implies massive fundraising. What are the quantifiable effects of nuclear development? What can to be expected in return for such a commitment, on both a national and continental scale?
Let’s resume the benefits of investing in nuclear industry as follows:
Balance of payments: Anything that reduces imports is beneficial to national economies and is a safe-guard for long-term and unimpeded development. We need guarantees for security of supply and energy independence, as well as for energy source and price stability.
Price stability: The introduction of an additional large-scale energy source into the mix provides additional price stability.
Security of energy supply: an increase in indigenous production (one of the EU desiderata), coupled with low volumes of fuel, as is the case of nuclear, contribute directly to security of supply.
Employment: new build involves the creation of thousands of jobs both directly and horizontally. Also, having lower electricity prices supports competitiveness and growth, whereas, on the other hand, higher electricity prices due to lack of the hedging effect of other sources could result in a drop in employment and a reduction of GDP.
Spin-off effect: horizontal growth either in the nuclear industry or in other industries.
What are Romania’s expectations from COP21 climate conference?
I expect an input of expertise on how we can economically address climate change by fostering those industries that can deliver quantifiable results. In order to have bio-sustainable economies there’s a need to identify the innovative solutions that are able to address such a strong paradigm change.
How do you find the experience of being the first woman to hold the position of CEO of a company like Nuclearelectrica?
The nuclear industry represents a state-of-art technology, requires exceptional human resources, and complex integrated management skills. So, it requires a management highly competent management team. The top management of Nuclearelectrica consists of several great professionals whose aim is to further develop the company and set it on a constant path of growth. For such positions, it is irrelevant if you are a man or woman. It’s all about results.
Within the framework of the European Nuclear Young Generation Forum, what is the message that you would like to address to the young professionals consodering working in this field?
The message is that this is an industry like no other, which can give young professionals an amazing career path and personal development opportunities. I strongly encourage them to choose such a career as their professional lives will embark upon a very dynamic journey full of challenges, motivation and satisfaction.