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US nuclear power trade group head to retire in 2016

A new leader will head the US nuclear power industry's powerful trade group when Marvin Fertel, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute since 2008, retires at the end of 2016.

The nuclear industry, facing escalating economic challenges and rising operating costs, could tap an executive with Exelon, the largest merchant nuclear plant operator, to succeed him, Fertel said. He first revealed his retirement plans in an exclusive interview with Platts December 16.

Fertel, 69, said NEI's board of directors has been notified of his decision and a search firm will provide a list of candidates for his replacement to the group's executive committee.

Maria Korsnick, NEI's chief operating officer since mid-2014, "will be certainly one of the prime candidates in that search," Fertel said.

"I'm getting tremendous benefit from having her here working with me," he said.

"It's a great asset to this organization having Maria work with us now, and it will be a tremendous asset if she gets the job, in that she'll have so much experience with what NEI does, as well as all the great background that she has," Fertel said. "We look at it as a really good thing."

Fertel noted, however, that he will not make the decision on his successor.

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Prior to joining NEI, Korsnick was senior vice president of Exelon’s Northeast operations and acting chief executive officer and chief nuclear officer of Constellation Energy Nuclear Group. She is also executive director of the US nuclear power industry's Fukushima Steering Committee, which is responsible for coordinating with the NRC the industry's activities in response to lessons learned from the Fukushima I accident in Japan in 2011. Korsnick joined NEI in 2014.

Before Fertel joined NEI's predecessor organization, the US Council for Energy Awareness, in 1990, he held positions at Ebasco, Management Analysis Company and Tenera.

He became vice president of nuclear economics and fuel supply at NEI when the organization was formed in 1994, and he was named senior vice president and chief nuclear officer in 2003. Fertel became acting president and CEO in 2008 before being elected permanently to the position by NEI's board in 2009.

During Fertel's tenure, among other efforts, NEI has supported the licensing and construction of five new nuclear power units in the US. After the Barack Obama administration canceled in 2010 DOE's project to build a geological repository for spent fuel and nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, NEI successfully sued the department in federal court to halt the collection of a fee imposed on nuclear-generated electricity to build the Nuclear Waste Fund that would have been used to pay for that project.

NEI has also advocated for low-carbon portfolio standards and other policies to assist merchant nuclear power plants facing economic challenges from low natural gas and power prices, and coordinated enhancements of nuclear power plants' ability to mitigate severe accidents similar to that at Fukushima under its Flex initiative.

Fertel took the helm of NEI at the height of talk about a “nuclear renaissance” in the US, spurred by expectations of strong growth in demand as well as government support for new plants. Fertel saw those hopes sharply diminished as an economic contraction followed by a historic drop in the price of natural gas sent power prices plunging and reduced the need for new generation. In the past three years, Fertel and NEI have faced announcements that seven nuclear units in the US would shut. Just this year, Entergy has said it will close its Pilgrim and FitzPatrick units in Massachusetts and New York, respectively, because of financial challenges faced by merchant nuclear plants. Those units rely on wholesale market rates for electricity, which have tumbled, to make profits.

The support for Korsnick, an executive at the largest US merchant nuclear unit operator, reflects the importance that the problems of the merchant fleet represents for the industry.

She has recently been at the forefront of industry efforts to spread awareness of the issues facing the industry, and earlier this month she outlined an industry-wide initiative to improve the economics of nuclear plants by reducing costs and increasing revenue.

Fertel’s departure from NEI had been rumored for years.