Seven people who have made a difference for the global nuclear industry in 2021


As 2021 draws to a close there is a real feeling of positivity that the nuclear sector is entering a new era. Nobody can remember a time there was so much good news for the industry coming so quickly on so many fronts. Here we want to take a moment to recognise some of the individuals who have helped to make that happen: the Magnificent Seven of nuclear in 2021.


Jessica Johnson

Jessica works at the EU trade association, Foratom, and has been leading the nuclear sector’s response to the Taxonomy. The exact details of nuclear’s inclusion in the Taxonomy have not been published yet, so we do not want to speak too soon, but it’s sure to say that nuclear would have failed at the first hurdle without a well-coordinated approach. In fact, the sector has fought all the way for what’s right and Jessica played a key role in that.


Rafael Mariano Grossi

In the last couple of years, the sharply dressed head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi has stepped up as a powerful advocate for nuclear’s role in the highest international circles. This reached a peak at COP26 in Glasgow where Grossi leveraged the IAEA’s position within the UN system to present nuclear energy as the important climate solution it is – something which had never happened before.


Tom Samson

Small reactors will undoubtedly play a crucial role in decarbonisation thanks to their flexibility in supplying electricity as well as heat for non-power applications including the production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels. One of the main players in the UK is the consortium developing the Rolls-Royce SMR, which Tom Samson leads. To get it to the licensing stage Tom had to raise £210 million in investment, which the UK government could match. Having done this, Tom and the Rolls Royce SMR project are in the process of hiring 200 people, and building to a workforce of 800.


The YGN Team

Arun Khuttan, Saralyn Thomas, Miguel Trenkel Lopez, Sophie Zienkiewicz, Hannah Peterson, Matthew Mairinger, Neil Calder, Vicki Dingwall, Alice Cunha da Silva

We couldn’t mention COP26 without recognising the amazing work of the UK Nuclear Institute Young Generation Network and the extended team including other YGNs and advocates from across the world. After Grossi, this group of self-funded volunteers was the main representation of nuclear energy at the climate talks. Their commitment, organisation and energy was incredible and they even coined the hashtag #NetZeroNeedsNuclear, which has gone global and has been repeated by ministers.


Elon Musk

One of the biggest moments of the year came last, when the entrepreneur Elon Musk tweeted his support for nuclear energy.

It’s crazy, but in today’s world a single sentence from someone like Elon Musk can influence the thinking of hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of people. And we shouldn’t forget that making a statement about nuclear can be a risk for a public figure, so kudos to him for making that commitment. (Let’s also give kudos to the nuclear influencer Isabelle Boemeke who is the one able to reach him and change his mind.)

Bill Gates

The Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has been involved in nuclear energy since around 2008, when he founded his company TerraPower. Now, in 2021, all those years of spending money are about to pay off. TerraPower announced in November that it will build its first Natrium reactor at Kemmerer in Wyoming, near to the Naughton coal-fired power plant, helping workers there change to new clean energy careers.


Sara Cullen

Ireland has enormous wind energy resources, yet still has to rely on dirty gas, coal and peat to power its grid. Nuclear could create jobs in Ireland while stabilising its grid and eliminating dirty fuels, but there was no discussion of this until 18for0 appeared and made the case for nuclear. One of 18for0’s aims is to get the government to commission a serious study into the option, and after numerous media appearances polls now show that Irish people are interested in learning more and discussing the possibility of using nuclear. This is all down to Sarah and the other volunteers of 18for0.

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