Changing of the Guard
The World Nuclear Association (WNA) just made an announcement of a pair of very important leadership changes: Tim Gitzel, the CEO and president of Cameco, has just assumed the chairmanship of the WNA, replacing Chris Crane, the president and COO of Exelon (who will continue on as vice-chair); and John Ritch, the Director-General of WNA for more than 10 years, will retire from that position this year.
Since I've gotten to know John Ritch in my last two positions, I will devote the rest of this post to discussing some of his contributions and accomplishments over the past dozen or so years I have known him. I must leave it to others to comment on the change in the chairmanship.
John has had a very distinguished career, first on the staff of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he specialized in East-West relations and nuclear arms control, then as the U.S. Ambassador to United Nations organizations in Vienna, Austria, which include the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and finally, in his present position as the Director-General of the WNA.
I got to know John after I joined the Nuclear Energy office of the U.S. DOE, which was towards the end of his 7-year stint as Ambassador to the IAEA, so most of what I know of his accomplishments in that position is indirect, but I did discover quickly that he was well-respected in the IAEA community, both for the insights he brought to issues and for his ability to work constructively within that diverse community.
Although John left the Ambassadorship in 2001, around a year or so after I joined DOE, I continued to follow his career when he moved on to the WNA, and in fact, had several opportunities to work with him, both while I was at DOE, and later, when I moved on to the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD in Paris.
The very first thing that happened when John left Vienna to take up his new post in London is that the name and focus of the whole organization changed. Originally called the Uranium Institute (UI) with a mission primarily built around serving as a forum on the market for nuclear fuel, the organization was reinvented in 2001 as the World Nuclear Association, with an expanded mission that covers all aspects of the nuclear power industry.
There have been many changes since the UI became the WNA. I'm sure I could not identify all of them, but in addition to the obvious implications of the expansion of its scope, the WNA also became more active as a source of nuclear-related news and analysis, and I often find their website to be one of the better sources of concise information and background on nuclear programs and issues.
I would like to focus particularly on one activity in which I have had a personal involvement--that is, the World Nuclear University (WNU). The WNU was spearheaded by WNA, and in fact, especially by John. The goal of the WNU is to build leadership and develop networks among nuclear professionals around the world by providing a spectrum of short courses and other training activities in partnership with a broad spectrum of governments, industry and universities. Their flagship program is their 6-week Summer Institute, designed as a leadership development course for young professionals.
I well remember when John first came in to my DOE office and briefed several of us on his vision for this new program. Our initial reaction was skepticism. The WNA was not an academic organization. How would they attract the mentors who would be needed to provide the training. Who would provide the necessary financial support. What organizations would let their staff members leave for 6 weeks for such a course.
None of these questions fazed John. He patiently responded to all the questions, and continued to press for our support, as well as for the support of a variety of other organizations. When the WNU officially opened its doors a couple of years later, in addition to the WNA, its founding supporters included the IAEA, NEA, and the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO).
The Summer Institute is now held in Christ Church, University of Oxford, United Kingdom, but for the first few years, it rotated among several countries. I myself had the pleasure of participating in the program as a mentor/instructor in its second year, 2006, when it was held in Stockholm, Sweden. I found the Fellows to be an extraordinary group of bright, energetic young professionals. I also thought the opportunity for these people to work together with their peers from a variety of other countries was extraordinary.
I have continued to follow the success of the program and to read some of the comments of the graduates. Many of them point to this as one of the most exceptional experiences of their careers. Since the first Summer Institute in 2005, the program has hosted more than 650 Fellows from more than 65 countries.
Of all John's many accomplishments, I think he can be proudest of having established such an important educational program for the nuclear industry. The students trained through the Summer Institutes and the other WNU programs will help chart the course of the nuclear industry around the world for the next several decades. This in itself is a remarkable legacy.
There has been no announcement yet of just when John will leave the WNA or what he expects to do. I am assuming he may stay until his successor is chosen. That individual will certainly have a tough act to follow.