Atomic Show #275 – Managing advanced nuclear development during pandemic
Managing any business is hard work, especially during a global pandemic with stay-at-home orders in place. It requires creativity and flexibility along with some amount of prior preparation.
On May 11, 2020, I gathered a group of representatives from several start-up companies that are developing advanced nuclear technologies to talk about how they are making progress under challenging conditions.
All of the companies that participated in the call are relatively new and have been founded with the idea of finding talented, excited employees in a variety of locations. As a result, they have infrastructure and procedures in place to handle a geographically distributed work force.
Many of their employees have always worked from their home offices. Companies have discovered, however, that there are some advantages in holding video conferences where all participants are distributed instead of having a core group physically located in the same conference room.
That arrangement seems to enable better collaboration and a more comprehensive ability to take advantage of contributions from people that are not located at the home office.
Companies are gaining experience in pushing the boundaries of remote monitoring in some of their experimental facilities. They believe that some of the techniques that they are implementing will pay dividends as they develop and deploy their technology products.
Government agencies and national laboratories have made substantial progress in their ability to work under conditions that restrict travel and in-person meetings. The infrastructure that enables this different approach was being developed and enhanced even before stay at home orders associated with the global pandemic took effect.
Of course, not all of the challenges facing these start-up energy companies are as readily addressed as remote working. There is turmoil in the global energy markets and there are regulatory and supplier issues that need to be addressed.
We had a wide ranging discussion that should make for interesting listening for anyone who wonders how the advanced nuclear industry is doing under difficult business conditions.
Here is a list of the discussion participants and the companies they represent.
Caroline Cochran, co-founder and COO of Oklo Inc.
Per Peterson, co-founder and Chief Nuclear Officer at Kairos Power
Carl Perez, CEO at Elysium Industries
Canon Bryan, Chief Financial Officer, Terrestrial Energy
Lars Jorgenson, CEO, ThorCon
Mark Mitchell, President, USNC-Power
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Two off the wall comments:
1) I liked the idea of the synthetic fuels. The energy density of a liquid fuel beats batteries. It also seems like anathema to have to convert ’57 Chevies to run on batteries because of potential emission requirements. It just ain’t right.
2) One of the guys mentioned Milton Friedman. I seem to remember he was a big advocate of letting markets determine winners. I look at the nuclear industry which has a lot of advantages over other energy sources including alleviating global warming and truly question that idea. I do not think market forces are representing it’s advantages.
You’ve piqued my interest enough to listen to previous podcasts.
All of my heroes on one call! Best program ever!
Here is an idea. These are the small nuclear innovators (under 143 people in the company).
What about large company innovators with the same questions? Maybe Westinghouse, GEH, NuScale, X-Energy, Holtec,
Well, HOLTEC is an undertaker. The SMR benefactor is in his 80s and the inheritors will likely part-out the company within before 2030.
NuScale is 100% marketing, albiet with a nearly approved design. They do plenty of podcast-type PR things; it’s all over the net.
Westinghouse is to busy selling $4B worth of fuel every year – it would kinda be like Trump going on local TV.
GEH ditto, but prolly $2B in revenue.
Xenergy basically holds PBMR IP, which even the Chinese didn’t care to steal. Yeah they’ll probably make a demo microRx FWIW. Old MIC.
I still would like to know how these established companies are handling social distancing.
Congress has decided to pick two winners for an initial $160 million of funding. Funding to get across the valley of death. I think it is quite likely the $160 will go to two of the companies you have trashed. What do you think?
Rod Adams and I were employees at a company that got a similar level of funding ~$80M from DOE (B&W mPower). Over $470M were spent on that SMR… In the end the IP was worthless. It was transferred to Bechtel along with a $30M settlement. B&W was split into two entities: BWXT and B&W (fossil). All the debt was stuck with BWXT, since it is sole supplier for NR. So I’ve seen this game before, bud. I was even more enthusiastic than you are now when I was on that team. Additionally you should know that I turned down positions at three of the four companies I mentioned. I stay close to the money machine now (commercial power); startups used my idealism like a tool. No more. If you want to throw in with them, go for it.
4 of the 5 actually… GE never wanted me. It’s too bad; I love the beach.
Have you paid any attention to the performance of the two companies formed when B&W was split?
Do you honestly believe B&W mPower failed because SMRs aren’t worth doing? That’s NOT the lesson I took away from my experience on that team.
Many great people working on a tech with excellent potential were sabotaged by a few selfish, incompetent, vain and greedy executives.
Nice. I see the B&W (fossil) stock opened in 06/2015 at $100/share and it is now a penny stock, under $5/share since January, while BWXT, with the guarantee NR income is $55/share in the current depressed market.
Some people might not understand the finer details about my position on the future of these startups… I’m not “antinuclear” as I am often accused of being. Lets say, the political winds blow strong enough, for long enough, for two of the Oklo/Kairos/Elysium/TE/ThCon/USNC “vendors” to build a demo… is that proof that the dreamers were right and I, Debbie Downer, am wrong? As I see it, no. The only way I become wrong about this before I die in 2055, is if more than one of these critters is built somewhere off the INL reservation – even better if privately financed. Several of the O/K/El/TE/TC/USNC are more reasonable than the others, yet those are the designs with the worst economic case.
Thanks again for allowing my comments to stick. It feels good to be on record about this….
You neglected to mention where BWXT stock opened. On July 1, 2015, it began trading on the NYSE at $24.56. That adds some context to its current price.
I smile when thinking that Ferland chose to stay with the fossil unit.
Honestly held points of view are rarely unwelcome here. I tend to disagree with your negative views and believe your bitter taste from the mPower experience might be misplaced.
There were numerous mistakes made at executive levels, but that is not a fatal flaw of nuclear technology.
In the podcast one of the speakers mentioned using CO2 in flue gas as an input for making synthetic liquid fuels, presumably mostly for transportation use. Then use nuclear heat or electricity to process the CO2.
What would you be burning to produce the CO2 & why? Couldn’t your nuclear source provide heat where you used to burn fossil fuel to get heat?
Shouldn’t you just use your nuclear heat to directly turn the coal/heavy oil/natural gas, into gasoline or diesel or an alcohol?
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