Atomic Show #312 – Tyler Bernstein, CEO Zeno Power 1

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  1. I must admit I haven’t yet listened to the podcast, but I don’t understand how Zeno has a “clear line of sight to being a growing, profitable company”


    the DOE owns the fission products that are in spent fuel in pools and casks at nuclear plants across a country that does not reprocess fuel.

    Is their killer app is novel shielding concepts, material or unique understanding of shielding? Is their killer app deterministic software that makes shielding easier to spec-out? Shielding is a complex topic for sure; generally that complexity applies to shipping or other handling (sterilization, medical use, etc.). 30′ of water and a GM tube on a wand is how lethally radioactive items are handled otherwise – without shielding calculations per se.

    Love the blog, but this story seems to be reaching. These 30-under-30 types with ‘fresh outlook’ get too much play in the nuclear related blogosphere/reddit-o-sphere. Might be time for a “where are they now” story for the many flamboyant that have been introduced over the years.

    It is amazing how there “is always something happening” in nuclear power on the internet, but nothing actually happening on the front.

  2. Neat episode and neat company! It is nice to see someone *actually* pursuing cheaper RPS’s since that has been a talking point in the space world for a long time with no real action taken. I would be interested to see Zeno look into other energy conversion mechanisms as well. Thermoelectric generators are great, but obviously limited in conversion efficiency, and Stirling generators put some size and life time limitations on the system. There is an extensive literature on direct energy conversion from the charged particles released by decay, as well as two stage systems like PIDEC (Photon Intermediate Decay Conversion) and thermophotovoltaics. Modern thermionics or even combinations of all of these techniques may also be promising! The appeal of something with the simplicity of a traditional RTG (i.e. no moving parts) but much higher conversion efficiency is quite high considering the price of even cheap isotopes like Sr-90.

  3. I see what Zeno is now… They give it away on their webpage. If you look under “Team” you will see the revolving door between the private and public sector… The ‘advisory board’ consists of high ranking former DOE persons, former US representative, former Lockheed Martin exec., and a retired Admiral. About 1/3 of the employees listed hold management positions in the company. So, Zeno got $30M to build Strontium90 radioisotope generators in 05/2023, like USSR fielded in the tundra 50 years ago, and all those people get paid. Got it. It’s DC ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Note: of course the tech works, not arguing that. Its a rehash of been there done that, but with a webpage and an advisory board.

    1. Michael

      Did you get a chance to listen to the podcast? The key innovation that Zeno has compared to those that were fielded in the tundra, on the seafloor and in navigational buoys is that their shielding design reduces the required mass and volume by a large enough factor for Sr-90 to be useful in space applications.

      Sr-90 decay is nearly pure beta, which isn’t difficult to shield. That “nearly” word is important because the few decays that include high energy photons or gammas along with those generated by bremsstrahlung are what drive the shielding requirements. In the 1960s, the state of the art was to add more lead.

      I cannot explain in detail, but I have reviewed the materials in sufficient depth to convince myself that the company has developed a useful, cost-effective power source. Their board of advisors are not just using political pull to obtain contracts.

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