Can This Startup Rethink Nuclear Power?


So many of the world's problems are related to energy shortages or issues with energy distribution. At Transatomic we're trying to move the world towards a new form of power generation. A form of power generation that has a lot of baggage quite honestly. We're a start-up commercializing a new type of nuclear reactor. We want to forge a path into an industry that is the biggest industry in the world. We know that we're up against big odds. I'm Leslie Dewan and I'm the CEO of Transatomic Power. I definitely didn't intend to become an entrepreneur. I started at school wanting to be a physicist. Either working for a national lab, maybe staying in academia. But, I think right now is an incredible time to be alive. In every field imaginable people are making such cool stuff. I got really drawn to the idea of starting my own company and trying something new. And that was when we started Transatomic.

The stakes are extremely high here. When we're trying to make a better source of electric power. Worldwide energy demand is supposed to double by 2050. The vast majority of it will be from increased electricity use in the rapidly developing countries. They just need electricity to improve their quality of life so that they can have light around the clock, and clean running water, and refrigeration. So Transatomic is trying to meet that growing electricity need in a safe and clean and low-cost, scalable way. My co-founder Mark Massie and I started thinking about building newer types of nuclear reactors a lot when we were midway through grad school. And we realized that a conventional nuclear reactor is only able to consume about three or four percent of the energy that they could conceivably get out of fresh nuclear fuel.

What we were able to do is take this nuclear fuel and we let it simmer like a crock pot for decades, and very, very slowly extract its remaining energy. And when we're doing that we're able to extract three times as much electricity as conventional reactors. This is a type of reactor that can't melt down if it loses electric power. And, even if there aren't any operators on-site it shuts itself down. With this new design actually able to build the plants more cheaply than coal power plants, in terms of both generating costs and construction costs. So we've shown fundamentally that the science is going to work, and now the focus is on turning it into a commercial product. There are a lot of challenges that Transatomic is facing right now. We're an industry that honestly does have a lot of baggage There was Chernobyl there was Three Mile Island and the industry came to a standstill.

It's been many decades since there have been new types of nuclear reactors under construction in the U.S. If we want to do this we need support from the public. We want people to want these reactors . Otherwise there's no market. Otherwise there's no good in it if we're not making something that people want. There is maybe a myth out there that if you're an entrepreneur and your idea is good, everything will just fall into place automatically and it'll be easy. No matter what if you're doing something important it's going to be really really hard. Even just you know 24 hours ago I was just really freaking out in a way about the amount of work that we had to do and the odds that were up against. And you have to find a way to get through that. My dad's an engineer and he would always bring me to the museum of science, and it's a big part of why i'm an engineer today. Just seeing the examples of all the other cool things that humans have made in engineering. There's the chance that our work could do a similar amount of good.

It's really humbling and inspiring. We know that it will take decades to bring this to fruition, but this is fundamentally the coolest thing that we could be doing with our lives. It's potentially world-changing..