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Picture Bruce Wayne building Modular Reactors

Abundant energy, from Earth to the Asteroid Belt

If you've spent any time on tech twitter this past month, it's clear that there's been a huge revival in spreading a positive narrative on all things nuclear energy. From Marc Andreessen's techno-optimist manifesto to Josh Wolfe's testimony in D.C., some of the most prolific Silicon Valley veterans are doing everything they can to help newcomers understand why they should be looking into the energy industry.

Why are so many smart people spending their energy (pun intended) in this field?

To be honest, I haven't done any reading or learning on the energy industry since high school. So today, I decided to take some time and educate myself on the basics.

As a start, I read through Julia's excellent primer on all things Nuclear and checked out the basics of Antares, a nuclear company she co-founded with Jordan Bramble.

Here are 3 (introductory) takeaways from my research today:

  1. Nuclear is the dark knight

  2. The Nuclear FTX

  3. Nuclear-as-a-service

Let's dive in 🚀


Nuclear is the dark knight

I was shocked by the first sentence of Julia's primer...read this:

Nuclear energy has been quietly producing carbon-free energy for decades, but most don’t know that it accounts for 20% of the US’s electricity and over half of its carbon-free electricity.

Are you kidding me??

I swear up until today I thought nuclear energy sources were pretty much all banned and non-existent. The fact that a fifth of America's energy is dependent on nuclear totally shook up my mental framework of the industry.

For the amount of negative press and regulatory pressure it gets, Nuclear is doing one heck of a job.

The easiest way to put it is that nuclear is the dark knight of the energy sector. It takes all the shit but still does its job effectively anyways.

The start of Nuclear was of course the Manhattan Project back in WW2. Most of you reading this have probably watched Oppenheimer or have read American Prometheus so I won't get into that train of thought.

But here's the thing...nuclear physicists just went from one war to the next. After little boy & fat man were dropped in Japan, nuclear advocates had to start dealing with grassroots environmentalists that were dead set on ending all nuclear efforts.

By the '70s, Nuclear was effectively banned in America and any progress made pretty much came to an end. In a recent podcast episode, Marc Andreessen mentions that the biggest policy failure of his lifetime was this Nuclear ban. The world would have looked very different if the industry had been given the support it needed over the last 50 years.

So why is nuclear even a good energy source? Well, Julia sums it up into 3 simple points:

  1. Reliability: unlike wind & solar energy, it can be relied on pretty much 24/7

  2. Abundant: it's up to us to determine how much nuclear there can be. We're not constrained by resources - the only bottleneck is our ability to build.

  3. Carbon-Free: This one's obvious...coal, oil, etc. are all bad. Nuclear is clean.

Okay, so why does Nuclear have such a bad rep? And why has nuclear innovation been on hold for so many decades?

Well...simply put, the nuclear industry never recovered from its FTX moment.


The Nuclear FTX

It was quite interesting to see the parallels between the antiquated nuclear sector and the nascent crypto industry.

Both are plagued by a virus spread by mainstream media. What does that mean?

Well, let's back up for a second. For any new technology to grow into its full potential, it takes a ton of experimentation, ups & downs, and yes, some tragic failures - there's no such thing as a straight line up in the real world.

Around this time last year, we saw the collapse of FTX which brought down the entire crypto industry. In a matter of 24 hours, 99.9% of the world turned their backs on the scam tokens and monkey pictures - to them it was clear that crypto was strictly around to facilitate scams and hacks. Crypto was officially dead.

But to anyone working in the web3 industry, it's clear that "crypto can't die". The tech is already out in the wild. It's a matter of developers building sustainable infrastructure, privacy, and consumer apps before the space inevitably makes a comeback.

The most ironic part of the whole situation was that the FTX collapse was actually the perfect example of why true crypto technology is needed - centralized ledgers can't be trusted.

Similarly, the nuclear industry has had its fair share of 'FTX moments' back in the day.

The 3-mile Island accident, Chernobyl, & Fukushima were all accidents that occurred as scientists were still trying to understand how to better apply nuclear tech.

However, as Julia puts it...

Overblown response and media coverage to each of these events led to a vast misunderstanding of what happened at these events, and how damaging they actually were.

The accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, for example, killed a total of zero (0) people. The incident released negligible amounts of radioactivity.

What the media does best is take these one-off failures in the tech industry and blow them out of proportion. Anti-tech journalists literally start a new mind virus and spread it to as many people as they can through TV, newspapers, radios, etc.

And it doesn't take long for the rest of the country to get infected. That's why most American citizens - heck even including me - have just believed that nuclear is a no go. The why is irrelevant once the virus is in the mind.

What's funny is that I thought only crypto faced these issues but it turns out that the nuclear researchers have been dealing with the same problems since the '70s. Props to the few left who are still working hard to fight the battle.

Okay, so with that being said. Just as crypto is working to improve on its privacy issues and clunky UX, what are nuclear engineers doing to better the narrative?


Nuclear-as-a-service

It's clear that Julia believes that the best route ahead for nuclear is to focus on the construction of modular reactors.

Up until today, most nuclear construction has been exactly what you would think in your head - enormous facilities in the middle of nowhere.

But the truth is, that's probably not the best approach. Each of those large reactors we see in the pictures cost billions of dollars and countless years to develop. It's negative EV and the risk of failure is too high.

Rather, the more reasonable route is to build modular microreactors.

To me, it's basically like nuclear-as-a-service. We need to build factories that can crank out modular reactors in a fast, scalable, and cost-efficient manner. Once that is figured out, it'll be a lot easier to start setting up nuclear sources all over the place for a variety of stakeholders.

There's no need to go "all-in" on a single reactor when you can serve a lot more people faster on a smaller scale.

Antares is doing exactly that - here's how Jordan describes it:

“Antares was founded on the belief that our nation’s military will benefit greatly from rapidly deployable nuclear energy. Microreactors are a high power density clean energy source that can untether our military from the burden of fossil fuel supply chains and power next-generation defense technologies.”

Key phrase there: Rapidly deployable nuclear energy.

Jordan & Julia are aiming to target the military as their primary customers at least at the beginning of their journey. And overtime, as they improve their mvp and production processes, the goal will be to expand to all kinds of stakeholders.

Their website doesn't have too much info, but if you're interested check out the job postings to learn more about what they're aiming to do and who they're looking to work with!

Antares recently raised a round from Susa Ventures and Caffeinated Capital and it looks like they're off to the races 🔥

There's a couple of other companies that are on a similar track and I'm excited to learn more about their approaches as well in the coming weeks.


That's all for today's post - hope you enjoyed!

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