The Power Hungry Podcast

Caroline Cochran: Oklo Inc. and the Future of Small Nuclear Reactors

August 18, 2020 Robert Bryce & Caroline Cochran Season 1 Episode 9
The Power Hungry Podcast
Caroline Cochran: Oklo Inc. and the Future of Small Nuclear Reactors
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The Power Hungry Podcast
Caroline Cochran: Oklo Inc. and the Future of Small Nuclear Reactors
Aug 18, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Robert Bryce & Caroline Cochran

In March 2020, Oklo Inc. submitted an application to federal regulators that could allow it to build and operate an advanced type of nuclear reactor. In this episode, Robert Bryce talks to Caroline Cochran, the co-founder and COO of Oklo, about her company’s design – a liquid-metal fast reactor with 1.5 megawatts of capacity -- the hurdles it faces in getting to market, why small reactors may have advantages in the market, and when and where it might be deployed.

Show Notes Transcript

In March 2020, Oklo Inc. submitted an application to federal regulators that could allow it to build and operate an advanced type of nuclear reactor. In this episode, Robert Bryce talks to Caroline Cochran, the co-founder and COO of Oklo, about her company’s design – a liquid-metal fast reactor with 1.5 megawatts of capacity -- the hurdles it faces in getting to market, why small reactors may have advantages in the market, and when and where it might be deployed.

Robert Bryce :

Hi, and welcome to the power hungry podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. I'm the host of this show Podcast, where we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. My guest today is Carolyn Cochran, the chief operating officer of oklo, Inc. Thanks, Carolyn. Thanks for being with us today. Thank you, Robert. I'm here. So we're going to talk about oklo and Carolyn's company, where you've been working for seven years. You just told me?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, yeah, actually, we just passed her seven year anniversary guess I'm not in 2013.

Robert Bryce :

Gotcha. Okay, so my custom on this show is I could introduce you and talk about you and I could talk about the fact that we're both from Tulsa, but I'm going to skip over that and let you introduce yourself. So please, if you don't mind. Imagine you just arrived at a dinner party. You don't know anyone there. It's your turn to introduce yourself. So please, Carolyn, who are Yeah, why are you here? All right,

Caroline Cochran :

yeah. Um, well I am from Tulsa. Sometimes I do start with that actually because growing up in Oklahoma I think, um, you know, oil and gas is everywhere and it's it's kind of King especially in Tulsa, maybe well, anywhere in Oklahoma really. And, and so I think that was a frame of reference like came from before learning about nuclear power and advanced vision and everything else. So when I was exposed to nuclear power in college I was probably had a similar reaction to a lot of people which is like a little skeptical a little bit like why didn't realize how, how much power it already provides in the United States, just all the context just like most Americans had had basically none of that so i i remember that and I think that helps me to always remember kind of like what frame of reference most people are coming out when they hear about it. But yeah, I I was interested. I like math and science. I got into engineering. I was making Chemical Engineering undergrad, and most of my classmates went off to oil and gas. But I did a few internships where I really learned about nuclear and at the same time is getting more more interested in environmental topics and so and health topics as well, actually. And so it's kind of well, you can either go into nuclear medicine with a nuclear engineering graduate degree, or you could do power. There's also kind of interesting, you know, non proliferation or like, defense applications. So there's kind of all of them seemed interesting and potentially having a higher purpose, I guess that really attracted me. So I worked for a year between undergrad and grad school in tech commercialization, but then got to grad school to do nuclear engineering. But not long after I got there. I met Jake DeWitt, who's my co founder, but he was getting a group of students together to try to start something, started a company I'm like, well, I've been doing startup things since the early 2000s. Like, I'm, I would totally be interested in kind of merging those two things I enjoy doing or learning about and Yeah, so I, we were starting and, and honestly, there's a group of a couple dozen students that each had their own ideas. So it took a little while before we really honed in on what a market would really want and what we should really do and then launched as oklo in 2013.

Robert Bryce :

didn't start with the name oklo.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah.

Unknown Speaker :

What was launched as OCO? Well, I've just

Caroline Cochran :

launched in 2013. Yeah, right.

Unknown Speaker :

Digital power, you power

Caroline Cochran :

you power technologies. It was honestly pretty bad. And I take full blame for that. We were sitting around we were in late 2012. before we'd really launched as a company, trying to what we're putting out some proposals for SBR grants and just kind of that name was the best one of the ones that the three of us had come up with that night, so we stuck it on a piece of paper and, and you know, that was our company name until a few years, but we had used the name Oakland turnley is kind of what we're calling the Aurora now. And we really liked that name so much that we really just wanted to change the company name. So we, we did the whole change.

Robert Bryce :

So let me come back to Oklahoma and why it matters. But tell me why that why your company so if someone is listening to the podcast doesn't know anything about you doesn't know anything about nuclear energy. what what what's, why do we Why do they care about oklo? What is it about a company that makes a difference? And particularly when it comes to producing carbon free electricity?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I think there's, there's an interesting, fine line to draw here. And of course, nuclear power is, I think, critically important to the future of the world broadly, including all types of plants, honestly. And a lot of people don't know so including, but probably not including the listeners of your podcast, but maybe someone stumbled on that they don't realize it some more than half of our nation's emission free electricity. So it's certainly not something that we want to get rid of at any point if we want to make gain grow. And when we've seen countries that are deeply decarbonized, as I think you've talked about a lot, it's countries that have utilized a lot of nuclear power. So

Unknown Speaker :

I think the but the but the key,

Robert Bryce :

but the the key for oklo is really I'm just trying to jump ahead here is, is that Yeah, you've you've designed and are trying to get licensed a very small reactor, one and a half. Absolutely.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah. So that was kind of right after that the next thing so good segue. Um, yeah. So, you know, that's important. But at the same time, I think, what industry can you think of where it really hasn't changed in decades? Where they still kind of ask you are you sure you want to do electronic documents instead of paper? And I'm not kidding you that that's the thing. And when I was even when I was in grad school, I was one of my intros to a program, a software that I was using was how was a picture of a punch card. And then like, well, this is why there's this many characters in this code because it started with punchcard, and so on. There's so many things that are kind of just from the ground up in, in what we call like existing power reactors that you see on the grid light water reactors that haven't changed, or I mean that that can be improved, right. And so we saw that, but also, you can use totally different fuels, you can use totally different coolants. So much of this, it's new and it's old, right? It was looked at decades ago and for a long time, but hasn't really been commercially implemented. So we wanted to do something totally different, totally different scale for fuel and coolant, and everything else and safety characteristics. And parrot was like a market that we saw really needs this kind of power. And so that's like distributed and micro grids that are really been exploding. I think the reason for the nexus of that occurring is not just micro grids in developing countries kind of starting to come, you know, to be developing, but it's also the care for climate and emissions because otherwise, why not just build a bunch of diesel generators. So if you were If

Unknown Speaker :

I if I care

Caroline Cochran :

and care about power on the small scale,

Robert Bryce :

listen, let me interrupt you there because it's clear that that one and a half megawatts this, the output, the electrical output of what you're designing one and a half megawatts, you mentioned diesel generators that's very common size in in not necessarily portable, but skid mounted generators that are made by Cummins and Caterpillar and you see them all over the developing world, you see them as standby generators, in data centers. But that that's key to what Oakland was trying to do. Right, is that that that scale, the size of what you're trying to develop? is one of the keys that sets you apart. Is that a fair assessment?

Caroline Cochran :

I think it's one of it is definitely one of the keys. I think one of the things we've said before is is this could be kind of like our Tesla Roadster. So it's like a unique niche product for a market and need that may have me like be willing to pay for that niche product because they're currently it would still save them significant amounts of money. From what they're currently paying now, but to really make a change, what we see is his vision is that the power to to hit a lot of different markets. So we're already working on kind of larger plants, but still kind of in microreactor range, but closer to 10 or 20 instead of one. And then those add up a lot faster. You know, you start with

Robert Bryce :

20 or 20 megawatts. So you could do a whole village or a small town instead of just a neighborhood.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I think that is key. But really, and I'm going to try to make this as succinct as possible. But by doing everything from the ground up completely differently from our quality assurance from our digitally controlling our design and everything else, using a different fuel, different coolant, different size, everything. We're able to kind of cause everyone force everyone to look at things in a different way and where we really want to start with that as the regulatory system because the regulatory system is built around these existing large, lightweight arrays. After plants and I think which

Robert Bryce :

which are 1000 megawatts generally. And that's the most common one being built the ap 1000 is what's been built in it plant Vogel and Georgia. These are the plants that are being deployed at scale by rasa Tom and and and other big nuclear companies in China and elsewhere, right that they're 1000 megawatts, and you're, you're looking at a megawatt and a half. So that's really a fundamental break from what we've seen in other other companies, other technologies and so on. But before I get to that, let me let me say, just to put Oakland in context, tell me how many employees you have, if you don't mind?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, that's funny.

Robert Bryce :

So 20 employees, and if I'm reading my history, right, and I'm referring to rod Adams here at atomic insight, who's written about your, your company, it was in March, you made an application. It was the combined license application for an advanced reactor. And this you were the first company to do that in since 2009. Is that right?

Caroline Cochran :

We're the first events, fishing companies do it ever. But you're right, more than more than a decade passes any company has submitted a combined license application and one Fun Fact or sad fact perhaps is that no license application that started under the NRC since the NRC split off from the AC you know, and basically the AC broke up.

Robert Bryce :

Atomic Energy Commission.

Caroline Cochran :

Yes, thank you. We have to let these

Robert Bryce :

listeners know about your your, your acronyms as well. Yeah,

Caroline Cochran :

I'm sorry. It's a terrible habit. No worries. Basically, it's split up into the D ue and the NRC, which is the department of energy in the US nuclear regulatory commission in the 70s. None of them have come online yet. So I think that's a really startling thing to tell people. And it's, it's true, um, you know, hopefully Google will be here soon and we'll accomplish that.

Robert Bryce :

Because I want to make sure I understand what you just said so that you can have the combined license applications that have been submitted to The NRC over the last how many decades? Would that be?

Caroline Cochran :

Well, the

Unknown Speaker :

Yes. So and none of them have come, none of those reactors have come online,

Caroline Cochran :

basically. Yeah. Let me let me maybe let me be really specific. The combined license itself is kind of a newer process that was begun in the 2000s. But okay, a lot to get a license from the NRC. Starting with it, whatever method hasn't happened yet. hasn't happened yet, where it started producing power started that application process under the NRC. So um, but Vogel Vogel has gone through this process, but they're not built yet.

Robert Bryce :

Right. They're still being those plants are still being built.

Caroline Cochran :

It's Yeah, I think it's build or their fuel load is is hasn't occurred yet. I think, okay, I'm not fully up on that. So it's, what I'm trying to illustrate is it's an incredible challenge and what we what our thesis is, is that if you can Basically address the concerns of regulations inherently by your safety being. So inherent and your security and so forth and all these other things, then it really should result in a more streamlined, or more efficient licensing process. Because, you know, fundamentally, it's just totally different in the public health and safety is, is being insured, not through a regulation that says you have to have this exact pump, which we don't even have or something like that. And I'm kind of giving not the best example but you know, the regulation could be very specific to the light water reactor type. And what we wanted to do is show you can go through the regulatory system as exists and I think the NRC is motivated to do that too. And and do it faster, hopefully, and really changed the cost paradigm for nuclear that way.

Robert Bryce :

So, in addition to the only 20 employees, you you want to design them you want to build them and operate them. So this is a different different business model as well. What GE would do, or Westinghouse, or I guess, rasa Tom would design, build and operate. But I mean, that's that. That's a different business model. So why do you want to? Why do you want to control the whole supply chain? Why do you want that end to end? control over the over the system?

Caroline Cochran :

That's a really excellent question. I don't think I've ever been asked that. Um, what we saw is, I think there's there was, there can be a breakdown between if there's a developer and their only goal is to get a design certification or other kind of design stamp, let's say, from the NRC, that they then sell to utility that they build it, the utility builds and operates it. The developer has kind of this unusual incentive just to get it out the door. Of course, they care about it being safe and stuff like that. But they're not the people actually operating it and running it. I think, there can be breakdowns between really thinking through the whole process all the way to what was it looked like day to day to operate it, which is something that obviously we had to do when we file the combine senses put together operations programs and security programs and handling programs and all these kinds of things that we've been thinking about since day one and I think there's there's there's both an efficiency there but also just a real benefit to your ultimate end product when you own it like that

Robert Bryce :

through material work control throughout and that and that that that feedback loop is all self contained then that you control everything soup to nuts. Let me hit on that one point that you made there about the security part of this because it's one in in I wrote a book I did I made a film we went to the nuclear plant in New York and one of the issues there was heavy security is is that going to be an issue that's different with the your reactor the as opposed to the larger reactors what how is the security protocol because I asked this because you've got to convince the public right you have to convince not just the regulator's you have to convince a lot of the general public that it's going to be safe and secure. So is the security protocol for what you're designing different than the existing fleet of reactors.

Caroline Cochran :

It is it is it's, it had kind of has to be. But one of the things that is interesting, they you kind of have to just shift the whole your whole mindset when you look at a plant like this, when you think about both, and I'm going to tie in, you asked about security, but operations is really a similar thing you see potential for errors that really come mostly from human error. And if you can make it so that humans aren't required to ensure safety, or which then kind of also dictates like, a bad actor can't necessarily cause an event that causes for safety or potential radiological issue. Then you can really simplify both your operations and your security. And in fact, it's better to do that because you don't introduce a way for humans to either mess up the safety or to have a rogue actor. So one of the biggest threats when we did our security threat analysis was actually the threat of having an army guard on site who goes rogue because then he's trained and he or she is trained and has weapons and so forth. So it is kind of interesting when you look at it that way humans could could actually be the worst threatened. So it's actually safer for everyone. And I think, you know, and kind of a sad way our culture is seen, seeing how things can escalate with with armed response, maybe unnecessarily quickly as well. So, when it comes to public relations, I don't think you necessarily need to be armed. And when it comes to security, the plan, that's what we propose is it's actually the biggest threat that we found when we did our analysis.

Unknown Speaker :

Okay, so

Robert Bryce :

one report I SAW said that you'd need about $10 million, or your cost to build the first of a kind, and you have a site at the Idaho National Lab and outside of Idaho Falls, you're going to be able to use fuel which we'll come back to in just a minute the from the Department of Energy, but it's about 10 million dollars for one and a half megawatts. I mean, it I know it's first of a kind, but that's roughly $10 a watt. Do you expect that costs to come down? What do you what is your target price for then a one and a half megawatt reactor that's ready to go at turnkey operation?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah. It's, it's, you know, we actually don't often talk about capital costs just because, you know, like, most products, they don't actually talk about how much it costs them to make it they talk about how much it'll cost you. And it kind of depends on the implementation, how much it would end up costing, right, like, how remote is it? How do we do the construction, how do we do the shipping and all those kinds of things. Um, the biggest costs are actually the kind of misnomer the variable cost basically, of, you know, the fuel. The structure we've tried the structure and all the kind of components themselves, outside of the fuel are we've tried to make as inexpensive as Also using kind of standard tubing sizes and using standard steel. So we're not using exotic materials or exotic. And we don't have to apply certain types of quality assurance at or procure them only from people who basically charge a 10 X or sometimes even 100 x multiple on something that you can get commercially elsewhere with high quality assurance. So we really focused on bringing that cost down. That being said, yes, this first application we filed for is kind of a first of a kind. And for remote areas that are already paying high cost for them. It's a cost savings. And the depends on the area, like exactly how much but we look at it being you know, and it really depends, but it can save them up to 50%, let's say on their electricity bills. So right away, as I was mentioning, we're working on the next one, which will have really huge cost savings compared to that.

Robert Bryce :

So what do you expect that watt hour kilowatt hour costs them to be what do you what do you expect then if you know In Lebanon in remote areas, it's common, whether you're using oil or diesel fire, Jim gensets, that electricity costs would be 30 4050 cents a kilowatt hour. What do you expect them for your costs to be? Because that's some of the competition you're looking at right to displace diesel or oil fired generators, right? What do you expect that kilowatt hour cost to be? Well,

Caroline Cochran :

so I'm going to enter that probably longer than what you bought. But, again, fuel is biggest variable cost. So it really depends on how we can get fuel and right now that's not commercially available in the United States. It is commercially available internationally. We're trying to figure out how much that's gonna cost but like you've mentioned earlier, we're pretty vertically integrated and now we're starting to be interested in being even further vertically integrated and just make our own fuel as well. The real power of this and one thing we're excited about our first of all Canyon course it's it's a unique kind of one almost, yeah, it's basically one off because of the feel from Divi, but that feel from Divi is already recycled material. So we're Already demonstrating utilizing recycled fuel material in our first of a kind plan, which is was kind of a previously a goal that we thought we'd have, you know, maybe a few plants down the road to show, you know, fuel recycling, but we're going to be doing it with our first of a kind, but that's ultimately where you get your big cost savings. So what I would say is, if we can, once we get to between five and 10, I'd say we're we're planning to really start implementing some of those things as far as having our own fuel manufacturing plant. And actually what we're interested in is even recycling fuel from light water reactor. So what we're looking at Idaho is from a research reactor that was already kind of high enriched, but we can actually recycle low enriched fuel as well and it's starting to look incredibly compelling to to do that. So we think costs can get extremely low. I would, I would hesitate to put out a number of I'm going to put out a number anyway, I'd say on the order of a couple cents a kilowatt hour but Yeah, so that there'll be more into the kind of early ones. I think it's kind of fruitless to really talk about that until we really know our fuel supply.

Robert Bryce :

So, but that's always the key, isn't it? I mean, when I talk about energy and power systems, it's the issue of scale. Can you scale it? And so, yeah, so we have an order book. You said you already have an order book? Yeah, basically. And can you tell me how many orders you have? Yeah, I mean,

Caroline Cochran :

I think it's kind of contingent on how well the first of a kind goes, right. Um, but yeah, I think we already kind of really have our sights in mind of what the first five to 10 look like. So I think we're not worried about how do we scale it's just how quickly does it happen? And once we sell our first one, we're really we're in the black so we can keep operating. And so

Robert Bryce :

the key there is that is that scale scalability right? So that you can manufacturer these in the same ways that Cummins builds a, you know, a, I don't know what it's 100 liter displacement diesel engine or Caterpillar? Are some of the ones that would be the gen sets that you would be displacing potentially. Right? So you want to have a manufacturing and then this is the this is the always been the discussion on SMR small modular reactors. That's the that's the niche you're in. So if you if you blue sky it for me, how many of these could you manufacture in a year? Um, well, there's a long pause.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah. Guys, kind of woman, I mean, it just it it. I think we're budgeting for on the order of, and again, it wouldn't just be there or be this design they're already working in. Um, so I think in the near multiplying by 10s of megawatts, obviously, you're getting to those really low cost numbers. And I think in the next, like from our very first build to a couple years after that would be on the order of like a couple per years kind of, I think what we're looking at and then really launching from there, so After that, like maybe 10 to 10s of plants a year. So yeah, we're not single zero in a decade, change that way. But yeah, sure.

Robert Bryce :

So in a decade or so you could be producing dozens of these potentially a year. Yeah. I mean, if you if everything goes well with licensing and, and safety and everything works out the way you think it does, then that's the goal, right is to be producing these by the dozens and deploying them all over the world.

Caroline Cochran :

One thing that I would do you brought up regulation? Yeah, that's exactly the goal. A lot of people don't know the industry is kind of had some interesting foresight, they actually already have a pathway called a manufacturing license. So you can do it that way. And as well, they have this process where you can basically utilize a sample cola and carbon, kind of copy it and use it as a subsequent cola. So they call our

Robert Bryce :

bottle license app compliant combined license application. Okay, so yeah,

Caroline Cochran :

so we can copy and basically utilize our first combined license application. Over and over again, with changes per each site for the reactor. So that's the goal is, you know, really having a new stream, you know, new efficient process for these small reactors. And again, they're on the order, like a research reactor size, right. So it should be different. Um, but um, and then you can utilize that have subsequent calls come much more quickly.

Robert Bryce :

I see. So here's a question I like to ask of people in business and and I'll just throw it out there. So what's been the hardest part of this? What's been the hardest part of making this? Well ask it this way? What's the hardest part of your job?

Caroline Cochran :

that's a that's a great question. Um, I think the hardest part of being in a company like this can be that it's such a long road, right? Like, I've already you know, I think people think we're young but I've already been doing this for seven years. And, um, you know, we're just, we just got an application in so it does take like it's a long road and you have to really care about it like you genuinely, actually have to care about it in order to care enough to kind of live the startup life for a decade of your life. So I think that's, that's one thing that's challenging. I think one thing that I wouldn't have anticipated, as being so hard as it is, is actually just the existing in industry. And and basically, the, the challenges of being a being categories as a part of an industry that you really have no relation to is, as far as like most things that you're doing. And even within advanced reactors, there's not a ton of collaboration just because there's, you know, everyone's using different fuel types, looking at different sizes, looking at different issues. Some are using different regulatory paths. So I think just that kind of head but like that difficulty because you're trying to change something that's so hard and sometimes I've wondered like, what was it like for Tesla kind of really trying to prove to people that an electric car could be the next wave Instead of like back when the big three didn't, weren't really producing that and stuff like that, what was that like to be part of that industry, but not really similar to it? So sometimes I wonder if that's part of it.

Robert Bryce :

So would it be them?

Unknown Speaker :

The hardest part is keeping the faith.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, maybe, maybe that you're just getting the raw me for this week in particular, it's, it's challenging when you're kind of feels like we're we're getting to at what I call activity, you know, it's like, oh, it's great, you know, our new startup, we got fundraisers and stuff like that we got our application in, whoo. And then now it's like, we're getting the petition to intervene. And now people like, you know, even within the industry are like, well, they say they can do this, but they really can't, or something. And so, you know, it starts to take a toll. And so I think this this week, in particular, it's tough, but you know, there are so many people are excited. And so yeah, I think it's, honestly it's easy to keep the faith when you're really passionate about it like we are and we've got this small, dedicated team that's just really passionate about bringing this new technology light and really about the environmental like, aspects of it. So it keeps you going when it's, you know, it's not really the money yet.

Robert Bryce :

me So who are you? Who are your competitors? Who do you view as the competition for what? This niche that you're trying to fill? Who is Who do you look at the landscape and say, Oh, yeah, they're we're, we're competing against them.

Caroline Cochran :

Our competition, our content, I don't think I've been asked that question. But when you said that my first thing is like our competitions ourselves, like we really just have to do, we have set out and the reason why I say that is because there really isn't a solution at one megawatt that can provide clean power, you know, 24, seven, for 20 years without refueling, you just, it's just not possible, like the logistics that enables and the ability that that enables. There's nothing else that can provide that quite with that kind of uptime. And with that, you know, with clean power, so, um, so that's your competition for that, but we'll see

Robert Bryce :

you soon. And that, but that's your sales point, right? That we can build you something. You don't have to touch it for 20 years, and we're going to produce megawatt hours upon megawatt hours and you don't have to touch it. It. I'm just trying to think what does that sales brochure look like? So if you're going to tell me those three things, what are they? What? You know, why if I'm, you know, operating as a mayor of a small village in Alaska, or I'm operating a mine somewhere a long way from, you know, everybody else, what are the three things that are gonna make me buy a glow one and a half megawatt reactor as opposed to a diesel genset?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I mean, it's still Well, it's interesting, you chose three things because we always say reliable, clean and affordable. And I think it really is the triad of the three things that make the most compelling. But if you take away any one of those three things, there's their competition, right? So like, if it's not clean and diesel genja if it's not reliable, then I think there's a lot of renewables that can produce clean power for certain portions of the day and And, you know, with certain types of backup, they could have it mostly covered and things like that. So, you know, and then the fourth, but the affordability is what ultimately brings people to table, right? Like people can say things about how much they want clean all day long. But when it comes down to like, Well, do you want to pay x price multiple? And then they're like, yeah, like not, though, and I don't think we should be. And to your point, you know, one of the messages I think you've brought so clearly is, why would we ask the developing world to do something we ourselves in the developed world aren't willing to do as far as pay, you know, multiples to get to get reliable power to our grid?

Robert Bryce :

Well, so then let's talk about that. Because I you know, I can make a few points about where this where this these your reactors might be deployed. Who do you see as your first markets, where do you think this will gain traction that gained the most traction?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, yeah. And we have, you know, I think once that first of a kind rolls out, it will change things because you will be able to see In practice, like no one really wants to be the first, I think there's kind of a little bit of an issue with even being the second, but once there's a couple, I think, if, you know, assuming it's successful, and the community is a good, you know, advocate like that we're in, you know, working with, you know, if we have good relationships, and other people see that, and they want that as part of their, you know, claiming microgrid. I think that really sets the ball rolling quickly. But for those first couple, yeah, our first one absolutely, is that, and I know, and then, you know, we're looking at, you know, working with other sites, and Alaska is kind of a pretty classic example. It's an area where, you know, people forget, but in the wintertime, it's, you know, dark most of the time and so solar is not quite as much of an option. Of course, in the summer, they got a lot of light, but um, as far as year round, they really have that need. And there's also energy poverty, but most people think of Alaska is pristine, and largely it is it's beautiful. But they also have some of the most polluted cities in the United States. So I think they have those twin major motivations to look at this So we've been there and apart of talking to people there. And so I think I see that as the next one. But we have had a lot of outreach from places all over the world, whether it's resorts or islands or communities or you name it. It's been interesting. So it kind of from the first couple, it goes from there, but that's a snapshot of what are

Robert Bryce :

some isolated locations, Island economies, remote remote regions, Arctic or Nordic, Nordic areas, those those would be the ones where you would be competing against diesel generators and there that's where your economics are the best then is that fair?

Caroline Cochran :

Um, yeah, yeah. In most areas, and of course, these will feel can be multiplied in its cost by how far you How much do you even have to burn to get it to that location? But yeah, I think the more remote the more expensive the diesel becomes, and also the more of a logistical hazard and comes for the people relying on it.

Robert Bryce :

And what about military applications?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I think, you know, the United States is looking at both privatizing its electricity supply, but also trying to make sure that if something were to happen, that they could still provide power to their core, you know, kind of assets and core like functionality and so not necessarily rely on the on the on the local grid. Yeah, the local grid or even, you know, huge fuel tanks or something like that. So I think that's, that's also a big one.

Robert Bryce :

Well, so it's interesting that the blast in Beirut happened just, you know, a few days ago and I've been in touch with people in Beirut, who are talking about the fact that that diesel fuel there is in short supply. So just one thing that pops into my head is that you really have a potential for a new type of micro grid to me micro grids so far have been around diesel gensets and solar, solar panels and batteries. Right. That's when I hear micro grid that's what I think of so your ideas now. Okay. Could have the potential for nuclear micro grids?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I think we really haven't looked at how you could utilize fusion distributed way. And so that's something that's exciting to us. Gotcha.

Robert Bryce :

So you put something on on Twitter, I'm trying to find that said on Twitter, that regulatory risk we're tackling head on, and that you need better public understanding of advanced vision benefits. So you got funding from an I'm in here in Austin, one of your funders was trusted ventures, that they they look for companies that are trying to make headway in very regulated industries. So I've read about the regulatory process at the NRC and some things have been published saying that it can cost half a billion dollars to submit a license for a new application. I'm guessing you all didn't spend half a billion dollars. We didn't know.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, we we try to learn lessons learned from the people who went for for and hearing their stories, but also Think? Um, I think there's a number of reasons why the agency itself is doing some self examination and thinking about, there's a way to do this without completely killing the industry or not letting anything kind of get built. And I'm saying that because again, like nothing's coming into operation since. That's what started under the NRC. And I think that's coming home to them. And so I think we kind of had a bit of a bit of luck to be coming in at a time when they think they're realizing plants are closing left and right. And it's not about safety. It's about we have to be ready for these different types of technologies that we haven't been and I think that's been not just the NRC but the DVDs been supporting and Congress has been encouraging it. So when I when I think big reason why we didn't spend what was spent before is because we are out

Robert Bryce :

of the money.

Caroline Cochran :

We didn't know we did and we keep telling you

Robert Bryce :

Yeah, there's only about 20 employees, you'd have to be expensive, expensive application. Yeah, yeah. Um,

Caroline Cochran :

yes. That's very true, too. I think people are like, Well, you know, we're not used to, you know, we've heard the narrative from people in around the NRC. It was kinda like, well, we're not used to companies caring about how much they're spending too much. And I'm like, that's probably what caused, you know, there's some major issues and also like, it creates a PR issue for us as well, where and, again, we're part of this industry, but we feel like we're very different words like, hey, well, no nuclear project has ever, you know, been built on time or remotely close to budget in recent years. And so it's hard to argue against until we do something different. And so that's one one thing. But yeah, the regulatory risk is is significant, but I think we are in our application enabled kind of a fresh start for everyone involved to say, this is a whole new industry. It's a whole new We're looking at vision, how do we regulate that? And we put some proposals on paper. And so you're absolutely right. It can be it can be 10s to hundreds of millions of dollars. But that's not what we spent so far. But we're trying to hope that this trajectory that we have right now continues, but for now, we spent fractions of what was spent previously in pre application. And our acceptance review is not fractions, but what we're budgeting for the total application review is so I think we're on a good trajectory there. And I think it should be because we're looking at a 500 times smaller plan. And it's not just about that. It's almost all that inherent Simplicity's that are part of that too, that really should be different. And so this is kind of forcing the issue.

Robert Bryce :

So about how much will you spend just trying to get the license?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, it's about 10 million total.

Robert Bryce :

So is that how much you've raised so far, or I mean, I know you've gone through several funding rounds are mentioned trusted ventures. Are you disclosing how much money you've raised?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, we haven't done a formal announcement of our last fundraise, um, but I could say you know, it's on the order of between 20 and $30 million so we raise total so far.

Robert Bryce :

So in seven years 20 or 30 million but to then to get to manufacturing you're gonna you're gonna have to raise 234 times that much much money to get get and deployment.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, yeah, we're likely to to do another fundraise here soon to really support scaling up and, and everything else that goes on as part of that. So, so yeah,

Robert Bryce :

so blue sky it for me here now. You're You're How old are you Monday if I asked.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I'm 37. So

Robert Bryce :

in by the time you're 50 blue sky at forming, what does oklo look like in 13 years? Yeah, it's okay. Yeah, you know, no pressure. There's no doing paint the picture for me. What does it look like?

Caroline Cochran :

Um, I'm just hoping. I'm like on a vacation, some, like some kind of like tropical island

Robert Bryce :

this size and there's a poetry Okay, well, that's

Caroline Cochran :

where I am no, no, no, I really I really care a lot about this. But there's also, it's funny. There's also other things that I feel like I would like to start a company around and some of these health issues that are out there and things like that. So I see myself like, eventually, like 10 years, more than 10 years down the road, probably not exactly here. But um, but yeah, I'll go into, you know, 15 to 1520 years, I think we can be considered basically a unicorn as as the term is used, I think. I think we could really be part of it. And we've said this before, it's like the tip of the spear to a new wave of like a vision for for the world, right? It has to start in the United States because the United States has the expertise they have the data they have from existing or from previous tests done on advanced reactors a lot of different types. And the world does frequently look to the NRC as a standard for regulatory stuff. So that's why we started here, even though it's harder, we had random people not are not investors now and not trust ventures. But we had people who were like, Well, why don't you just go to, you know, x developing country and they don't have any regulation so much easier. And, you know, ultimately, it's, it's worth it doing it the hard way, we believe because once you get through it, the whole world will feel like you've been through a very rigorous process and we will approve.

Robert Bryce :

So once you get that NRC stamp of approval, then then that's proved to the world that we've gone through the most rigorous examination possible and if it's good enough for NRC, it's good enough for Ghana, herbs, Zimbabwe, or South Africa or any anywhere any other country in the world. Does that. Is that a fair assessment?

Caroline Cochran :

Exactly. And no one in the world wants to feel like oh, you couldn't do that in the eyes. So you're coming here to work on the seconds or something. And that is absolutely not our trajectory. But I think what I'm saying answering the roundabout ways I see in 15 years oklo is a truly global company with an array stable of different advanced vision generators or batteries, or power plants or whatever. Different all different sizes that we're providing all over the world. And I think it could be very exciting because hopefully, it honestly people asked us a little earlier about our competition for this first one, but even even for all these different types, you know, the world spends a trillion dollars in in energy, and I know you, you talk about all the different types. It's a huge market out there. And it could be an extremely huge market for oklo. But it could also just be the beginning of so many different plant companies bringing forth all kinds of different plants all over the world. And I think that's the vision that I'd like to see because we don't have any time to waste. With with further, you know, however you look at pollution or climate, we don't want more of it. Right. And so I'm providing that. That is where I see it going. And I think it could be just absolutely astronomical within 15 years, which sounds both kind of foreign kind of close, honestly. Yeah. Yeah.

Robert Bryce :

Well, the market is enormous. I mean, the US electricity business and US alone is $400 billion. I calculated globally at 2 trillion just the electricity sector, because the us about a fifth of global electricity so at that, at that rate, $2 trillion a year business so there's a lot of opportunity for people who build better mousetrap better reactor, especially if it's if it's carbon free. So I don't want to make this interview go on too long. But I we've talked about how how big oklo could get business leaders or businesses do you admire? I mean, you've been at this now for a long time you've, you've you've made it clear that you don't fit Within the nuclear sector that exists today, because it's largely owned by very large utility companies with different types of reactors. Who do you look when you look around the business world? Because you're trying to make it in business? Who do you admire?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, that's a great question. Do you feel like we're kind of in our own our own way, but I think there's certain things that really influenced us. I think, design and world impact. I think Apple has been one of them, which is probably most people have are fascinated with that story and, and just how they package all their products and make it so compelling and easy to use, Johnny. Yeah, um, I also became really interested in books like conscious capitalism and things like that, like a while ago. So I think I think so those

Robert Bryce :

controls are john Mackey from here in Austin. Hopefully tomorrow. Okay.

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah. I'm very influential to think about kind of how Starbucks started or you know, is really software's about how to provide employees with good benefits or like similarly with Whole Foods, the whole food stores really interesting to me how they really, you think a grocery store is kind of like a, you know, a more basic job or something, but they found ways to grow teamwork and form teams within Whole Foods and get them to compete with each other in a fun way and really own and care about their their areas and empower their employees and make them feel passionate about exactly what area they're in. And so I think everything can be you know, when you enable your employees, you can really enable your, your, everyone, everyone enables each other that way, like it just lifts everyone up. So I think all those kind of kind of characteristics that really influenced me in particular, I think there's a lot of other interesting stories out there, but those are the first couple that come to mind. Any female entrepreneurs come to mind? Um, I guess that's that don't have anything that come to mind.

Unknown Speaker :

No worries, no worries.

Robert Bryce :

In terms of just on that same line of business, I mean, you mentioned the companies you admire. And maybe this is redundant here. But business models are a guess, you know, you're trying to blaze a whole new pathway here. And in a sector that has been, as you said, not very dynamic in terms of new technology for decades. So is there Apple kind of did create a new business model with design first, and the other models like that, that come to mind? Or maybe I've exhausted this topic already and beating it too, too much. But I just think that you're out there on the technological edge. And you're it's clear from the design of the powerhouse that you take the design part of it seriously. Any thoughts on that?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah. I don't know if I'm answering exactly your question, but I think I think so it is john for me like when it how I usually think about this, which is we're doing something so hard, so hard, and all the pieces have to come in I think when we think about it, as if it's like a 3d puzzle, where all these pieces are, like, collapsing in on each other, and they all have to line up just exactly the right way, the exact right time in order for this to like, work, right. So the public does have to learn about not just nuclear power, I think in general, but also what can be done differently about it. I think that is a piece. I think we, we frequently say, Oh, the, there's public perception issue. So those have to be addressed first, right? Do you think you kind of have to build and show it can be different, right? Like, why would the public trust you until you've really shown that that can be done. So that that's a big, a big part of it. And so many things with supply chain have to be done totally differently and, and design I think, is a big part of that. So you kind of mentioned that but making it appealing in an artful is something that matters to most humans. You know, it's just a human trait to care about how it fits in socially and artistically. So, I think we've had our eye on all those things at the same time. But it is challenging to pull it all together with 20 people in them, you know, so we're growing. But um, I think we've done a good job so far. Another thing that is interesting with such a long road of a company, is you kind of have to, to pace yourself, right? If we tried to like put out all these press releases, like seven years ago, we'd be old news high now. And it's like, we just kept our head down. And people kept saying, Oh, you need to do press, and you need to, like, get out there and like put out press releases. And we're like, No, we just really need to do the engineering work. And so we really focused on that. And now that's coming to fruition finally. But for so many years, we did kind of have to deal with people being like, well, we don't know what you're doing, or they're not really doing anything. So I think Finally, it's kind of coming to fruition. And now we really have to focus on kind of that other public outreach part of it too.

Robert Bryce :

So to that end, and I meant to ask you this earlier, so what do you want people to do? What what what is your call to action, what it took took for people to get more information about oklo?

Caroline Cochran :

Yeah, I think well, thank you for having me on. It's just Great to have a conversation for people to hear some of those stories, I think firsthand does make a difference versus, I mean, I could put it on our website or, you know, all kinds of different posts. But I think it's just great to have the chance to, to talk with you. And you're glad to do the interesting work that you're doing and such so powerful and important. But yeah, I think, you know, if people are interested to follow up or be part of kind of our story, or, or follow along, as we kind of go through these steps. You know, you can follow us on socials, and of course, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and so forth. But our website is very simple. Still, it's oklo calm, but it does have the functionality where you can find the socials there. And you can also sign up on our mailing list, which we haven't honestly, we've sent out one or two emails so far total on that list, but we're looking to really invigorated it and draw people in more because there's so many people were like, lower you're doing want to be part of it, how can I help or join or whatever. And so, we're thinking about creative ways to just pull this basically team you know, it's Sending family and friends I guess I'd call it a supporters that are excited about what's going on. So feel free to join that mailing list. We won't spam you, but um,

Robert Bryce :

we can. I can attest to that I've signed up and I have not gotten the same. Yeah. Yeah. Okay, so just a last couple things. So what are you reading? Are you reading books? What do you like when you read? If you're No, you're working hard. You're working. assuming you're not working all the time. What books have you been reading?

Caroline Cochran :

Um, great question. I do I read? Um, it has been pretty sparse lately. I used to

Robert Bryce :

make things here today. Aren't I here? Bryce, what are you doing to me? No, I don't know.

Caroline Cochran :

Um, yeah, I may or may not have gotten a couple hours of sleep last night. Um, I don't know. I think I think some of the books I really enjoy are like, again about like health or environment or animals. One thing that I've enjoyed Pass passively or like secondhand is Jake's been reading about like, different books like plant intelligence and things like that, which is absolutely fascinating. We didn't even would never have even guessed that was possible that they have these kinds of hormones and basically types of intelligence. And that's really fascinating. One of the more recent books, although I think it was a year ago, as I was reading about that and different conservation efforts there. They need to be reading more.

Robert Bryce :

Yeah. Well, I love I love bats. Austin has a big bat colony downtown. I've interviewed Merlin Tuttle, who's one of the world's renowned bat experts, so I'm down with bats. Okay, so last question. What What, what makes you hopeful?

Caroline Cochran :

Um, I'm hopeful because I, I just basically believe that, that people want the best meal disagreement or get different news. I guess. I'm hopeful that Frequently if you if you get the chance to really talk to someone that you can have a dialogue, and I think some of that feels like it's breaking down in COVID, where all of our conversations are through screen and that kind of thing. But you know, like life goes on. And I think life finds a way, people find a way. And I think, I think, you know, I've seen things like what you're putting out and Tinker and so forth, like just facts about the world. It is improving, I think with more power, it can continue like more clean power, especially but more power in general, all the different human markers go up and we've seen that and so that's something really exciting. It's not just humans, either. It's the environment can improve. I believe. It hasn't always with increasing prosperity, but I think animal welfare and, and environmental welfare can improve at the same time. And we've made it this far. So I keep getting, you got to celebrate the wins. So for my personal work, I'm excited about that as well.

Unknown Speaker :

That's great.

Robert Bryce :

Well, Carolyn, it's been great great, great. fun talking with you. So all of you out in podcast land if you like this podcast go to rate this podcast.com slash power hungry. And give us five stars. subscribe to the podcast. I'm easy to find on the web. You can buy my books, you can buy the film, I got the new screen behind me there. See, look at the logo for juice how electricity explains the world in which we talk about a significant link about nuclear energy. But Carolyn Cochrane thank you very much the chief operating officer of oklo go to their website oklo.com to register for their newsletter. And that's it for this episode. Thanks for listening and I will see you next time on the power hungry podcast.