July 18, 2016
– Roger Reynolds, Senior Technology Advisor
Over the past few months, great progress has been made to support the advanced nuclear industry:
- The White House announcement in November, launching the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) initiative;
- In January, the U.S. Department of Energy awarding grants to Southern Company and X-energy to explore new reactor concepts;
- Scholarships funding student research in nuclear energy from the Department of Energy, announced in April;
- New funding earmarked in June for the national laboratories, supporting development of advanced nuclear technologies; and
- New legislation under review to enhance public-private partnerships that support nuclear innovation.
With all this momentum behind advanced nuclear technology development, we need to be sure the spirit of innovation isn’t lost amid the jostling between specific technologies. In my opinion, the best way to move forward is to teach the next generation of nuclear professionals what it means to innovate. They need to understand how to collaborate across industries, even seemingly unrelated ones, to come up with breakthrough solutions. That spirit of collaboration is how TerraPower got its start; to this day, it is how we approach problems and new ideas.
TerraPower is proud to be a sponsor of an incredible event that will offer exactly such an opportunity. This August, the Nuclear Innovation Alliance is pioneering a new program that will teach 25 students how to think entrepreneurially about today’s nuclear challenges. The Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp: Nuclear Upended will be an 11-day learning opportunity at UC Berkeley, during which students will work as teams to tackle the challenges facing the nuclear industry.
What’s unique about this experience is that it breaks away from the traditional engineering approach to nuclear issues. First, the students invited to attend are from all academic backgrounds – importantly, not just nuclear engineering students. Second, the bootcamp will encourage students to think like a Silicon Valley startup, with sessions led by venture capitalists and leaders of successful startups from both inside and outside the nuclear industry. At the end of the two weeks, students will have the opportunity to pitch solutions to a panel of judges, “Shark Tank” style; cash prizes will be awarded to the teams whose designs are innovative, most-needed, and those that target specific ways to address power demand and plant closures.
Teaching a small group of students to think differently about nuclear energy is like a pebble thrown into a still puddle. It starts the ripples, which grow outward and gain strength until the effects are seen throughout. Creativity grows when people are pushed to think differently. Those people then inspire others to join their cause. We are then closer not only to solving today’s issues, but also to creating new nuclear technologies that will persist into the future.
If you’ll be in the neighborhood of UC Berkeley on August 12, be sure to catch the closing act of this first-of-a-kind bootcamp. At 3:30 p.m. PST on August 12, John Kotek, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, will be addressing the students on “Upending the Future” and will judge the student design presentations. The event will be open to the public. Contact nuclearinnovationbootcamp [at] gmail.com for more information.