By Jessica Chow
The rapid growth of nuclear start-ups in the past two decades indicates the changing nuclear industry: an industry in need of innovation. This industry needs fresh perspectives from professionals excited to engage with nuclear technology, especially in the face of the global challenge of climate change.
The nuclear start-up life was the topic of a panel I joined recently at the Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp (NIB) in Madison, Wisconsin. Also participating were Tyler Bernstein of Zeno Power Systems, Alexia Mercier of OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, and Andy Morales of FireHydrant. We delved into the intersection of nuclear technology, innovation, and team building in the start-up space. Most of the questions we received from the Bootcamp attendees focused on how to not only succeed in the nuclear start-up space but thrive. Let’s discuss that.
What does success look like in the nuclear industry? Success looks like the further deployment of nuclear energy technology to fight climate change, continued use of nuclear material for medical purposes, and future innovation in the nuclear industry.
So how do we get there and what changes to how we approach nuclear innovation will be needed to find this success? Based on the NIB panel discussion, it seems that young professionals believe new reactor designs are key to the future success of nuclear energy. It does make sense that young industry professionals who may be unfamiliar with the complex history of nuclear power would focus on the technical aspects of nuclear. But forgoing the industry’s history misses a key opportunity for growth: to find success in the nuclear industry, especially with innovation, we need to learn from the industry’s past, especially as it pertains to its engagement with the public.
Success for the next generation of nuclear professionals must:
Listen. Learn. Adapt.
We can pull a great example of this from my co-panelist, Tyler Bernstein of Zeno Power Systems who said, “Something I believe we’ve done well as we’ve grown our team is balancing bringing onboard team members with decades of experience with industry newcomers — who are frequently non-nuclear engineers. We’ve seen this combination work well as those who have more experience can impart wisdom on how things have been in the past, while industry newcomers bring fresh and creative ideas to the table. In fact, our founding team is comprised wholly of newcomers to the nuclear industry; I believe a good part of our success to date is a result of my co-founders and I coming together with new perspectives on old problems.”
Recruiting a diverse team is part of creating a culture where different stakeholders are listened to in a constructive and meaningful way. A diverse team provides an organization with the ability to approach conversations from different perspectives. Many of the attendees at NIB are in the process of starting their own nuclear startups. To empower their success, we must also empower young professionals to build teams diverse in expertise, backgrounds, age, and race.
There is so much work to be done to prepare young professionals for the complex nuclear industry, but by questioning the traditions of the nuclear industry of the past, we can learn and change to find success in the future.
A final thank you is deserved by the organizers of the 2022 Nuclear Innovation Bootcamp, especially River Bennett of Nuclear Innovation Alliance, the panel’s moderator for the panel. It is programs such as NIB that provide much-needed resources to the young generation of the nuclear inclusive clean energy future.