Blog by Liz Muller, April 27, 2020

Hope for a Small Business in the Time of Coronavirus

Running a startup during a pandemic isn’t something even my most experienced mentors have ever faced, and it certainly is not a pursuit for the faint of heart. 

The COVID-19 crisis and “shelter-at-home” orders that abruptly shut down our Berkeley, Calif., headquarters were something I never could have anticipated in my five-year journey to build a company to dispose of nuclear waste. 

The crisis struck just as our growth trajectory was ascending. We had achieved several significant milestones in 2019 and early 2020: A live physical demonstration where we emplaced (and retrieved) a prototype nuclear waste canister in a horizontal drillhole; the kick-off of our Series A raise to secure $10-15 million from venture investors; and the publication of a technical report detailing our initial findings of generic post-closure radiological safety calculations of a horizontal drillhole repository for spent nuclear fuel.

Then suddenly we found ourselves in a whole new world: Worrying about the health and safety of friends, colleagues and family members; adjusting to a 100 percent virtual workforce; trying to keep morale up when mine was being tested; and tightening our financial belts as we watched investors move into crisis-management mode.

Thankfully we did not have all of our eggs in a Series A basket, and we are in a good position. Our sales efforts had already been deployed worldwide, and as a result, amidst the grim realities of coronavirus, we have multiple victories for which to be grateful.

New EPRI Contract Proves Demand for our Expertise

A traditional nuclear power plant with a drilling rig on site for waste disposal.
This illustration depicts a traditional nuclear power plant with a drilling rig on site that would be used to permanently dispose of nuclear waste in deep horizontal boreholes.

Although we are not yet talking publicly about the work we are doing with governments, today we announced our first non-governmental project: We are working with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to assess the feasibility of onsite horizontal deep borehole disposal for the siting of advanced nuclear energy systems.  We will collaborate with EPRI, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Auburn University, J Kessler and Associates and Southern Company. We are pleased to share this positive news, and we are confident that we’ll be making more announcements like this as our visibility continues to increase.

The feasibility study will discuss physical site characteristics, disposal operations, safety performance analysis, regulatory and licensing considerations and will outline an approach to understanding and building public support, which is a critical element of success.

The world needs options such as Deep Isolation, and this study will equip us with valuable knowledge that we can use for future site-specific work.

My sense, given the conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, is that government officials, nuclear experts and investors are not losing sight of the long game. While we are all in crisis-management mode due to COVID-19 and related shutdowns, there is a strong appetite to do the right thing. The right thing to do is to move forward with nuclear waste disposal, and I am proud to be part of this process.  

While our hearts are saddened by the unimaginable losses that the world is experiencing, our spirits are strong.  We will lean into the future so we can be a post COVID-19 business success story and a leader in nuclear waste disposition. Our environment and our communities need us to do so.