When Richard Muller and I founded Deep Isolation five years ago, we were inspired by a strong desire to do big things to help fight global warming.
It was evident to us that nuclear energy would have to be part of the low-carbon energy mix but that it had to be done responsibly and that it wouldn’t succeed without a waste solution.
When we realized the answer was hiding in plain sight — using advances in oil and gas drilling technology to engineer deep boreholes to safely and permanently isolate the waste — the company was born.
At the time our close friends and advisors from the nuclear industry told us we’d be better off spending our time on something that had a future. Nuclear waste disposal, they explained, could never get done. This week, in recognition of our June 13, 2016 founding anniversary, I’m pausing to reflect on how much has changed. Even though we have not yet disposed of any waste, most people in the industry now believe that we will. I am so proud of our team and what we have achieved. We have broken through barriers that many thought were impossible to overcome by assembling a strong team around a common vision.
Here are some of our most notable achievements, as well as some of my thoughts about what I hope the nuclear industry will look like by our 10th anniversary.
Deep Isolation’s Progress So Far
After we filed our first patent in 2015, Deep Isolation was officially incorporated the following year. We quietly began reaching out to environmental groups and other stakeholders across the U.S. solely to listen and learn, and we recruited our first team member (who crashed at our Berkeley, Calif., home-based headquarters!).
We knew from the beginning that a successful nuclear waste disposal initiative would never succeed without community involvement, and it remains a core company value.
We knew we were being disruptive. We knew that the concept of a private company tackling a problem that has plagued the nuclear industry and governments for decades would be difficult for many to embrace. But we were galvanized by our early successes, most notably holding a public demonstration where we emplaced and retrieved a prototype nuclear waste canister from a borehole.
The 2019 demo established us as serious players in the nuclear industry, and soon after we forged partnerships and working relationships with international industry leaders including Bechtel, Schlumberger, and NAC International Inc. With these partners, plus the recently announced MOU with Dominion Engineering, Inc., we have all the elements of the fuel cycle disposal ecosystem in place.
In 2020 we announced a London-based team to serve our international market, and we landed and completed our first several paid contracts to study disposal options in specific rock formations.
Now, we are humbled to be part of the global conversation on nuclear waste. Borehole disposal, which had been studied extensively for years in the vertical formation, is seeing a resurgence in interest from governments and organizations all over the world. Not only do I hope this continues, but that it also encourages the industry to support more innovation in disposal technologies.
And in public conversations about nuclear energy, there’s finally a more hopeful answer to the decades-old waste question. As one supporter said in an online forum recently: “As for disposal, check out Deep Isolation, a cool company thinking outside the pool on where spent fuel can go.”
Five-Year Vision for Nuclear Waste Disposal
The future has never been more exciting for Deep Isolation. Our team is growing quickly, and no, no one is on our couch at the moment. We’re entering our next stage of fundraising and eyeing service contracts with multiple countries worldwide.
Here’s my vision for five things I hope Deep Isolation and the industry as a whole achieves in the coming five years.
1. All countries with waste are moving forward toward deploying a permanent nuclear waste disposal solution that is based on equitability and social responsibility and can be implemented in years not generations.
2. Countries that opt to deploy new reactors will select, site, and fund a disposal option before the reactor is built.
3. Governments and industry will encourage new waste disposal options and allow (even encourage!) private innovation, including in approaches to stakeholder engagement and working with repository host communities.
4. Investors and the public will understand that nuclear waste disposal technologies are pivotal in the fight against climate change.
5. Deep Isolation will have proven the cost, safety, equity and other benefits of its solution, and the company culture will continue to emphasize supporting one another, and always prioritizing what is truly important.