Nuclear Waste Provides Exciting Opportunity for Cleantech Investors

Sixty-nine years ago something happened in a small desert town that changed the course of history. Dec. 20 will mark the anniversary of the day that the Experimental Breeder Reactor-I became the first power plant to produce usable electricity through atomic fission.  

The illumination of just four lightbulbs at the plant, a humble but significant start, eventually led to a reactor capable of powering the whole facility.

This monumental innovation was a pioneer in providing the world with a reliable source of carbon-neutral power long before anyone would realize how important that would become. But there was a critical flaw: There was no means for permanent waste disposal factored into the production of nuclear energy.

ebr-i lights building

It’s inspiring to see how innovation starts. From four lightbulbs in an Idaho desert, nuclear energy is a reliable power source that today provides 10 percent of the world’s power and is among the top sources of low-carbon energy. 

But seven decades later, the waste issue remains unresolved. There are 490,000 metric tons of radioactive spent fuel temporarily stored in pools and dry casks worldwide.

The reasons for this failure are myriad, but fundamentally the mined repository approach has been both expensive and unpopular. Because it is so expensive, there can typically be only one repository for a country, which means asking one community to carry the burden, leading to “not in my backyard” concerns. Specific failures have been because of an inability to achieve community consent, concerns over transportation, lack of trust in government, lack of political will, and poor communication.  When there has been progress it is typically measured in decades, or even generations. In the United States it has been very much one step forward, two steps back. And the result is that there is no working repository for high level nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel anywhere in the world.

But the world has changed since the 1950s. Innovation has achieved technical miracles once thought impossible that leave our world vastly improved in so many ways. At Deep Isolation this spirit of innovation is at the heart of what we do and what we believe can address nuclear waste too. 

I recently blogged about how Deep Isolation’s successful $20 million Series A raise shows that socially responsible investors are willing to support a cleantech startup with a nuclear waste disposal solution. We’re thankful for this. The world needs cleantech investors who are willing to be inclusive of all technologies that work together to contribute to a carbon-neutral future. 

This means investing in advancements that complete the full fuel cycle rather than leaving waste sitting in indefinite storage. This also paves the way for a waste solution for the advanced nuclear power plants of the future.

Rod McCullum of the Nuclear Energy Institute was refreshingly candid when he said in a podcast interview: “To move the next generation of nuclear reactors forward, the industry needs to be able to tell investors and the government that we have a solution to the waste.”

This is where social responsibility comes into play. No matter whether you believe nuclear plays a role in slowing climate change or not, it’s a fact that the moment those first lightbulbs flickered to life in an Idaho desert a waste burden was conceived and left for future generations to bear.

Let’s be the generation to resolve this once and for all. The results will help make our world a better place.

As CEO of the nuclear waste disposal company Deep Isolation, my main focus is using innovation to solve the decades-old problem of what to do with nuclear waste. But finding solutions to the world’s toughest environmental problems is also reflected in my work with Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that’s a widely respected source of independent unbiased climate change and air pollution data.

Ten years ago I co-founded Berkeley Earth to bring robust data and analysis to the question of global warming. Seeking facts over opinions, we organized a group of scientists to reanalyze the earth’s surface temperature record and published our initial findings in 2012. Yes, climate change is real, and we need to act. While recent severe fires have raised the profile of our work, this has always been a core belief of the organization.   

So how does my concern about climate change relate to nuclear waste disposal? The climate crisis requires immediate action to reduce carbon-based energy sources. Nuclear energy is part of the low-carbon, energy mix, but if we don’t solve the waste problem then we’re not being responsible.  It’s also true that without a waste solution it’s highly unlikely that the next generation of nuclear energy reactors will come to life.

In fact, many countries and states are decommissioning their nuclear reactors and banning the development of new nuclear energy until the waste problem is solved.

No country has yet disposed of high-level nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel. Most governments put the waste into temporary storage facilities.  Some are planning to place it in mined repositories, but progress with those repositories is measured in decades and even generations.

Deep Isolation’s method puts waste canisters in deep geologic isolation using boreholes, and because there are no humans underground this is safer, more easily deployed, and more cost-effective than other methods.

Climate change has me concerned, but there are many reasons to remain hopeful. I’m seeing the world respond to environmental disasters such as the West Coast fires with a renewed sense of urgency, and cleantech investors are taking note. 

The fact that Deep Isolation just closed $20 million in Series A funding shows that socially responsible investors are willing to support a cleantech company with a mission to become an integral part of a low-carbon future. 

As an environmentalist, I believe that safely and permanently disposing of the world’s current nuclear waste inventory while providing a path forward for new nuclear is the responsible thing to do for future generations and the planet.

Related Posts

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Blog by Deep Isolation Staff, Aug. 10, 2020

Social Scientist Explains Community Consent

One reason why governments worldwide struggle with implementing a permanent nuclear waste disposal solution is that they don’t adequately engage affected communities, most of which don’t want it in their backyards.

In a recent episode of Deep Isolation’s podcast, Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story, social scientist Dr. Thomas Webler discusses the challenges of reaching community consensus when deciding where to dispose of nuclear waste.

Webler, Research Fellow at the Social and Environmental Research Institute (SERI) and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Keene State College, is well-versed on the topic: He and his colleagues made recommendations to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future and have advised the U.S. Department of Energy on nuclear waste disposal sites.

Dr. Thomas Webler
Dr. Thomas Webler, Research Fellow at the Social and Environmental Research Institute (SERI) and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Keene State College

In this episode, “Community Consent is Key to Resolving Disposal Impasse,” Webler says consent-based siting must respect the principle of self determination, meaning a community ought to have the power to accept or decline an offer to become a nuclear waste disposal site. 

“The most important thing that an institution could do to earn trust is to give the community the power and authority to close down, to turn off an operation, a facility, with no penalties or negative consequences,” Webler says.

He says it’s important that the entity seeking permission be open to listening, responding to concerns and discussing a variety of options rather than forcing a single solution or a particular disposal location.

He points to the 1996-1998 Seaborn panel in Canada as an example of a process that worked. The panel of experts visited different provinces and held public hearings to ensure that everyone had a chance to have their voices heard. Ultimately it was decided that a deep geologic repository was the best solution.

Consent is a concept that although challenging to define, is an admirable goal for any entity trying to find a site for a facility that could be perceived of as threatening. It is only through a process of engaging with a community and other stakeholders, as Webler describes, that informed consent can be achieved. When this process has been fair and transparent it can be a win for all involved. 

Watch Webler’s episode on video or listen to the podcast and let us know what you think!

While Deep Isolation is producing this series, any opinions expressed by either the interviewers or their subjects are not necessarily representative of our official position. 

Have a suggestion for someone we should interview? Email Learn more at

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Blog by Deep Isolation Staff, July 13, 2020

Temporary Nuclear Waste Storage Costs Keep Rising

In our fourth episode of Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story we delve deeper into the downside of not having a permanent storage solution for nuclear waste.

Our guest is James Taylor, General Manager of the environmental division of Bechtel’s Nuclear, Security and Environmental global business unit. Taylor talks about the long-term costs of the interim storage of nuclear waste.

James Taylor of Bechtel
James Taylor of Bechtel

According to an analysis by Deep Isolation, based on data from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Nuclear Association, more than half a million metric tons of high-level nuclear waste is temporarily stored at hundreds of sites worldwide. No country has yet implemented a disposal solution for spent commercial fuel.

Taylor explains the financial impacts of not having a permanent disposal solution for nuclear waste, pointing out that utility ratepayers and taxpayers are footing a bill that will continually amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually until a solution is implemented. This isn’t just an issue in the United States: This is a global challenge impacting countries worldwide.

With most of the waste sitting in storage pools or above-ground dry storage facilities, interim storage has become a big business, costing $6 million to $8 million per year to manage these facilities. 

Taylor brings a business-insider perspective to this issue. In his leadership role at Bechtel, Taylor has general management responsibility for the management and operation of high-hazard nuclear and chemical cleanup sites, facility decommissioning, field remediation, project management services and nuclear material management, treatment and disposition. This work includes managing projects for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Management (EM) and the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). 

You can listen to this interview and others on our website or subscribe to the podcast series on your favorite player. Watch the videos on our YouTube playlist.

While Deep Isolation is producing this series, any opinions expressed by either the interviewers or their subjects are not necessarily representative of our official position.

Have a suggestion for a future podcast? Email us at Learn more at

Blog by Deep Isolation Staff, June 22, 2020

Waste Disposal Issues Plague Nuclear Energy Industry

In the second episode of our new podcast and vlog series, Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story, we talk to nuclear energy industry veteran and Senior Director at NEI Rod McCullum about why it’s critical that commercial nuclear power companies find a permanent disposal option.

Nuclear power plants provide one-fifth of the United States’ electricity annually, according to Department of Energy statistics. Proponents herald it as a reliable zero-emissions source of energy while detractors say the risks of nuclear energy outweigh the benefits. Currently, futuristic advanced reactor technologies are being developed to compliment present day technologies.

Deep Isolation as a company does not take a position on the use of nuclear power.  Our focus is on providing a solution for the accumulated radioactive waste that is currently temporarily stored in spent fuel cooling pools and above-ground storage facilities worldwide.

Nuclear Waste Dry Cask Storage Facility
A dry cask facility in Vermont.

“The good news with the nuclear industry is we contain all of our waste, all of our byproduct wastes,” says McCullum, Senior Director, Used Fuel and Decommissioning, for the Nuclear Energy Institute. “The bad news is we’ve still got them.”

In this episode, “Disposal Impasse Impacts Future of Next Generation Reactors,” McCullum explains why any failure to solve this problem could negatively affect the development of the next generation of nuclear energy reactors.

McCullum has 30 years of nuclear engineering, licensing, management and regulatory policy experience. Before joining NEI, he held positions with the U.S. Department of Energy and worked for several commercial nuclear power plants. 

You can listen to this interview and others on our website or subscribe to the series on your favorite player. Watch the videos on our YouTube playlist.

The opinions of the subjects interviewed do not represent Deep Isolation’s official position. Have a suggestion for a future topic? Email us at Learn more at

Blog by Deep Isolation Staff, June 10, 2020

Expert Discusses Nuclear Waste Dangers and Disposal Options

We’re proud to present the debut episode of Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story, an interview with Dr. Arjun Makhijani, an electrical and nuclear engineer with decades of experience in the nuclear waste field. 

We hope this series will help demystify some of the issues surrounding nuclear waste because we know it’s not something everyone understands or is comfortable discussing. Nevertheless, we have a social responsibility to foster a dialogue that touches upon all sides of the story.  

In this episode, “Nuclear Waste Disposal Difficulties Plague the Industry,” Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and Deep Isolation Advisor David Hoffman talks to Makhijani, President of Science Matters, LLC, to frame the problem and explore solutions.

Arjun Makhijani a Widely Respected Expert

We chose to lead off the series with Makhijani’s interview because of his extensive knowledge and because he speaks so candidly about why one should care about permanently disposing of nuclear waste.

Nuclear waste expert Arjun Makhijani.
Dr. Arjun Makhijani

In fact, Deep Isolation commissioned an in-depth report from Makhijani that culminated in a more than 130-page analysis of the history of U.S. nuclear waste disposal that explores even the most far-fetched options for disposing of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

While Makhijani doesn’t believe there’s a completely “safe” solution for permanently containing nuclear waste, he agrees with the general scientific consensus that the best option is deep geologic disposal.

“Decades of analysis, review, research, and real-world events have shown that deep geologic disposal poses risks that are orders of magnitude smaller than any other approach for long-term spent-fuel management,” he wrote in his paper.

You can listen to this interview and others on our website or subscribe to the series on your favorite player. Watch the videos on our YouTube playlist.

The opinions of the subjects interviewed do not represent Deep Isolation’s position on the matters discussed. Have a suggestion for someone we should interview? Email us at Learn more at

“Without listening and respect there can be no solution.” — Elizabeth Muller, Deep Isolation CEO

At Deep Isolation we believe that listening is one of the most important elements of creating a successful nuclear waste disposal program. A core company value is to seek out and listen to different perspectives on the matters of nuclear waste and safe disposal solutions.  

What better way is there to listen than to collect as much wisdom as possible into one place? That is why we created a new podcast and vlog series, Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story. This series features interviews with experts and stakeholders who’ve been intimately involved in many aspects of the nuclear waste management world, representing decades of experience that has given them invaluable insights. We intentionally are choosing interview subjects who may have vastly differing opinions from one another and from us.

This issue really does affect us all.  In the U.S., approximately 1-in-3 Americans live within 50 miles of a nuclear waste storage facility.  Across the globe, roughly 490,000 metric tons of accumulated waste sit waiting for disposal. Such storage facilities were never meant to be a permanent resting place for high-level spent nuclear fuel. While solutions have been pursued for decades, to date one has yet to be operationalized.

Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story Logo

The reasons for this are complex and should be explored because this problem impacts our lives — all of us on this planet now and future generations. I feel it’s important to understand the challenges we all face when it comes to storing and disposing of this radioactive waste, but I also know it’s not an easy topic to talk about. Our goal is to piece together some relevant and sometimes opposing perspectives to bring you a more informed sense of Nuclear Waste: The Whole Story.

Episodes At-a-Glance

“Nuclear Waste Disposal Difficulties Plague the Industry.” Arjun Makhijani, an electrical and nuclear engineer and President of Science Matters LLC, speaks colorfully and candidly about the weaknesses of various nuclear waste disposal and storage methods.

“Disposal Impasse Impacts the Future of Next Generation Reactors.” Rod McCullum,  Senior Director, Used Fuel and Decommissioning, Nuclear Energy Institute, offers an insider’s perspective on commercial nuclear waste disposal and explains why any failure to solve this problem could threaten the development of the next generation of nuclear energy reactors.

“Community Consent is Key to Waste Disposal.” Thomas Webler is a research fellow at the Social and Environmental Research Institute and an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Keene State College. He explains the importance of the concept of community consensus when it comes to issues such as nuclear waste disposal.

“Temporary Waste Storage Costs Keep Rising.” (Coming in July) James Taylor, General Manager of Bechtel’s Environmental Division of the Nuclear, Security, Environmental Global Business Unit, discusses the immense costs of temporary nuclear waste storage.

There are many ways to watch or listen to these interviews: Watch or listen to the first three episodes now on our website or subscribe to the audio on your favorite player through Apple, Spotify, or Google. Or just subscribe to our YouTube channel, where there is a playlist with all of the episodes.

An important note: While, yes, Deep Isolation is producing this series, any opinions expressed by either the interviewers or their subjects do not represent our official position.

In fact, we’d love to hear from you! Who do you think we should interview next? What questions about nuclear waste would you like answered? Let us know by sending an email to

Earlier this year, pre-coronavirus — which seems like a lifetime ago — the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released a brief called “A Proposal for Progress on Nuclear Waste Management,” a set of recommendations to organizations responsible for handling nuclear waste, including the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Usually “progress” and “waste management” aren’t found in the same sentence without some type of satire, but this proposal makes exceptionally relevant recommendations when some are idling and/or simply looking back.

Two items are particularly notable for being forward-thinking. The ANS is recommending that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Develop up-to-date, risk-based, generic standards for siting and licensing a geologic repository; and enhance high-level waste transportation planning, outreach and infrastructure development.

Of course, as the Director of Legislative Affairs for Deep Isolation and an ANS member since 2006, I’m excited the organization is suggesting that the U.S. explore more regulatory options for horizontal drillholes, but there’s more to it than that.

This policy brief recognizes that what our country has been doing — vacillating on the Yucca Mountain repository — hasn’t been serving our citizens or this issue well. Whether you believe in nuclear power or not, I know most would agree we need to properly dispose of the waste material in a responsible, legal, ethical and environmentally conscious way. 

ANS Policy Brief Recommendations

1. Reestablish the Department of Energy Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM);

American Nuclear Society Image Logo
The American Nuclear Society has published a brief that suggests the U.S. include deep horizontal boreholes as a potential solution for disposing of nuclear waste.

2. Develop up-to-date, risk-based, generic standards for siting and licensing a geologic repository in the United States;

3. Enhance U.S. high-level waste (HLW) transportation planning, outreach and infrastructure development;

4. Mandate that the DOE identify the steps required to restart a repository program and estimate the associated timelines and costs. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board should then review the report for Congress;

5. Assess the ability of advanced reactors and alternate fuel cycles to address waste disposal challenges;

6. Continue research and development supporting long-term storage and subsequent transportation of used nuclear fuel;

7. Commission a National Academy of Sciences study of HLW management case histories in the United States and around the world. Identify best practices for communicating to the public about the real level of risk associated with HLW; and

8. Commission a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study on sustainable funding for HLW management.

We should continue to work with states and local communities to address transportation and routing, planning and training of emergency personnel and make sure all spent nuclear fuel can actually get to its nearest railhead. This is important work that has a significant stakeholder component and should be a focus of any DOE efforts.

Additionally, it makes sense that the NRC and Environmental Protection Agency will be working together to be forward-thinking as they update regulations to meet current scientific standards and merits. This way, when the market produces options for the deployment of back-end options, we have a regulatory scheme that is structured and known.  

Simply put, regulatory uncertainty will certainly continue to delay success in an area so in need of a win. 

So hats off to ANS, an organization that is leading with sureness at a time when it is desperately needed. 

I have always been proud to be part of a professional association that is thoughtful and pragmatic, technical and science-based and committed to progress over politics. As a student of the back-end of the fuel cycle, which I might add must be considered and completed to have a cycle at all, I was thrilled and encouraged to read this most recent brief on waste management.

I’m pretty proud of the people and groups I work and associate with, and today ANS is right at the top.

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.

Blog by Evan Addesso, Director of Business Development, April 23, 2020

Foundation Study is a First Step to Nuclear Waste Disposal

Governments worldwide have spent decades trying to solve the problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste.

Of the 31 countries that have or have had nuclear reactors, there is not a single open and operating mined repository for spent nuclear fuel, and only a handful have attained sustained progress. There are many reasons the solutions are elusive but cost and community mistrust are common obstacles.

Every nuclear country grappling with this issue has its own unique challenges; it is only through one-on-one partnerships that Deep Isolation can learn how to best apply its solution to a country’s needs. 

Foundation Study, the First Step

During a Deep Isolation Foundation Study, our experts work with clients to evaluate the suitability of horizontal boreholes for their specific situation. In fact, we just announced we’ve signed our first non-government contract to study the feasibility of this for an advanced nuclear power plant scenario. Because each situation is different, our study examines everything from individual waste streams to suitable regional geology and provides a cost-benefit analysis. We aim to paint a complete picture while following well-established international safety best practices of how storage or disposal can be achieved. 

Computer analysis

A Foundation Study can include: 

  • A technical investigation to evaluate different options from an engineering and geological perspective;
  • Detailed information on country-specific nuclear waste needs, relevant communities, and the regulatory environment;
  • Legal, business and financing expertise;
  • Project management system expertise;
  • Stakeholder relations and public information expertise.

The Foundation Study is the first stage in our cautious and stepwise approach. It will provide a thorough snapshot of what nuclear waste disposition in a horizontal borehole entails. Then the client will be able to make an informed decision about proceeding to the second step, operational readiness. At this stage, we will provide a more in-depth site characterization, including exploring whether the geology is suitable and engaging with the community. A first Foundation study can lead to many other small studies before moving to operational readiness, but these studies are essential to begin understanding if horizontal borehole disposal will work in a specific country and geology.

Solution Lifecycle
Deep Isolation Solution Life Cycle

Innovation Backed by Engineering Expertise

Yes, we acknowledge that we are an innovative and disruptive company, but that innovation is supported by the union of three well-established industries: Nuclear waste handling/engineering, oil and gas directional drilling, and applied sciences. We’re simply building upon our experience in these three mature industries and applying them in a new way.  

As Director of Business Development I have spoken to many people in and around this industry. Whether it be government officials, waste management organization representatives or scientists, there is a common desire to solve this problem. 

This mentality and desire is a hallmark of our work at Deep Isolation. The disposition of nuclear waste is not only important to those that work in the industry but is also important for the 7.8 billion people living on this planet. An issue this massive begs for a collaborative approach. There is a want, a need, and a desire to solve this problem, and this can only be achieved through partnership and collaboration with those involved. 

Learn about the science supporting our proposed nuclear waste disposal solution in our recently published safety calculations technical report. You can also attend a May 12 webinar by the report author to learn more.

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Deep Isolation, Inc.
2120 University Avenue, Ste. 623
Berkeley, CA 94704