Deep Isolation CEO a Finalist for EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2022 Bay Area

Deep Isolation CEO Elizabeth Muller
Elizabeth Muller, CEO of Deep Isolation

BERKELEYErnst & Young LLP (EY US) has announced that Deep Isolation CEO Liz Muller is a finalist for Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2022 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Widely considered one of the most prestigious business awards programs in the United States, the program recognizes entrepreneurs and leaders of high-growth companies who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities, while also transforming our world.

Deep Isolation is enabling the future of nuclear power by solving the global nuclear waste disposal challenge. Their advanced nuclear technology leverages directional drilling practices to safely and affordably isolate waste deep underground in a horizontal, vertical, or slanted borehole repository. By combining scientific and nuclear expertise with high aptitude engagement skills, Deep Isolation works with stakeholders and communities to design and deliver an equitable and environmentally protective disposal solution. 

EY says this accolade celebrates “The audacious entrepreneurs building a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous world for all.” They describe awardees as “Unstoppables who imagine what’s possible and then pursue it.”

Muller is among 27 finalists from 24 Bay Area companies.

“I appreciate the recognition for Deep Isolation’s progress solving one of the world’s most intractable problems,” Muller said. “I am grateful that EY is recognizing the spirit of innovation and the work being done to tackle really hard problems.”

The rigorous vetting process to be named a finalist included a six-part essay application, in-person interviews and a panel of independent judges evaluating criteria including: Entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, company growth metrics and community impact.

Muller wrote in her essay that starting the world’s first spent nuclear fuel disposal company has been difficult, “But my passion for making the world a better place drives me to innovate in unexpected and necessary ways.”

Muller co-founded Deep Isolation in 2016 with her father Richard Muller, a University of California, Berkeley, physics professor. They are also co-founders of the internationally respected climate science nonprofit Berkeley Earth.

Deep Isolation has been mainly focused on opportunities in Europe, but it recently received its first federal funding (two projects worth $7.6M) from the U.S. Department of Energy: One is to design a universal disposal canister for advanced reactor spent nuclear fuel in partnership with U.C. Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and NAC International; and one to partner with San Francisco Bay Area-based Oklo and two national labs to design a deep borehole repository for an advanced reactor spent fuel recycling facility.

“The 2022 Entrepreneur of The Year finalists have shown us that ambition, courage, ingenuity and empathy are key to driving change,” said Entrepreneur Of The Year Bay Area Program Co-director, Chad Bowar in a press release. “They have a mindset that drives them to strive for more and an unwavering commitment to their companies, customers and communities.”

Regional award winners will be announced on June 14. The winners will then be considered by the National judges for the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Awards, which will be presented in November at the annual Strategic Growth Forum®, one of the nation’s most prestigious gatherings of high-growth, market-leading companies. The Entrepreneur Of The Year National Overall Award winner will then move on to compete for the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Award in June 2023.

For more than 35 years, EY US has celebrated the unstoppable entrepreneurs who are building a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous world for all. The Entrepreneur Of The Year program has recognized more than 10,000 U.S. executives since its inception in 1986. 

About Deep Isolation 
Deep Isolation is a leading global innovator in nuclear waste storage and disposal solutions. Driven by a passion for environmental stewardship and scientific ingenuity, the company’s patented solution of advanced nuclear technologies enables global delivery through its partnerships with industry leaders as well as flexible IP licensing options.

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Kari Hulac — Deep Isolation

Deep Isolation, Inc.
2001 Addison St, Ste. 300
Berkeley, CA 94704

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By Kari Hulac

At Deep Isolation we are all here for one reason: To solve a decades-old environmental problem that most people never even think about.

Yes, that is as difficult as it sounds. It’s so difficult, in fact, that most governments around the world have yet to solve it while ratepayer dollars allotted for a permanent disposal solution collect dust in the coffers, and taxpayer dollars pay for interim storage.

Unless you personally live near one of the 93 commercial nuclear reactors operating in the United States at 55 locations in 28 states, you probably rarely think about nuclear energy or spent nuclear fuel, which is radioactive and requires specialized handling and containment for thousands of years.

Most of those who do live near a plant, where waste is temporarily stored in very large concrete casks, aren’t too worried because it is safe where it is.

While spent nuclear fuel is safe in these storage casks, this was never intended to be permanent. The international scientific consensus for decades has been that the BEST place for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste is in deep geologic disposal, where it’s protected from the elements and can’t be tampered with by humans. In the U.S. disposal in a mined repository is required by law.

We believe governments have a moral and legal obligation to move forward with permanent waste disposal. We think this is more important now than ever:

*To reduce opposition to clean nuclear power and fight climate change;

*And to increase energy independence as a national security priority.

As a company we’ve internally struggled with how to raise public awareness and gain public support for solving a problem that is (mostly) out of sight and thus, out of mind. How do we persuade the government that doing nothing is not a solution?

So, a small group of us got together and embarked on a mission to: Find out what people think about waste and nuclear energy; provide factual information in hopes of inspiring others to feel more inspired to solve this problem; and finally, give those newly inspired folks a way to make their voices heard by those with the power to make change.

Solve Nuclear Waste Project

First, we took the public’s temperature to make sure we were on the right track. We launched a nationally representative U.S. poll last summer and found that 70 percent of those surveyed agree that it’s the government’s job to solve this problem. We also found that people would be more likely to support nuclear energy if the waste was in safe disposal.

Once we gathered the poll data, we gut-checked our progress with a focus group of nearly 20 stakeholders and environmental community advocates. We took their suggestions to heart, and the Solve Nuclear Waste website was born.

The webpage features facts about nuclear waste in the U.S. and a pledge that concerned citizens can sign as a rallying cry to hold government accountable to solve this issue now. (If we’re successful, we certainly hope to expand our efforts worldwide.)

We see this pledge as an important initial step to talk more openly about nuclear waste and earn support for action needed by decision makers who can help drive progress on this long-standing environmental issue.

Once we collect a critical mass of signatures, we plan to share this information with decision makers to demonstrate that the public DOES care about nuclear waste disposal and wants this problem addressed now.

We hope you’ll visit the new webpage and consider signing our pledge today.

Solve Nuclear Waste Website Screenshot

By Betsy Madru

In 2012, the U.S. Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was formed by the Secretary of Energy to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. One of the Commission’s recommendations was to use consent-based siting approaches to determine a location for a facility to store and dispose of nuclear waste. 

In 2017 the United States Department of Energy developed and requested public comment on the “Draft Consent-Based Siting Process for Consolidated Storage and Disposal Facilities for Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste.” The incorporation of consent-based siting in DOE’s nuclear waste work is moving the nation’s nuclear waste program in the right direction. 

The DOE has revived its efforts by recently issuing a Request for Information on “Using a Consent-Based Siting Process To Identify Federal Interim Storage Facilities.” This means interested entities had an opportunity to submit their thoughts on how such a process should be conducted to ultimately help the U.S. progress toward a solution. 

Here is an excerpt from Deep Isolation’s RFI response:

“The Department of Energy should lay out a comprehensive plan for development of an entire waste management system that provides flexibility in the strategy and approach for storage, transportation, and disposal. An essential part of any fully integrated plan is continuation of generic work that will be required regardless of the final destination of the material, such as work being done under 180(c) of the NWPA to provide technical and financial training to local state and tribal public safety officials whose jurisdictions are on major transportation routes. Initiating a consent-based siting process for interim storage is an important first step of the Department’s overall plan, but it must be developed against the larger backdrop of a comprehensive system that is grounded in sound science and built on a platform of public trust and confidence.”

“Progress on establishing one or more permanent disposal facilities is critical to efforts to develop an interim storage facility. … If it is assumed that potential interim storage sites will be pursued using a consent-based process, then the hosts of those sites must have reasonable confidence that the sites will, in fact, be “interim” and not become permanent by default. The only way to maintain that balance and assurance is to have a robust integrated waste management system that includes both types of facilities as well as the accompanying safety and regulatory structure to enable success.”

“New regulations for geologic disposal must be built on a solid technical foundation of safety analyses and performance assessments, and must establish regulatory certainty at the outset…. Clarity and certainty about the regulatory process will provide a necessary underpinning for conversations about the siting of disposal facilities.  This will in turn provide greater confidence that interim storage will not become permanent and will allow more open dialogue with prospective host communities and states that is built on a platform of transparency and trust”

Now that responses to the RFI have been submitted, the Office of Nuclear Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy will use the 220 responses submitted to inform development of a consent-based siting process, overall strategy for an integrated waste management system, and possibly a funding opportunity. The DOE has consolidated all the responses and is planning to issue a report of all the findings in the coming months and 

To learn more:

Social Scientist Explains Community Consent

Keeping Nuclear Waste Transportation Safe

Deep Isolation was founded by Elizabeth Muller and Richard Muller, a father-daughter team in Berkeley. Their ambition is to commercialize technologies that will allow for the digging of 18-inch-diameter holes deep under the earth’s surface and develop a deep geologic repository where nuclear waste can safely be stored and lose its radioactivity over time.

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