An artist’s rendition of the Oklo Aurora microreactor.

Image credit: Gensler

OKAn advanced nuclear fission microreactor start-up announced Tuesday that it will AltC Acquisition Companyis a special purpose acquisition company co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who also chairs Oklo’s board of directors.

Oklo co-founder says SPAC will close in early 2024 jack dewitt It will raise as much as $500 million for the company, told CNBC in a video interview on Friday.

Funds Oklo raised from the listing will be used to strengthen its supply chain and procurement processes and build a pilot-scale production facility for its reactor, known as Aurora.

Altman, known for his work on artificial intelligence after Microsoft invested billions of dollars in OpenAI, captured the public’s imagination late last year with the company’s ChatGPT chatbot. But Altman’s philosophical vision of a better future rests on two technologies developing in parallel: artificial intelligence and energy.

“My overall view of the world is that the future can be a better place, and the two things we really need are lower energy costs and lower intelligence costs. If we achieve these, we will be very surprised how different and meaningful the future is. How beautiful,” Altman told CNBC in a phone conversation on Friday.

“I don’t think there is a way we can achieve this without nuclear weapons”

The two aspects of Altman’s vision for the future are interrelated: He told CNBC that if the use of artificial intelligence scales up in the way Altman sees it, it will require “a lot, a lot” of energy.

Altman met Oklo’s co-founders back in 2013 and recruited them to join Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup where Altman works. President from 2014 to 2019. Caroline Cochran and Jacob DeWittco-founder of Oklo, Joined Y Combinator in 2014 Altman went on to lead Oklo’s seed round in 2015 and became chairman of the board.

“I’m all-in on energy,” Altman told CNBC. “I think there’s an urgent need for a lot of cheap, safe, clean energy.”

Altman has long preached the idea that: get energy is an important determinant of improved quality of life worldwide.

“The alternative to energy starvation is this crazy de-growth problem that people talk about. We really don’t want that,” Altman told CNBC, referring to limiting production, consumption and energy use as a way to protect nature concept. resource. “I think it’s crazy and very immoral when people start calling for that.”

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks at a conference at Station F in Paris on May 26, 2023. Altman, the boss of OpenAI, the company behind the popular ChatGPT bot, says his company’s technology won’t disrupt the job market, as he tries to quell concerns over the development of artificial intelligence (AI), in Paris on May 26, 2023. worry.

Joel Saget | AFP | Getty Images

In particular, Altman argues that nuclear power is necessary to meet demand while avoiding the burning of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. “I don’t think there’s a way we can do this without nuclear power. I mean, maybe we can do it with just solar and storage,” Altman told CNBC. “But from my perspective Looking at it, I think that’s the most likely and best way to achieve that.”

Altman is betting on a slightly different nuclear program.

Oklo is working to commercialize nuclear fission, the reaction that powers all existing nuclear power plants, but using much smaller reactors. He also invested $375 million in Helion, one of a nascent industry of startups working to demonstrate and commercialize nuclear fusion, the sun’s way of generating energy without long-term nuclear waste, But never replicated and scaled up on Earth.

If fusion becomes commercially viable, as Helion envisions, it could co-exist with Oklo and its smaller, cheaper nuclear reactors, Altman said. The need for clean, cheap energy is “so great,” Altman said, that having multiple sources of reliable, clean nuclear energy is a good thing. Also, since the Oklo reactors will be much smaller than the Helion power plant, they will likely serve a different type of customer.

Fundamentally, “the world has a very limited amount of energy, and it’s in short supply, and we need all of it,” Altman told CNBC.

Deployment Plans and Barriers

Oklo was founded in 2013 with a vision to reimagine commercial nuclear energy. Construction projects for conventional nuclear reactors are costly and time-consuming. Vogtell, Georgia Plant is the latest conventional nuclear reactor of its kind to be built in the U.S., and is over budget and on schedule has become notorious.

Oklo plans to make smaller nuclear reactors that can run on fresh or recycled fuel for up to a decade before needing to be refueled. Oklo reactors will produce steady levels of energy rather than the intermittent energy produced by wind and solar, and Oklo positions itself for data centers, utilities, defense installations, remote communities, factories and industrial sites.

“Oklo has extremely strong customer interest. There’s no shortage of desire or demand for it,” Altman told CNBC.

In addition, Oklo plans to operate the reactor itself and sell the power to customers, making nuclear energy more accessible to customers without the responsibility of operating the reactor.

Oklo is still in a relatively early stage. In May, Oklo signed the agreement In partnership with the Southern Ohio Diversity Initiative, deploy two commercial plants in Southern Ohio with the goal of having them online by 2030.

Oklo also received DOE Approval Construction of a plant at the Idaho National Laboratory by 2027.For this reactor, Oklo has Received INL approval to use some of its spent nuclear fuel. The company has also begun applying for approval needed to build a fuel recovery facility so that Oklo can incorporate fuel that would otherwise be considered “spent” into its advanced reactor design.

An artist’s rendering of the Oklo Aurora Reactor.

Artist’s rendering of Gensler, image courtesy of Oklo.

But Oklo also faces some setbacks: In January 2022, the top U.S. nuclear regulator, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, rejected its first application to build and operate its advanced nuclear reactor. The NRC noted an information gap in the application, but Oklo is confident it can address it.

“We’ve come a long way with the NRC since 2016,” DeWitt told CNBC. “In a lot of ways, a lot of the licensing details around that focus more on what I would call structural and procedural elements.”

If Oklo does make it through the regulatory process, it has the potential to make nuclear energy cheaper than it is now, which is part of why Altman is interested.

“One of the things I’m really excited about about Oklo’s design is that I think the economics could be very, very different,” Altman said.

Some of it is the smaller size of the reactor, but some of it is how the Oklo reactor was designed.

“We’ve made deliberate design decisions based on technologies that we’ve demonstrated that also use parts, major parts and assemblies that are used in other industries,” DeWitt told CNBC. “So that means we can buy An established, efficient production supply chain with economies of scale.”

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