Ray Rothrock is a California-based professional venture capitalist with 34 years of experience in the industry. In this episode, Rothrock, who holds a degree in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University and has a portfolio of investments in nuclear startups, explains why the recent breakthrough in fusion is a “Kitty Hawk moment,” the many challenges facing commercial use of fusion, the “labyrinth of regulations and red tape” impeding new fission reactors, and why the U.S. will need strong leadership from Congress and the president if it wants to lead in the deployment of the next generation of nuclear reactors.
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone, welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I’m Robert Bryce. In this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I’m pleased to welcome Ray Rothrock. He is a venture capitalist based in California who has long experience in venture capital in the nuclear industry. Ray, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Ray Rothrock 0:20
Good morning, Robert. Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
Robert Bryce 0:24
It’s great to see you. As you know, podcast guests on this podcast introduce themselves. So imagine you’ve arrived somewhere you don’t know anyone you have 60 seconds or less? Go
Ray Rothrock 0:34
60 seconds. Okay. Well, I’m a venture capitalist, professional venture capitalist. I have been since 1998. That year, I joined the Rockefeller family firm called Venrock, which is a high tech venture firm based in New York City, and was there for 25 years, I had a nice track record 53 deals nine IPOs 2013, I retired, went out on my own. And I’ve been investing ever since. And I’m in probably about 20 deals now, including many nuclear projects. So before that, I was a nuclear engineer. I was in the industry, I worked for Yankee atomic electric, based in Massachusetts, where we managed three plants and my plant was Yankee row, which went critical in 1961, the first truly public nuclear power plant in the United States after shipping port, which was a public private deal with the US Navy,
Robert Bryce 1:26
and shipping port was in Pennsylvania in 1958, is that right? No,
Ray Rothrock 1:32
1919 57 went critical and approved is basically a submarine plant on land, built by the United States Navy and operated so the commercial industry could become familiar with operating these things. And then Yankee row was built based on that experience, and went critical in 1961.
Robert Bryce 1:51
So shipping port if memory shipping port was 60 megawatts if memory serves How big was Yankee ro? What was the electrical output there?
Ray Rothrock 1:58
Well, the Federal was 365 megawatts thermal and about 180 megawatts electric. Gotcha. So considerably bigger, but still very small, I would fit in the room, I’m in here, the reactor was smaller than the room I’m in now.
Robert Bryce 2:12
So well, there’s a lot to talk about. And I want to focus today on a fusion, obviously, because of this recent announcement that the DoD made, and then vision, of course, and kind of more broadly, how, given your long experience how you see the industry, because you and I are both hopeful, and optimistic. But I think we need some realism here. So how significant let’s start with that announcement from the Lawrence Livermore National Lab last week about the fusion. It’s been heralded as a breakthrough. But once I learned more about it, I thought, Well, is it really how important is it?
Ray Rothrock 2:45
Well, I think it’s very important. And it’s a breakthrough because of the following. In fact, the secretary call it a Kitty Hawk moment. And in fact, it was infusion up into the Kitty Hawk event of aviation. A lot of people have jumped off buildings had all kinds of flying contraptions, they leave the ground for a few seconds, but they never were self sustaining. The Kitty Hawk moment was self sustaining, because it was powered flight. And using basically the shape of the wings, this thing got lift and was sustained and controlled. That’s magical. Think about that for a minute sustain control flight, what was it 90 seconds, but whatever, it was a short sustained control flight, the NIF nuclear, the National Ignition Facility, for the first time, slam together nuclear to create a fusion event that was self sustaining for just millionths of a second, or maybe even billions of a second. And it produced more energy than it took in in order to start the initial futures. That’s called a cue or gain and it was about 1.5. According to the measurements, now, the total energy to make that thing goes huge. But once it started, it actually ran for a little bit on its own. That is unbelievable that that was a first infusion, because we’ve had fusion in labs for decades, but never self sustaining. So this is kind of
Robert Bryce 4:11
well, that’s so that’s, I liked the way you describe it. So it was two mega joules input and three mega joules output, if I recall 1.5, right, right. Input, but it was 300 mega joules needed to charge the lasers. Right? So you say it’s one and a half out, but wasn’t. I mean, when I think about it, well, actually, isn’t it 100 to one in I mean, if you got 300 mega joules to charge the lasers and you get three mega joules out. Am I looking at it wrong? Or how do you I mean, how do you think about that in terms of what’s the ring fence? Right? I mean, this is always the ring. Where do you determine the boundary about what the inputs versus the outputs?
Ray Rothrock 4:47
Right so this is not a power plant, a power plant and when you draw that fifth, it will have to be producing more power than then it’s ever taking in. That’s a fact. Right? But this is an experiment where many Your the energy at the target and was 2,000,002 mega joules and the output was 1.5. So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of supporting things around it. They call it the hotel load and the power business. ginormous. But the fact that it fused and it put out more than inmense that the fusion reaction was creating more fusion reactions instead of always the lasers creating it. I see. So that’s a big deal. That’s a really scientifically scientifically a huge deal. engineering wise, there’s a long way from a power plant.
Robert Bryce 5:35
Well, and the way I’ve thought about it is that replicating the sun’s kind of hard, right?
Ray Rothrock 5:41
I mean, started out with gravity, right? We do it with a magnetic field up there, and there’s no magnetic field, this is just simply hitting it with it with these laser energies that when the cat, the X rays, from the collision of the lasers with the capsule, compress the nuclei, which therefore heats it and creates the density necessary for fusion.
Robert Bryce 6:04
Well, then, let’s talk about what the amount of money that’s being raised in the Fusion business, you’re an investor in Tae, which based in California, there’s another company Commonwealth fusion systems, together the race something on the order of $4 billion wire, let me ask that question. First. Why are these companies been able to raise so much money?
Ray Rothrock 6:23
Well, there’s a hope. And look, investors love hope they always invest in hope. And I think I think there’s a reality is Yeah, so let me just pitch book reports is about 4.8 billion total infusion. And there are about 3030 plus 33, for fusion companies that have received some sort of private financing, that is a lot of money, way more than fishing, by the way, but it’s a lot of money no matter how you slice. So what’s going on. So the notion here, if if you can get a if you can build a fusion power plant, one, you would have, essentially infinite energy because the fuel is hydrogen in some form. Second, you will have no radioactive decay heat issues to worry about. So you have a safety issue just goes away. And then you have you will have radioactive things at the end, but they’re not the fission products that result. So you have three gigantic problems for fishing that you won’t have. There are plenty of things on fusion we could talk about. But why because people, you know, there is a belief that if someone could build a breakeven facility, then the next step, of course, is to build a power net power out facility. And I think the numbers vary. Now, people who invest like me, we understand that sometimes it takes 20 years, at Venrock, we did a lot of drug deals, it took 15 or 20 years. And the point is you get different investors over different periods of time with different risk tolerances. So the hope would be and this is my hope, as a direct investor, is that we will have that breakeven moment that will be sufficient to attract public capital, that company goes public, I liquidate, and new investors come along that will take the risk from breakeven to the power plant. That’s effect. The original investment and try alpha by Venrock was in 2005. So we’ve been in it for what 17 years, and we think the next machine is breaking. So that’s a very exciting time. And this will fit not all the drug deals, but a lot of our drug deals last that long. It violates a lot of principles of venture more than 10 years and all kinds of stuff. But at the end of the day, my job is to invest in hard things to change the world and make money for everybody. And that’s that’s why fusion is attractive. Now,
Robert Bryce 8:44
you say and when you say drug deals, you’re talking about pharmaceuticals, new government,
Ray Rothrock 8:48
sorry, pharmaceutical. drug deals go down a lot faster than
Robert Bryce 8:54
that is probably true, usually happening, Pash so that’s another distinction, no problem. But then, you know, we talked about this a few days ago, and you pointed out and reminded me that the first sustained chain reaction for fission happened, of course, with Enrico Fermi at University Chicago 1942. And then they’re 15 years until you get the shipping port, which you’ve already mentioned. Right? Is it reasonable to think that we’re from now given that we’ve had this Kitty Hawk moment in fusion that we could have commercial fusion within 15 years?
Ray Rothrock 9:27
I don’t think so, because we haven’t had the breakeven moment of the whole plant. We’d have sustained fishing in 42. And then of course, Rickover, built a submarine to go into the bowl, the Nautilus. He did that 1953 54 And then shipping port three years later, but let’s face it Rickover had the Cold War. I should say Captain Rickover had the Cold War, a lot of controversy, but at the end of the day, he went out and we got it done. So I think it’s I think it’s more like 15 years, probably five to 10 years to it. breakeven plant, and then from there, we will have to engineer a make power plant. Now we understand how to make power from heat. But there’s still a lot of engineering challenges to get the energy of the fusion out into some working fluid that can then be turned into steam. Oh,
Robert Bryce 10:16
see, I hadn’t thought about this. So you need the the thermal, the thermal conversion in through a heat exchanger of some kind sometime. Right? Right, you’re gonna have to make I have to make steam or something, I guess it were, or thermal coupler or some other kind of device that wouldn’t be able to or not a thermal thermal electric device. Yeah. Right. That would convert you
Ray Rothrock 10:36
need something you need something to convert the heat to working to a working fluid is what we call it, and then that turns a turbine typically. And we know how to do that really well. But right, have you ever done so?
Robert Bryce 10:49
And tell me about TA? What’s the difference? We’ve mentioned two companies in Commonwealth that arrays the bulk of the money in fusion. Now the differences between the two companies? What is the technique? I’m sure I’m assuming there’s some technology difference that you’re changing? What are those?
Ray Rothrock 11:04
Yes, they are. So in fusion, there are many different fuel cycles, I call it so the most common fuel cycle is called DTF stands for deuterium tritium, that is hydrogen with two neutrons and another hydrogen with three neutrons, you slam those together get helium, a lot of energy out. And then you get high energy neutrons, 1414 MeV neutrons, which are very high energy. So that’s dt, the world has been pursuing a DT fusion reaction since fusion was considered doable. And why because it has the lowest threshold in terms of the scientific criteria of time, energy, and density. Those are the three things you need for fusion, try alpha is pursuing what’s called an A neutronic fuel cycle. This is where you take proton and you slam it into boron 11, you get boron 12, which we’re really sorry, proton into boron 11 makes carbon 12 carbon 12 decays instantly, I think it’s like 12 nanoseconds or so it’s very short, into three alpha particles. So what to think about that? Well, alphacard particles are heavy, relatively speaking, they have a lot of kinetic energy. And there’s also photons released. So you have two sources of energy. And most importantly, what made what they try alpha, interesting to me was, it was a neutron, no neutrons produced. So neutrons are nasty things, they kill people, they turn steel into putty, they basically mess everything up, and they make things radioactive. Whereas a neutronic reactions don’t. And you will have some radiation, don’t get me wrong, there is radiation. But it’s sort of on the order of a hospital MRI versus highly new neutron activated steel. So the DT guys and blaming, let’s get her done. Let’s, let’s make it happen. And we will deal with the radioactive issues. And the faster we know how to capture fast neutrons and all that sort of stuff. But it’s, you know, it’s a lot of engineering, and then the A neutronic. So intronic is a lot higher threshold energy, like, I believe it’s 20 times that of di t. So it’s a harder scientific problem. But if it occurred, if you can make that occur, the engineering is a lot simpler, you have less radiation, you don’t have neutron damage, and all the other attendant, good things that come from that. So it’s a it, it’s purposeful in that sense. Now, taking the energy up along the way, maybe you can have a DI T reaction in a, a TA reactor, and then keep going up. And that’s all to be determined. We think it’s certainly doable. And I think they will show that but it makes things radioactive along the way.
Robert Bryce 13:45
So when you when you’re saying when you’re talking about the energy, so you’re saying you would need a bigger energy charge to start the fusion then with that you it’s not going to be 300 mega joules, it could be multiples of that. Use the recent example. So you’re going to have to have a bigger charging, charging, installation to make the ignition happen. Is that
Ray Rothrock 14:05
hearing you right? I’ll give you some numbers. The DT reaction takes about 10 MeV of energy to start. I can’t convert that in my head to joules real quickly. But Timmy 10 MeV to
Robert Bryce 14:16
start, and that’s million electron volts. Am I
Ray Rothrock 14:18
correct? million electron volts of energy to start? It’s very hot. But the PB 11 A neutronic ratio takes about 200 If I remember. It’s an order of magnitude. I know that. Yeah. So there’s a lot more energy, right? So you have to have either a system that can concentrate that energy and then collect more energy and all that all that all that’s involved, you know, at eight it’s interesting. One of the calculations I once saw all the energy in the current ta machines would not even melt an ice cube. It’s it’s I mean, it’s high temperature, but it’s very, it’s very low density. So it wouldn’t even It wouldn’t even melt an ice cube,
Robert Bryce 15:01
because it’s a very high temperature at a very specific point then the very concentrated pinpoint to get you
Ray Rothrock 15:08
right now now on that so I could go on and on about dt and CFS and how they’re doing their thing. But
Robert Bryce 15:16
CFS is following more than model that Moritz Livermore is pursuing then that same kind of technology is that
Ray Rothrock 15:23
different different inertial confinement is what Lawrence Livermore did that is you fire energy at it, and that it squeezes the energy squeezes the pellet. d t is called magnetic confinement, and that is you spin up the plasma, the DT plasma, you compress it with magnetic field lines, and then you pass current through the current through it, you know, I squared R will heat the plasma such that it’ll, it’ll reach ignition. So that’s called magnetic confinement.
Robert Bryce 15:56
Gotcha. And so and now, just so you’re talking now about Lawrence Livermore, is that that’s different from Commonwealth Commonwealth is doing?
Ray Rothrock 16:03
Yes, they are different different architectures for fusion reaction.
Robert Bryce 16:07
Gotcha. So I want to talk about fission because I see it fission has plenty of challenges before we get the fusion but I’m just curious about your background. I know you’re a Texas guy, and I don’t know, I know it. Can you just fill us in on a few those biographical details. You’re from Fort Worth, if I remember. Oh,
Ray Rothrock 16:24
yeah. Born and raised in Fort Worth. You know, my parents were the greatest generation. My dad was a DD and my mom was a teacher’s aide there in Fort Worth, I have an older brother. I mean, we ran out of central casting. You know, the whole nine yards. My dad was a machinist after the war, and I grew up carrying his tools around the house fixing things. And I went,
Robert Bryce 16:46
so engineering is kind of in your blood, then they’re they’re reaching or knowing tools and how things work is how you grew up, then.
Ray Rothrock 16:54
Yeah, it is. But I also have a musician. I love music. And I played musical instruments all the way through college. And still now I play in a band out here called up to the right, but so I had a choice out of high school engineering, music, and my dad and I took a road trip. And the last stop was Texas a&m. And I had an I had won a science fair award. My senior year in high school, he presented his letter from the president of Texas electric service company at that time, to the nuclear engineering department had and he read it and said, Young man, we’re gonna enroll you right now. And he picked up the phone and I was enrolled in Texas a&m, and we call my mom, it was quite a dramatic evening, you might imagine. So anyway, I started school and became a nuclear engineer. Then I went on to grad school at MIT, where my work was all around accident analysis and energy, liberation from cores and stuff. I did an experiment. It worked quite well. I was stunned, I got out and about a year instead of the three years It normally takes for an experiment. And then I went to Yankee atomic, where I was the Nuclear Safety Engineer on Yankee row. I was also the fuel when I was in the licensing. I went to one fuel recycle and actually was at the plant where we pulled the rice and see if the new fuel would go critical. It was it was a thrilling moment for me just can you I mean, here I am a nuclear engineer. I’m 23 or four years old, and we’re pulling rods at a power plant to make power. I mean, it was over the top. I can only imagine what those guys in the Navy feel when they pull you
Robert Bryce 18:33
still just your face betrays the excitement here. How many years later now? That would be 44? Well,
Ray Rothrock 18:40
4040 Yeah. 46 or seven years? Yeah. Something like that. Or 43 years? Yeah, something like that.
Robert Bryce 18:46
So your dad was a machinist? I’m just curious to follow that up. What what did he do what what kind of machining automotive engineer engines? No,
Ray Rothrock 18:52
no, he worked for Johns Manville in Fort Worth, which, in the plant, there was an asphalt roofing company. His job was to keep the machines rolling. So you take saturated paper saturated with asphalt, hot asphalt. And then you pour sand and granules on it, cut it, chop it and fold it. I worked there two summers while I was in college. One time on the line which can this man ever wanted to do that kind of work. And he was actually in his shop helping him with various things.
Robert Bryce 19:22
And your your folks? Will? I mean, you’re we’re roughly the same age. So they’re passed now but
Ray Rothrock 19:28
but they saw your six very long time. They lived a very long time and
Robert Bryce 19:32
they saw you succeed in nuclear engineering, then that must have been Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. Well, so let’s talk about fission now. So when Well, here’s the question I wrote down why why pursue pursue fusion when fission is working and then has plenty of its own challenges. So I want to we can get to the challenges because there are many and I want to talk about the NRC but I mean, I mean that question sincerely, why Chase fusion when vision is right here on the plate? We’ve proven it works we have more than 5667 years of, of technology of experimenting of knowledge about this. Why pursue fusion when this works?
Ray Rothrock 20:10
Well? Why did we pursue fishing and when oil worked? You know, fusion doesn’t come with the attendant safety and radioactive waste issues. The other thing that’s not broadcast much, but it’s a fact fusion pound for pound fusion is five times more energetic than fishing, patient and pound for pound is 2 million times more energetic, 2 million times more energetic than coal. So fusion is 20 20 million times. So you look around power. One of the things I was taught when I was, you know, nuclear engineering school, the first approximation to a power plant, or a chemical or any complicated industrial plant, is the amount of steel, copper and submit, you just do a quick estimate of the volume and how much of that it is that’s within probably 80% of the total cost. Well, if you can make it smaller, you’ve now used less. And so a giant chemical plant is way bigger than a nuclear fission plant. And hope is, you know, a 40 acre efficient plant can shrink down to about a four acre fusion plant, so you’re using less material using less land, therefore, it should be more economical. So I think that at the end of the day is what makes fusion interesting. It can be cheaper, better, and safer.
Robert Bryce 21:37
Well, it’s interesting, I like that discussion of the material intensity, because that has become I mean, it is very quickly emerging as the key challenge amidst many others. So you know, the intermittency, the land use conflicts, which is where I live and breathe a lot of my time. And, you know, I’ve created the renewable rejection database to document how unpopular these massive projects are the solar and
Ray Rothrock 21:58
you all the time about that, by the way,
Robert Bryce 22:01
well, thank you. But it’s the material. It’s not just the land intensity, it’s the material intensity, which is so high, especially for offshore wind is almost off the charts on the IEA zone estimates. And so it’s interesting that you talked that I didn’t realize that. So when you say 5x Fusion over fission, you’re talking about the energy, their power density of the machine. Yeah, gotcha.
Ray Rothrock 22:21
So it’s smaller, more dense, and therefore, it’s likely to use less material.
Robert Bryce 22:27
smaller, faster, lighter, denser, cheaper to quote one guy I’ve heard. All right. Well, so let’s talk about then fission and this is the other you know, right after so what are the there are many obstacles, but what is it? What are the biggest obstacles facing the, the, this new paradigm around fission to quote, Marine Corps? Nick, who has been on the podcast, she called it? She said, I don’t like the word Renaissance. She said, there’s new paradigm and I think there are many drivers for that new paradigm. What do you see as the biggest obstacles in the new paradigm to a read a to a rebirth of vision in America? Rebirth? Okay, well, is that even the right word?
Ray Rothrock 23:08
Well, I don’t know, a new era, new era. Whatever we call, well, let me new on that one. Okay.
I think the big. The big issue is that the current fish and plant world that we live in the 80 or 90 plants, whatever it is, these are very complicated machines. They’re the stuff was it bespoke machines, right. And as a result of that complexity, and the uniqueness of each and every one of them, despite the fact they’re either a P WR or a DWR has created a labyrinth of regulations, testing and control and compliance and all this other red tape, if you will, that has become a gigantic burden. Now, couple that with the people that have witnessed this, so this is the way it’s been for three years. And it’s got you know, when I started like Yankee row was built in 14 months cost $30 million in 19 $61.
Robert Bryce 24:14
I repeat that again, now in 14
Ray Rothrock 24:17
months, $30 million. It was built
Robert Bryce 24:20
for 180 megawatt electric,
Ray Rothrock 24:23
electric. And it was basically it was a reactor that was just identical to the Navy plant so that day, so it didn’t have the regulatory burdens and all the stuff that wasn’t stuck. It was literally shipping port grown up a little bit. And off we go. So this complex, it’s so what’s happened is the people now in decision, the members of boards, the CFOs, the CEOs, when you say nuclear power, they think oh my god, you know, $10 billion, you know, Vogel whatever it is $20 billion. That’s, that’s and people have a very hard time. I’m breaking out of that mindset. In fact, it makes it really easy when you’re in a meeting to just SWAT phishing aside, and no one has proven that it can be done any differently. That’s the mode we’re in right now, this advanced reactor world that we’re living in right now, in the last 10 years, if you will, it’s all about showing the decision makers that there’s a cheaper, better way to do fishing. And here we are, the RDP was passed a couple of years ago, the Congress is going to pay for two of these machines, we’re going to instrument the heck out of them understand what their economics are on and on and on. I remember that my paradigm about copper, cement and steel, well, these machines are smaller. They, they operated at atmospheric pressure, some of them so you don’t have all the pressure systems, you don’t have to have the safety systems, they naturally research they have, you know, Mother Nature provides gravity to do the shutdown sequences that have all this high power and shut them down system. So there’s a whole lot of stuff that these entrepreneurs are putting forward. And by the way, most of that was experimented up in Idaho, in the 50s 60s, and even the early 70s. Idaho bill, I think it’s like 52 reactors. And
Robert Bryce 26:15
just to be clear, you’re talking about Idaho National Labs. department, and then just use it and you said, a RDP with the advanced reactor development program. I think you bring people along here, but so so go ahead. So and that seems to be the key issue that we have, we have a ton a metric ton of paper reactors, and we have to turn the paper reactors into operating reactors,
Ray Rothrock 26:38
right. So to show and look, I don’t know if they’re gonna be cheap or not, I believe they are, I think they’re starting cost is less a physical deal. And then what’s called the overnight cost to build one of these things will be a lot less, because it’s just less complexity. Right. And we got to try it. Now. I don’t think anyone’s going to buy an expensive nuclear plant. I don’t care about that. I don’t care what technology deployed no buy an expensive plant. But we don’t know today, if we can make them cheaper. I believe we can and a lot of other people believe we can agree, I think least we can. Those are called the Advanced reactors,
Robert Bryce 27:10
right? A different a different a different style, different type of reactor, these these big one, you know, gigawatt size reactors. Now we want to make them smaller, we can produce them at scale, right and more factory type of environment. But that comes with risks in terms of this come in terms of the scale up, right, but so let’s talk about the NRC because Ted Nordhaus had a good piece that he wrote and published in breakthrough, the breakthrough website, website. He wrote about the NRC, which was directed by Congress if memory serves a year or two ago to promulgate some new regulations. And I want to read this because I’m quoting here, that the licensing proposed proposal that the NRC put up is the worst of both worlds marrying the old prescriptive and inflexible licensing rules to impossible risk thresholds. So low, they cannot be observed epidemic epidemiologically. Needless to say, this is not a recipe for the development of an innovative and globally competitive advanced nuclear sector that can meaningfully contribute to America’s efforts to cut carbon emissions and clean up its electrical grid. I mean, I’ve heard this from other people saying that the NRC, this new rule that they’ve put out, I guess it was in September to 1200 and some odd pages, it is so complex that it it effectively could blockade the development or the the movement of these paper reactors into real reactors. Is that Is that how you read it?
Ray Rothrock 28:32
I read it someone like that. I think, you know, Ted’s a good writer. And he made a great point in a simple way. I think it warrants if we have a minute and warrants actually talking about all this. So sure. The Raptors we have today we’re licensed under what’s called part 50 or part 52. I’m not going to get into the details.
Robert Bryce 28:52
And this is this is federal regulations CFR CFR I forgot. Right? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. But it’s complex, but it’s in the federal statutes about how they’re licensed.
Ray Rothrock 29:01
That’s right. Okay. And a couple of years ago, a bunch of us, worked with Congress to get some new legislation passed to force force, literally forcing NRC to think about things differently, because we could see this AR stuff coming down the stream. And so we passed the congress passed, and President Trump signed it into law, and it’s called part 53. I don’t know who came up with 53. But that’s what it is. And the notion, so just as reactor technology, so just as we’ve learned so much more about our world and about the physics of the world, and everything else, or reactor technologies learn so much. The hope was that 53 would reflect our learnings of the last 30 years, most specifically, at least from my standpoint, probabilistic risk assessment, which was something that normally is nice and came up with with the wash 1400 report and, I don’t know 1975 Or something like that huge, transformative piece of work that he did that suggested that you can analyze things without the deterministic, so 53 was the hope that it would come at risk assessment with this probabilistic approach. By the way, this is how the FAA, this is how the FDA they do all this probability risk assessments about probabilities. What has happened instead, the NRC has taken 50 and 52 pieces literally picked up text and dropped it into 53. Now, what texts did they pick up? The one that I like to say, and I’m sure someone out there in the world can prove me wrong 40 ways from Sunday, but the concept is, if you build a gigawatt power plant like Vogel, you have to put a summit con concrete dome around it. You know, I don’t I don’t remember the dimensions, but it’s a giant thing. Why? You have to do it, because it’s a pressurized water reactor and Pressurized Water Reactors have a lot of energy stored energy. And if you have a big leak, the building needs to contain the energy. That’s why you have it. Let’s go tonight, let’s go to 2020 where you have one of these reactors that doesn’t have pressurized water operates at atmospheric pressure. Does it need a gigantic summit dome to keep the energy in? No, that problem that safety issue doesn’t come to pass? Physics does not show that you need that yet. 53 has a prescriptive containment element. Why? Why do you need a 30 foot thick, reinforced concrete dome over something that doesn’t have the energy issues that a pressurized water reactor has? It makes no sense it doesn’t it? It violates common engineering? Good sense. Yet that is how this thing has come to pass elements like that prescriptive things from the old, bespoke days are winding up in this new advanced reactor days. Well, that’s expensive. If if we force every bar I think I’ve seen numbers, but it’s anywhere from 25 to 35% of the plant is the containment system. What if you didn’t have to Yankee row did not have a containment, it had a steel dome over it. That’s interesting steel double ring.
Robert Bryce 32:08
And that containment and that containment system is well, I didn’t know it was 25 to 30%. But I just saw there was another announcement just in the last few days that in France, the flamanville reactor is going to be delayed again. And you know that it’s been a disaster, but part of it is that the system, it appears and Vogel the same. The system has become so big and so complex, you find one little problem while it halts the whole thing. The costs go up and delays again, because this it seems that the system has just been made too complicated. So it’s even the effort to make advanced reactors and D complicate them simplify it. The if I boil this down, you’re saying the NRC isn’t isn’t accepting this new design as a safer, simpler design. Is that Is that a fair way to think
Ray Rothrock 32:52
about it? That’s a way to think about I wouldn’t I don’t know if it the word accept is the word I would use? Because I don’t know I’ve not got the staff. But they clearly are taking old ideas and applying to this new generation of reactors. And that to me doesn’t make sense that that for I don’t think that’s the spirit of what Congress wanted. Because I helped write the darn law. Aaron Weston on the science committee, he’s up in Idaho. Now he did write the law actually sat with him. And we wrote pieces of it. So it Yeah, except I don’t know, if it’s accepted, or, you know, I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s called it’s worth. The second part of Ted’s thing was about it’s demanding risks solo, that’s immeasurable
Robert Bryce 33:38
as as low as reasonably achievable, the IRA rule, and that, another big stumbling block. So I just want to make sure that I just insert that go ahead.
Ray Rothrock 33:46
No, you’re right. That’s, that’s where I was headed. But that’s exactly the alar rule. So how much is too much? Well, there’s a lot of risk assessments out there, they will suggest that we’ve already got too much, and that you don’t need to put more on and that if something were to happen, you don’t have to suddenly go and retrofit 90 plants, which is what happened after Three Mile Island. So there are methods there are physics, there are there is science today that we did not have in the 70s to assess this risk and to understand if you need more. And that doesn’t seem to be part of the conversation. And and that’s very disappointing to me and look at I haven’t done any nuclear engineering a long time, but I have kept up with science, physics and probabilistic and anyway, so deployment,
Robert Bryce 34:39
and when you’re saying this, that the the alar rule is the the radiation risk is low as reasonably achievable, as low as reasonably achievable, that the radiation from the plant would be kept that low. Is that Is that right? Yeah. It
Ray Rothrock 34:51
has nothing to do with measuring it. It has everything to do with it’s got to be kept as reasonably low as possible. Well, you know, what’s the what’s the most significant thing need to do is not build the plan. Right? So where do you work between what you can measure and have an impact to the public and not building the plan? That is a gray zone that a lot of people, and there’s been a lot of math to show that we’re well into that zone, making it to, to, to low radiation demands?
Robert Bryce 35:24
Well, I’ve heard this from a friend of mine who used to work in the federal government. He said, He’s a former nuclear Navy guy. And he said, Well, the problem with these all these regulations is they’re making reactors too safe. And I said, Well, wait a minute, run me through that. But that comes to mind as you’re saying that because you can make all these rate regulations that pile on regulations? Well, we made it perfectly safe. Well, you made it perfectly safe at a cost that is so prohibitive, you can’t build it is I mean, that does that rhyme with how you’re
Ray Rothrock 35:49
exactly right. And they just keep grinding. I know that, you know, keep grinding down ritual and why Washington, the whole cleanup thing is subject to all this too. And I’ve seen the math from the Department of Energy. That suggests if you were to take the original Washington cleanup and drive it down to the current risk profile of a nuclear fission plant, it would cost about a half a trillion dollars to clean it up. Meaning that you would have to basically put dirt back where you took out a reactor that’s cleaner than the original dirt and less radioactive than the original dirt. And that doesn’t make any sense to anybody. But that is what’s on the books. And it’s a ginormous economic problem.
Robert Bryce 36:31
Well, there is a school of thought, and I’ve talked with people in Washington about this as well, that they view the NRC now as so hidebound so intractable that there’s going to have to be some other regulatory scheme, because the because the NRC is an independent agency and the federal government, that the bureaucracy has bureaucracies existed to preserve the bureaucracy. And that’s a cynical view on it. But that there, there’s a lot of belief that I’ve heard that the NRC just simply can’t be reformed. And that this, this these these promising new paper reactors for broad term that needs to be moved to some other agency that can handle it so that we can get going. Because if we don’t, the other countries around the world are going to steal a march on the US is the problem that big with the NRC. Do you think do you believe that we need Congress to create something new? Or can the NRC be reformed?
Ray Rothrock 37:24
Wow. Let’s see. I want to say, you can pull up my blue ribbon testimony commission to the Blue Ribbon Commission that I gave. And in my 11 minutes, I managed to propose a new commission, one focused on current operating fleet and one focused on new things. I’ve thought this for a very long time, not because I think the old guy the old NRC is look at the results are great. Look at the results. It’s we’re very safe, unbelievably safe. But we’re also very expensive. And that’s not necessarily good when you think about the new thing. So I’ve always advocated that now. How hard is that that’s impossibly hard to pull off? I can’t imagine.
Robert Bryce 38:13
And because you need an act of Congress,
Ray Rothrock 38:16
you do. And I look and I should be very careful. I have no first hand knowledge. I’ve never met the current commissioners, I have a lot of my classmates went to the NRC, they’re now all retired. So I’ve got no really current people there. So I depend on the NGOs, who go in and visit and talk and report out like Ted with his thing. But I am, over my, you know, 34 years as a venture camp, I’ve built a lot of organizations, and I understand how culture develops and how culture can kill and culture can win. And so when I look at this process of this new thing called 53, and they’re just sort of taking the old throne, and that just, that just reeks of a culture that is not creative, not being challenged. You know, they either they don’t understand what 53 is all about in the mission, and maybe they need to be educated and stuff. One of the things I have investigated is the sort of org chart in RCA actually, it’s on web. So it’s not like I did something special. I just simply thought about, the NRC doesn’t have a CEO or companies have CEOs. The FDA has a CEO, the SEC has a CEO, a lead commissioner who is not just the chairman, but I mean the lead. And I worry that one of the one of the ways that in the private sector that we fix companies that are broken or go in the wrong way is we bring in a new leader with the right culture with the right attitude and suddenly things change. I don’t know where I would put that person at the NRC today because the org chart is just kind of amorphous. There’s the commission there’s the stats
Robert Bryce 39:57
that’s really interesting race. No be because there’s no definitive leader saying that that effectively would crack the whip on the the the the people who work there, then it’s not you’re not going to change direction unless you have someone forceful, who really where the buck stops there, right? I mean, the bucks. Harry Truman, that’s exactly
Ray Rothrock 40:16
right. Now, you know, I’ve taken a lot of liberty in that analysis. But man, I’ve been involved with 70 companies, and I’ve on the boards of companies with 10,000 people and stuff. So the NRC, I think, is 2000 people. I got a lot of companies that have that. So I understand how and boy culture goes all the way to the bottom, you know, recover, recover, when needed, when needed, need an admiral Rickover to come in at this point, but that it just isn’t going to happen, given the structural constraints of the NRC and the congressional sort of how they feel and what have you. So that’s why look, if I if the existing structure doesn’t support that kind of leadership change, and again, I don’t want to share this as critical, the commission but none of them have that kind of authority that I can read in the statute, or no one no good lawyer, and I know several in Washington live in this world. It just, it just doesn’t exist.
Robert Bryce 41:13
So if no, if the culture is wrong, and there’s no accountability, there’s no fixing.
Ray Rothrock 41:18
Not easily, that’s for sure. But to
Robert Bryce 41:21
change that org chart would require an act of Congress,
Ray Rothrock 41:24
it would, yes. So even to change the charter to do a tax act to Congress. Yes.
Robert Bryce 41:30
So even to change that org chart would take an act of Congress or to create a new entity would create would also create or require an act of Congress.
Ray Rothrock 41:37
Right. So I but I think but I think it’s an easier act to change yours than it is to create a new entity. I mean, right?
Robert Bryce 41:44
Right. Because then you can, if that were the case, then you get a CEO in there who really has marching orders from Congress to say, dammit, make this happen.
Ray Rothrock 41:53
So it’s got a statute that goes down on the five commissioners, and then they got to figure it out. So
Robert Bryce 41:57
right. So then the commissioners become the board of directors, and then the CEO is in charge of them making, you know, getting the staff just say, whip them into shape, or motivate them to say, No, we made we need to do this right, and make sure we can get these new designs into the marketplace.
Ray Rothrock 42:13
Right. And yeah, for a lot for all the reasons we know. And I know a lot of the former chairman, I’ve worked with them and testified in Congress with them. In fact, in times past, a lot of them would take issue with everything I just said because they thought everything worked tickety boo, but we’re not there anymore. We’re in a new world where these new reactors need to be evaluated differently. Again, same safety, we want to make them safe and all that, but they just have to be evaluated differently. Because it’s not a PW er, it’s not DWR it’s a different beast.
Robert Bryce 42:43
You mentioned just to clarify, you mentioned you testified before the Blue Ribbon Commission, how long ago was this? And what was the commission? I’m sorry?
Ray Rothrock 42:50
Oh, this was under President Obama. He asked Secretary to to it’s called America’s Blue Ribbon Commission on future of nuclear energy. Oh,
Robert Bryce 43:00
right. And that was the same one that did that investigated the new new waste disposal that was part of the same same
Ray Rothrock 43:07
investigated all the elements of the whole nuclear supply chain and fuel cycle. Gotcha. Okay. The senator from New Mexico,
Robert Bryce 43:16
Dominican energy. Pete Domenici, he’s Yeah, he’s now he
Ray Rothrock 43:19
was the chair, Susan Eisenhower, it was or it was a it was blue blue ribbon. Anyways, as they call me up as a VC and said, Hey, can you come and explain how innovation happens and how we can help? So that’s what I do.
Robert Bryce 43:34
Gotcha. So let’s talk about Congress for a minute, because I have written about this in the past that the Democratic Party for many decades, in fact, was kind of reflexively anti nuclear. Now, it seems to me that there’s been a change and in for in the 2020 20. Election, for the first time since I think 1974. If memory serves me that the Democratic Party actually said something nice about nuclear energy. There, that’s a preface. Is there now a bipartisan support that hasn’t changed in on Capitol Hill? are Democrats on board with nuclear energy today, in your view, and I’m not asking this as a partisan. I mean, how do you see it?
Ray Rothrock 44:11
Well, I am, I am a non partisan person. I’m not a member of either party. So I’ll just put that out there. I don’t think the party overall is in favor. I think too many leader too much leadership in the Democratic Party still has a zero sum game that wind and solar is going to wind there and take care of everything and this other stuff doesn’t matter. And that I’m going to pick one or the other in and all the climate scientists, all the research, and it’s just got to work. We need everything we need all the above. Furthermore, we’re going to actually take carbon out of the atmosphere, which is a whole nother technology. That takes a lot of energy to do but anyway. I think they’re very slow to grasp this. You need it all. There some surely have been I don’t hear the Whitehouse talking about this very much. I hear John Kerry talking about it. Maybe he’s in the White House.
Robert Bryce 45:08
And Cory Booker is notable as a Democrat. Yeah, there’s several that are sure New Jersey has been out front in preserving their nuclear reactors, and which was happened before California before Illinois, kind of forgotten now, because I think was 2018 or
Ray Rothrock 45:21
so there is Democratic leadership. But I don’t think you know, if you call up a bunch of the senior leadership, I don’t think you would, nuclear is not going to come out of their mouth first.
Robert Bryce 45:32
So what would it take to? We’ll see, and this is the disconnect, it seems to me because that party has been so much focused on climate change, right as their issue, right. And now, for them to not embrace nuclear energy when so many climate scientists have said that you can’t get there from here, mister, if you don’t have nuclear. And to me, that’s just a lay down hand. Well, hello, done. You just there’s no way you can scale renewables to meet the challenge for a whole lot of reasons that we’ve talked about, but I don’t know. Maybe that’s me. No, no,
Ray Rothrock 46:02
I think you’re I look, I think they’re playing old tapes. This is what I remember we do. We started this whole conversation. I think there’s this old, these old tapes about this is bespoke gigawatt, 10 billion. I mean, I just think that that they can’t, they haven’t taken the time to intellectualize to really run it to ground in their own mind that this is not your father’s or your mother’s nuclear. This is new stuff. This is different stuff. And there’s some, what do you call it? There’s some face saving comments and things like that. But at the end of the day, and look, the IRA has a lot of, you know, keeping the existing fleet going. No one disagrees with that. But the new fleet and doing that Congress, actually, I don’t know if I would love to go interview, I think they believe they’ve already solved the problem by funding the AR DEP the advanced reactor development program. And by golly, that was huge. That was before IRA. But that was thrilling. I couldn’t believe that kind of money that came out of Congress.
Robert Bryce 47:05
And this is the inflation Reduction Act. You mentioned IRA, that something like three and a half billion or $4 billion for support for new reactors, which is significant, significant. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what they appropriated for wind and solar. But I digress.
Ray Rothrock 47:21
Essentially gets to couple of reactors built so we’ll know whether they’re going to be cheaper, all the issues to help the NRC will have to write new regs, they will have to write new things about these reactors. Well, we need to build some to see how it goes.
Robert Bryce 47:36
Well, so let’s move away from the regulatory regime to this recent announcement by Tara power. And I was in Washington in October for the IAEA has ministerial and TerraPower was there announcing their plans for their atrium reactor in Wyoming and expanding work, they’ve announced the thing with Pacific Corp to explore five other additional reactor sites. But then just a few days ago, they said, Oh, well, we’re going to be delayed at least two years because we don’t have the fuel. So let’s talk about Halo high essay, low enriched uranium, that’s the fuel they need for their reactor as do a number of the other. I’m gonna I’m gonna use this term again, because I don’t know how else to do the nuclear startups or the paper reactor companies. How big of a problem is this fuel availability, which that hey, Lou, the only supplier from Russia right now. So how big a problem is amidst we have the regulatory issue. We won’t talk about waste for a while. But just the fuel issue. How, how big of an obstacle is that now?
Ray Rothrock 48:31
Well, that all depends on how fast you think these things are to come online. If you think we’re going to build 50 reactors in the next 10 years, then we got a big issue. If you think we’re going to build three or four reactors in the next 10 years, then you don’t have an issue. The Navy has lots of fuel that can be downgraded, you know, the enrichment can go from whatever the Navy requirements are, which are extremely high to 20%. Or we could we have, we do have technology in this country to to enrich, but it’s not in sufficient volume to supply a full full on industry. So we’re somewhere in that that zone. I mean, Centris has this capability to enrich and it but it’s all small, it’s all small potatoes because a lot of research reactors have high enrichment for obvious reasons. So I don’t think so. Again, it depends on what you think the forecast is. If you think you need 10 reactors worth I suspect we don’t have 10 reactors capability and we are dependent on Russia. The term of art here is a su SW use, which is the working unit to enrich and the US gave that up a long time ago because it was too expensive. Other people did it more cheaply do it with with centrifuges, which is what Iran is doing in others.
Robert Bryce 49:50
So s s is the SU SW. SW W and what does that stand for? Oh gosh, something something you really
Ray Rothrock 50:00
Working unit. Yeah, what is no system system working, it’s not very descriptive of uranium enrichment. But that’s the measure of what in our capacity is extremely low. It’s basically two research reactors. And the world gets most of its enriched uranium from Russia.
Robert Bryce 50:18
Right? So it was 14% of Reuters put the figure at 14%. And I’m quoting here that 14% of power stations in the US rely on Russia, along with this is the part that along with 28% of their enrichment services, services, yeah. So but then the uranium is only part of it. It’s the right it’s not just mining the uranium, you have to turn into something you can put in a reactor and make it
Ray Rothrock 50:40
work. Right. You got to manufacture it into the right forms. And
Robert Bryce 50:44
so and I know sinteres has has a deal with a doe on this and that they’re starting to ramp up their facilities. But is it your info? And there’s one other company? I think that’s in the running here in terms of this? Hey, Lou, but who else? What are the other startups that are going to require Halo? Is it
Ray Rothrock 51:02
Jeremy one of them except New Scale? New Scale is an SMR and pressurized water small reactor. But x, you know, they’ll need it to the two, the two ADRP winners will need it for sure. I mean, anybody with a molten salt kind of reactor radiant, nuclear down in Los Angeles will need it. It might ask why? Well, the more enrichment you have, the smaller the physical size can be. So if these things are small, but they’re putting out a lot of power three, four megawatts, then you need slightly enriched uranium, that’s point 1.2, for the molten salt and all that you need that much enriched uranium just to get the thing critical, because of the poisons, if you will, neutron poisons that exist in the reactor, because you have to moderate it not because there’s all kinds of technical reasons for it. But it’s about making them small.
Robert Bryce 51:54
So we have the regulatory challenge, the fuel fabrication challenge, that are kind of go hand in go are going along, in parallel, that both need to be solved, and they need to be solved as my father is pretty damn quick. But is there is there is it possible in this Congress with a Republican House, Democratic Senate, democratic White House? I mean, do we need the president to just stand up and say, dammit, we need to make this happen? I mean, it seems to me that would be and as a Democrat, that would be the Nixon goes to China moment. But I mean, should I be holding my breath on this?
Ray Rothrock 52:27
I don’t hold your breath, please. I don’t know if it’s this Congress. Again. It’s about timing. I think seriously, Robert, if we build three or four of these things show that they were economic. And suddenly people put out a couple of purchase orders, the whole new supply chain would pop up pretty darn fast. We have the uranium in the United States, we know how to make these centrifuges. We could build this stuff pretty darn fast and supply our own reactors, and maybe even the ones we would export of these technologies. So I I’m not too cynical about Hallo. Just because I first of all, we’re not going to build 50 of these things. And then next Friday,
Robert Bryce 53:06
so you put that as a second order challenge behind the regulatory issue.
Ray Rothrock 53:10
That’s right. Yeah. Because you’re not gonna put any steel in the ground without the NRC saying it’s okay. No steel, no cement.
Robert Bryce 53:17
Right, gotcha. So then which countries I’ve been following Rolls Royce, they’ve made several announcements on that they’re, they’re developing a reactor, very small footprint, by my calculation, 10,000 watts per square meter, which is just an extraordinary very small footprint is, and I’ve talked to people in the industry that, in fact, Brett Kugel, mas his his opinion, is that that nuclear energy, the new fleet of reactors, the new paper reactors, they will have to succeed overseas before they succeed here. Does that ring true to you? Do you think we’re Europe is going to steal a march or Asia is going to steal a march on the US in this area?
Ray Rothrock 53:54
I think it’s quite possible. And why? Because they have a national security energy issue that’s not unlike that is very different than the United States. Nuclear power, nuclear electricity demand in the United States hasn’t changed more than a couple of percent in decades. Right. It’s not going to change one or 2% in decades, unless the IRA gets completely deployed, in which case, demand will go up. But until it goes up, no one’s gonna buy any more big plants. It’s just a fact. Right? Europe is in a very different situation with the gas dependency on Russia and the Ukraine. And I mean, the sort of, if you think about priorities, National Energy Security is now I probably number one in the UK and all the Nordics and even central I mean, Germany, France. So I think they will go a lot. They’re not going to stand around and wait for the NRC to come up with Part 53. They’re going to do something on their own Canada’s already ready to go. So I just think they have a different priority set than we have.
Robert Bryce 54:51
And so will is it does it boil down to the fact that will we have our own hydrocarbons, we can depend on our own natural gas so there’s not as much urgency here. To paraphrase or put it a different way than
Ray Rothrock 55:02
Yeah, absolutely. It was it was just we just don’t have the other than you asked with who is written appeal for a nuclear plant lately,
Robert Bryce 55:14
and you amps as you Utah associated hospital utility dispute something but they new scale is going to build their first reactor at us. It’s going to be at either on the side of Idaho National Labs, but you apps is that going to be the off taker of that, when that plant gets built? So in terms of the handicapping the US so is new scale, the one that’s definitely in the lead? Now, they seem to in terms of permitting from the NRC, they seem to be they’re using the same light water technology that’s existed for years. And so they’ve are they the one now that leader and they’ve gone public? Are they the one to bet on in terms of getting that first reactor built?
Ray Rothrock 55:52
They are the only ones you can bet on right now. To get the first reactor built with that, with that clarification, all of the other advanced reactors, the paper reactor, guys, as you call them, that’s not a bad term, there’s a funny Rickover quote about that I’ll save are all using part 50. And Part 52. Because part 53 is unknown to them, they’re early, they gotta get going. Part of the ARD P requirements was you need to have pre conversations with the NRC so that Congress can be assured that they can actually build something. So all that’s going on in parallel. So these early reactors from the early paper reactors turned into real reactors are all going to be part 5052. We’ll see how many get built under 53, if any get built under 53, ultimately, but that’s still, you know, that’s its work in process. So I don’t, I think the first three or four that we’re going to build are going to be part 5253. And that’s a four or five year process, four or five years, right? new skill, as you pointed out, was pressurized water.
Robert Bryce 56:57
Right. And they spent a billion dollars roughly to get the get the permit through. As I recall through the NRC, which is just a staggering sum sum of money for for existing
Ray Rothrock 57:07
technology. It just didn’t, doesn’t add up. I mean, if there are new skill, I visited Jose Reyes, me he’s a great guy. It’s cool technology in a natural circle and things that you would want for safety. And I remember I call the NRC and talk to I forget who it was, this is like 2009 or 2008. And I talked to them, you know, I was interested in time, I was interested in certainty and so forth. And they couldn’t answer anything. So that was the year
Robert Bryce 57:35
we put forward 14 years, I interviewed the one of the former CEOs at New Scale, Gosh, 10 or 12 years ago, myself. I mean, you know, and publish that interview is a long time ago now. But yeah, but they’re still not they. They’re closer, but they’re still not not close to putting steel in the ground.
Ray Rothrock 57:53
You know? Yeah, I remember back then, you know, Jose and worked at the NRC. He was an NRC guy. So he knew the issues, the licensing, he knew the technology licensing issues, and he tried to alleviate all that in the new skill of design, so that it would go quick.
Robert Bryce 58:07
Well, so we’ve talked about Europe. So what about the other country? I mean, is well, let me ask it this way. Isn’t this how essential? Is it? Or is it fundamentally essential that the government have a big role in the deployment of new nuclear? Because we see this in Russia, we see it in China, we see it in South Korea, that they have national champions, they have nuclear companies that are their national champions, is that going to be essential for it to happen in the US? We’re, I mean, it seems like we’re trying to come at this from this still free market design. Is that just fundamentally flawed? Are we going to have to have some government chant of some, some, some national champion company, that’s going to be the ones that we appoint say, No, you’re our nuclear guys.
Ray Rothrock 58:47
Now you’re asking a venture capitalist who’s a big free market guy to opine here. Look, the US government runs about 160 reactors is called the United States Navy. I think it’s 160. Something like that. quite nicely. No incidents ever in the entire history of the US Navy. That’s one second. How much was era? Do some quick math. How many nuclear plants could you build with the money allocated to nuclear era? You get? You build a bunch, and that can be just Navy plants on land? Hey, we did that called shipping port 1957. Yeah, the US government could step in here. Look, the taxpayers just want a giant check for the IRA. Why couldn’t we right. But question is, where’s the demand? Right? I don’t see it. So the government has to have a policy to substitute those co2 emitting sources with non co2 And that would be a gigantic, hard thing for either party to pull. Sure.
Robert Bryce 59:45
Well, it’s interesting. You’re talking about the Navy because now we have the Ross Ross atom has deployed the nuclear plant in Pivec in Siberia using submarine engine tech a submarine reactor technology, but it would say it’s a power ship which To me is a very interesting idea Thor Khan is public is coming forward with this power ship idea, which to me seems really intriguing because so much of the world’s population lives on the coasts. I’ve seen the power ships myself and Lebanon running on fuel oil, if you could just pull the ship up and you can make it work, that seems like a whole different possibility as well. But as you point out, even if the US were to do that, still got a lot of hurdles in terms of demand, etc, and licensing, commercialization, etc. So just just a passing thought,
Ray Rothrock 1:00:31
yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine rolling these up the Hudson River and parking there at Pier 58, or whatever.
Robert Bryce 1:00:38
Or were in the point, go, go. Nuclear Reactor near New York. Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. Yeah. Which we stupidly, stupidly shut down. But that’s a whole nother set of issues. So let me revert back to where you live. And you’ve invested it. Can you talk any more about your company’s the nuclear focus companies that you’ve invested in? Do you care to list them on me? We mentioned Tae, can you talk about those in those companies? And why you invested in them and why they intrigue you?
Ray Rothrock 1:01:08
Yeah. Yeah. That’s a very good qualifier, the intrigue, that’s good. So radiant nuclear in Los Angeles intrigued me because this is a SpaceX team, which is in the Agile hardware development. So part of building anything physical is you got to do it fast and frequent, lots of cycles. So it’s an extraordinary team. They also were backed by Union Square Ventures out in New York. So that was encouraging to me. So I, you know, let’s just be I’m not writing million dollar checks. I’m writing something less than but none, a bunch. So, and I helped them out. Of course, Doug calls me up and we chatted up, made introductions for him. Here. There’s another. There’s a company in Seattle called avalanche, I can’t say too much about it is a fusion company, they took an existing machine made by another company for a whole different purpose, and repurposed it towards a neutronic fusion. And so far, so good. The results look pretty interesting. They’ve only raised low two digit millions. They didn’t build anything from scratch. So they, again, that was unique. They started with existing technology from other industries. And the team came out of Blue Origin. So I mean, this is this is talent built on the shoulders of other people’s stuff, that is an encouraging thing. And some of the other nuclear deals, I’m in a nuclear battery company. So imagine a 10 watt nuclear power supply for either deep ocean or on on orbit. That’s a there’s 1000s of applications need tin, or if you put them in a bank, maybe 100 Watt. This has been a hard problem. You know, we’ve got RPGs, and all that sort of stuff for deep space. But those are plutonium based this is non plutonium based. Very important. I’m in to some scintillation, detector company called radiant Nano. I’m sorry, yeah, radiant Nano. It’s for detection. So this could be used to sniff luggage. This could be used to interpret inspection of nuclear class things. Like, again, this is this will be a tool used by the industry to make things go faster. That’s one I’ve not invested in any of these companies that make like molybdenum and other isotopes for medical purposes, but I have surely looked at them. That probably was a mistake on my part, because they’ll have revenue quickly.
Robert Bryce 1:03:39
Let’s see that’s, I’m in I believe you’re in Oklo as well. Right. Which Oh, yeah, thank you. Yeah, I’m back back back back in Austin, also backed by an Austin venture firm called trusted ventures. They are an investor in Oklo. So
Ray Rothrock 1:03:50
ECGC and others. Yeah, no, I’m in that deal as well. I’ve known Jake and Karolina when they were in grad school. And been watching that develop. And I Yeah.
Robert Bryce 1:04:00
And Carolyn, by the way, has been on the podcast. She’s from, like me, so yeah. So
Ray Rothrock 1:04:06
she That’s right. She is what from? I remember that.
Robert Bryce 1:04:10
So you know, yeah. So
Ray Rothrock 1:04:11
it’s a summary of those kinds of companies. I’m also in deep isolation. You were up here in Oakland, I learned I. After I left Venrock, I did some lecturing at MIT and their nuclear department on venture capital investments and stuff. This is when entrepreneurship was starting to catch hold there. And Richard Lester, who was the department at the time, gave me a quick course on technologies to deal with radioactive waste. So and one of them is deep hole isolation, and this company formed up based somewhat on that but other things, and so I got pretty serious money in that project, because I think that is a very viable way to deal with radioactive waste.
Robert Bryce 1:04:54
And Elizabeth Miller from Dubai, like deep isolation has also been on the podcast so Oh, good.
Ray Rothrock 1:04:59
Yeah. so that I mean, that’s a pretty serious endeavor that I mean, they, they take their jobs very seriously there. But anyway, they’re they’ve raised money successfully. And they’ve demonstrated they done it whip, they, you know, put it in the ground and brought it and they’ve done amazing things. So, you know, if you think about, Robert, the areas that we have to have safety, we have to have fuel disposal, we have to actually have cheap reactors. I’ve invested in things that I think sort of touch bits and pieces of that.
Robert Bryce 1:05:29
Sure. So I know as a venture capitalist, you’re not only just looking at nuclear companies. And so what is it and when one guy I talked to as an investor, he said, What are you betting on the horse? You’re betting on the jockey, right? So how do you think about when you’re looking at a deal? Somebody comes to you with a company? What is the thing that makes it that that that pushes your intrigue button that makes you write a check is that the total? I mean, are there one things that more than another as a charismatic leader is an amazing technology? What separates the deals that you you put you write checks for versus those that you don’t?
Ray Rothrock 1:06:05
It certainly is the team. That’s the largest risk factor. I believe in the 70 deals I’ve done in my life when the team couldn’t handle it. The company didn’t succeed. And by the way, a key element of team is fundraising. So you’ve got to sort of you don’t you don’t sort of show up at your first presentation. Oh, yeah, they’ve got it. They don’t you learn over time, the pattern of people. And one of the key things there is clear, linear discussion of the problem, clear linear discussion of the solution, when the when the executives running the business can explain the problem and explain their solution to you, you’ve got a better than even chance that they’re going to pull it off. Because they can do that they’ll be able to raise money, they’ll be able to attract people and ultimately be able to attract customers.
Robert Bryce 1:06:53
And so they can define so they can define what it is that they’re doing what they’re looking at, clearly,
Ray Rothrock 1:06:57
clearly. One of my most successful deals is CloudFlare, Matthew Prince, and Michelle’s Island up in San Francisco, the I mean, he was masterful at explaining the problem. And
Robert Bryce 1:07:12
what is God flare, I’m
Ray Rothrock 1:07:13
sorry, I don’t know what that Oh, it’s a it’s a it’s a network based content distribution, but mostly cyber. So they’re promised to people with long tail, so not to Microsoft, Google or Apple. But to everybody else, I can give you Microsoft, Google Apple security for your little business. So when I took over Rachel’s the CEO, the first thing I did was subscribe to CloudFlare, for my internet traffic so that I could know that it and I only paid, I don’t know, $19 a month or something. When you’re a small business, the last thing you have is resources to go after the cyber issues of the day, which are many and complex. So Cloudflare provides that for small businesses, and now big businesses. And then they also accelerate, they make the internet faster, and all kinds of stuff. So it’s, it’s just taking the world by storm. It’s
Robert Bryce 1:08:02
very so you said that was successful, but it was because of the founder, that was the founder, I forgot. What was his name again? Matthew Prince. And so what made you write the check was his own ability to see and define the problem and see how to how to solve it.
Ray Rothrock 1:08:19
Yeah, and the problem I knew was big guy providing providing high quality cybersecurity for small business. And so 2009 or 2010.
Robert Bryce 1:08:30
Yeah, gotcha. So, that was a deal that you personally did. But then what did the Venrock did that? Okay, so then you had you have 10 or so investments in nuclear, but overall on your portfolio, you said they’re 20 years?
Ray Rothrock 1:08:43
I did, I did Roku as an investment I did. Nast, which was acquired by Google. I, there’s several deals. The COVID, in a situation really mailed several of these companies crank off. One was called Luma health, which was basically a scheduling service for physicians. So when suddenly people had to schedule it away, and all this sort of stuff. It just exploded. They got acquired by PE group, I made a nice return on that. So but you know, look, I’m an early stab, typically the first money in and I’ve got plenty of little tiny craters out there, too.
Robert Bryce 1:09:26
So then I asked Peter Zion, who was on the podcast recently, he wrote his book, The end of the world is just the beginning. And I’ve asked a lot of other people who’ve been on the podcast. So we’re in a world where there’s a lot of upheaval, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I know you invest in early stage companies, but what makes sense to you now Zion was big into commodities. A lot of people are long the dollar and short Europe and short Asia and Zions. Very, very bearish on China. So if you know I know you’re not giving investment advice, but what what makes sense to you in today’s world is as an investment for retail investors, someone who doesn’t have your knowledge and your your depth of knowledge in Silicon Valley. Is it US equities? Is it dividend paying stocks? What?
Ray Rothrock 1:10:07
Oh, man? Well, it’s because of where you are in life or what you need. Yeah, well, there Yeah. Okay. I mean, for me, I’m looking to move some of my growth portfolio into fixed income related things. But, look, I think that it’s a big question, Robert, I would say things that empower people to do their business, or very interesting things, that includes taking care of my own medical situation, that includes taking care of my groceries, that includes taking care of my power needs at my home. You know, that’s one kind of the other category is instrumentation, it seems to me, and I’m an engineer. So there’s a big bias here. But when you can, and I didn’t make this up. But when you can measure something, you can manage something, right? If I give you the app to manage something that saves you money. That’s a big deal. Right? And it’s not just you, it’ll be, you know, 100 million other people. So, you know, Uber and Lyft. Those are incredible inventions, just incredible images. So we don’t have to own a car. I know so many young people who don’t own cars, right, their driver’s license. So that mean, that’s transformative. So and then. So those kinds of things, I think, are what, what was it? Peter Finch used to say invest in things that you that you use?
Robert Bryce 1:11:32
Peter Lynch from?
Ray Rothrock 1:11:35
The Peter Lynch.
Robert Bryce 1:11:37
Magellan Fund, right. Was it? Yeah. Right. Yeah.
Ray Rothrock 1:11:40
So if you’re looking to do some of this stuff today, I think you need to invest in things, you know, and understand. Nuclear power is
Robert Bryce 1:11:46
biased toward the US toward the toward the,
Ray Rothrock 1:11:50
toward us, toward the abyss.
Robert Bryce 1:11:52
Yeah, right. Yeah. I’m bullish on the US, because
Ray Rothrock 1:11:55
now we’re, look, we’re What 40% of the economy of the world. I mean, yeah, it’s, you know, sloths, we don’t kill the capital machine that we have here. That is people taking risks. I mean, look, I worked for the Rockefellers Who were some of the first early money, big family office money in the first quarter of the 20th century. And think of the stuff they invested in, they invested in Laurance Rockefeller invested in James McDonald jet engines. He jumped into Rickenbacker by Division of General Motors to create Eastern Airlines. I mean, talk, this is what some of these early, you know, now, venture capital is an asset class on its own. It’s full of all kinds of risk profiles and stuff. And there are a few folks like me, and many I mean, Venrock, Nea Greylock, we all still take these giant tech risks, because we know tech news makes it tech lowers the cost and raises the benefit for everybody. Look, we’re not last thing I’ll say, when I got into venture in 1988. The Wall Street, the NASDAQ in those days mostly represented about 5% of the total cap of the public markets 5%. You know what it is today? No less than four I saw it was about 50 55%.
Robert Bryce 1:13:08
So the market capitalization of all this stuff, all the equities in the United States, NASDAQ is half of it.
Ray Rothrock 1:13:13
But not tech. Tech is half. Okay, tech is half ago, we’re talking Apple Google face, I’m thinking about these are trillion dollar Tehsil. These are trillion dollar companies. Sure. I don’t see many trillion dollar pharmaceutical companies, oil companies or
Robert Bryce 1:13:29
companies or any of you know what I mean?
Ray Rothrock 1:13:31
So tech is really I mean, and that’s because people value when people buy the products from these companies. And you know, that’s that’s the that’s the TrueNorth. I think tech matters science. It’s not perfect, but it matters a lot. So Right.
Robert Bryce 1:13:47
So last two questions, right. And, and I asked you before we started, what’s your call to call to action? You don’t have one, you don’t have a website, you’re on getting people to follow you on Twitter. Now, the questions I asked always at the end of these, so what are you reading these days? You have any books that are at the top of your list? If so, what are
Ray Rothrock 1:14:03
them? Well, I got one I just started. I just had an editor writing. This was a post by Jean Becker, who was George Bush’s personal assistant? Uh huh. It’s called the man I knew about George Herbert Walker Bush. He was one of my heroes. His Museum is at Texas a&m, by the way.
Robert Bryce 1:14:24
Tell me, why was he one of your heroes,
Ray Rothrock 1:14:26
because he was a very dignified, smart guy who cared about other people more than you care about themselves. I met him several times and met him once when I was in grad school at MIT, and kept up with anyway. It’s just a style of living in a way of living that was sort of imbued on me and I really identify with it. So I think he’s, this is like at the top of my list, the other book sheet.
Robert Bryce 1:14:51
It’s called the man I knew by Jean Becker. Is that right? Yeah, yeah. Jean Becker.
Ray Rothrock 1:14:55
She was his aide. And it’s, it’s full of amazing anecdotes and observations that she had about this guy. She was with him for a long time. Let’s see. And of course, there’s my book. Oh, here’s another one. I’ll put his blue laces no more.
Robert Bryce 1:15:14
All right, blue aces, no more by your former, one of your teachers. Right. And his name is
Ray Rothrock 1:15:21
Glen Duquette. Do you see it? This book can be read by anybody. This is it’s not technical, but it’s about the issues we face. And basically he says, We’re beyond the point of no return on keeping life as we know it. So what do we do about it? And it’s very practical. It’s just a, it’s a super practical book, each chapter stands on its own. So you don’t have to, you know, read 500 pages to understand what’s going on. Right. I just read this a couple of weeks ago and sent him some comments and send it out to a bunch of friends for their input. So anyway, he self published on Amazon. So the blue Oasis
Robert Bryce 1:15:57
no more and the man I knew. It’s interesting, you bring that up about George HW Bush, because he was one of the really the last internationalist that we’ve had as a president, right, that had been ambassador to China really had traveled the world and really knew international relations.
Ray Rothrock 1:16:13
And he knows he knows what’s going on under the scenes having been the head of CIA. The other the other book and my wife just got it I’m gonna when she finishes already is called the world by Richard Haass. He just published it, I guess, six months ago,
Robert Bryce 1:16:29
whenever he’s the Council of Foreign Relations.
Ray Rothrock 1:16:32
Yeah, but it’s about how the worlds put together. Interesting. The politics, the social, the climate, the economics, you know, we’re thinking made, how they ship around all this wisdom.
Robert Bryce 1:16:43
So we’ve been talking more than an hour, so I need to do draw to a close. But Ray, my always asked the same question of everyone, what gives you hope?
Ray Rothrock 1:16:51
What, I’m sorry, what gives you hope? Well, listen, I’m a venture capitalist, we’re always optimist. But what gives me hope is that there are enough good people in the world, like, super majority of good people in the world, who will help their neighbor help solve problems, help, cure disease, help invest in things. You know, politics has gotten very ugly for we could talk about that on another podcast. But I think generally speaking, even my most aren’t just folks who subscribe and vote for those other candidates, many both sides, and I don’t like they’re good people. They help people they their, you know, their charity, that you know, time and treasurer are the two things we have, at the end of the day, and I’ve been lucky to live a very productive life that way. You know, my parents I grew up they always were the den mother or Boy Scout leader or band, PTA president whenever you have to be involved. And when we stop being involved with each other, that’s what I think we’re in trouble. And right now, we’re still very involved.
Robert Bryce 1:18:11
Well, I think that’s a good, good place to stop. Okay, very good. Well, Ray, my guest has been Ray Rothrock. He’s a venture capitalist based in California, longtime venture capitalist and investor in nuclear energy and other technologies. You can look him up. He’s easy to find on the Google, but he’s not selling anything. So there’s no website or Twitter handle. Ray Ray, thanks a million for being on the power hungry podcast.
Ray Rothrock 1:18:35
Robert, thank you so much. I so appreciate you give me this time.
Robert Bryce 1:18:39
Great fun. And all of you in podcast land. Tune in for the next episode of the power hungry podcast. It might be as good as this one. Until then,
Unknown Speaker 1:18:46