Atoms for Humanity
Oklo’s director of marketing & external relations, Bonita Chan, interviews Emma Redfoot, a reactor engineer at Oklo, to discuss how her environmentalism background led her to a career in advanced fission. Watch the full conversation here and read the abbreviated highlights below.
As an environmentalist, what sparked your interest in pursuing a career in advanced fission with Oklo?
I pursued my undergrad in environmental studies at the University of Portland. The education I received challenged me to think about how to deal with significant problems like environmental challenges while considering social impacts. I was motivated to find equitable solutions.
When I was in my undergrad, I lived on an organic permaculture farm on the coast of Ecuador, and I worked for non-governmental organizations in Peru. Being exposed to how energy security is tied to opportunities in those communities, I was inspired to begin my extensive research on energy, in particular clean energy sources. Reliable power is linked to increasing access to healthcare, education, and economics. I wanted to help find a solution that will enable developing countries to continue industrializing while minimizing environmental impacts.
I care a lot about the climate, as well as land and water use. These factors make up the overall impact of an energy source, and I concluded that nuclear was the one solution I can stand behind. Nuclear is a proven technology that can meet demand with minimal environmental impacts, which influenced me to work in advanced fission. Nuclear is also the majority of emissions-free energy in the U.S. and one clean energy source that can have the most impact.
Nuclear and advanced fission are one of the solutions, but how about renewables? Do you think renewables and nuclear can work together?
Yes! My master’s thesis was on nuclear renewable hybrid energy systems. I support every form of clean energy and think all clean energy sources should work together, just like what Oklo’s powerhouses represent, integrating solar panels in its designs.
Sweden is a great example. Sweden successfully demonstrated that nuclear and renewables could work together to make a significant impact.
As mentioned, you took time off to live on the coast of Ecuador and Peru. Did living abroad change your outlook as an environmentalist?
Living abroad was impactful on my worldviews. I realized that we need to allow countries the opportunities to develop with whatever means they can. Therefore, access to clean energy sources will be transformative for developing countries.
You do a lot of work in advocating for nuclear. Why is advocacy important to you?
When I started learning about nuclear, I noticed that people don’t think about nuclear often. Other energy sources are more popular and well-known. To help move a technology forward, I know that public support is required, and that is when advocacy and sharing my journey comes in. It’s fun and meaningful to be sharing stories that are foundational to who I am.
At Oklo, we often talk about big ideas that motivate us. The foundation of what we can do to change the world is something the Oklo team loves connecting on.
How excited are you to help build a reactor that people want?
I love that slogan from Oklo! I love that people are at the forefront of our mission. I am very excited about making reactors that people want. It is fulfilling to think about the potential of what Oklo powerhouses can mean for communities. Our powerhouses’ potential and possibilities are endless, from providing heat for a greenhouse to a recreational pool for the winter. At Oklo, we are inspired to improve people’s lives, and working for a company that aligns with my value is a privilege.