Is Oklo the next Tesla?
Bonita Chan, Oklo’s Director of Marketing & External Relations, interviews McKay Graff, a former Tesla Engineer who joined Oklo’s Reactor Engineering team, to discuss if Oklo is the next Tesla. Watch the full conversation here and read the abbreviated highlights below.
Mckay, you are a Reactor Engineer at Oklo, can you tell us how you became interested in joining Oklo?
The clean energy development aspect of Oklo compels me to learn more about the company. I became excited about Oklo’s technology and the impact it can have on the world. It also means a lot to me to be a part of a company’s development from the ground up.
Before joining Oklo, you worked at Telsa in their Service Engineering department. What did your position at Tesla entail and how does it compare to your current role at Oklo?
I worked on the mechanical engineering team responsible for the tools to repair Tesla vehicles. To be a part of something so popular in the world was exciting, and a dream come true for someone who loves cars and robotics. However, I wanted to be in a role that would allow me to perform a diverse set of skills. When I transitioned to Oklo, I was able to apply my technical knowledge while being a part of the creative design process. I am grateful to be involved in the development of Oklo’s advanced fission technology that can give back to the world.
Let’s talk about Tesla’s master plan, which outlines the company’s vision and main objectives. Are there similarities between Tesla’s vision and Oklo’s?
Tesla’s vision is to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. Tesla started small by selling a limited number of the Tesla Roadster, a luxury sports car that is different from the electric cars people are used to. Tesla changed the industry with the Roaster and began making other affordable models.
Similarly, Oklo is starting small with our first reactor design, the Aurora powerhouse which has a small [1.5 megawatt] electric output. One of the reasons for Oklo to start small with the Aurora is the simplicity of its design. The expertise and experience we gain from entering the industry with the Aurora will enable us to evolve into bigger designs that can distribute clean power to more people. We want people to think about fission energy plants differently with the Aurora.
Oklo became the first advanced fission company to have its combined license application accepted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). How excited are you to bring our powerhouses to the market?
It is exciting for an engineer to design something and then see it come alive. It will be a special moment in a few years when we turn on the first powerhouse. We want to make reactors cool and appealing to the public, similar to what Tesla did to electric cars. People had thought of electric cars as slow, unattractive golf carts, and Tesla made them cool. We want to make fission power more approachable, and show people it is a desirable green technology.
Just like Tesla, Oklo is the first mover in our [advanced fission] sector. What are some first-mover advantages and disadvantages you have noticed from working at Oklo?
There are a lot of firsts for Oklo. Oklo is the first privately funded advanced fission company, and the first nonlight water reactor design application to be accepted by the NRC. As a first mover, we are paving the way for future advanced fission applications and designs. One of the first-mover advantages is to set a solid example for how we want things to be done to drive innovation.
One of the first-mover challenges includes driving effective and efficient change in an old and established industry. We are setting a different standard by challenging the current system and getting approval on things that traditionally have not been demonstrated before.
Finally, is Oklo the next Tesla?
Yes and no. We are not trying to be Tesla, but Oklo is similar in the sense that we want to get people excited about something that they weren’t [excited about] before. Tesla has done this by changing people’s perspectives on electric cars and making them exciting, even over conventional cars. We want to get people excited about new reactor designs while providing reliable clean energy to end energy poverty. Just like Tesla’s mission, to help people transition to sustainable energy, Oklo does that by making reactors people want.