The New Politics of Climate Change
Oklo’s Director of Marketing & External Relations, Bonita Chan, interviews Jackie Kempfer, the Director of Government Affairs at Oklo, to discuss her policy and government relations work. Watch the full conversation here and read the abbreviated highlights below.
Before joining Oklo, you served as a senior policy advisor with Third Way. You did impactful work designing and advocating for policies that will drive innovation and clean energy technologies deployment, focusing on advanced fission. I’d love to learn more about your time at Third Way and the journey that led you to Oklo.
I grew up in rural eastern North Carolina, where it was consistently hit with large hurricanes. I developed an appreciation for the devastation of a hurricane and the immense effort it takes to clean up. Based on my personal experience, I decided to go into international disaster relief. I spent time in Kathmandu, and after helping clean up after a large earthquake, I realized that a career in disaster relief might not be something I was cut out for. It did help me realize that I wanted to work on helping prevent mass disasters, which led me to Stimson Center, where I led their nuclear security work. Through the engagement with the nuclear industry, I learned about advanced reactors. I quickly became more interested in finding a way to help innovative nuclear technologies find a path forward and find a way to work on climate change too!
I was then provided with an opportunity at Third Way to see how the role of advanced fission fits in with a much larger scope to address climate change meaningfully. At Third Way, I advocated for developing and deploying advanced fission and worked on security applications and safeguards applications.
It must have been fulfilling to push forward policies that will cultivate innovation and help combat climate change by deploying clean energy technologies. What made you interested in switching from an NGO to the private sector, like Oklo.
I wanted to be more directly involved in helping a technology get across the finish line and be deployed. Oklo stood out to me because the company is pushing the boundaries on every front. For the nuclear industry to thrive, especially in a future where it’s so needed for addressing climate change, we need to think in new ways and change the way we operate in many ways. Oklo is innovating the sector by approaching our business model, engagement, and licensing in a new way.
One of the most compelling things to me is Oklo’s business model and the notion of fission as a service. Offering heat and electricity to our customers without the burden of owning and operating our plants makes getting reliable emission-free energy more accessible than ever. Another big draw for me is the groundbreaking work Oklo has done regarding licensing. It is inspirational to have submitted and developed the first advanced fission combined license application and have it be accepted for review, primarily when the regulation is structured around large traditional light water reactors, which are so fundamentally different.
I feel fortunate to have come on board and ride this wave as we rapidly approach our first power plant deployment.
Do you think the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a significant role to play when it comes to climate change?
If we are going to address climate change meaningfully, we need to see transformation across systems globally, across government, and across the industry. I’m inspired by what Oklo has done in going through the licensing process and laying out a new process for the NRC to review our advanced fission plant design. In ultimately transforming the processes to ensure there is an efficient pathway to license and deploy innovative clean energy technologies, the NRC is playing a major role in helping address climate change.
You just had a baby boy, Jameson. With so much on your plate, what motivates you at Oklo? Are there areas of your work that you think will impact Jameson’s future?
Jameson is certainly top of mind for me. It has been an adjustment from having this wonderful experience bringing him into our family and then making the shift back to work. It is much easier to return to work, though, when I know that I’m working on something that has deep meaning not only for myself but for our world. The most prominent challenge humanities ever faced is addressing climate change, and it motivates me to be working on that. I want Jameson and the folks here in our country to continue to breathe clean air and have access to reliable energy that is clean.
It is incredibly important for me to tell him that I really tried and worked for a company committed to making clean energy accessible to all types of communities when he’s older. We are working on deploying clean energy at home in the U.S and making that accessible to emerging markets. That means that these emerging markets can pursue a carbon-free future and be able to lift themselves out of poverty as well.