Oklo’s Director of Marketing & External Relations, Bonita Chan, interviews Ross Moore, the Senior Licensing Manager at Oklo, to discuss the importance of licensing advanced fission in creating a carbon-free future. Watch the full conversation here and read the abbreviated highlights below.
You have established a remarkable career in nuclear. From working in regulations to operations, and now working for Oklo, an advanced fission company as the Senior Licensing Manager, what encouraged you to pursue a career in nuclear?
I was drawn to the unique mechanical and nuclear engineering dual degree program offered by Penn State. I didn’t have much experience in the area of nuclear, and I thought that was going to be interesting, and it turned out to be both accurate and significant in guiding my career path thus far.
My graduation coincided with a renaissance of sorts for nuclear power as the next generation of light water reactors were being designed. It was expected that dozens of new plants would be licensed and operated in the coming years. It was an exciting time to be moving into nuclear. I was inspired to see the new design types, which introduced enhanced safety and real, tangible solutions to reduce our carbon footprint.
However, the renaissance never really came to fruition. Licensing and construction costs crept up, natural gas availability and prices reached record lows, and the excitement for nuclear power began to fade as the economic prospects diminished. I remained interested in working in the nuclear industry, and I’ve enjoyed every new and different opportunity. At the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), I first worked as an inspector across the northeast’s nuclear fleet, which enabled me to see from a regulatory perspective how the safety and inspection program is implemented across the U.S. nuclear fleet. I became inspired to see more of advanced reactors and took an opportunity to get involved in the Advanced Reactor Group within the NRC. NuScale was beginning its pre-application activities at the time, and I became involved in some early iterations of those activities and engagements.
I eventually transitioned from understanding complicated regulatory structures to managing the day-to-day operations at a large light water reactor facility. Currently, I help strategize economic licensing pathways for advanced reactors that have an opportunity to change the environmental landscape globally. That is what excites me about the work that I do at Oklo.
We need to find avenues that allow us to safely license and build reactors while removing regulatory obstructions that have historically made new reactor designs financially unviable. We are still in the early phases, but I’m excited to be a part of the paradigm shift that Oklo is spearheading. To work on a technology that can reduce the carbon impact across not just the U.S. but globally is very exciting.
Nuclear energy plays a major role in providing carbon-free energy. Therefore, nuclear energy also plays a role in saving lives since air pollution from fossil fuels is still responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Does that serve as a motivation to you working in this sector?
Nuclear energy has long been a silent facilitator towards reducing the impact of pollution across the world. Throughout my entire career, I have always been proud of our industry’s technology and product. From a day-to-day operating perspective, the on-site safety for large industrial nuclear power plants is unparalleled. From a collective societal benefit perspective, nuclear power is a bit of an unsung hero.
Over the past few decades, the warning alarms for climate change have sounded louder and louder. There’s been international pressure to reduce carbon emissions and transition to clean energy. While solar, wind, and other renewables receive continuous attention for their potential role, nuclear has long represented approximately 50% of the carbon-free energy production nationwide without real recognition for its pivotal role.
As I get older and watch my son grow and interact with the world, I realize even more how important it is for me to do my part to combat climate change. We see the significant impacts of climate change, and if we don’t change our outputs as humans, then future generations will be forced to reconcile with those impacts.
Oklo made history when its license to construct and operate its reactor was accepted for review by the NRC in June 2020. What does this historic acceptance mean for advanced reactors and a carbon-free future?
The regulator may be the most fundamentally important agency associated with climate change out there. Nuclear energy is the essential energy source that can combat carbon generation across the aisle. You have to have nuclear to reduce the carbon footprint of the existing energy generation sources. Yet, there hasn’t been a new application reviewed or approved and essentially resulting in an operating nuclear power plant since the NRC came into existence.
Oklo is changing that paradigm and doing things differently. In truly understanding what makes a reactor safe, it can be built into the design while recognizing burdensome regulations that don’t add safety value. I believe Oklo successfully demonstrated that in its combined license application (COLA). Once the application is approved, it will enable Oklo to construct and operate its reactor.
To build, construct, and operate a reactor, you must first be licensed by the NRC. So, it is exciting to work with the first advanced fission company to have its COLA accepted for review and be at the forefront of paving the way for advanced reactors.
Ongoing efforts to develop a transformational rule for advanced reactors must continue. This is a real opportunity to reinvent safe and efficient regulations. I hope that as an industry, we can be successful, not just for the future of nuclear power but also in realizing our full potential in contributing to a carbon-free future.
Oklo is the first and only company with an advanced reactor under review in the U.S. Oklo’s license is also a fraction of the cost and length compared to the previously submitted license. How important is this type of efficiency for the future of advanced fission?
To demonstrate advanced reactors can be licensed efficiently and cost-effectively is critically important. We have seen advanced reactor applicants spend over $70 million or more just for licensing costs for a design certification. A design certification requires a subsequent operating license, which means additional licensing costs. This type of effort will not support future profitability for advanced reactor designs. Costs incurred during the licensing process will need to be recouped through operating costs, resulting in higher energy prices.
Oklo’s COLA has made great strides in putting forth a case that applications can be developed and accepted for review efficiently and cost-effectively to be deployed on a wide scale. We must now carry that momentum into getting the COLA approved to support reasonably priced operations, which is extremely important for future Oklo submittals, and supports a more efficient licensing process for the entire industry.