If hearing the term ‘nuclear energy’ evokes images of explosions and toxic radiation leaking into the water, you are not alone. This widely-held (mis)perception is, in fact, the doing of the nuclear energy industry itself. Today’s guest, Bret Kugelmass, is on a mission to re-educate the world about the need for nuclear. Bret is the Managing Director at the Energy Impact Center, a non-profit whose goal is to reverse climate change. He also hosts a wildly successful podcast, Titans of Nuclear. With a background in robotics and commercial drones, Bret is an energy outsider in many ways. Once he realized he wanted to get into the fight against climate change, he started learning about this powerful source of energy.
We begin with a history of the nuclear power industry, where Bret sheds light on the perverse incentives that have underpinned its negative reputation. Nuclear power is not unsafe, but there’s a lot of money that makes people believe it is. We also discuss the link between nuclear power and climate change and why no other form of energy will be able to undo the existing damage. Bret highlights that at this point, low carbon is not enough. We need to actively reverse the damage by capturing existing carbon in the atmosphere. Our conversation also touches on the OPEN100 Project — an open-source framework to help countries build small nuclear reactors — and how the cultural shift around nuclear power might happen. Check out the full episode at one of the links below:
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Key Points From This Episode
Why we fear nuclear energy (and why we shouldn’t)
Events like Chernobyl have left people with a negative bias against nuclear energy. In reality, nuclear energy is one of the safest. Light-water reactors are what most nuclear power plants use, and these are very different from the graphite used at Chernobyl. That was high energy and hazardous, versus the small chance of a ‘mini-meltdown’ at a light-water plant, which is low-energy and non-hazardous.
Why nuclear energy is the only way to reverse climate change
We have burned 100 million years of carbon in the last 100 years. Even if we covered the entire planet in trees, it would take millennia to suck the carbon out of the air. Renewable energy sources are low carbon, not carbon negative. We need to capture the existing carbon in our atmosphere to reverse climate change. Nuclear power is the only energy source dense enough that can produce enough energy to suck the carbon out of the air.
How to motivate yourself to learn more (about anything)
Bret threw himself into learning about nuclear with very little prior knowledge. This is a daunting task, to say the least, but he credits his hedonistic nature for his motivation. To him, solving problems and helping others is what makes people feel good, not binging Netflix every night. So embrace the interesting challenges that present themselves to you, and use it to motivate you to learn as much as you can to solve them.
“Energy is the cost-to-driver of everything that you consume, everything that you want, prosperity itself, the economy, everything is energy.” — Bret Kugelmass [0:02:34]
“Explosions are high-energy, hazardous events and meltdowns are low-energy, non-hazardous events.” — Bret Kugelmass [0:06:11]
“Selling fear of radiation is a huge business.” — Bret Kugelmass [0:17:32]
“We burned a hundred years of atmospheric carbon in the last 100 years. The earth is not going to self-heal.” — Bret Kugelmass [0:21:42]
“We don’t need to talk about safety. We need the opposite. We need to normalize nuclear.” — Bret Kugelmass [0:39:40]Coming Up Next
Next week we’ll hear from Natalie Voland, President of the real estate development company GI Quo Vadis. Make sure you give it a listen if you want to hear how real estate and impact are related.
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode
Why is everyone afraid of Nuclear Energy? Bret Kugelmass delivers a revisionist history
Bret Kugelmass on LinkedIn
Energy Impact Center
Titans of Nuclear
Titans of Nuclear on YouTube
GI Quo Vadis