Ep 420: Charles Oppenheimer - Founder, Oppenheimer Project
Francesco Tassi [00:00:58] Well hello, and welcome back to Titans of Nuclear Podcast. I'm Francesco Tassi, and today we're here with Charles Oppenheimer, founder of the Oppenheimer Project. You might recall that we had Charles on the podcast not too long ago, but he's been up to a lot since then. Charles, welcome back.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:01:15] Thank you. I'm still a big fan of Titans of Nuclear, so I'm really happy to check back in here.
Francesco Tassi [00:01:22] Amazing. Well, we always start with a brief dive into someone's upbringing and introduction to nuclear here at Titans. I invite listeners to Episode #377, where Charles delved into his upbringing and his grandfather's legacy as Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during the Manhattan Project. Today, I want to take an opportunity to explore uncharted territory with our guest. So, let's dive in.
Francesco Tassi [00:01:44] Charles, over the past two decades, your career has spanned technology and finance, from founding several software startups, to more recently, roles as investor and operating partner at Breakthrough Investment Firms, and as listeners might be most excited about, founder of the Oppenheimer Project. Before we delve into your career path, what excited you growing up and during your early education?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:02:15] Having somewhat of an non-traditional upbringing, some parts of it off the grid, wilderness and nature-based leanings always seemed the most important to me. Like, taking care of the natural world, being involved in it, going camping, just being involved with the outdoors. It was a unique, rare time to grow up in the mountains, not around heavy industrialized society.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:02:48] Also growing up, like many people in the 1980s, we all thought we were going to die from nuclear war. It was a time where there were building, escalating tensions. Even movies, popular movies like Red Dawn just had this assumption that this was all going to go south and end in a smoking cloud of rubble. That always seemed dreadfully important to me. Can we solve this problem of the threat of weapons?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:03:20] But career-wise, I just happened to like software and just intellectually got into programming at a young age. And when it came to make a living in San Francisco, I just gravitated towards the software field and took it naturally as it came. What was going on around me was a big boom in internet software stuff and I just jumped in and got involved.
Francesco Tassi [00:03:47] That's interesting to hear that constant connection with nature. That's something that, in many ways, can connect to the energy as well, and that was sort of a constant for you. And even today, do you still get into nature today?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:04:05] Yes, every chance I get. I go up to our ranch in New Mexico a few times a year and spend a few weeks taking care of the fences, doing manual labor, and I go backpacking and camping any time I can. I've come to believe... I started looking into conservation efforts where you save pockets of wildlife and try to connect them.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:04:25] I think if you look at our future, we can turn around this abundant energy future where there really are enough resources to build lots of urban places. And there are a lot of parts of natural world that can really come back and thrive; that's happened many times. So, I think that's the most optimistic vision of something like a rapid expansion in nuclear energy at industrial scale. Having thriving urban areas and access to true, wild, natural places can be a beautiful alternative than smoking rubble of destroyed cities. So, we can choose our own future, I think.
Francesco Tassi [00:05:07] That's very powerful. Going a little bit into your career path... More recently, I also noticed you're a 8090 Industries. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:05:21] Yeah, well, that's a good example of the power of doing media. That actually derived more or less from my last conversation on Titans of Nuclear. When I came on to Titans of Nuclear, you start something. I've always had the intention that speaking for my grandfather and publicly talking about what his values were could help in some way. Actually, as a result of that podcast, which was one of the bigger media things, one of the partners, Rayyan, reached out to me and said, "Hey, I heard your podcast. It seems really interesting. Let's chat." And that ended up developing me getting in touch with and being introduced to a lot of people in the nuclear energy investment space. And they said, "Hey, why don't you come on and help with the firm?" I really like their focus on decarbonization through industrial partners because so much of the world's energy use comes through that avenue. And so, that's an example of how just getting out there and doing it can inspire on a path that you never really thought of.
Francesco Tassi [00:06:25] That's incredible, the power of podcasts. And I think that's something all listeners appreciate. But thinking around investment, even though this has been sort of an early introduction for you to the investment world, how crucial do you see the role of investment firms for bringing new energy technologies to the market and any kind of clean energy technology?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:06:52] I've had a good developing learning journey on that. A lot of my background started with Titans of Nuclear-type material, not secret Oppenheimer documents or anything. I just got involved in the newer resurgence of the field. And then of course, I'm lucky to be able to get in touch with people who are in the nuclear energy field, talk to them, get their perspective. And I've done a series of surveys where I started with the idea that the whole problem with the industry is regulation and it stopped everything and everything's broken down because of that.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:07:30] I've evolved my understanding to understand, at least with the big nuclear, large utility scale nuclear output, that could have been so transformational In the United States, one of the key and core blockers is really the financial infrastructure and the dynamics that require a utility to basically have an existential risk on one project, projects that do have regulatory burden and problems. So, potentially solving some of the financial blockers to deploying and making nuclear energy more abundant is one of the most important things.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:08:16] And it also aligns with the Manhattan Project. If you look at when America has done the most important things like the Manhattan Project when it really counted, we didn't say "It's only a military project," or, "Only a government..." You have this coalescing of military resources. There were private market companies bringing everything they could to the table. So, I think that there are really important parts for the private market and collaboration with government and other sources.
Francesco Tassi [00:08:50] Absolutely, and attacking the challenges from all sides for these different stakeholders. I think there's something powerful there too about the role of, in some ways, relationships and networks, whether through venture capital or just across stakeholders. I don't want to make connections here, but one of the things, recently watching Oppenheimer, was the relationships between different scientists and different stakeholders, different worlds.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:09:26] Yeah. I mean, if you look at his skills as a leader... And the biggest example of that was leading the Los Alamos project where it wasn't the fundamental physics that he was contributing, but the fact that he had such a good way of relating to every member, bringing people together, synthesizing things. Even the colloquium that led up to the Manhattan Project, he was becoming a leader and leading those discussions. I'd love to think I have some small part of that or a natural... I definitely have a natural ability to get along with people, even if you're diametrically opposed to me or on the other side. And I think my grandfather had some part of that too. There's just a certain forgiveness in saying, "I know you think something opposite of me. Let's talk about it anyway."
Charles Oppenheimer [00:10:15] Matter of fact, that happened to me earlier this week. I went to an investor conference and one of the participants who was in the House of Representatives, a Congressman, in that audience stood up and said, "Well, the problem is the Democrats and we need to get rid of them. Clear out the House and we can do what we want." Which is not what I think of. I'm not a staunch Democrat, but I wouldn't have put it in those terms. And these are peers of mine. I was like, "Oh, gosh. I feel offended by it." Just the idea of conflict as the basis for our energy abundant future, I don't believe in.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:10:52] But then we worked later and sat around in a group. And I talked to this representative and said, "I really think nuclear is one of the most bipartisan things we could possibly do." And he said, "I agree with that. Here are some things we can do." And by the end of the discussion, he had invited me out to Washington, D.C., to participate in a further discussion, and I was really heartened by that. You can sit in a room with somebody you don't agree with and get over it. And that's one of my fondest hopes for, effectively, the Oppenheimer Project. If you're promoting things through values of getting along and increased unity, there's a lot of room on all aspects including just normal business, human interactions, all the way up to the very difficult international issues that we have to deal with.
Francesco Tassi [00:11:40] That's an amazing insight. I can also think a little bit of my own country, Italy. One of the challenges is having that bipartisan nuclear path. If just one party takes responsibility, it's much harder to get new development. So, absolutely.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:12:04] What is Italy's stance on it? I'm not that familiar with it. Has there been any expansion? What's going on there now?
Francesco Tassi [00:12:11] Recently, the party in power has brought back several initiatives to essentially restart Italy's nuclear programs, which since around the '70s and '80s have been closed. Those conversations are ongoing, but that bipartisanship and I think those networks, like you mentioned, that's...
Charles Oppenheimer [00:12:39] It's really the hardest thing, right? Because we as logical people, a group of nuclear supporters, the renaissance, can say, "This is obviously what we have to do." But there are no guarantees that we do the human side and get our policies and agreements together. But I feel like it's much more hopeful than something even more difficult, which is, "Let's all decide not to point these huge weapons at each other." That's even more difficult. So, I'm starting with nuclear energy as a peace building... I think the numbers show that there's possibility for increased agreement in this space more than other things.
Francesco Tassi [00:13:20] I love that, and I think that's something a lot of us feel and so do probably a lot of listeners on the podcast. Now, as an Oppenheimer, some could inappropriately assume nuclear power was always, if you will, in your veins. When did you first become curious about nuclear power as a solution to energy, poverty and decarbonization?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:13:42] I would say it was mostly in the last two years. Before that, I had just a vaguely negative feeling about it, like, "Oh, it's associated with weapons." I just didn't have a strong opinion on it. I was intending to promote my grandfather's values, which he spoke much more about the weapons issues. He kind of didn't get past that in his career. Now, I do think when he spoke about a shared existential risk that all people face in the 1940s, that's like a fundamental thing. Like, "We made weapons of a certain size... The power of our technology growth means that we will either destroy ourselves, everybody, or get along in a new way." So, that's a fundamental line through all his thinking and words. But if you accept that, you accept that we can't have war in the same way. We have to have a new level of unity. One thing he wouldn't do is create a lot of weapons.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:14:44] And the next thing he probably would do is collaborate with people on making abundant energy. And he said, "There are going to be great uses of nuclear power, but we have to decide if we're going to get along in a certain way first." So growing up, he didn't promote that in the family very much because he really wasn't able to solve the weapons issue or the level of cooperation as much. And so, when I just started researching it several years ago, Titans of Nuclear was one of the first things I came across. I said, "Let me learn about this. What's going on in the industry?" And what I learned surprised me.
Francesco Tassi [00:15:22] That's excellent. For me to, in a way, Titans was a first go-to when I wanted to learn more. You did mention your grandfather was so, in many ways, preoccupied with the nuclear weapons proliferation and that aspect, maybe Atoms for Peace, etc., might have been less of a focus. But do you think if your grandfather could see today the state of America's nuclear energy industry compared to other countries, would he be surprised?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:16:05] Well, that's obviously speculative. But let's just say, I think an outcome of us pursuing an arms race, which he kind of gave a recipe for not doing really ultimately resulted in the lack of our flourishing of the energy industry. Imagine if the past had not involved an arms race, but it did result in shared production of fissionable material and control of fissionable material. The most interesting thing you could do out of that would be producing energy.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:16:47] You know, America produces the most nuclear energy in the world at this point, right? Isn't that the case in terms of gigawatt hours? Now percentage wise, it's not the most, certainly with France being more successful. He was a pretty smart guy, so I can't say that anything would have surprised him, but he maybe would have seen this coming. I have some hope that the things that he did care about and said that we could have an increased level of unity, I think it's still possible. We could still decide that there are areas of framework that the United States and other countries can agree on, even if we're in the midst of conflict, because it's a first principle that if you can have that level of cooperation, you can solve any difficult problems together. I think that's what I'd want out of his advice in this space.
Francesco Tassi [00:17:48] Amazing. And of course, you mention in some other podcasts your grandfather's unwavering sense of duty. That was a strong element. And in many ways, we mentioned the shared existential threat that there was at that time, and there are maybe several even now. And really just a question of do you feel something similar in the sense of duty or shared existential threats today?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:18:23] Yes, I do. And I was thinking about it like... We all feel that way, right? Why does climate change feel like the threat that it is today? It's because people both understand the threat through logical extrapolation. If you believe a scientist's output, you say, "Wow, this is a big threat." And then we also feel like there's something that we can do about it. I think that's something that everybody has some intention... Like, "There are many things I can do in life, but what could I do that could actually make a difference?" And I think that really does motivate a large number of people. It's known as the biggest existential threat. So, I'm no exception to that. I may have spent a fair amount of my living career trying to take care of myself, trying to make a business, make money just like everybody else, but when it comes down to what can you do that can make the biggest difference, we all want to bring our resources to the table.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:19:17] And being an Oppenheimer doesn't necessarily help. All it means is I'll never measure up to Robert Oppenheimer, right? I'm never going to be as smart as him or as good as him. But does that stop us? Like, we have to take what we're given, our adequacies and inadequacies and try to contribute. And so in my case, I can represent his values and his views without being him and contribute. And I think I feel comfortable telling other people, "Hey, if I can do it, you can do it." And so, I think that's what is at stake. That it's not just for a few special people to get involved in this effort, but that really it is open for everybody who wants to make the world a better place.
Francesco Tassi [00:20:00] That is extremely inspiring, Charles. I feel we've beaten around the bush enough. What is the Oppenheimer Project? What led you to it? Please tell us a little bit about it.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:20:15] The intention is to promote, advocate, and invest in my grandfather's ideas. And by speaking for and representing both what he said, his actual values, his words, and make sure his image is out there, that's kind of a foundational piece, rooted in... I've always had this intuition that if people knew more about what he said and his brand, an idea can bring people together. Well, how do you do that? There's the tactical step of literally just speaking for him from the family. That's something that we didn't do. Everybody else in the world feels comfortable speaking for Robert Oppenheimer. People write books and movies and plays and they say that they're representing him. Well, as a family member, it's actually in a lot of ways been more difficult to say, "Hey, I'm part of the family. This is what I think my grandfather meant and said." And it has some relevance, because some of that was passed down culturally and even genetically to me, so I want to represent him from that view. And they are values that are promotable are just really interesting and deep. They said that we need a new level of unity.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:21:24] Now, how do you get there? What do you do about it? The advocacy work that I've laid out involves promoting international cooperation, but in some ways that's most difficult. Nuclear energy, I see as a bridge building component to an increased international cooperation and that we need more energy in the US. And there are advocacy things that could be changed, laws and policies and financial infrastructure that could make more energy available in the short term. So, I have three or four policy goals I've laid out.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:22:02] And I was also able to convene people. So, in the lead up to this movie, there was a July 22nd movie screening that we hosted as a family. I invited some people from the Department of Energy. That's kind of a nice part of being an Oppenheimer. I called them up and said, "Hey, Oppenheimer Science and Leadership program. Is there anybody you would want to send?" And the DOE said, "Yeah, we would want to send 100 people." And so, we were able to get people together in the same room, government scientists, lab leaders. I invited investors and startup founders in the nuclear space, and we were all in the same room talking about existential threats right away. So, of that kind of advocacy of bringing people together just because they're interested in Oppenheimer, I will do that type of thing.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:22:47] And the third component is investing. And I'm putting the most research and the most forward, or a fair amount of the forward looking effort into the investment arm. And there's been an interesting starting point, but I'd be happy to discuss my ideas and get feedback from you and your colleagues about investment ideas.
Francesco Tassi [00:23:12] I love just generally the power of having this event and this legacy be brought to the present in a way and for a scope that is... In many ways, when you watch the film, there's only one scene briefly where we see a reactor, Fermi, Chicago Pile-1. At the same time, right, there seems to be an undeniable current that nuclear power is not only a destroyer of worlds, but that it is valuable, necessary for our survival, a builder of futures, if you will. And that's something that I think is felt. There's sort of an undercurrent there. Do you believe that's going to influence, or it could? How do you see it influencing people's perception and thoughts about nuclear energy?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:24:25] Separating the science from the application, the science of understanding fission and unlocking this source of energy that's millions of times more powerful than the next one in itself was a good thing to do. And then the second question is, how do we deal with that? Are we going to make weapons? Are we going to make energy? It's very clear... To some extent, I feel like the popular support is already where it needs to be for nuclear energy. If it's already gotten up to 60%, there's a very important part of advocacy and public perception. But most people say, "Oh, it's so unpopular." And you say, "Yes, it was so unpopular five years ago, but it's already shifted." If we're up at 60% and you can elect a president at 49.9%, that's effectively as popular as you need it. So, I think the belief behind it has shifted enough to make it possible.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:25:22] What hasn't shifted is the industrial policy and the actual massive amount of output we need of carbon free, firm energy, and that takes time. I mean, these are big projects. Energy transitions take between 50 or 100 years. So, I think there is enough momentum to realistically expect that policy changes start happening, bigger projects start happening in the real world, but it only really counts when you get the real output. Which brings up the question, should we be advocating for a Manhattan Project type effort? Is that the right way to summarize what we should be advocating for as a group? And it brings up questions in people's minds, but it also brings up the success of being faced with an existential risk and doing what the scientists had to do during World War II to get success. That kind of mindset is what I think we need for our climate challenges instead of just saying, "Oh, well, let's do it when we can." You have to really get in there and fight for it.
Francesco Tassi [00:26:42] Absolutely. I think that makes a lot of sense. Then one thinks about the increased role of the government. That convening might happen from a lot of different points, but at the same time, we see in some ways how a film and and a re-willingness to... I mean, even recently, the security clearance... I mean recently, the Department of Energy...
Charles Oppenheimer [00:27:17] Yeah, they rescinded their decision in 1954 and publicly said, "Hey, this was a bad decision in 1954. This is why it was a bad decision, and we don't want to treat our scientists that way." That was an amazing outcome that happened before the movie was released. And actually just last week, I was in New Mexico with Secretary Granholm, and we went to an event at the Los Alamos National Lab. And Secretary of Energy Granholm was explaining, "We really want you scientists to be all in on this energy transition battle and we don't want to treat scientists this way." And it was really compelling, especially for Los Alamos scientists, I believe. It's good sometimes to apologize for historical efforts.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:28:09] I also believe Granholm was so excited and energized about how can we produce massive amounts more of clean energy. I think in her mind, in their policy goals, it's not all nuclear. But for people like us who can get in the same room and advocate for things, they certainly understand the place for expansion of nuclear energy and fission-based energy. I don't think we can do it at the scale we need to without a lot of government involvement combined. They already have some amazing programs to support private companies and financial components and of course, the basic science and research. Those were all really important parts of the effort.
Francesco Tassi [00:28:56] Absolutely. And it takes moments when the entire community has a moment of re-thinking of what is the status quo and what are the hurdles? What is holding industry or startups back? I feel we're getting very close to that moment.
Francesco Tassi [00:29:18] Now, maybe a little lighter... Were you able to have any visits on set when they were filming? Anything you want to share with listeners around that? The film's impact is pretty undeniable across the world. So yes, just your experience.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:29:41] I have a few anecdotes from the movie. One is a call from Christopher Nolan when they were starting the process. Not starting, he had already finished the script and I had heard about it, so I reached out and they gave a courtesy call. And Nolan's opinion and scholarship on the matter, I found very impressive. Most people are just impressed by saying, "Christopher Nolan called you?" So yes, that's impressive.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:30:07] But probably one of the biggest parts of it was discussing the difficulty. Like, "Gosh, this is such a tough subject. How are you going to give it the right treatment?" And he said, "Well, when I did Dunkirk, I knew I would be criticized because it's kind of a sacred thing, the most sacred battle in World War II for the British. But in life, you've got to just give a certain amount of consideration and then do everything. Just go for it. Do it; you know you're going to get criticized, and go for it." And I found that just personally inspiring. I was like, "Yeah, he can do it; I can do it. I can do the Oppenheimer Project." So, it made me feel just pure saying that. Even if you have some doubts or fears, you have to go for it. And I think that's the same thing that we all face with looking at this nuclear energy field. There are some amazing opportunities and there are incredible challenges and you have to just really go for it.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:31:09] And I visited the set twice, so that was cool. I met Cillian Murphy, briefly. My daughters met Robert Downey Jr. when they went in the house. And so, that's fun. The Hollywood stuff is cool. I was just barely involved with it as kind of like a guest, and they were they were happy to entertain us.
Francesco Tassi [00:31:31] That's amazing. Yes, not too many people get calls from Christopher Nolan.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:31:38] Well, actually, one other anecdote. When I met Emma Thomas on the film set there, she said, "Hey, why don't you guys do a movie opening in the Oppenheimer family?" And I said, "Wow, that's an interesting idea." So, I signed up for it basically, and made sure that we were doing something from the family perspective. So, when we invited people from the DOE and just said, "Hey, this has to do with the Oppenheimer Project and the Oppenheimer family." So, that was really helpful to get her suggestion on that.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:32:09] It was really tough to organize. It turns out it's tough to deal with Hollywood and all the logistics and stuff. But we ended up self-organizing a movie screening, inviting people including the DOE, and just getting a lot of people together. It was really a special time to, to your point, take advantage of that. If people are talking about science, if they're talking about Oppenheimer, you want to get involved in a conversation then. And so, that was the intention. And I actually ended up liking the movie quite a bit, so that was helpful.
Francesco Tassi [00:32:41] That's always a plus. Since we last had you on the show it sounds like you've been very busy, but as far as the Oppenheimer Project and after that screening, have there been any events related to the Oppenheimer Project that you want to share?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:33:05] Yeah, I mean, most of them are private things I've attended, but still they were important. Being able to be in touch with DOE, participate in that. And as I'm gearing up my next steps, I'm looking to meet people and participate in the conversation particularly around the nuclear energy investment side and international cooperation around it. So, I have one event in Asia in October that I'll be going to, Nuclear Energy Asia, and I'm probably going to go to COP 28. I intend to visit and network with people to get better and more refined ideas on what are the best investment areas in the world and how can we move this forward the most? And so, I've had a series of those types of conversations in developing things. That's mainly been the progress, and I continue to keep doing it.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:34:07] I'm doing some media now. People ask me for media. I'm like, "Sure, I'll do an interview. And then, the work of making that real into policy and into investments is going to be following over all the subsequent... potentially my whole life. It takes a while to do these things, you know.
Francesco Tassi [00:34:27] And also, I feel there's so much of constantly learning. And then in the nuclear field, there's constantly new developments on all sorts of fronts, not just engineering wise, but policy wise, finance wise. That is something that, at the end of day really, you just get to know by saying yes and jumping into it, which is something that I think is so admirable of you despite all the challenges and complexity of nuclear energy having this dual connotation in our minds. I think that's such an important and powerful thing to be doing. And I think you are inspiring many others who are hearing this.
Francesco Tassi [00:35:20] A lot of people in the nuclear industry had the pleasure of reading your piece for Time titled "Nuclear Energy's Moment Has Come." If you could, distill for us some of your major thoughts from this piece, and if you could go back and mentally edit with what you have learned today.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:35:43] Yeah, the Time piece was really successful. The basic idea about it was to try to be in a middle-of-the-road type discussion, not, "I'm a hardcore only supporter of this effort," or on either side. And so, Time was a great venue for that. And I had watched the Nuclear Now from Oliver Stone, so I would definitely recommend that for people. It gave me a refined idea on better understanding the anti-nuclear energy developments. I wasn't exactly involved in anti-nuclear energy, but as a family member, I was definitely very much against nuclear weapons my whole life. So, understanding how those got conflated in popular media. So, by just publishing that and telling people that I think nuclear energy is is a bridge builder and you can get nations together around it and people together, it really seemed to strike a chord.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:36:47] One of the learnings I had is that Twitter and Elon Musk are a pretty powerful voice because Elon replied to that Time article. And if you look at most Time articles that they post, they have like 25 or 50 links. But when Elon weighed in on that thread saying, "I think we should have more nuclear energy too," it bumped up to 100,000 likes and comments. The vast majority of them were like, "We believe this too." So, I'm not sure I would change too much of the substance.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:37:21] I had kind of hoped it to be an Earth Day type message because my grandfather's birthday is on April 22nd. It came out later, the article, when it actually got published. But that idea that nuclear energy is an environmental answer to the earth's problems and not just something else was the substance there. And as part of the Oppenheimer Project, I'm hoping to convene April 22, 2024, the same type of idea. Do it every year and say, "Hey, this is my grandfather's birthday. There's nuclear energy. We should have more unity, more energy, and get people together to discuss things of that nature."
Francesco Tassi [00:38:06] Energy abundance and energy prosperity, that is something that we absolutely need. Incredible. Again, we mentioned there's so much to learn and so much happening in the nuclear industry, specifically with small modular reactors. Are there any subjects that you're particularly interested in or are more curious to delve into in the future?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:38:32] Yeah, I think I've developed a perspective probably through the people I've met and found the most compelling arguments that surprise me, which is really most related to large nuclear. What I'm most interested in exploring now is helping this nascent effort of doing the next Vogtle-type scale project, where you've taken the learnings out of what you've just done and rolled that into the next project and try to help remove the financial barriers and get to really large scale.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:39:04] And I didn't expect that when I started the exploration, that advocacy, policy changes, changes in regulation are all important to help the ecosystem, but there's also stuff that can be done right now in the existing infrastructure at almost the largest scale. And I intend to keep looking into that. Large nuclear with large projects; how quickly can we go? Because if we get through one gigawatt, two gigawatts, ten gigawatts of clean baseload energy, we still need to get the next hundred. So, that's just the starting point of the scale that we need. I'm most interested in exploring that, like the largest nuclear right now, through my learnings.
Francesco Tassi [00:39:52] Yeah, there are definitely challenges and there are definitely different approaches. There's getting smaller megawatt and to integrate as fast as possible, then there's going to be the large build, and that's going to include the whole industry. The front's going to come from all sides.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:40:15] One thing I like about the industry is how collaborative it is, because saying that you're interested in large nuclear doesn't mean in any way that you need fewer SMRs, less newer technology. There are applications all over the world and in every way for multiple advances on this. And I've found, probably with its roots in a scientific collaborative effort from my understanding, that even the very first applications of nuclear energy were being shared around the world by countries that were pointing bombs at each other, but they were still sharing science about nuclear reactors. That's my view, that there's room for all sizes of nuclear deployments for different applications, and they don't necessarily compete against each other. It's just that we need everything that we can get as fast as possible.
Francesco Tassi [00:41:06] Absolutely. And yes, but also the challenges seem to be particularly tough for the largest gigawatt scale, perhaps. Just as far as thinking of government financing...
Charles Oppenheimer [00:41:22] There's a lot more that can go wrong. And if it takes you 10, 15 years to understand that you've made a mistake, that's just an inherent problem with the larger scale stuff. They would have the biggest employer impact, ultimately, but you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. See if you can do larger projects and build up progress, but you also have to diversify and de-risk.
Francesco Tassi [00:41:52] Wonderful. I know there are several listeners that might be interested about potentially joining the Oppenheimer Project. Who are you looking for to join into the collaborative effort of the Oppenheimer Project?
Charles Oppenheimer [00:42:11] Well, probably two categories. On the advocacy and policy side, I've had a really good experience reaching out to people. If you really know the field, obviously many years more than I do, I'm able to take your thoughts and your suggestions and sometimes get them to really interesting places like the Department of Energy and stuff and investors. So, that's something that I'd love to hear as feedback from people.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:42:39] And the other side is on the investment side in looking at generating an investment fund, especially project-based financing for other... Like, I don't intend to create a nuclear reactor company, but I would love to get the financing available that would facilitate those who are creating those and need a project to pull that together. So, if you have experience around large investment fund type things in project-based financing for energy projects, those are the most compelling two areas, I think.
Francesco Tassi [00:43:20] Wonderful. Well, we're extremely excited to hear of the future of the Oppenheimer Project and and where next in the world it will be having an impact and convening different stakeholders to solve some of the toughest challenges facing clean energy and energy poverty across the world.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:43:44] We ended our last one with the same thing. I think I said to Bret, "Well, we should have a convening. Let's get people together." So, I'll say the same thing to you, and maybe we can start planning that and bring people together about this subject.
Francesco Tassi [00:43:57] Absolutely. I think if we've learned anything it's that podcasts can be pretty powerful. We are so excited to have you back for this episode, and perhaps to look forward to another episode in the future. But we thank you, Charles. Thank you so much for spending time with us today, and have a great day.
Charles Oppenheimer [00:44:18] Great. Great talking to you.