Vision for the “Fusion Age”
The story of SHINE begins when I was a child, fascinated by the future. I read everything I could about humanity’s next high-tech frontiers, including high-energy particle physics, energy generation, and space travel. One topic I encountered, nuclear fusion, was especially exciting because it had not only the power to change matter from one element to another but could also provide a nearly limitless source of energy. Essentially, it offered the ability to transform abundant materials into rare and valuable ones, and further, burning one kilogram of nuclear fuel in a fusion reactor could provide the same energy as burning approximately ten million kilograms of oil. Even back then, it seemed obvious that the benefits of fusion meant expanding our potential as a human species to an entirely new level, much the same way that the control of fire did about a million years ago. I dreamed of playing a role in taking humans into what I’ll call the “Fusion Age” — a time with a clean, unbounded source of energy, that would expand human potential for the next million years.
This fascination grew into a mission when, as a college student, I watched trains haul mountains of coal every few days into a heating plant that only provided enough energy to keep a portion of my university warm. I imagined this process scaled to global proportions. It seemed obvious that as other countries approached the standard of living that I enjoyed, energy resource constraints would cause growing conflict between nations and carry with it the threat of escalation that could pose an existential risk to human life. And as I thought back to what I learned as a kid — that just a few of those train cars of fusion fuel could power the entire United States for a year with no climate-impacting emissions — I decided I wanted to play a direct role in creating that future and began to study fusion in graduate school.
As I progressed with my Ph.D., I started to understand the challenge of mastering nuclear fusion as an energy source. I did not see a clear path from where we were technologically or economically to a fusion-powered future. At one point, I even read an article that listed the job of “fusion researcher” as one of the top five hardest and most depressing jobs in science, because of slow progress and the uncertainty of long-term government funding. Thankfully, I had learned about other benefits of nuclear fusion and how they could be used to create value in the near-term.
Over time, it became clear to me that mastering near-term fusion applications could pave a stepwise path to the end goal of fusion energy, all the while creating tremendous social and economic value along each step in the process. I further believed this approach would provide a more practical approach to reach the unmet need for a scalable and sustainable energy solution to combat climate change as global demand for energy continues to grow. Each step of the plan has been chosen in order to build the technology, human capital, and economic engine needed to fuel the next step, while targeting markets where there exists a clear overlap between our capabilities and a societal need. This approach ensures near-term focus and value-creation, while also generating the potential for long-term, meaningful, sustained growth.
These ideas led to the creation of SHINE and the four phases of our business plan. Phase I applies our research into fusion to provide high-resolution imagery, materials assay and quality control services that are needed to ensure the safety of critical components in aerospace, energy and defense applications. This phase has allowed us to develop high-output fusion devices and build some of the competencies needed for phase II. Phase II, now commercialized and growing, will use fusion to transform abundant, and even dangerous materials, into rare and valuable medical isotopes needed for tens of millions of medical procedures and therapies each year to diagnose and treat critical illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
Looking forward, phase III addresses an even larger area of economic and social opportunity: recycling and transmutation of nuclear waste that would otherwise last for millions of years. The medical isotope facilities used in phase II will serve as pilot plants for our waste processing facilities, paving an economic path to solve the problem of nuclear waste today while allowing fission power — one of the best sources of carbon-free energy available today — to become more acceptable to the public.
Phase IV is the generation of abundant, clean, and cost-effective energy. The technology needed for phase IV will be similar in scale to that which is needed for phase III but will not be economical for energy generation without further improvements. Our plan is to leverage the experience we will gain from designing, building, and operating many systems in phase III to drive improvements that will allow us to commercialize into phase IV — where SHINE will play a key role in humanity’s transition to the Fusion Age.
Building the SHINE Community to Drive Disruption
The commercialization of nuclear technologies of any kind in recent years has been troubled to say the least. For too long, nuclear projects have generated revenue based on cost-plus arrangements. Over time this has created financial incentives for the industry to become less efficient, effectively maximizing returns by maximizing cost. Today, it is extremely difficult for projects in the nuclear arena to be cost-effective; as a result, nuclear energy, which should be front and center on the stage of carbon free energy sources, is widely ignored.
This paradigm creates exciting opportunities for new companies and new ideas to disrupt the status quo. For example, space travel is being rapidly commercialized by private ventures and launch costs are drastically falling due to innovative companies taking a fresh look at how to build and operate rockets. In some cases, this has led to a decrease in launch costs by as much as 90 percent versus conventional approaches.
We have applied the same approach to the nuclear field. Our culture has been honed by over a decade of experience in which we have had to prove to investors and customers that we were capable of disrupting the existing paradigm of failures and excessive cost. The principles that have driven our innovation and success can be crystalized in our five core values:
- Pioneering Spirit—The essential core of our approach. We will venture into new areas and question the status quo. We will adapt to market realities and leverage our capabilities to maximize value-creation.
- Grit—We have done and will continue to do hard things. This requires vision, perseverance, and effort. Being a part of SHINE’s story means accepting the costs and rewards associated with our long-term plan.
- Empowered Accountability—We seek to create strong performers, give decision-making abilities to those who have earned it, and expect a sense of ownership and commitment from the people we empower.
- Responsibility—We are here to make the world better. We keep each other, our communities, and our environment safe and better than when we started. We are good stewards of the resources that have been entrusted to us.
- SHINE Together—We understand that we and our partners are one team, and success comes by working together. We assume the noble intent of our team members and use conflict to solve problems together. Communication of information happens freely throughout all levels of our organization and with our partners.
We believe these values are essential to our long-term success and ambitions in the nuclear arena and will continue to disrupt the status quo of excessive costs and lead-time. We are dedicated to driving social impact through our more efficient and sustainable solutions to disrupt the current providers’ antiquated approach and solve previously insurmountable problems. Our values have allowed us to move quicker and more cost-effectively and continue to shape our biggest competitive advantage: our people and the culture we have carefully curated.
We believe that the combination of our vision and our culture has created a unique company that will generate strong, long-term financial growth and provide tremendous benefit to humankind. I’m proud of our team’s accomplishments to date, such as achieving what we believe to be world record for the highest neutron output achieved by a man-made fusion device in a steady-state system, being granted the first construction permit granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in over 30 years, completing construction of the shell of what will be the largest medical isotope production facility on the planet on time and within budget, and adding a key therapeutic product essential to power modern cancer therapies to our product pipeline in a very short period of time.
To ensure that our company remains committed to the principles that have allowed this performance requires that our leadership remain focused on long-term outcomes. Getting fusion right is really hard technical work, and there will be many bumps along the road, but having a consistent, talented, and proven leadership team that is deeply committed to our long-term vision is paramount to our longevity and success. We will sustain investment in our company in research and development, talent, and infrastructure, and we believe that shareholders will recognize the disciplined approach we’ve carved out and intend to follow over the next years and decades.
I hope you will share my excitement over SHINE’s future as you learn more about our business and opportunities for growth. Even with all the progress we have made, we are still very much in the early innings of harnessing nuclear fusion to address some of the world’s biggest problems. I believe SHINE will play an important part in this new chapter in our human history and hope to bring a new cohort of investors and visionaries along our journey. And, as we say to our employees everyday: SHINE ON!!
Greg Piefer, Founder and CEO of SHINE Technologies