020 Josh Payne, CEO of Black Mesa Advanced Fission

Fire2Fission Podcast
Fire2Fission Podcast
020 Josh Payne, CEO of Black Mesa Advanced Fission

Josh Payne, CEO of Black Mesa Advanced Fission chats with Mark Hinaman about his career working at the Department of Energy National Labs, X-Energy, and his startup building a new nuclear fission reactor.

Watch the full discussion on Youtube. Follow along with the transcript on Descript.

020 Josh Payne, CEO of Black Mesa Advanced Fission

[00:00:00] Josh Payne: Yeah, so Black Mesa Advanced Vision we’re just barely getting going. We’re basically working on sub 100 kilowatt scale reactor. We’re just focusing on one reactor for right now one kind of product. And the idea for that is that the whole thing fits in a shipping container.

And we know that we can shield it that size in the shipping container. We can fit all the power conversion stuff in there. Most of it comes off the shelf and it’s small enough and we’re pursuing a regulatory pathway that doesn’t involve the NRC at all. And more focuses on DOD / DOE.

And that lets us get away with a lot of things that kind of plague a lot of other companies. And we’re just focusing on keeping it basically minimum viable product for nuclear applications. We’ve kind of looked at what was the minimum viable product and decided to, to go for that.

And so that’s basically what we’re doing right now is working on getting a a big program up and going for that. And, and hopefully, you know, in five years or so we’ll have, we’ll demo a reactor, which will, which pretty sweet.

[00:01:05] Intro: Just because the facts are A, if the narrative is B and everyone believes the narrative, then B is what matters. But it’s our job in our industry to speak up proudly Soberly. And to engage people in this dialogue, those two and a half billion people that are on energy poverty, they need us. America cannot meet this threat alone.

If there is a single country, of course, the world cannot meet it without America that is willing to, we’re gonna need you the next generation to finish the job. Nuclear regulations, we need scientists to design new fuels, focus on net public benefits. We need engineers to invent new technologies for over absurd levels of radiation production entrepreneurs to sell those technologies.

And we’ll march towards this. We need workers to operate a. With High Tech Zero Prosperity Football, diplomats, businessmen, and women and Peace Corps volunteers to help developing nations, the development transition sources of, in other words, we need you.

[00:02:09] Mark Hinaman: Okay. Welcome to another episode of the Fire2Fission podcast, where we talk about energy dense fuels and how they can better human lives. Our guest today is, Josh Payne, the CEO and founder of Black Mesa Advanced Fission. Very excited to chat with Josh today. It’s gonna be an awesome conversation.

We were chit chatting a little bit before we got started, and we, we get along. So, Josh, Josh, how you doing today?

[00:02:35] Josh Payne: Good, how are you, mark?

[00:02:37] Mark Hinaman: I’m jazzed.

[00:02:38] Josh Payne: I’m still a while since we missed each, met each other out in Alaska.

[00:02:42] Mark Hinaman: Yeah. Yeah. Well that was, that was a fun, that was a fun tour. Yeah. So, Josh, why don’t you give kind of a 60 second self introduction for the audience.

Then we can dive a little bit more into your background.

[00:02:53] Josh Payne: Yeah. My name’s Joshua Payne, CEO and founder of Black Mesa Advanced Vision.

I did my undergrad and masters in nuclear engineering and physics at MIT. Then went on to work at Los Alamos for eight years. Did a lot of advanced supercomputing, high performance computing. Did some satellite, did reactor modeling, reactor physics stuff. And then went on to work at X Energy for a couple years, I was one of their reactor designers, and then went off and decided to start my own thing and, you know, see if we could build some really, really tiny reactors, you know, kilowatt scale kind of thing.

Recreate the success of KRUSTY kilo power.

[00:03:27] Mark Hinaman: Love it. Yeah. We’re gonna dive into your current gig and, and your startup. We’ll talk a lot about that. But before we do, I want to touch on Los Alamos. Wait, tell us, give us color on Los Alamos. What is this lab? For, folks that are perhaps ignorant, which some people that aren’t in government, are in the national lab space, are, I was certainly for a long time, like it’s hard to keep track of how many national labs we have.

We have so many. What, did Los Alamo specialize in and what kind of work did you do?

[00:03:57] Josh Payne: Yeah, so Los Alamos National Lab, is the premier, weapons lab. Los Alamos is where the Manhattan Project was centered around. And it’s where the, the atomic bomb was essentially invented.

And a lot of nuclear history has occurred. A lot of the data that has made it possible for reactors and all sorts of things. Came out of Los Alamos. Like the first fast reactor was at Los Alamos. It was this crazy thing with plutonium and liquid mercury coolant. It was wild.

And then, these days they mostly do things like stockpile stewardship. They do a lot of advanced supercomputing to model weapons. They model all sorts of different things with these supercomputing codes. Some of the things that people may have seen are like asteroid or comment impacts.

I worked on some of those codes. I used to run the asteroid code all the time. And other like advanced plasma physics codes. I even worked on some climate codes while I was there. They do things when the pandemic hit, they were at the forefront of doing a lot of the epidemiology modeling.

They also just do a lot of general research. They have reactor groups there, they have bio groups there, they have earth sciences like tons of wildfire stuff there and forestry. it’s a pretty awesome place.

[00:05:08] Mark Hinaman: Nice. What, what was your favorite project that you worked on?

[00:05:11] Josh Payne: My favorite project that I worked on there was probably working on the I don’t know, there was a bunch of ’em and some of ’em I can’t talk about.

[00:05:24] Mark Hinaman: Your favorite one that you can talk about. Right.

[00:05:25] Josh Payne: The favorite one I can talk about. The high order, low order plasma physics code was a lot of fun.

And the ones where I got to run some things on, like the state-of-the-art supercomputers there I got to run stuff on like trinity as it was coming out and things like that. So, you know, top 10 supercomputers in the world kind of. It’s a lot of fun. And then I, I also got to do some backend stuff.

My sort of claim to fame is the code that they used to model crusty killer power with was written by a guy named Dave Poston. He was the guy who designed the reactor. They modeled it with this code called Frank, and I think I’m the only one other than Poston to have worked on that code and actually be able to like, understand what he did in that code and like I was able to modify it and spread it up by a factor of 40 for him.

[00:06:10] Mark Hinaman: Now you’ve mentioned codes several times. These are computer software programs, right?

[00:06:15] Josh Payne: Yeah. These are big supercomputer software programs.

[00:06:19] Mark Hinaman: Is, there a preferred language that you guys are writing these in or is it

[00:06:22] Josh Payne: for most things nuclear, you end up in Fortran land. I was on the teams trying to push us more towards c and c plus plus.

That was modern for, a lot of these things. There are still codes like MCM p for instance, as a big nuclear reactor code, like nuclear physics code. And the input file for that thing they call it a deck still because it has to look, exactly like a old Fortran physical card, the layout of the thing.

The, you must have an empty line here and only this many characters long and, and so forth. It has to look that way. And if you screw it up, you know, the code doesn’t run right. And that is a modern state of the art.

[00:07:03] Mark Hinaman: Why, why haven’t we upgraded nuclear code Python? Yeah. It’s, it’s loads of fun.

Why, why haven’t we uploaded these codes to Python?

[00:07:13] Josh Payne: Well, M.I.T actually has worked on, they’ve got another Monte Carlo code called Open MC that I use a lot. Actually have some very nice Python interfaces to that. But for M C P, pretty much everybody ends up writing their own Python interface to it anyway.

[00:07:28] Mark Hinaman: Gotcha. Okay, so National Labs stay super cool, lots of resources, but why’d you end up leaving? Some people make a career out of staying in National Labs?

[00:07:37] Josh Payne: I was stuck mostly in the computer sciences world, applied computer sciences.

And I wanted to get more towards doing reactor stuff. Got an opportunity to work on Project PELE with a company called X Energy. They were one of the two semi-finalists for Project PELE. So I decided to quit my job at the National Lab and, go work for them. And then when they didn’t, Get onto phase two.

I decided to quit X Energy and start up my own thing. So, you know, basically trying to figure out how to actually get a reactor built and running in a reasonable timeframe with reasonable requirements.

[00:08:17] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. Okay, so what, is your startup? It’s Black Mesa Advanced Vision, but what, is it?

Let’s, let’s chat about it.

[00:08:23] Josh Payne: Yeah, so Black Mesa Advanced Vision we’re just barely getting going. We’re basically working on sub 100 kilowatt scale reactor. We’re just focusing on one reactor for right now one kind of product. And the idea for that is that the whole thing fits in a shipping container.

And we know that we can shield it that size in the shipping container. We can fit all the power conversion stuff in there. Most of it comes off the shelf and it’s small enough and we’re pursuing a regulatory pathway that doesn’t involve the NRC at all. And more focuses on DOD / DOE.

And that lets us get away with a lot of things that kind of plague a lot of other companies. And we’re just focusing on keeping it basically minimum viable product for nuclear applications. We’ve kind of looked at what was the minimum viable product and decided to, to go for that.

And so that’s basically what we’re doing right now is working on getting a a big program up and going for that. And, and hopefully, you know, in five years or so we’ll have, we’ll demo a reactor, which will, which pretty sweet.

[00:09:29] Mark Hinaman: I’m excited. I can’t wait for the day. It’s gonna be awesome. So there’s a lot of paper reactors that exist, but why, why is yours?

Why does yours potentially have legs to be real rather than just a paper reactor? Yeah, and I’ll preface this with, when I, when I met you, I remember meeting you and you’re like, well, we’re kind of a machine shop that has a nuclear problem.

[00:09:49] Josh Payne: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Essentially. Yeah. That’s, that’s really what we’re trying to build as a, a machine shop, a manufacturing shop with a a nuclear engineering problem.

And, and so, you know, we’re, because it’s such a small system, we can vertically integrate everything. That’s actually a reasonable thing to achieve with something that’s under a hundred kilowatts. It’s the, we’re using Halo like everybody else, but it’s, you know, such a small amount that it’s underneath the the lowest security category risk.

In terms of we’ve done modeling studies, if you blow this thing up, what kind of, you know, and you disperse it. Somebody drops a nuke on the thing, blows it up and spreads the material everywhere. What kind of doses you get. It turns out you basically stay below rad worker dose limits, like right there at ground zero, and you go less than a quarter of a mile away, and you’re at the dose level of like a, a standard medical treatments like a CT scan or a PET scan or something.

And basically that just simplifies everything we, that simplifies the whole system, simplifies the design. It’s all passive. There’s no pumps or anything like that, that’s just, we can do that because it’s such a small amount of power. And most people are like, well, oh, less than a hundred kilowatts.

What can you actually do with that? Well, it turns out you can do a lot, like vast majority of like diesel generators, like for backup power, standby power or remote power. You know, sell your network communications construction sites, hospitals f a radar sites, f FAA towers, all sorts of things.

Just running. Government buildings for continuance of government operations, all sorts of things require sub hundred kilowatt generators. Or really, you want multiple sub 100 kilowatt generators. So you have n minus one redundancy. And that’s, the applications that we’re targeting right now is be able to like rapidly deploy these things and and make them, so you can move them anywhere really quickly or they’re, there for when you have a really bad day.

Is is the goal Backup generators, right? Yeah. Super helpful. We have a regulatory pathway to go do this. We’re basically mimicking what kill power did the crusty killer power reactor, which is, yeah.

[00:11:56] Mark Hinaman: You mentioned this once before and I, I’m on the quiz. Yeah. And I had a sneaking attack. So what is crusty?

What is this project? And for people that are unfamiliar with it? Yeah. You know the guys personally, so.

[00:12:07] Josh Payne: Yes. So I, know the, crusty killer power guys personally, I worked with them at Lannel and I’m good friends with them even today. They’re now trying to, so they think the only way that they’re gonna get a new reactor built and run is if they launch it into space and run it around the moon.

They think that that is easier than building it here on earth and running it here on earth, which they already are the only ones who have actually run a new reactor in the US in like the last 50 years. Like an advanced reactor. Vogel just turned odd, so, you know, can’t fully say that anymore, but it’s pretty dang close.

So that crusty was, or the killer power project was a joint NASA lannel program that basically they built a one kilowatt electric sterling generator heat pipe reactor. It was fueled with highly enriched uranium Meum alloy. It was just a block. It was about that big around. It about the size of a paper towel roll was the whole fricking reactor, and it was just reflected.

Yes, there you go. And and then it literally had heat pipes just strapped to the side of it. There were just these rings that they heat shrunk onto the side of it and that held the heat pipes onto it and they, you know, failed heat pipes on it. They like ran it through all sorts of different tests.

And they did this in three and a half years for 17 and a half million dollars with 10 guys like nothing. And that’s the only thing we’ve really done. And they, they did a bunch of things and basically set up a, so that they could get it built, get it run, get it tested, and gave themselves milestones that they had to reach as they were bringing it up in power and, and things like that.

Make sure that you know their codes and their models accurately, matched reality. And so if they’re. If the experiment had a different result than their model, then they would’ve to go back. It turned out they’d never had to do that because their, their goal was to be within 10% of, ther couples and, which is gonna be plus or minus 50 degrees Celsius or so.

They were within one degree Celsius on all of their like transients and everything, which is from an engineering perspective, that is impressive. That is incredibly impressive. So now, those guys are, have started a company called Space Nuclear Corporation or Space Nukes, and they are working on basically flying crusty or something very similar to Crusty around the moon.

And I believe that they are trying, they’re working to get the, there’s an Air Force program for that for. Yeah, they’re I don’t think the contract has been awarded yet, but they’re at least applying for it, so. Okay.

[00:14:42] Mark Hinaman: I’ve got a dumb question. So you, you mentioned heat pipes, the industry throws this technology around all the time.

Yes. But when I’ve spoken to one vendor before, they said, turns out heat pipes aren’t really common. And some people are gonna have to go and vet them themselves, and, you know, we actually think that we’ve invented a really good one. We wanna sell it to other people.

What, what are heat pipes? How are they different from regular pipes? And do you think that necessary in the industries?

[00:15:07] Josh Payne: So heat pipes are really cool. Yeah. Heat pipes are really cool. They’re they’re invented in actually at Los Alamos I think in the fifties or sixties. And they’re everywhere.

They’re in computers, they’re in like laptops. Have them, your desktop will have them They’re in all sorts of spacecraft. They’re, they’re all over the place. Basically what they do is they operate on the fact that if you take a, a sealed container like a pipe or something and you suck all the air out of it and you put a little bit of liquid in there a lot of the ones in your computer will just have water in ’em.

That just a little bit of heat will cause that water to boil. It’ll then go up to a colder side, condense and then go back down to the, the hot side. And sometimes they use a little, they use special materials in there’re called wicks that work like the same way that trees bring water up their trunks through capillary action.

And so that will bring the water back to the hot side. And so it basically is a, a natural little loop. And because they work on the sort of vaporizing of the water and then recon condensing it, they end up being almost exactly the same temperature at the hot end and the cold end. And. You can get thermal conductivities, effective thermal conductivities orders of magnitude higher than even like copper or silver.

They’re, basically a passive device, but you can get incredibly high performance out of them.

[00:16:29] Mark Hinaman: Hence why reactor developers really love this. Yes. Especially small, horrible ones, right? Yep.

[00:16:34] Josh Payne: And there’s a, there’s a funny story about heat pipes and reactors. So back when they were doing starting a proposed crusty there were people that told patent poston that they, that you can’t put a heat pipe in a reactor.

Nobody’s done that before. You can’t put a heat pipe and a reactor. It won’t work. It won’t work. So they went out and there was another experiment at the Nevada test site, which is where they ended up running crusty called flat top. And so they did this experiment called duff, and you might be recognizing a pattern here between duff crusty Frank.

Few other things. Poston has a thing for the Simpsons. So they called this experiment duff, called demonstration using flat top fission which was, they took a heat pipe and duff was this little, like hundred watt critical experiment and it had a hole in it called the glory hole. They took a heat pipe and they shoved it in the glory hole and they measured the temperature at one both ends.

I think they even put a sterling at the, the cold end and turned on the little a hundred wat reactor and it worked. And they had to do that to show to people who said, no, you can’t make a heat pipe work in a reactor. So they, they went, they did it. Yeah.

[00:17:43] Mark Hinaman: This is like a, such a cool physics phenomena.

Yeah. I meaning like the state change of matter from liquid to gas, transports energy very efficiently. Well, yes. Effectively we’ll say. Right? Yeah. And, and norm, with heat transfer, right? Normally you, you have to have a temperature differential to move heat, but if you just have a phase change instead, then you can very effectively move energy, move heat.

And that’s the, characteristic that these exploit, right?

[00:18:11] Josh Payne: Yep. And then if you’re in like gravity, you can use gravity to then exploit the density differences to drive it. And that’s called a thermo siphon. And those can smooth a lot of energy very quickly. Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty cool stuff. And it kind of simplifies a lot of things.

But what was cool about Crusty is because they were using heat pipes and it was. Isothermal all the way up across it responded very quickly to temperature changes. And so it just acted like a cons, like reactors just want to act like a constant temperature source. Like in electricity you would call that a constant voltage source.

So a reactor just wants to stay at one specific temperature and it will move its power output up and down automatically to keep itself at that temperature. So you pull out more heat it will start making more power to to replace that heat. It’s pretty cool.

[00:18:59] Mark Hinaman: Why is that you say reactors?

Is that a, a reality of many

reactors? All nuclear?

That’s, that’s actually a reality of, many nuclear reactors. Pretty much anything with a negative temperature coefficient. So basically it acts like a, an island of stability. So if you have a well, U-shaped thing, it basically wants to maintain that little, that little stable area.

Why does everyone say that they can’t load follow? That’s intrinsic load follow

[00:19:23] Josh Payne: Because people, those people have no clue about plant dynamics or reactor dynamics or anything. It’s people ignorant. Yeah, like I can always make any kind of big coal or nuclear plant or anything with a gas turbine.

I can make it load fall. You know how you run it full out and they’re on all gas turbines. In all steam turbines, you have this wonderful thing, it’s called a steam bypass valve or a turbine bypass valve. And basically it’s just a pipe that instead of going through the turbine, it goes around the turbine and you can open up a valve on that and direct steam to go around your turbine.

And now it, your turbine produces less power, bam, load following done. And like you can load follow down to zero and you can go really fast both down and back up. And that’s, how all power plants load follow. That’s not something you really do. The, reason you don’t load follow with a nuclear plant is because your fuel is basically free.

You might as well just run it flat out all the time. Yeah, makes sense.

[00:20:27] Mark Hinaman: So you, you had mentioned some applications of your system. Which are really cool, and, you’re targeting this a hundred kilowatt power target. Is that thermal or


[00:20:38] Josh Payne: Sub 100 kilowatts electric, so, okay.

And, sub 500 kilowatts thermal. Okay, cool. But I won’t go specific.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The advantage though is that you want this to be entirely self-contained, right?

Yes. And then so that, you can br put it on a trailer and literally just drop it off and turn it on and, and plug stuff into it.

Yeah. So,

[00:21:00] Mark Hinaman: Awesome. First of all, super cool, there’s a lot of people that think that this can’t be done or that, it, there’s, that, there’s a lot of hurdles to, to overcome, to do it. You had mentioned, I think you mentioned like a non-proliferation risk is mm-hmm. Is that real?

What, why?

[00:21:17] Josh Payne: Yeah. So there really isn’t one, and, and the reason I, we kind of say this is, so one of my co-founders, one of my buddies Nick he’s also on our team. His day job is building nuclear weapons, right? And so what we like to say is, all right, he builds nuclear weapons on a weekly basis and he could not build a nuclear weapon out of this.

There literally is just not enough facile material in the core to build a weapon out of you’re literally better off using it to run for the electricity to run centrifuges in like a clandestine manner than, to try. Because as soon as you crack into, so like you crack into any reactor, any kind of, anything that has fission fragments, You’re gonna set off alarms at every single nuclear power plant in 5,000 miles, because we can detect single atoms of those things.

That’s how sensitive the detectors are. It will not be something that you will hide.

[00:22:14] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, I don’t think that gets talked about enough, like just monitoring systems

for Oh yeah.

[00:22:21] Josh Payne: There was a like when the invasion of Ukraine first started, I think there was, there was some talk about, oh, the Russians were going through Chernobyl and stuff like that.

And it came up, some, some people were sharing the monitoring network they have around Chernobyl and Ukraine, and it’s a, there are tens of thousands of radiation detectors and sensors and monitors like within one country and, and then you. Because they’re really small and they’re really cheap.

They’re not that expensive. They’re very simple and they are very sensitive. Like I said, you can detect down to single atoms of things. And you can know exactly what that atom is too, because you can see if you, there’s detectors that measure the energy of whatever photon or particle hits them, and that gives you a spectrum and that can tell you exactly what isotope, not even at Element, but isotope.

That is there. And you know, you see an isotope that does not belong in nature and you can tell, alright, the only way that thing where that came from was fizzing of this material. And so you can, and then you basically look at your map and you look at the hotspot and you can track, where all the stuff is.

It’s not that hard. We’re very, very good at measuring nuclear, like radiation, like insanely good. And it kind of freaks people out because people see all these numbers and they have no idea what they mean. But a lot of times, like I’ve seen people complaining about a Becker 10 beckels per liter and it’s well a beckel is one atomic decay per second.

That is so if you have 10 beckerls per liter, you’re seeing 10 atoms decay a second. If you have any idea how many atoms are in a leader, it’s 10 to the 23. It’s, it’s nothing like, the fact, the only reason we know about, it’s because our detectors are so good. Yeah, A chemist would never be able to find those atoms, but a nuclear engineer could.

[00:24:22] Mark Hinaman: So what, what are some of the technical considerations of kinda your system or other systems that folks aren’t thinking about? And I’ll ask this question’s broad. You can be as specific as broad.

[00:24:32] Josh Payne: So a lot of the, one of the big hurdles like for technical hurdles is going to be the shielding is very difficult.

It is very hard to shield out neutrons and gammas because like neutrons, when they’re, when they come out of a fission, they’re born fast. They’re going really, really fast. Like they’re on the order of two mega electron volts, which doesn’t really mean a whole lot but eventually you wanna slow ’em down to less than a single electron vol.

The way that you do that is you bounce ’em off stuff, typically you bounce ’em off hydrogen. That’s how a most nuclear reactors work. They’re, it’s where they’re called light water reactors. They use the, the hydrogen in water to moderate the neutrons and slow ’em down. Because it’s really hard to capture when they’re going that fast.

If you think about trying to catch a speeding bullet versus, a softball so. That takes space to slow those things down. And then when they get captured, when they finally get absorbed, and typically use something like boron or another element called gadolinium there’s a bunch of other things that, that like to eat neutrons.

Have massive, massive cross-sections. When they eat the neutron, they under, that’s a nuclear reaction, and they will undergo some sort of relaxation and they’ll spit off a photon. A lot of times that photon is a gamma ray, which is another thing that is a neutral particle that just goes through a lot of stuff.

And to slow those down, those have to hit a whole lot of electrons. And so it can just take a whole lot of stuff to, to, shield out the the radiation even from a really small system. So that’s been one of the most challenging parts of this is, is getting that, that shielding. You know, down and to within, within element.

Fortunately we have a, pretty solid standard for this which is the the spent fuel, transport containers. We know what the radiation dose limits are for those. Those have been well defined, well laid out, and they’re fairly reasonable. And so that’s kind of what we’re, what we’re designing to.

That’s, that’s probably, it’s a fairly conservative standard still, but it’s, a reasonable one. Nice. So, and, then there’s a bunch of legal stuff is, probably more the the hard part over the technical stuff.

[00:26:43] Mark Hinaman: I agree. We’ll, we’ll dive into that.

Yeah. But the technical’s more interesting to me.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. The legal’s

like a person, a people problem,

which is annoying,

[00:26:52] Josh Payne: But trying to fit all that shielding into one box, especially when you only got A few feet on either side of the reactor core to shield it out before it goes to the sides. And then you don’t know I can’t count anything that’s out there.

That’s not an easy task. Yeah.

Do you anticipate these systems being transportable after they’ve been turned

on? That is the goal. Once again, that is more of a regulatory thing than a technic, than a technical thing. So yeah, that’s, they should be like we’re basically designing them to be effectively spent fuel cast that, you power.

Yeah, exactly. So there’s no reason that you shouldn’t, but there are some states that, like Idaho for instance, you are not allowed to bring vision products like spent fuel into the state of Idaho, which is. An interesting problem. That’s a little ironic, isn’t it? Yeah. Considering you have Idaho National Lab there if you have a single gram of plutonium in your material, you cannot put that thing on an airplane and fly it anymore.

But, you know, a nuclear weapon with a, a full pu pit Oh yeah, that’s fine. But, but a reactor core or a little pellet to spent fuel with a teeny little gram of Pluto, Johnny. Nope. Too dangerous. Yeah. That make no sense.

Yeah. So you’re, well actually this was a question. Does the fuel are you guys planning on using LAU, LAU plus?

We’re using Halo. So Halo in, yeah. And, and we’re using it in, a different form than most people. But it is something that is. It’s a form that’s been well established for 50, 60 years. It has a very strong negative temperature coefficient. And people who know reactor stuff might, might get that, I won’t say it right out loud, but they use this fuel and reactors that they let college freshmen run.

So, should be feasible. Let anyone work. Yeah. Yeah. The goal is this thing needs to be simple enough for, pretty much, any mechanic or anybody who operates a diesel generator can, can operate one of these things. So yeah, it’s gotta be simple.

[00:29:01] Mark Hinaman: Cool. What’s, what’s your guys’ current estimated timeline to deployment.

[00:29:07] Josh Payne: Now moving forward? So, yeah I mean it’s hopefully somewhere around four, around five years from now, we’d hope to, about four years from now we’d hope to turn on the the first unit.

And then, two years to a year to two years after that, deliver five units and then rapidly ramp up to 50 to a hundred units a year kind of thing, which, Sounds like a lot, we’d have a factory that’d be pumping out as many reactors as have been deployed in the United, like half the number of reactors have been deployed in the United States entire history, like every year.

But these things have like way less material in the men. Any single reactor. Yeah.

[00:29:50] Mark Hinaman: Are they just air cooled? 500 thermal ish.

[00:29:52] Josh Payne: Yeah. Yeah. It’s off the back end of the Sterlings. The Sterlings have, standard, water glycol heat exchange, same thing you find in your car, goes to a radiator, so.

Gotcha. That’s, yeah, you’re rejecting a couple hundred kilowatts of heat, which is about what a card rejects, so. Yeah.

[00:30:12] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So you mentioned going down a different route, not chasing the nrc. Mm-hmm. Why.

[00:30:21] Josh Payne: So there’s a couple different reasons. One, the NRC doesn’t really quite know how to handle systems this small.

It would likely, at least for a, any kind of like commercial or actual use case, they, there’s some provisions for handling them as like a, as a research reactor or something. But even then that is trying to license anything like that commercially is going to be crazy. Like they, they don’t quite know how to handle the mobile aspect of it, like picking up, like running it, picking up, moving it and running it again.

Everything in the, they’re currently licensed regulations is very site specific. You have to do all sorts of very site specific analysis and everything like that. It’s like, all right, we have to do a full seismic analysis on the site that we’re going to set this thing up at. Well, what about. We’re only gonna run it here for an hour and then we’re gonna pick it up and we’re gonna move it.

Do we need to run a seismic analysis for there? Did I mention that we’re going to be driving it on a four by four, like a four by four off road, in between these two sites? I don’t think that the earthquake is going to do the same amount of, wear and tear on it the taking it offroading will, the potholes that we’re gonna Yeah, yeah.

I have a feeling that the potholes are a little bit more extreme than a, the forces involved there are a little more extreme than a seismic event. But that’s, that means you have to apply for exceptions and exemptions to all of these different things and. Then on top of that, you have things like 10 cfr 50.43 E, which basically explicitly states that they aren’t going to license anything that uses, like any non lightwater reactor that uses any kind of advanced or simplified or passive, safety technologies.

Unless it looks like a giant LWR they don’t know what to do with it. They won’t give you any credit for those things, and they explicitly won’t license it unless you already have a whole bunch of data showing that it already works.

[00:32:21] Mark Hinaman: Which it’s kind of, yeah, it’s catch 22 here, right?

[00:32:24] Josh Payne: Yeah. It’s, it’s a catch 22. We won’t, we won’t license.

[00:32:26] Mark Hinaman: Use data to prove to them that it works, but you can’t turn it on to get the data unless they give you a license. But they won’t give you a license unless you can show them the data that it works. That’s guys, this is recursive.

[00:32:38] Josh Payne: Yeah. Exactly.

It’s a chicken and egg problem. There’s, there’s literally no way to, to do that unless at some point they decide to break the chain and then, but that’s all up to them at that point. There’s no they get to decide everything that, whether it’s or not. And they’re not incentivized to break the chain.

Yes, exactly. In fact, they’re disincentivized to break the chain because if they break the chain then, and something, no matter what goes wrong, even if nobody actually ever gets hurt, but there’s a you mouth a little bit of fuel or there’s, a tiny, like a little bit of tridium links, well below any EPA limits, suddenly they’re getting sued because they authorize this react, they license this reactor and, these, environmental groups with operating budgets in the billions of dollars a year decide to just sue them.

So I can understand why they’re very hesitant to, to do anything. It’s a tough spot to be in. But yeah, it’s.

[00:33:36] Mark Hinaman: So what’s, what’s the alternative then? You’ve mentioned DOD DOE.

[00:33:39] Josh Payne: Yeah, so there’s, there’s really only two alternatives to that. There’s department of Energy has the capability of licensing reactors themselves if like you can, and also for their, have no idea that that’s a reality.

Yeah. So do DOE basically has its own authority to license its reactors and also license reactors for their contractors, for anybody executing a DOE contract and subcontractors. So they can, like those guys, doe contractors and subcontractors are all exempt from the licensing requirements.

DOE has, can have their own process. The other alternative is DOD just like DOE DOD is allowed to set up their own process This. Away from the nrc. There are a number of things that you do have to still get NRC licenses for. For things like just having the material on site and some of these other things, being able to have radiological inventory, you just, you have to go through the NRC for that license.

But as far as reactors go, those are basically the only terms. There’s another really weird one that is any US government owned vehicle or vessel. And the vehicle part intrigues me a lot because it’s like, could you build a trailer that you have a US government license plate on that also has a reactor on it, and suddenly that’s a us that’s a vehicle.

It’s a registered vehicle at that point. That’s a US government registered vehicle. Would that be license exempt?

[00:35:16] Mark Hinaman: Maybe we just do that and ask for forgiveness.

[00:35:19] Josh Payne: Yeah, exactly. That’s a quick way to get the rules changed. Yeah. Yeah. I’m sure they, they’d find some way to yeah. To, to get very upset with you on that one. Yeah.

[00:35:29] Mark Hinaman: So DOD DOD is obvious to me, right? Military, they’re don’t with pay. Like they,

[00:35:34] Josh Payne: so pelee is still being licensed misconception, right?

Yeah. No one.

[00:35:37] Mark Hinaman: Can have guns, military can have guns. Not only can the military have guns, the military can have lots of things that

[00:35:43] Josh Payne: Yes, yes.

[00:35:44] Mark Hinaman: We agree. That’s acceptable. Yeah. And they play by a different rule book. But the doe is really interesting to me. So, when you said contractors, would this be like any contract?

I guess I’m ignorant about this. Help educate me.

[00:35:56] Josh Payne: I, it’s, it basically goes back to, INL is actually run by, I’m. Pretty like Los Alamos. I know Sandia the Nevada test site, and I’m pretty sure INL as well, they’re all run by contractors for the Department of Energy. And so basically, all the reactors at I N L, those are run by a contractor for the Department of Energy and then also by subcontractors and other things.

So there is, there is kind of that pathway there. Could doe possibly say, form a contract with a private company to build their test reactor and run their test reactor on doe land and sell the energy to DOE. Or not even sell the energy to doe but doe uses the energy and as a, and then as a DOE contractor, they could build and run that reactor on doe land.

Like there are potentially avenues like that that. Could be explored. And that’s sort of kind of the purpose of I N L. But that’s kind of what they did at, with Prostate Killer Power. It was a D OE reactor that they ran at a DOE facility, which was the Nevada test site. And so there’s there’s tons old reactor buildings and stuff like that on various DOE sites that probably could be used for some of these things that are even licensed already to handle the material handle critical assemblies.

That’s kind of what they’re doing with Marvel at I n l. They’ve got a pit that they can use at the treat reactor facility, and so they’re just, They’ve got a hole in the ground that they can put the reactor in and run the reactor in. So it’s kind of what they designed the reactor for is to be able to fit that hole in the ground.

[00:37:35] Mark Hinaman: That’s, it’s not a very useful reactor. I’ve got I’ve got certain feelings about that reactor. Yeah. But

[00:37:41] Josh Payne: yeah. But it is, it is at least something. Yeah. So, but yeah, it’s like, I think there could be a potential pathway there that doe really could help accelerate companies especially prototyping, things like it, it could even be like you, the NRC needs, right?

Yeah. Maybe, maybe you could even build and operate it for test data test phase, under a Department of Energy contract and, and then that gives you the test data. And then you go and go through, I don’t even know how you would do it if you already have a built reactor and then you want to go operate it as a commercial facility.

Would you have to go through like part 50 is a two part process. You get a license for construction, a license for operation. Could you just do the licensing for operation at that point, like Right. And then suddenly you skip a whole, the whole first half of it, and you just go to the NRC with, here’s all of our operational data construct.

We already have it constructed. We’ve been operating it, we have all the operational data, we have all the safety data. All of our models and stuff work and are validated against this. We just want an operating license so that we can hook it up to the grid.

[00:38:51] Mark Hinaman: Did you just have an epiphany on this podcast?

[00:38:54] Josh Payne: No. No. I’ve been thinking about this one for a while, but it’s something that is, it’s been tickling my brain for a little bit and, I don’t know. How feasible it is or not, but it seems like there’s, there could be, there could be some way. I think if people really think about some clever ways to sort of hack the regulatory process, you can in a way to actually get things done.

With nuclear stuff though, it terrifies a lot of people to think about hacking the regulatory process. So, you know, yeah.

[00:39:21] Mark Hinaman: They, well, they wanna say that they followed both sides. Wanna say, well, we followed the process that we had and

[00:39:26] Josh Payne: Yep.

[00:39:27] Mark Hinaman: You know, we looked at everything and we did our best and worked really hard which the opportunity cost lost.

Yes. Along the way. Yeah. Millions of people dying from air pollution along the way because we took too much time to license emission free energy. Yeah.

[00:39:43] Josh Payne: That’s problem we have the nuclear industry, nuclear power industry. I think there has been a total of 14 deaths total.

Occupational deaths in the nuclear industry. I think all but two of those, only one or two of of those was in the us and only one or two of those were radiation related, but I don’t think they actually were radiation related. They were still killed. There was radiation involved, but they’re still killed by steam or blunt trauma from being pinned to the stealing by an injected control rod.

For instance. That one was problematic. Yeah. SL one or, they had big piece of heavy equipment drop them. So that’s, it’s about 14 in the last 60 years. Yeah. In the US every year. Yeah. In, in the US every year. I think there’s something on the order of 12 to 25 coal mining deaths, just, just like from mine accidents and things like that.

Every year I’ve worked in a mine. It’s dangerous. Yeah, I know. Like it’s. It’s kind of ludicrous. The, the degree to which we make things so safe, we end up just, offshoring basically the, the deaths and the hazards to other industries because , it’s, yeah, yeah. Because we’re too afraid to do anything ourselves, and it’s, I’m right there with you, man.

It’s kind of disappointing.

[00:41:04] Mark Hinaman: So your your system, you’ve got this vision that, well, if you need more than a hundred kilowatts electric, like we’ll just stack multiple of

[00:41:12] Josh Payne: these next to each other and like

Yep. Or you buy somebody else’s system. Yeah, yeah.

[00:41:19] Mark Hinaman: There, which , I think it’s a great strategy that, you know, little larger land footprint.


do you perceive being able to like,

Actually stack them So that, it would just be a vertical footprint, or do you need them to not be on top of each other? Cooling?

[00:41:34] Josh Payne: No, the cooling would be fine. It’s the the radiation shielding, like it gets hard and so we’re kind of relying on, on having the ground there for, for some of the, for the gamma shielding.

Like we can knock out most of the neutrons before it gets to the ground, so we aren’t like activating a ton of stuff. And then, because the power is so low, you just don’t have a whole lot of neutrons to begin with, but it’s the gammas, having to shield all the way around it for the gammas gets kind of rough, so.


[00:42:02] Mark Hinaman: So having a base layer at least, yeah. Yeah. That could be gen two, right? Like build, build a gen one first and then, we can iterate and, improve later.

[00:42:12] Josh Payne: Yeah. So, and then, basically we’re basically just trying to stay in this kind of really small niche, like not, there’s.

There’s a ma there’s so much demand for this sort of scale of system that it is going to be difficult for us to meet that demand. I think, even in the long haul.

So these systems are everywhere. Like every, town will have thousands of these things and, you just don’t even notice ’em, they’re just floating around. You can drive by a construction yard and there’s probably 20 or 30 of ’em sitting out there in a construction yard that are about that size.

And or, for rental or whatever. It’s, going to be very difficult, I think to actually meet the kind of, if we’re only making, a couple hundred of these a year, like we make a bunch of factories and we’re making a couple hundred a year. Just the US demand alone is going to be difficult to meet.

And then let alone, we start looking at remote communities up in Canada or, we go to remote villages in Africa or all sorts of places island nations, which are paying something like $20 megawatt or, you know, $20 a gallon on average for diesel, which works out to be $2,000 a megawatt hour.

Like it’s, they don’t have cheap electricity. This whole idea of just focusing on the like sub hundred dollars megawatt hour kind of. Energy market. Like there’s, there’s a whole bunch. It’s bad business. It’s, actually really bad business. Yeah. It’s like you don’t need to be the cheapest electricity producer to sell electricity.

There is a lot of electricity that is bought and sold every single day for, hundreds of dollars, a megawatt hour to thousands of dollars, a megawatt hour. And, you just have to find those, those locations in those markets and figure out how to meet them. And so I think there’s, a bunch of different pathways and niches I don’t like.

We’re gonna need all sorts of different reactors. We’re gonna need things that are less than a hundred kilowatts. We’re gonna need things that are gigawatt, one and a half gigawatts. Like the energy system is diverse and people have different requirements and needs for their energy system.


[00:44:09] Mark Hinaman: Then you, so for four years, we won’t hold you to that cuz you know, things happen. Could go faster. Yep. Could go slower. But what I mean is does there need to be a lot of technological advances for this or are all the systems on your machine essentially already at T R L

[00:44:27] Josh Payne: I mean it’s all 50, 60 year old.

It’s like all 1950s and sixties tech. So like I, go do patent searches for stuff

[00:44:34] Mark Hinaman: and it’s like you being allowed to build this tomorrow and had all the money in the world, you could place the order for all components and piece.

[00:44:40] Josh Payne: It together and have that. Yeah. And, and like all of the, reactors, like the lowest t r o partner.

Right? Yeah. And that is something that I can make on commercially available CNC machines. It’s, and, by most of the stock material off the shelf, I don’t have to custom order stock material or anything like that. Yeah. So it’s, nothing like crazy. Yeah. But it’s, a lot of the, thing is, is, you know, it’s, it’s not hard to design the system and to you know, be able to kind of prove to yourself and, and a number of people that it’ll work.

It’s, it’s proving to the regulator that it will work exactly the way that you say it will work, and in all of the different ways that things can go wrong, that you can prove to them that it will behave exactly as you say, it will behave. That’s the hard part is, proving all of those things. Doing the design itself is not, too terribly difficult.

They’ve designed these things 50, 60 years ago on with slide rules. We’ve got, basically the equivalent of supercomputers back then today, like on our phones. It’s, yeah.

[00:45:49] Mark Hinaman: It’s awesome. Yeah. Okay. So what’s, what’s the most impactful step we can take to building more nuclear?

[00:45:57] Josh Payne: A S A P? ASAP p if we can get some kind of, carve out exemption like for prototype reactors or somebody can step up and, and actually, allow for a, quick path to like almost a, nuclear sandbox nuclear playground where people, where companies can go out and build reactors, with a very simple, sort of milestone based, step based regulatory process where it’s basically you just, you start out with a small amount of material, that’s not gonna do much.

And work your way on up. Start at low power, work your way up, kind of prove that all your codes and stuff work, because it’s basically, that’s the hard part. Like I said, it’s proving that your stuff works. You need a play gr you need a place where you can build the stuff and prove that it works. We like, that’s how, I mean we, the Starship launch was, yesterday.

They, they blew the thing up but it did what they, they needed it to do and, you know, and then it blew up. We don’t need to blow up nuclear reactors. They actually used to do that in the fifties and sixties. They literally rigged reactors to blow. I think they, there were some that they, literally rigged the control rods to launch out of the reactor so fast that they could get the reactor to blow up.

We don’t need to do that, but we need someplace where we can literally, Build prototypes of things and, and prove that those systems works and work through, because when you build anything, you’re never gonna make it perfect. Like from the design. There are things you can never design a perfect system on a computer or, in a lab.

There are things that you just don’t know. You don’t know until you go build it. Anybody who’s done a house home project or, any kind of woodworking or construction project knows that yeah, I did all these plans and I had all the perfect plan, and then I went and did it. And then I was like, well, crap, I forgot that.

[00:47:45] Mark Hinaman: It’s so annoying to me, but it’s, so real. Right? Yeah. It’s like one of the hardest parts about actually doing stuff is

[00:47:50] Josh Payne: Yeah.

[00:47:52] Mark Hinaman: I totally agree. You know, Jack Devaney, Right. The guy, has this recommendation for a proto park. Yep. Right. And I think we could put this on like old mine lands or, you know,

[00:48:02] Josh Payne: I know is kind of supposed to be this Yeah.

[00:48:05] Mark Hinaman: Yeah, I n l should be right? This is is supposed to be new. Yeah.

[00:48:09] Josh Payne: Or I mean like the Nevada test site, we have literally nuked the state of Nevada something like 900 times. We’ve set up like 900 nukes in the state of Nevada. Yeah. It’s, just mind blowing. Like when people think about giant nuclear exchanges, they think about like hundreds or, a thousand nukes or something.

We’ve done that to just one state.

When you find it on Google Maps, you can see all the craters and then about test site. It’s pretty cool to go see. Oh, that’s, I’ve never thought of that. I’ll have to, we’ve, we’ve blow, we’ve literally taken reactors and breaked them to explode out there. So it’s, yeah, it, seems like it’s not something that is terribly crazy.

The problem is, like the public perception of low back, and I think, at some point, All the people who are actually legitimate experts in this need to just be able to say no, like this is not something to freak out about, if something goes wrong yeah, and, actually take control of the situation and, get the right information out there.

People probably don’t know it, but it was, I think a year ago, two years ago, there was a fuel melt incident right outside of DC. The, at the the NIST reactor had an incident where they melted fuel. It’s literally a meltdown, like 45 minutes outside of DC in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Guess what?

Nobody cared. Guess what? Nobody cared. Nobody knew about it. Yeah. So, because it, because it wasn’t a big deal, Yeah. For

[00:49:44] Mark Hinaman: But see, but I put, I put that on the nuclear industry for yeah. Making meltdown fuel historically.

[00:49:49] Josh Payne: Like melting fuel in and of itself is not a big deal. It’s, it’s happened hundreds of times over the years, like in various different reactors.

And it’s the, thing that we ultimately care about is giving somebody a dose that will harm them is causing harm to somebody. Sure, melting fuel means that you have compromised one of your layers, but then you’ve got a whole bunch of layers behind that to, to prevent that ultimate, causing of harm to somebody.

And as long as you can do that, like the melting of the fuel really isn’t that big of a deal.

[00:50:25] Mark Hinaman: Okay. So how, how can people help? You guys are a startup, you’re scrappy, I’ll say, right? Yeah. But also very intelligent, lots of experience. So how, how can folks help help you?

[00:50:35] Josh Payne: Right now we’re, we’re basically just kind of churn it along. We’re working on, getting some things, together through various bureaucracies. And hopefully we’ll have a lot more, later this year or early next year. So we’re basically just kind of operating under the radar at the moment. And Nice.

[00:50:53] Mark Hinaman: You’re like, well, they come back to us in six.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And,

We’ll, we’ll have better recommendations. Yeah. We gotta got, we’re working to Yeah. Go through our, our workflow and way of mapped out for this year.

[00:51:04] Josh Payne: The biggest thing is just kind of, be advocates for, be advocates for nuclear. Yeah. Yeah. And for go learn about nuclear, go, go learn about reactors and some of the accidents and like how many, like how few people have actually gotten hurt from nuclear stuff.

There’s guys, there’s a guy in Iran who’s 80 years old and his house gets, he gets 250 Millis a year in his house that is like the maximum emergency dose for a radiation worker. And he gets that every year, like in his, in his home. And he’s 80 years old and he’s lived there his whole life.

There’s been people who have been dosed. It’s crazy. We, need to rethink about rework, how we think about nuclear risks and we need to, nuclear should not be special. Like the problem is, we treat nuclear as special and, we need to advocate for stop to stop treating.

Nuclear is special. It needs to be, Treated just the same as any other, chemical, biological, thermal, mechanical hazard that, that we deal with all the time. It’s, it’s nothing crazy.

[00:52:11] Mark Hinaman: So Totally agree. Where did the name black Mesa Advanced Vision come from?

[00:52:15] Josh Payne: From the Mesas of Los Alamos to the Black Hills of South Dakota is my, buddy and I kind of met each other in Los Alamos, and there are a number of things there called Black Mesa.

And so we wanted a, fun, catchy little name has absolutely zero, connection to a certain laboratory, fictional laboratory out of a video game that may or may not have been based, that was also in New Mexico and may or may not have been based on Los Alamos zero connection there whatsoever.

Ignore the fact that, I am also an m MIT trained physicist.

Okay. Well, Josh, this has been great. Le why don’t you leave us on a positive thought. What’s your vision of the future? What’s 10, 20 years and how, are you gonna help?

Brought there. I, I think in the next 10 to 20 years, we’re gonna see a massive explosion of, nuclear technology. I think we’re gonna see a true not, a nuclear renaissance, because we really don’t have much to start out from, but it’s going to be sort of like a, a golden age.

A golden age of nuclear development. I think, it’s coming. They’re, the support is growing. I’ve been talking to people up in Congress and, all over the place and the, support for nuclear stuff has been like growing exponentially, like far beyond my wildest expectations.

And people are starting to learn about it. They’re starting to ask like, why is this sat there for all these years? What can we do to fix it? What can we do to unlock this technology and, set it free. Let the nuclear engineers like change the world, remove the handcuffs.

[00:53:51] Mark Hinaman: I love it.

Josh, thanks so much for taking the time.

[00:53:54] Josh Payne: It’s been awesome chat with you. Yeah, it’s great chatting with you too, mark.

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