The Tech Entrepreneur Who Thinks He Can Reverse Climate Change With Nuclear Power
Bret Kugelmass believes nuclear energy can regain popularity if we can make it profitable
“We have to convince the rest of the world,” Bret Kugelmass tells an audience of engineers at the University of Michigan, “that nuclear isn’t as bad as they once thought.”
Speaking in slow, carefully enunciated sentences, he paces the stage, his hair slicked back in a swoop. We not only have to stop climate change but reverse it, he argues — and the only way to do so is by doubling down on nuclear energy. For that to work, he continues, the economics of the industry have to change, along with people’s minds. Accomplishing both is his raison d’être.
These budding engineers are intrigued about how they can help. In addition to a better future, there’s money in it for them — about $17,000 worth, for now, thanks to a competition Kugelmass is about to announce.
Since leaving the business world with a pile of cash, Kugelmass has become obsessed with pushing the idea that nuclear power — in a revamped, cheaper form — is the answer to our environmental woes. Its ultra-efficient power production, he believes, provides enough oomph to suck sufficient carbon out of the atmosphere. Nuclear isn’t exactly a popular option these days, but he sees that as a hurdle that good old-fashioned capitalism can fix. If nuclear energy can be reframed as a viable business, he believes, the planet can go back to the unwarmed way it used to be.
This idea, not a totally new one, has its supporters: Democratic candidates Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg have expressed support for nuclear for the sake of the climate, and Joe Biden is promoting the development of new nuclear technologies. Kugelmass was so taken with the idea that he founded the Energy Impact Center, a research institute that hopes to return Earth to its pre-industrial-age chemistry by fostering small, safe, low-cost, lightly regulated nuclear reactors that can power devices that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
“We have to find some way to remove the last 200 years of carbon.”