(EDITOR’S NOTE: The feature article in last Thursday’s edition of teknovation.biz focused on the announcement by General Fusion, a global leader in fusion energy technology development, that it had selected Oak Ridge as the headquarters for its U.S. operations. The company’s existing collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was a major factor. Today, we post an update from another company that has significant plans in Oak Ridge, drawn to the region by its own collaboration with ORNL and the Tennessee Valley Authority.)
By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
“The planets aligned around Oak Ridge,” says Peter Hastings of Kairos Power about the decision to invest $100 million and create 55 jobs as part of a major effort to deploy a low-power demonstration reactor.
The privately-held company recently closed on the purchase of the former K31 and K33 sites at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) or Heritage Center. And, just one day after holding a virtual community information session about the project on September 28 (click here to view it), Kairos Power submitted the first part of its construction permit application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
“The second part will come later this year,” Hastings said, adding that the company is “pushing hard” for the NRC to expedite its review so that construction can begin. It’s an aggressive timeline for the company that is focused on commercializing a reactor that will deliver low-cost nuclear heat. The demonstration reactor is a scaled version of Kairos Power’s Fluoride Salt-Cooled High Temperature Reactor (KP-FHR), an advanced reactor technology that aims to be cost competitive with natural gas in the U.S. electricity market in order to provide carbon-free, affordable, and safe energy.
Scheduled to be operational in 2026, the demonstration reactor named Hermes will move forward Kairos Power’s iterative development process from prototype toward commercial scale, hopefully no later than 2030, by demonstrating complete nuclear systems, advancing Kairos Power’s manufacturing capabilities for critical components, testing the supply chain, and facilitating licensing certainty for the KP-FHR.
So, how did a company that is headquartered in Alameda, CA and has another facility in Albuquerque, NM as well as a strategic partner in Ohio and a very small office in Charlotte, NC settle on Oak Ridge?
“When we went to site Hermes, we were not limited to a specific service area like a traditional utility,” Hastings explained. Instead, Kairos Power had three requirements. The site had to: (1) be within the U.S.; (2) be close to a national laboratory; and (3) provide a strong working relationship with a major utility.
“Oak Ridge represented the sweet spot,” Hastings said, citing Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as two key factors along with the ETTP land. “The site was available, it was suitable for a nuclear facility, and it provided an ideal timeframe.”
TVA and Kairos Power announced in May that the two organizations would collaborate on deploying the low-power Hermes demonstration reactor at ETTP. As part of the agreement, TVA will provide engineering, operations, and licensing support to help Kairos Power deploy Hermes. A little more than two months later, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Kairos Power officials announced that the advanced nuclear engineering company would establish the low-power demonstration reactor in Oak Ridge. And, in late September, the company provided the virtual overview briefing for residents of the region.
The K33 site will be the place where the building housing the Hermes demonstration reactor will be constructed, with the K31 site offering possible future opportunities for expansion of Kairos Power operations and manufacturing.
In our interview with Hastings, the company’s Charlotte-based Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and Quality, he reiterated on several occasions the mission of Kairos Power: “To enable the world’s transition to clean energy, with the ultimate goal of dramatically improving people’s quality of life while protecting the environment.”
The mission is reinforced by the company’s name – Kairos – which is an ancient Greek word that relates the importance of timeliness and a call to action. “Today, Kairos Power exists to accelerate innovation in nuclear power and enable affordable access to clean energy,” the company writes on its website.
Kairos Power was founded in 2016 by three individuals with various connections to the University of California Berkeley. Between 60 and 75 percent of its staff is located in a refurbished World War II facility in Alameda that serves as corporate headquarters as well as its RAPID lab fabrication and testing site. Albuquerque houses the engineering test facility that is the company’s second largest location, but one that Hastings said “will likely grow to be as large as or even bigger than Alameda.”