By Paul Menser
An old hand at startups by age 31, Bret Kugelmass is not one to do things by halves. He believes climate change poses a mortal threat to humanity, and that the widespread adoption of nuclear energy is the only way to stem the tide of catastrophe.
After selling his high-tech company, Airphrame, in 2017, Kugelmass moved from Silicon Valley to Washington, D.C., setting himself up as president of the Energy Impact Center. Since October, he has been collecting interviews for his Titans of Nuclear podcast.
With his advocacy of nuclear energy, it was inevitable that a trip to Idaho National Laboratory (INL) would be in order. ANS member Todd Allen – formerly of INL and now with the think tank Third Way – recommended he visit Idaho.
“I had no idea of what to expect,” he said. His two-day visit in January included a trip to the Advanced Test Reactor Complex and Materials and Fuels Complex (“I didn’t know what a hot cell was,” he said). At MFC, he ended up being present for the first transient test in the newly restarted Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT).
Asked to describe what he saw in a word, Kugelmass chose “versatility,” which he considers key. “Versatility is about looking to the future,” he said.
The second day of the trip was devoted to recording podcasts with INL people, including
John Wagner, associate laboratory director for INL’s Nuclear Science & Technology directorate
George Griffith, INL small modular reactor technical coordinator
Hans Gougar, director of INL’s Advanced Reactor Technologies Division
Shannon Bragg-Sitton, lead of INL’s nuclear-renewable hybrid energy systems
Emma Redfoot, a University of Idaho nuclear engineering graduate student and a leader in the Students for Nuclear organization
In 2009, Kugelmass started as a mechatronics engineer for Nanosolar, a manufacturer of thin film solar cells. He then funded his graduate education in robotics at Stanford