Sam Altman boosts AI ambitions at nuclear startup OkluPublic

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Shares were trading just above $15 on Friday morning under the ticker symbol “OKLO.” Oklo was to receive more than $306 million in gross proceeds upon closing the transaction, according to a release.

Oklo's business model is based on commercializing nuclear fission, the reaction that fuels all nuclear power plants. Instead of conventional reactors, the company aims to use smaller nuclear reactors housed in A-frame structures. It aims to sell energy to end users such as the US Air Force and large tech companies.

Oklo is currently working to build its first small-scale reactor in Idaho, which could eventually power the types of data centers that OpenAI and other artificial intelligence companies use to run their AI models and services. Required.

Altman, co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, has said that he sees nuclear energy as one of the best ways to solve the problem of increasing demand for AI, and the energy that powers the technology. , without relying on fossil fuels. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have also invested in nuclear plants in recent years.

“I don't see a way to get there without nuclear,” Altman told CNBC in 2021. I mean, maybe we can get there with just solar and storage. But from my vantage point, I feel like this is the most likely and the best way to get there.”

In an interview with CNBC on Thursday, Oklo CEO Jacob DeWitt confirmed that the company has not yet generated revenue and currently has no nuclear plants deployed. He said the company is targeting 2027 for its first plant to come online.

Going the SPAC route is risky. So-called reverse mergers became popular in the low-interest-rate days of 2020 and 2021 when tech prices were rising and investors were looking for growth over profits. But with rising rates, the SPAC market collapsed in 2022 and has not recovered.

AI-related companies, on the other hand, are the new darlings of Wall Street.

“SPACs haven't exactly performed the best over the last few years, so for us to have the kind of result we've had here is obviously a function of the work we do, but also That's what we're building. And also the fact that the market sees the opportunity here,” said DeWitt, who co-founded the company in 2013. “I think it's very promising on a number of fronts. [the] The nuclear, AI, data center push as well as the energy transition piece.”

The company has seen its fair share of regulatory setbacks. In 2022, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected Oklo's application for the Idaho reactor. The company is working on a new application, which is not intended to be submitted to the NRC until early next year, DeWitt said, adding that it is currently in the “pre-application engagement” phase with the commission. .

Altman joined Oklo while he was president of startup incubator Y Combinator. Oklo joined the program in 2014 after an earlier meeting between Altman and DeWitt. In 2015, Altman invested in the company and became chairman.

Altman's forays into nuclear power or other infrastructure aren't the only ones that could power large-scale AI development.

In 2021, Altman led a $500 million funding round in clean energy firm Helion, which is working to develop and commercialize nuclear fusion. Hellion said in a blog post at the time that the capital would go to its electricity demonstration generator, Polaris, “which we expect to demonstrate pure electricity from fusion in 2024.”

Altman did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent years, Altman has also poured money into chip efforts and investments that could help power AI tools developed by OpenAI.

Before his brief ouster as CEO of OpenAI in November, he was reportedly seeking billions of dollars for a chip venture called “Tigris” to compete with Nvidia.

In 2018 Altman invested in AI chip startup Rain Neuromorphics, located near OpenAI's San Francisco headquarters. The following year, OpenAI signed a letter of intent to spend $51 million on Rain's Chips. In December, the US forced a Saudi Aramco-backed venture capital firm to sell its stake in Ren.

The data center represents “a very exciting opportunity,” DeWitte told CNBC.

“What we've seen is that there's a lot of interest, especially with AI,” he said. “The needs of AI compute are critical. It opens the door to many different approaches in terms of how people think about designing and developing AI infrastructure.”

Watch: Investing in the future of AI

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