How Russell Wilcox moved from E Ink to CEO of nuclear startup Transatomic Power

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Following the sale of E Ink Russ took his family on a world-travel adventure for a year. Then serendipity

They were at a Disney resort in Tokyo—riding through a simulated volcano attraction of all things—when the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck. Wilcox says the terror of the moment, the nearby disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and the stresses on the planet’s environment he saw in places like India and Africa, helped to shape his next move.

Fast forward to a TEDx New England Conference, when he first saw grad students Mark Massie and Leslie Dewan.

“One of the presentations happened to be these two scientists from MIT who stood up and talked about this new kind of nuclear reactor,” he says. “And at the end I watched 300 people cheering nuclear energy, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is different.'”

The crowd was cheering the WAMSR (Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor). Unlike conventional light-water nuclear plants, the young scientists’ reactor runs on radioactive fuel dissolved into liquid molten salt. In theory at least, that means it can use nuclear waste from conventional plants as fuel and that it needs no active, electricity-dependent safety measures of the type that failed so catastrophically in Japan. Once fully deployed, Transatomic says its reactors could use existing stockpiles of nuclear waste to satisfy the world’s electricity needs through 2083.