Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeBlogSam Altman’s nuclear energy company Oklo plunges 54% in NYSE debut

Sam Altman’s nuclear energy company Oklo plunges 54% in NYSE debut

Sam Altman is now the chairman of a public corporation. But it isn’t OpenAI.

On Friday, Oklo, an advanced nuclear fission firm, began trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The company, which has yet to produce revenue, went public through AltC Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that Altman formed and leads.

On Friday, “OKLO” shares fell 54% to $8.45, valuing the company at approximately $364 million. Oklo received around $306 million in gross profits from the purchase, according to a release.

Oklo’s business model is around commercializing nuclear fission, the reaction that powers all nuclear power facilities. Instead of traditional reactors, the business intends to deploy miniature nuclear reactors contained in A-frame constructions. It intends to sell the energy to end users such as the United States Air Force and major technology businesses.

Oklo is now working on its first small-scale reactor in Idaho, which will eventually power the data centers required by OpenAI and other artificial intelligence businesses to run their AI models and services.

Altman is the co-founder and CEO of OpenAI, which is valued at more than $80 billion by private investors. He has stated that he believes nuclear energy is one of the greatest methods to address the growing demand for AI and the energy required to power the technology without relying on fossil fuels. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon, have both invested in nuclear projects in recent years.

“I don’t see any way for us to get there without nuclear,” Altman told CNBC in 2023. “I mean, perhaps we could get there with just solar and storage. But from my perspective, I believe this is the most likely and best route to get there.”

In an interview with CNBC on Thursday, Oklo CEO Jacob DeWitte revealed that the company has yet to produce money and that no nuclear facilities are currently operational. He stated that the corporation plans to open its first factory in 2027.

Taking the SPAC route is dangerous. So-called reverse mergers gained popularity during the low-interest rate years of 2020 and 2021, when tech valuations were skyrocketing and investors prioritized expansion over profits. However, the SPAC market crashed in 2022, coinciding with rising interest rates, and has yet to recover.

AI businesses, on the other hand, are Wall Street’s new darlings.

SPACs haven’t exactly had the best performances in the past couple of years, so for us to have sort of the outcome that we’ve had here is obviously a function of the work we put in, but also what we’re building and also the fact that the market sees the opportunity sets here,” DeWitte, who also co-founded the business in 2013, “I think it’s very promising on multiple fronts for [the] nuclear, AI, data center push, as well as the energy transition piece.”

The corporation has experienced its fair share of regulatory setbacks. Oklo’s application for an Idaho reactor was denied by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2022. The company has been working on a new application, which it hopes to submit to the NRC early next year, according to DeWitte, who also stated that it is now in the “pre-application engagement” stage with the commission.

Altman became connected with Oklo while president of the startup incubator Y Combinator. Oklo entered the program in 2014, following a previous meeting between Altman and DeWitte. Altman became chairman of the company after investing in it in 2015.

It is not Altman’s first venture into nuclear energy or other infrastructure that could fuel large-scale AI growth.

Altman led a $500 million fundraising round for clean energy company Helion, which is developing and commercializing nuclear fusion. Helion stated in a blog post at the time that the funds will be directed toward Polaris, its power demonstration generator, “which we expect to demonstrate net electricity from fusion in 2024.”

Altman did not respond to a request for comment.

In recent years, Altman has also invested in chip ventures and investments that potentially enable the AI capabilities that OpenAI is developing.

Before leaving as CEO of OpenAI in November, he was apparently pursuing billions of dollars for a semiconductor company called “Tigris” to compete with Nvidia.

In 2018, Altman invested in Rain Neuromorphics, an AI chip startup situated near OpenAI’s San Francisco offices. The next year, OpenAI signed a letter of intent to invest $51 million in Rain’s chips. In December, the US forced a Saudi Aramco-backed venture capital firm to sell its Rain shares.

DeWitte told CNBC that the data center is “a pretty exciting opportunity.”

“What we’ve seen is there’s a lot of interest with AI, specifically,” he stated. “AI computing requirements are substantial. It allows for a wide range of methods to the design and development of AI infrastructure.”


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