Nuclear Engineer. Clean Energy Visionary. Queen of Possibility.
Nuclear Engineer wunderkind and environmentalist Leslie Dewan spent the first ten years of her career redesigning nuclear reactors to make them safer and reducing the amount of waste they produce. Together with a classmate from MIT, she created and served as CEO for Transatomic Power, reimagining a 1960s design for a molten salt reactor to enable it to run spent nuclear fuel rods—waste, in other words. In this brilliant move, she got inches from solving the two biggest problems with nuclear energy: the risk of meltdown from conventional reactors (the molten salt version cools itself upon failure) and the proliferation of nuclear waste (since conventional designs use only about 5% of the fuel contained in each rod). This World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and her team raised millions from VC firms, successfully lobbied for updated nuclear policy, and made an astonishing run at the design before realizing they wouldn’t be first to market, so they pivoted. Rather than hoarding the data—as is typical in the scientific field—Leslie and her partner did something truly revolutionary: they open-sourced it for the world’s benefit. As Leslie says, “I became a nuclear engineer because I wanted to save the world.”
Today, she has turned her sights on a bigger obstacle to embracing nuclear energy as a critical element in the race towards a carbon-neutral future: our resistance to it. As the CEO of a nuclear startup, RadiantNano, Leslie and her team are developing next-generation radiation detectors with applications in national security, clean energy production, and medical diagnostics.
Leslie earned a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering with a research focus on computational nuclear materials from MIT, where she also earned S.B. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering. The youngest person ever to serve on MIT’s Board of Trustees, Leslie was also awarded the MIT Presidential Fellowship. She currently serves on the National Academy of Engineering’s study, “Laying the Foundation for New and Advanced Nuclear Reactors in the United States.” Leslie has been named a TIME Magazine "30 People Under 30 Changing the World," an MIT Technology Review "Innovator Under 35," and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.
Save the World with Nuclear Power
The world needs a cheap, carbon-free alternative to fossil fuels to feed its growing electricity demand. Nuclear power can be a good solution to the problem, but is hindered by issues of safety, waste, proliferation, and cost. But what if we could go back in time and try a new approach to nuclear power–one that solves these problems?
Worldwide, there is a renaissance of nuclear technology development – a new generation of young engineers are racing to develop more advanced nuclear reactors for a better form of power generation. In some cases, they are adapting and improving reactor designs from the earliest days of the industry, and using them to solve modern problems. The road to commercialization is long, and poses many challenges, but the benefits are enormous as we collectively push the boundaries of technology to allow for better, safer ways to power the world.
Photos: courtesy Leslie Dewan