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  • Writer's pictureElbe Valley Medical

IrishTechNews interview with our Chairman Rob Reynolds about our nuclear technologies

What is your own background briefly?

My background was originally in the semiconductor business where I worked for many years up to 2014 when I left for a role at an American Medtech company on the west coast. I was based in Germany at the time and after facing the possibility of having a tumour in my auditory canal, I invented a low cost and non-invasive method of destroying unwanted tumours (in the end I didn’t have a tumour but the wait to find out really motivated me).

Having spent 10 years living and working in Germany I moved back to Ireland at the end of 2017 to start Elbe Valley Medical in Mullingar to advance the idea and start proving it up.

Does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?

In many ways not at all really, I never had an interest in medtech at all however after inventing this therapy there was no way to move it forward unless I did it myself so that is exactly what I am doing now.

How was the last 12 months? What were your big wins?

I guess the big wins in the last 12 months were the people we hired. I have been exceptionally lucky to work with the people I do every day in Elbe Valley and I cannot tell you how proud I am of our team and what we have achieved together. Sadly the last few months have been exceptionally difficult but we expect to conclude our virtual merger with Optimal Outcome Solutions in the next few weeks.

Then things will get back to normal and the foot foot goes right back on the accelerator once again. COVID-19 wont be enough to slow us down (in fact we are working internally right now on a potential therapy for the virus).

What would you have done differently?

Ireland is in many ways a wonderful place to start a business. People are more supportive of entrepreneurs and it can be felt how sincerely they wish us to succeed. Sadly the Irish State is another story as the support available in Ireland is pretty much non-existent. In addition taxation is really high and don’t even get me started about stock options! It would be wonderful if our government looked to more business friendly countries like France and Germany for inspiration.

Sadly it seems often that our government wants to punish success and effort. If we had stayed in Germany we would have been able to get our product to market much faster but it is good to be home on a personal level and the general public have been very encouraging.

1 min pitch for what you are doing now?

We are a private research company in Mullingar and we take ideas from concept all the way to market. Our first product is a microrobotic therapy for treating solid cancer tumours at quite a low cost. We are also focused on other cybernetic applications such as drug delivery and treating blood borne pathogens but outside of lifesciences we are exploring novel aerospace approaches and novel nuclear technologies to address the large nuclear waste stockpiles left over from the last century as well as addressing global warming.

Why did you get involved with starting research on a novel nuclear reactor that can run on high level nuclear waste (or thorium, depleted uranium etc?

Global warming is a very large problem that the world is facing. It is the first real global problem of this kind that humanity has ever had to face. Renewables are great but they won’t meet all our needs and in addition someone needs to do something about the high CO2 levels we currently have as they are already unsustainable.

Simply stopping CO2 emissions will not be enough, we need a way to decrease them and at the same time allow energy usage per head of population to increase into the future. To do this the cost of energy needs to drop significantly while its availability needs to increase.

Why do you think it is such a powerful idea / how do you explain & manage the potential issues around contamination & radioactive waste, in order to do better than what we have managed to date?

In a conventional nuclear power plant the fuel used at the start is about 4% Uranium 235 and about 96% Uranium 238 which is not fissile with thermal neutrons. In addition to this of all the energy generated in a thermal plant (be it nuclear, coal, oil etc) only 30% of it makes it into the grid as electricity. Then the losses during transmission are a further 25% which means of all the energy used to create heat to drive turbines in any electrical generating station, only about 23% of the energy actually makes it to the end user!

While this is true for all conventional power generating stations, there is a further loss in nuclear stations. When the nuclear fuel is spent and ready for renewal the content of it changes to around 1% uranium 235, 1% plutonium, 95% uranium 238 and the rest is leftover fission products. This means that off the fuel sent for disposal, 97% of it is either uranium or transuranic elements and this can be “burned” in the reactor we are proposing.

The uranium and transuranic elements cannot be burned in conventional reactors as they require very high energy neutrons so we bury this potentially high value fuel without burning it. We have heard for years that nuclear fusion will be our savior but it won’t be cheap (look at the money being spent on ITER in France). We are proposing to use nuclear fusion (which alone cannot generate net energy) to create very high speed neutrons to split large atoms.

In this way uranium enrichment is no longer needed. For a country like Ireland with no nuclear waste stockpiles, natural uranium or thorium may be used instead. As our reactor is expected to “burn clean” any radioactive waste that it generates can be fed back into the reactor for burning thereby eliminating the need to process high level nuclear waste at all!.

Other major advantages are that this reactor cannot melt down as it simply does not hold large amounts of fuel in its core at any time. In fact the fuel is “injected” in a similar fashion to a car engine. Just like a car engine, should something go wrong it will just shut down. I have found that people are not really anti-nuclear, they are anti-pollution and anti-nuclear accidents and anti-nuclear waste!

We believe our technology addresses all of the concerns that people have about “old nuclear” (otherwise people will not support the idea of nuclear fusion). Our technology is hybrid of both fusion and fission and this is how we can have the best of both worlds without the worst of both worlds.

How can people find out more about you personally & your work?

The next twelve months will be transformative for Elbe Valley as we prepare for a trial to validate our microbot technology in 2021. We have already seen very promising signs from previous work we have performed and we are excited to complete development of our commercial product. We hope to make a big impact in oncology and we hope to change how cancer has been treated to date.

Who and where do you get inspiration from?

The world as we wish it to be does not exist, we have to build it ourselves but it is achievable even though it may seem not. The most important thing when things get dark is to put one foot in front of the other and when you have done that repeat. Over time you would be really surprised how far you can get. I never got into this project out of a burning desire for success, I did it because we have over 8 million human beings dying every year globally from cancer.

It is a loss on top of a loss and it never ends and will never end unless someone somewhere tries to do something about it. So here we are, doing what we can, putting one foot in front of the other every day. The road ahead will be no picnic but the road behind us was pretty brutal too! Yet we are still here and we are getting ready to grow and hopefully start hiring again in the coming weeks. Rage against the dying of the light! We do not always have to accept things as they are!

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

Yes, I would really like to thank the people of Mullingar for all their support. In addition I want to thank all of our partners and suppliers who have been simply amazing to us.

Original Interview can be found here

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