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Investors Funnel $1.3 Billion Into the Advanced Nuclear Industry

advanced nuclear funding

With nuclear startups needing a decade or more to scale, investors must be patient.

If the venture capital hysteria around solar manufacturing were judged by the billions of dollars invested, it could be called a great success. But the long (and still growing) list of failed solar companies proves that a rush of investment doesn’t tell the full story.

It’s a helpful reminder when tracking the surge of investment in new energy sectors like distributed battery storage, off-grid renewables for developing countries, and predictive energy-efficiency software. Companies in these areas are all picking up hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it from venture firms. Many will not make it past the hype cycle.

A new report from the think tank Third Way outlines the latest attraction for investors: advanced nuclear technologies. 

Advanced nuclear is a wide-ranging industry that covers numerous reactor designs. The Third Way report looks at 10 of them, including molten salt, liquid metal, high-temperature gas reactors and fusion reactors.

According to the brief, private investors have committed $1.3 billion to support nearly 50 startups working on commercializing new reactor designs across the U.S. and Canada. The companies include more mature players (a relative term for the slow-moving industry) like NuScale Power, and various startups that are now emerging from government labs.

Report author Samuel Brinton called the recent growth in investment “staggering.”

The map below shows all the companies in Third Way’s tracker. (Click to enlarge.)

 

Advanced nuclear reactor designs are touted by advocates as a safer, more cost-competitive alternative to traditional light water reactors. Some can reuse spent fuel rods, thus eliminating waste; they can be constructed modularly and scaled based on need; and many are built around fail-safe designs that don’t require manual control during emergencies.

These attributes are compelling — at least to those not inherently opposed to nuclear. And in small amounts, dozens of startups are picking up money to design and test their reactors.

But advanced nuclear technologies face hard realities. The permitting process in America is time-consuming and expensive. Startups will need to spend tens of millions of dollars just to get their first projects approved by regulators. And while government labs have left behind years of testing that these companies can learn from, the vast majority of startups are a decade away from their first prototype.

What will the global energy system look like a decade from now, assuming some of these reactors are ready?

On a high-energy planet, cheaper, safer nuclear needs to play a role, say advocates. But with distributed technologies like solar PV quickly becoming the “default” technology of choice based on price, it’s difficult to gauge the competitiveness of these emerging technologies.

To hear what it’s like building a nuclear startup from the ground up, listen to the Energy Gang interview below with Transatomic Power CEO Leslie Dewan:

greentech mediaGreentech Media (GTM) produces industry-leading news, research, and conferences in the business-to-business greentech market. Our coverage areas include solar, smart grid, energy efficiency, wind, and other non-incumbent energy markets. For more information, visit: greentechmedia.com , follow us on twitter: @greentechmedia, or like us on Facebook: facebook.com/greentechmedia.

Stephen Lacey's picture

Thank Stephen for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on June 22, 2015

Stephen, thanks for that enlightening interview with Leslie Dewan, as well as an increasing open-mindedness at GTM to the potential of safe nuclear power.

There’s an interesting contrast between the perspective of this knowledgeable nuclear entrepreneur and the biases of GTM Senior VP of Research Shayle Kann, who prefaces nearly every remark with “it seems that…”, and oddly believes solar technology has come of age over the course of seven years.

Things are not always what they seem – especially when misperceptions like Mr. Kann’s are fed by the half-$billion fear machine driving Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

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