Nuclear power is carbon-free energy which today provides 20% of our electricity, over 60% of our clean energy and which supports a plethora of industrial, commercial and medical applications. Energy investors, recognizing the demand for clean energy, have focused on renewables, storage and efficiency. The experts, however, have warned that in order to displace enough fossil fuels to meet the Paris COP goals, nuclear power must be expanded along with other forms of low-carbon generation. And rising to that need is a new generation of nuclear physicists, engineers and entrepreneurs working to bring nuclear power into the 21st century.
Since 2001, the numbers of students graduating with PhDs in nuclear engineering has steadily grown, creating a resurgence of talent, R&D, and a significant number of nuclear start-ups. What is now called “Advanced Nuclear,” is an emerging technology sector that is working on both new applications and revolutionary nuclear power redesigns (called “Gen IV”). This new sector has enormous potential to add flexible zero-carbon power to energy grids, meeting the dynamic power and energy stabilizing needs of advanced grids as well as many other energy applications.
In contrast today’s nuclear power utilizes the light water reactor, a 1960s-era design (Generation I), that was originally intended to power submarines, where high pressure and abundant cold water are innate features. Despite the challenges of replicating an underwater environment on land, Generations II and III didn’t change the underlying reactor design. They added additional costly layers of safety systems, which vastly increased new construction costs. In the post-Three Mile Island era, regulators and industry prioritized safety at the expense of cost-effectiveness and transformative development efforts.
ABOUT ADVANCED NUCLEAR
Fast-forward to the 2000s. News of climate change has amplified concerns about humanity’s burgeoning carbon emissions, challenging a new generation of physicists to scour the public data from some fifty-two defunded National Lab designs, some known for having had innate safety advantages over the light water reactor. Today, around the world, nuclear engineers equipped with advanced modeling software, advanced materials, artificial intelligence (AI) and other tools, are in a global race to develop the best advanced energy solutions to meet a range of needs.
Given the huge size of the markets and the catastrophic costs for a failure to eliminate emissions, it is no wonder that so many brilliant engineers have launched multiple innovative design efforts. These include nuclear-powered batteries, industrial heat systems, flexibly-sized (and even mobile) power stations for electricity and/or heating for everything from remote villages up to megacities, along with a wide range of industrial, agricultural, medical, transit and residential uses.
These “Einsteins” are pursuing game-changing visions of applying nuclear power to an increasing array of energy needs, and working to make them cheaper, safer and better suited for integrating into clean energy grids and serving the ecologic goals of developed and developing countries.
WHO IS INVESTING IN ADVANCED NUCLEAR?
TIA has observed that there are a number of very savvy investors who have already recognized the importance of nuclear energy to our success in rapidly reducing demand for dirty fuels. These include individuals like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, Ray Rothrock, Carl Page and many others. While billionaires have the ability to conduct their own due diligence and place big bets, most of us do not. Tiemann Investment Advisors “discovered” nuclear while researching a more quantitative approach to sustainable investing. A broad array of NASA, IPCC, National Academy of Science and academic experts have been urging support for the expansion of nuclear power in order to best tackle of CO2 problems. TIA’s “nuclear-inclusive” clean energy research led it to places where few investment professionals go: nuclear industry conferences. Through those experiences, TIA’s interest in the Advanced Nuclear Sector has grown.
Worsening climate impacts have increased the global urgency to eliminate emissions. While opposition to the use of nuclear energy remains, we have seen a rapidly increasing level of acceptance of nuclear energy as a clean energy ally, especially around the world and in state policies in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois, which have all passed legislation that protects existing nuclear plants. Additionally, there is new federal legislation funding nuclear innovation and a growing pro-nuclear advocacy movement.
There is over $6 trillion in pension and foundation investment funds that has already committed to “divest” from fossil fuels and which needs to be re-invested in alternative sources of clean energy, sufficient to power our energy-hungry world. Fund managers are looking to find investments in truly game-changing solutions—especially those that can compete with fossil fuels on every dimension—and be scalable at the gigatonne level. Remember, a hydrocarbon bond that is broken—such as in burning coal, oil or gas—releases 2 electron volts of energy (EVs) and emits more than double its own weight in carbon-dioxide. When a nuclear reactor fissions an atom of Uranium, the energy released is 200,000,000 EVs and no carbon dioxide is released. We have to admit, we think fission is a truly compelling source of energy that can help solve our energy and CO2 problems.