Will advanced reactors solve nuclear’s problems?

Startups are testing new technologies to solve the challenges facing conventional nuclear. Will they succeed?

Conventional nuclear power is bogged down by cost overruns and concerns about safety and waste. But does it have to be that way? Could we deploy scalable reactors that are cheaper, safer and produce less waste? Advanced nuclear startups in the U.S. certainly think so. 

In this episode, guest host Lara Pierpoint speaks with Jake DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo, one of the many advanced nuclear companies that have emerged in recent years.

Lara and Jake survey the polarized landscape of nuclear development, in which many countries are shutting down plants just as others are planning to open new ones. They discuss the main problems with traditional nuclear and examine some new ways companies are attempting to solve them. 

They focus on the technologies that small modular reactors (SMRs) and microreactors could incorporate, including liquid metal, liquid salt and gas-cooled options, as well as fast reactors. They also talk about nuclear waste recycling, safer self-cooling designs and nuclear direct heating.

Lara asks whether advanced nuclear reactors can scale in time to make a dent in global emissions. According to Jake, the answer is yes in the medium term. But to get there, he says, we need to build reactors in the same way we build cars, planes and wind turbines: by simplifying designs, prefabricating modules and taking advantage of existing supply chains. This modular approach could open up new business models such as nuclear-as-a-service and new financing options akin to the power-purchase agreements common in renewable energy. 

But how will regulators respond? Just recently, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission rejected Oklo’s application to build and operate the company’s Aurora compact fast reactor in Idaho. Lara and Jake break down the decision and what it means for the future of advanced nuclear in the U.S.

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Catalyst is supported by Antenna Group. For 25 years, Antenna has partnered with leading clean-economy innovators to build their brands and accelerate business growth. If you’re a startup, investor, enterprise or innovation ecosystem that’s creating positive change, Antenna is ready to power your impact. Visit antennagroup.com to learn more.

Catalyst is supported by Nextracker. Nextracker’s technology platform has delivered more than 50 gigawatts of zero-emission solar power plants across the globe. Nextracker is developing a data-driven framework to become the most sustainable solar tracker company in the world — with a focus on a truly transparent supply chain. Visit nextracker.com/sustainability to learn more.