“Essentially, we're just a submarine above ground,” said Chairman and Founder of NANO Nuclear Energy Inc., Jay Jiang Yu.
But this particular sub, if you will, has wheels. And it can go anywhere a semi-truck can go, sporting a high-tech micro reactor on its back... providing smaller, cheaper and safer nuclear energy for the future, wherever it is needed.
For those out of the loop, nuclear power is back, in a big way.
In fact, this past weekend at the Golden Globes, Oppenheimer, the film which documents the father of the atomic bomb, earned five awards, including the top prize.
You might even call it a “new nuclear renaissance,” says Yu, adding that at the COP28 summit in Dubai, 22 countries signed an agreement to triple nuclear power by 2050. It included influential US climate envoy John Kerry.
“The idea for the micro reactor actually started because we could see that there was going to be bigger energy issues in the future,” said NANO CEO and Head of Reactor Development, James Walker.
“So we started examining the whole nuclear sector, or the whole energy sector, and we settled on nuclear because nuclear was the most consistent form of energy. It was zero carbon, it could be put anywhere.”
“It wasn't locationally dependent like needing wind or solar or good conditions,” he said.
NANO came to realize the larger potential market was in more portable 1-2 megawatt reactors that could deploy faster and be mass manufactured with lower capital costs — that pushed them in the direction of a micro reactor.
A micro reactor is defined as anything below 20 megawatts power. And it has enormous benefits over the bigger modular reactors that are currently being developed by other companies, such as X-energy and TerraPower.
What can it power?
Says Walker, “you’re talking about remote mining sites, remote oil and gas, remote industrial projects, remote habitation, disaster relief areas, military bases, island communities that run on diesel.”
“All of these areas are currently running on diesel, and they cannot be substituted for anything else, which means that the potential of developing something that could be deployed easily, inexpensively, that could run for a long time and replace diesel has an enormous potential market.”
“We've designed it around an ISO container for the obvious reasons that we can then use existing transportation infrastructure like conventional trucking or shipping or trains and we can get this thing anywhere in the world incredibly quickly.”
Similar to a bathtub shape, it has fewer working parts, needs a lot less nuclear material, and far fewer people to install, supervise and operate — a potential world-changing energy system that could have a huge impact internationally.
Things such as a desalination plant in a remote location, for example, or smaller communities the Northwest Territories or northern Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, says Walker.
“It's got hundreds of these locations where there's a thousand people, 2,000 people. And those places all run on diesel currently and it's very expensive. But a micro reactor could insert into these places where there are a couple thousand people here, a thousand people there, and they run for 15 to 20 years.”
Interestingly, there is no money up-front, no capital costs, users just sign a power lease and NANO takes care of the rest. Easy peasy.
“We saw a study that one of these remote locations in Canada, a city of 800 people, it costs $10 million in just raw fuel costs a year to power it. And ultimately, a micro reactor can come in and power it for 20 years, which would be a $200 million raw cost, not even including logistical costs and replace all of that at a way less cost.”
“We will ship the plants up there and then we will recoup our costs over the contracted time,” Walker added.
So, what about the risks, I ask. Do we need a cordon of special forces security around it? I mean, it is nuclear, right? What if it gets hit by an RPG or a missile of some kind?
Do we now have a nasty, big Chernobyl problem on our hands?
No, says Walker: “People have asked this question before, but I think there definitely needs to be some level of greater education with nuclear, because first of all, nuclear reactors can't explode. That's not how they work.”
“They're not enriched to a level where they explode … all you're doing is separating material, so it just sits there inert.”
“And this is the problem when people talk about dirty bombs without any knowledge of what they're talking about, because it actually explodes a chunk of nuclear material,” Walker said.
“If you look at deaths per gigawatt hour, nuclear beats wind and solar, but it's still got a reputation and it's got that reputation because radiation is a danger that is less instinctively understood.”
On the contrary, the future looks bright for companies such as NANO, who are seeking to become vertically integrated.
The firm is looking at getting into the fuel side, the transportation side and so forth.
“We're looking at the future of the next generation of nuclear. The old is good and has been around, but we're the new nuclear,” says Yu, of the so-called nuclear renaissance.
"NANO has two technical teams, one drawn principally from University of Cambridge professors working on one side and the other that is predominantly professors and doctors from the UC Berkeley," said Walker..
"So there's two scientific teams individually developing two concepts for us.”
NANO Nuclear’s products in technical development are 'ZEUS' a solid core battery reactor and 'ODIN' a low-pressure coolant reactor, each representing advanced developments in portable nuclear micro reactors.
Walker’s professional engineering experience includes nuclear reactors, mines, submarines, chemical plants, factories, mine processing facilities, infrastructure, automotive machinery and testing rigs.
Yu previously worked as an analyst as part of the Corporate & Investment Banking Division at Deutsche Bank on Wall Street. He is an active philanthropist and the founder of a non-profit organization that provides access to sports and education to underprivileged youth in New York City.