A new era for nuclear energy

Small modular reactors are shifting attitudes, and there is a growing realisation that nuclear is a vital part of the sustainable energy mix to hit net zero, says Elisabeth Rizzotti, Founder and COO of newcleo – an innovative nuclear energy tech company that is developing a mini reactor that runs on nuclear waste

Today, there is a growing understanding of the urgency of a net-zero transition, and both markets and policy bodies are viewing nuclear energy as a promising pathway towards a greener future.

The EU, for example, has rethought its taxonomy of ‘green technologies’ to include nuclear, and both the French and UK governments are pushing for more nuclear to be included in their energy generation mixes. Above all, milestone developments in the cost, waste and safety of nuclear technology are garnering confidence from investors.

Nuclear power is now firmly back on the agenda, and London-based startup newcleo (founded in 2021) is ready to revolutionise the industry with its innovative waste-to-energy small modular reactor (SMR) technology.

Mini reactor technologies are making a big impact

Various SMR programmes are currently in development. Built in a factory setting, SMRs will be much less expensive to produce than their traditional counterparts. They are easier to transport and likely to have multiple applications in the future. These factors make SMRs exciting investments, and newcleo’s financial model – backed by strong, supportive private investment – allows us to take advantage of this.

Our technology will combine the design of an SMR with lead-cooled fast reactor technology to take these benefits one step further. We will bypass the need for water-cooling systems by designing a reactor that uses lead as the primary coolant: its intrinsic properties, such as its high boiling point and chemical inertness, will make it safer than traditional reactors.

Our design also enables the ‘recycling’ of nuclear waste as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel to make much more effective use of depleted uranium, plutonium and minor actinides, which is not possible in a traditional reactor. This offers a sustainable solution for both investors and the planet.

We are also planning to invest in an MOX production facility that will support us in ‘closing the fuel cycle’ in this way, as part of our wider supply chain.


Getting our technology online

As with all nuclear energy projects, our research, design and implementation process will take some time, but this has not deterred investors. Since our launch just 18 months ago, we have already raised US$421.8m and aim to raise a further US$1bn very soon.

For newcleo, our people and relationships will be vital to getting our technology online. We have ambitious goals and are fortunate to have experienced researchers, determined innovators and unique thinkers in our team who will help us to reach them.

With nuclear energy sparking interest in governments around the world, our company is fast-growing, and so is our team – we are on track to reach 500 employees by the end of this year. newcleo is proud to be helping to build a vibrant nuclear energy industry that enables young people to launch sustainable and exciting careers.

Two-thirds of Britons (65%) believe nuclear should play a role in the UK’s climate change strategy – so we are already seeing substantial public support for nuclear energy

Our partnerships with other key players in the nuclear industry are also a fundamental part of this vision. We are working with the Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development’s research centre in Brasimone, Italy, to develop research and experimentation facilities that will allow us to test and build our reactor prototype. We are developing several other partnerships in the countries in which we operate, including France, where we are working to get our 30 MWe prototype up and running by 2030.

Of course, we must also overcome pervading narratives that paint nuclear as an unsafe option. We are confident that the public, and particularly younger generations, will develop a better-informed interest in nuclear and investigate the opportunities that it offers the energy sector for themselves. The sentiment is undoubtedly shifting.

According to a recent YouGov survey, two-thirds of Britons (65%) believe nuclear should play a role in the UK’s climate change strategy – so we are already seeing substantial public support for nuclear energy.

Cracking the code to a successful energy transition

Nuclear energy is not the only clean energy technology in the market, and we are excited to work alongside the renewables industry as we journey to net zero.

We were delighted to sign the 24/7 Carbonfree Energy Compact in January 2023, alongside companies from various sectors, united in a shared goal. This aims for time-matched procurement: a world where every kilowatt-hour of electricity consumption can be met with readily available carbon-free electricity.

For nuclear energy, the issue of radioactive waste produced from traditional reactors must be addressed if the industry is to thrive and reach its full potential. Our technology design addresses this, offering a circular solution to nuclear waste and the potential to revolutionise nuclear energy and create a more sustainable future.

We are confident that the nuclear renaissance will continue as the global energy transition gathers pace, and newcleo has a big role to play in it.

By Elisabeth Rizzotti, Founder and Chief Operating Officer, newcleo

Image credit | Newcleo | Shutterstock