Interview Synopsis

Small Modular Reactors – Nuclear regulations and opportunities

  • Private Equity
  • Energy
  • North America

Net-zero sustainability goals and rising global fossil fuel prices have reinforced the need to increase sources of renewable energy. While wind and solar power are often considered the lowest priced renewables, a former executive at NuScale Power LLC told us that, when compared “apples-to-apples”, nuclear power is “more competitive”.

SMRs “more competitive” than wind and solar renewable energy

In an interview with Third Bridge Forum, the specialist said nuclear is “the only” renewable energy that can power grids without intermittency issues. Solar and wind, by contrast, require batteries to solve their intermittency problems – batteries which are not yet “good enough and not dense enough” to power continuously, according to the specialist. These batteries also increase the cost of solar and wind power, something the specialist said is often overlooked when debating the cost of these renewables.  

Of the different nuclear options, the specialist said Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) offer advantages to large nuclear power plants such as lower building costs and fewer logistical problems – highlighting the current difficulties Georgia Power is experiencing at Plant Vogtle.1 The specialist said SMRs can be “efficiently” built by multiple manufacturers using a “cookie-cutter” approach that reduces costs, an option SMR vendors in Japan, Korea and France have used successfully. 

Although on a cost-per-unit basis SMRs are not “significantly less” expensive than large reactors, the specialist said they would generate savings over time, such as reducing staff costs. As manufacturing capacity develops, the specialist said prices per kW from SMRs would likely decrease, falling from USD 5,000 per kW to USD 3,000 per kW after the first SMRs are built, and then by 20-30% by the “10th or 12th” SMR. 

The specialist also told us the SMR industry faces regulatory and funding challenges over the next 5-10 years. The specialist called regulatory issues the “biggest bottleneck”, with regulators such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the US unable to examine numerous design proposals due to staff shortages. Although companies with large investors such as TerraPower “can afford to spend” during the regulatory process, most companies building SMRs are start-ups and thus unable to raise such capital. 

As a result, regulators are racing against time to check designs are safe while also ensuring plans don’t take years to gain approval. This is not just for financial reasons, the specialist said, but also to ensure SMR technology doesn’t miss its window of opportunity. 

To access all the human insights in Third Bridge Forum’s SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) – Nuclear  Sector Opportunities & Regulatory Overview Interview, click here to view the full transcript. 

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The information used in compiling this document has been obtained by Third Bridge from experts participating in Forum Interviews. Third Bridge does not warrant the accuracy of the information and has not independently verified it. It should not be regarded as a trade recommendation or form the basis of any investment decision.

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