Thought Leadership

Observations from New Nuclear Capital 2019 Summit

Category: News & Events
James Carter • August 5, 2019

Last month, I attended the first annual New Nuclear Capital conference, which was held in Washington, D.C., under the auspices of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council.  It was billed as a “summit focused on markets and financing challenges, opportunities, and capital requirements for advanced nuclear energy.”

Approximately 300 attendees participated in this relevant and informative conference, and I found a significant amount of the material very interesting. Below are a few of my highlights.

Former NRC Commissioner Jeff Merrifield kicked off the conference by providing an optimistic update on technology and policy developments in advanced nuclear energy. He made an effective point by comparing an 80-year nuclear power plant requiring no backup power to comparably sized wind or solar facilities. Jeff pointed out that these plants have 20-year lifetimes, so they would require four replacements in 80 years – at future currency values.  Each wind or solar facility would also require backup generation, which translates into four combined cycle replacements at 20-year lifetimes or eight bulk storage facility replacements at 10-year lifetimes.

Jeff also noted overwhelming bipartisan support of nuclear power in the U.S. Congress as well as a significant increase in pro-nuclear non-governmental organizations over the last five years; with many of these NGOs driven by global climate change concerns.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, talked about her proposed Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), which lays out a path to market for advanced reactors by allowing the federal government to be an early adopter of commercialized technologies and to develop innovative concepts in partnership with the private sector; providing needed scientific research facilities; breaking down fuel availability barriers; and training the next generation of nuclear scientists.  She indicated that the Department of Defense is a logical first customer for micro reactors under long-term (20+ years) power purchase agreements.

Conference Chairman David Blee discussed the 2018 Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act, which consolidates, modernizes and reforms the U.S. government’s development financing capabilities into a new agency: the United States International Development Finance Corporation (DFC).  The DFC will have more tools and flexibility to support private sector-led development of small modular and advanced reactors in the world’s least developed countries.

Cory McDaniel, from Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, announced a cost-sharing program for the Canadian Nuclear Research Initiative (CNRI).  CNRI will support joint research projects.  Grants will require 50% cost share with the grantee, with some exceptions. Each grant may be for up to $1 million.

Valerie Gardner of Nucleation Capital discussed a paradigm shift in financing nuclear energy projects.  She pointed out that, collectively, more than 65,000 investing organizations and individuals with responsibility for $120 trillion are committed to decarbonization. And nuclear power is gaining favor among this group.

There was much discussion regarding U.S. private industry competing with the sovereign-funded nuclear exports by nations such as China and Russia.  Offering the best technologies appears to be the main competitive strategy for now; but the social, political and economic effects of this expanding China-Russia cooperation are garnering the attention of Western governments.

Many other challenges were identified, and a number of solutions were discussed outside the formal conference agenda. Overall, this conference pointed to how nuclear can adapt to the current political climate, how the economics of traditional and new nuclear developments can be best communicated, and the number of new investment opportunities that are ripening for developers – a very hopeful meeting for the industry.