Accuracy Talks Straight #7 – Start-up stories
In light of the energy crisis and sovereignty challenges that have recently emerged, nuclear power is again the subject of much interest as a form of low-carbon energy. But what will be the nuclear energy of tomorrow? Next to conventional nuclear power, which remains the prerogative of governments and government-assisted bodies, numerous privately financed start-ups have begun operations in the last few years in this industry, like NAAREA (an acronym of Nano Abundant Affordable Resourceful Energy for All).
Through its XS(A)MR (extra-small advanced modular reactor) project, NAAREA aims to design and develop fourth-generation low power molten salt reactors (< 50 MW).
There are multiple advantages to this technology – initially developed in the 1950s and 1960s – according to the two founders, Jean-Luc Alexandre and Ivan Gavriloff. First, this type of reactor, which works by dissolving the nuclear fuel in salt melted at a high temperature (700°C), is safer thanks to the fission regulation systems made possible as a result of its smaller size. Further, there is no drain on natural resources because the reactor uses fuel from existing reserves of nuclear waste and thorium (the concept of waste-to-energy), thus limiting any dependence on uranium suppliers. In addition, the waste resulting from the process is very limited, reducing the risk of dispersal and issues linked to storage. But the main advantage of this innovation, and also what differentiates it from other major projects in the US or China, lies in its very small size. With a highly compact volume, not far from the size of a shipping container, the reactor can be deployed in an independent and decentralised way, making it possible to be closer to industrial consumers, without needing to reinforce current distribution networks or access to water. Ultimately, this type of reactor should ensure a more affordable energy price than that resulting from fossil fuels and renewable energy for an autonomy of up to 10 years.
NAAREA’s objective is to produce and operate directly its micro power plants in large quantities and to sell the energy produced to industrials. This positioning as a service provider is much more engaging and therefore reassuring for nuclear safety authorities, as it avoids the proliferation of nuclear operators. Here again, it differs from the numerous other competing projects that hope to provide the solution.
In exchange, this project requires significant investment. Today, the start-up has already raised tens of millions of euros from family offices and has built partnerships with major industry players: the CEA, the CNRS, Framatome, Orano, Dassault Systèmes, Assystem. Indeed, with Assystem, it is in the process of producing the digital twin of its reactor, scheduled for summer 2023. Participating notably in the ‘Réacteurs nucléaires innovants’ call for projects as part of the ‘France 2030’ investment plan, NAAREA hopes to raise hundreds of millions of euros more to be able to build its prototype by 2027 and its first unit by 2029.