News In Context

New Deal And Planned Summit Highlight Nuclear Energy’s Role In Climate Goals

On March 5 newcleo, a European nuclear technology company developing Generation IV reactors that use nuclear waste as fuel, and Viaro Energy, a London-based independent upstream energy company, announced that they are partnering to use low-carbon nuclear technology to decarbonize the oil and gas sector. The news is a testament to the growing recognition that the pathway to Net Zero will be faster if nuclear power is part of the solution.

The deal comes just two months after world leaders at COP28 agreed that the provision of nuclear energy should be accelerated as part of the mix with low-carbon sources of energy and just two weeks before the March 21 Nuclear Energy Summit 2024 in Brussels which will be co-chaired by International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. World leaders attending the first-of-its-kind nuclear energy summit are expected to discuss how to overcome opposition from Germany and a small number of other nations to using development banks to fund nuclear projects.

Nuclear power– once regarded as a dangerous and undesirable source of energy – is increasingly being seen as a way for Europe to supplement renewables and gain energy sovereignty.

The IAEA Director General is urging global development banks and their government shareholders to fund new projects, warning that a failure to do so could delay the energy transition. “I am very respectful of their own political circumstances, and I don’t want to meddle in internal politics, but we need to have this discussion . . . it goes to the core of the European economy, European jobs, European competitiveness,” Grossi told The Financial Times. “All these development banks or international finance institutions are out of date, out of step with what is happening. This is a . . . post-Chernobyl sort of mantra, which does not correspond any more to the policy indication from countries and the ideas and projects we are seeing.”

According to the IAEA, there are currently about 70 Small Modular Reactors (SMR)  projects worldwide and a wide variety of designs and advanced technologies for so-called IV generation reactors are being studied. These include six categories: supercritical-water-cooled reactors, molten salt reactors, sodium-cooled fast reactors, very-high-temperature reactors, gas-cooled fast reactors and lead-cooled fast reactors (LFRs), which newcleo specializes in.

Newcleo is developing LFR technology that it says will be suitable for a wide range of locations t, including co-location with electro-intensive industries. Its LFRs will run on reprocessed spent fuel currently created by existing reactors – not only reducing the climate footprint of newcleo’s own operations, but effectively closing the fuel cycle, increasing the useable energy from previously mined uranium, eliminating the need to extract and process new uranium resources and reducing the stock of long-lived wastes, the company says.

Under the strategic agreement with Viaro following the completion of feasibility studies, the companies will establish a joint venture for the deployment of newcleo’s 200MWe LFR reactors at chosen sites within Viaro’s portfolio. The technology will contribute to Net-Zero goals by maximising the benefits of AMRs for cogeneration, combined heat and power and off-grid application. The average life span of an LFR reactor is 60 years and after the decarbonization of the Viaro’s hydrocarbon assets, the LFRs will continue providing clean energy to the UK’s national electric grid and elsewhere in Europe where the technology is implemented.

Viaro is also directly investing in newcleo by way of acquiring shares in its latest capital raise.

Last March newcleo launched an equity raise of up to €1 billion to fund the further development of its LFRs and its plants to manufacture fuel from nuclear waste. The company said the capital raise will support newcleo’s continued path to growth with a delivery roadmap that will see the design and build of a Mini 30MWe LFR to be first deployed in France by 2030, rapidly followed by a 200MWe commercial unit in the UK  two years later.

Nuclear reactors produce very limited volumes of waste in proportion to the amount of energy produced. IAEA studies show that assuming that nuclear waste is not reprocessed at all, 30 tons of high-level solid-packed waste is produced annually by a 1GWe reactor. By comparison, 300,000 tons of ash are produced by an equivalent 1GWe coal plant.

Newcleo  is planning to build MOX manufacturing facilities to prepare fuel for its LFRs to prove it is possible to mine zero new uranium, while also eliminating the world’s existing plutonium stockpile. With MOX in LFRs, the company says it can burn up to 1.5 tons/year with a 4GWe installed capacity.

In this scenario, nuclear countries would boost their energy independence by using up fuel that is already available to them, removing the need to store large volumes of waste materials and cutting the waste’s radioactive half-life from thousands of years to few decades, newcleo CEO and Chairman Stefano Buono said in an article posted on the World Economic Forum’s website.  In the article newcleo calculated that with its fuel and reactors, only 233 grams of fuel are required to satisfy the lifetime electricity needs of a human being.

“Nuclear has the potential to be extremely clean, not only because it will help mitigate the climate crisis but also because there are very small volumes of materials involved and you can essentially recycle everything,” says Buono, an Italian nuclear physicist who started his career working with Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Center for Advanced Studies, Research and Development in Sardinia (CRS4,) in the field of accelerator driven systems and nuclear waste transmutation.

Another key advantage is that the reactors are smaller, making them cheaper to build and distribute geographically, Buono says. Originally, SMRs were intended to bring electricity to remote geographical areas, a limited market. More recently, French electricity company EDF has put forward the idea of replacing coal-fired power plants with small reactors.

In a 2023 interview with The Innovator Buono said he is not waiting for government funding. Newcleo is progressing with plans to build a small demonstration reactor in Italy by 2026 and full-scale reactors of its own design in France by 2030 and in the UK by 2032. “These will be funded by private money,” says Buono. “If we can also have public funds, I will be very happy, but in the past I have suffered so much from not having the support of governments, that we are set up to do it alone.”

Other nuclear energy startups are also forging ahead with private sector money. In late January  Transmutex SA, a nuclear engineering company based in Geneva, Switzerland, announced a new round of financing. The Series A2 round was co-led by Union Square Ventures and Steel Atlas. The five-year-old Swiss company, which is developing what it says is a safer reaction technology, is collaborating with top tier governmental institutions worldwide to explore the possibility of forming of an international coalition to accelerate the development and the construction of a first-of-kind facility.



Amazon Teams With Recycling Robot Firm Glacier To Track Consumer Waste

Amazon  announced an investment in Glacier, a Bay Area robotics startup, through its Climate Pledge Fund and said it plans to implement the startup’s technology to find out what happens to its packaging once it leaves consumers’ hands. “Our investment in Glacier is really about creating a circular economy supply chain,” Nick Ellis, principal at Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, told TechCrunch. “We want to do that sustainably, and that piece has always been a bit of a black box. Once that package ends up at our customer’s doorstep, what happens to it? Glacier finally allows us to see that last piece of the puzzle and understand is that packaging ending up in a recycling stream or a waste stream.”


A Robot That Autonomously Charges EVs Parked In Lots

Tel Aviv-based startup BaTTeRi has developed a robot that can autonomously pick out individual electric vehicles (EVs) and charge them very quickly, with minimal human interaction and without the driver having to wait long periods at a public location. Thomas the AI robot charger – which takes its name from the tank engine of children’s stories  – is L-shaped and has wheels on the bottom, allowing it to move independently around a parking lot and charge EVs on demand. The design means that the robot can easily slide underneath a car for wireless recharging, where enabled, or plug into the vehicle via its upper arm when it must – for now – connect manually.The robot identifies the cars that need charging through an app, where drivers provide details of their vehicles, how often they need charging and to what extent.


Nationwide To Buy Virgin Money, Expand Into Business Banking

Nationwide has struck a deal to buy Virgin Money for £2.9 billion in a move that would see the building society expand into business banking and present a challenge to the might of the UK’s four big high street banks.The surprise deal would pair the UK’s biggest building society with more than 17 million customers, with Virgin Money, the sixth largest retail bank with around 6.6 million customers and 91 branches.


Yo Egg Moves Into US Retail With Poached And Sunny Side Up Plant-based Eggs

Yo Egg, a Los Angeles-based startup with patent-pending tech to create sunny-side-up and poached eggs from plants, is making its retail debut. Founded in September 2021 by entrepreneur Eran Groner (CEO) and chef Yosefa Ben Cohen and backed by investors including NFX, Stray Dog Capital, Secret Chord Ventures, and Surround Ventures, Yo Egg launched into food service last spring and is now entering the retail market.The zero-cholesterol, low-saturated fat eggs—made from a base of soy and chickpea protein plus sunflower oil, with ‘runny’ yolks sealed from the whites by an alginate film—are distributed by Whitestone Natural Foods. They will be sold in four-packs in the freezer section in select supermarkets in Los Angeles.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.