A British company is developing a 300-megawatt power plant in New Brunswick to source electricity from spent nuclear fuel, and says it could make Saint John a hub for similar zero-carbon plants around the world.
Moltex Energy signed an agreement last July with NB Power, the utility owned by the New Brunswick government, under which both parties would put up $5 million toward the project. (Another company, ARC Nuclear Canada, signed a similar contract to work on a small modular reactor facility.)
Moltex has since set up a 10-person office in Saint John, and is now raising close to £6 million(C$10.3 million) in private money to put toward the project. Over the next year, it will attempt to raise a further £40 million to help finance its first plant near the Point Lepreau nuclear facility, which would eventually cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion. This plant could be ready in eight to 10 years, if everything goes smoothly.
Moltex believes its technology has the capacity to solve the climate change crisis on its own. In time, says Moltex, it could deliver affordable electricity with no carbon emissions while reducing the world’s stock of nuclear waste.
“The opportunity here is so big,” said Moltex CEO North America Rory O’Sullivan in an interview. “The GDP increase for the host nation would be C$1.5 trillion and it would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. That opportunity is too big just for Canada.”
Moltex is one of a handful of companies around the world that is working on technology that would convert the waste from nuclear plants into electricity. (Another is Bellevue, Wash.-based TerraPower, founded by Bill Gates.) Some environmentalists believe nuclear power is a key to battling climate change because it produces energy on demand (whereas renewables like solar or wind are sporadic), and this new technology would mitigate the downside of nuclear power by consuming nuclear waste.
Founded in Stratford-upon-Avon, Moltex has devised a plan for a molten salt reactor, which the company says is safer and less expensive than conventional nuclear reactors. It does not require the high pressures of current reactors, and does not produce radioactive gases. What’s more, the nuclear reaction slows as the temperature rises, so it is self-cooling.
O’Sullivan, who’s now based in Saint John, said Canada and the U.K. have the two best regulatory regimes for developing a molten salt reactor. Though there are utilities and investors around the world that accept the science behind the project, it has proven difficult to find a place to build the first plant, he said.
The New Brunswick government, meanwhile, had proposed a nuclear research cluster in the province, and Moltex found that NB Power would be a suitable partner in developing a plant.
“The numbers show that this business should be profitable as long as we can get anywhere near delivering what we believe we can,” said O’Sullivan. “We have loads of interest from utilities around the world that want to build these things, but no one wants to build the first one.”
The Canadian company has applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a design review, which could take three years. After that, there would be a more rigorous safety review.
Meanwhile, the parent company, Moltex Energy, is working on raising capital. It received a £2.5 million investment from the Spanish engineering firm IDOM, and £800,000 from existing investors. It set out to raise a further £700,000 in an equity crowdfunding round through the site Shadow Foundr, and O’Sullivan said that in one week it exceeded its target, so it has raised the total target for the current raise from as much as £5 million to £6 million.
The current round will set the stage for a larger round with a target of £40 million. O’Sullivan said the main difficulty in courting investors is that the company will not produce revenues for at least eight to 10 years, and most investors demand a return in less time. But he adds that the company has the potential to be highly profitable and to make a meaningful impact on the climate change battle.
“From the climate change perspective, anyone who has taken the time to understand what we’re doing can understand that this is a technology that can solve climate change,” said O’Sullivan. “I don’t know of any other technology that’s scalable and that can make that claim.”