NANO Nuclear Energy: How This Company Is Powering The Future Of Advanced Reactors

By Amit Chowdhry ● Jan 5, 2024

NANO Nuclear Energy is a company that has taken the initiative to also focus on High-Assay Low-Enriched Uranium (HALEU) to power the future of advanced reactors through their subsidiary HALEU Energy Fuel Inc. Pulse 2.0 interviewed NANO Nuclear Founder, Executive Chairman and President Jay Jiang Yu and NANO Nuclear Energy’s CEO and Head of Reactor Development, James Walker.

Background Of Jay Jiang Yu And James Walker

Yu is a serial entrepreneur and has over 16 years of experience in capital markets on Wall Street. He is a private investor in a multitude of companies and has advised a magnitude of private and public company executives geared at taking these companies to the next level.

Yu is a self-taught and private self-investor, and his relentless passion for international business has helped him develop key, strategic, and valuable relationships throughout the world. Yu leads the corporate structuring, capital financings, executive-level recruitment, governmental relationships, and international brand growth of NANO Nuclear Energy. Previously, Yu worked as an Analyst at a premier investment bank on Wall Street in New York City. In 2021, Yu was honored as one of The Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business. And he is an active Philanthropist and the founder of a Non-Profit Organization that helps nurture New York City kids through sports and education. 

Walker is a Nuclear Physicist and Nuclear Engineer. Previously, he was the lead project manager for constructing the new Nuclear Fuel Reclamation Plant for the U.K. Ministry of Defense and was the UK Subject Matter Expert for Nuclear Fuel Reclamation. Walker was the technical project manager for constructing the UK reactor manufacturing facilities. He was also seconded to Rolls Royce, where he worked as a physicist modeling configurations of RR’s Zero-Power reactor to inform confidence limits for the computational programs used to design the UK’s successor submarines, and he worked for the Rolls-Royce Nuclear Thermal Hydraulics Engineering team, investigating reactor channel thermal performance to inform new reactor designs.

Walker’s professional engineering experience includes nuclear reactors, mines, submarines, chemical plants, factories, mine processing facilities, infrastructure, automotive machinery, and testing rigs. Walker has extensive experience in engineering and project management, particularly in nuclear engineering, mining engineering, mechanical engineering, construction, manufacturing, engineering design, infrastructure, and safety management. Walker also has executive experience in startups and has degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Mining Engineering, and Nuclear Engineering, as well as qualifications in Project Management and Accountancy. Walker is a Chartered Engineer with the IMechE, a Project Manager Professional with the APM, a Professional Engineer with the Engineers and Geoscientists BC, and a Chartered Physicist with the Institute of Physics.

Formation Of NANO Nuclear Energy

How did the idea for NANO Nuclear Energy come together?

Jay Yu: “The idea came together when I wanted to focus on investing in the next clean energy sector. Wind and Solar had very little innovation, but Nuclear Tech piqued my interest because of the baseload energy output and the advancement in material science to make Nuclear Small Cheaper and Safer. What reinforced my business thesis on creating NANO Nuclear Energy was what the Chairman & CEO of Blackrock, Larry Fink stated, ‘It is my belief that the next 1,000 unicorns — companies that have a market valuation over $1 billion dollars — won’t be a search engine, won’t be a media company, they’ll be businesses developing green hydrogen, green agriculture, green steel, and green cement,’ Fink wrote, using the tech-industry term ‘unicorns’ to refer to start-ups valued at $1 billion.” 

 

James Walker: “Our initial energy assessment included the consideration of other energy sources, such as wind and solar. SMRs were initially examined, but it became apparent that the market with far larger potential was in more deployable energy systems that could service remote locations more readily; the only candidate that could satisfy this market was microreactors because of their high-capacity factors. The market has exceedingly large potential, with tens of thousands of mining operations running on diesel fuel, which could financially benefit from a steady source of clean and portable energy over a 20-year period.” 

“We identified a large potential customer base for deployable mobile reactors, for remote industrial and manufacturing projects, current and previously uneconomic mining sites, oil and gas projects, military bases, remote towns and communities, islands or emergency sites (post-earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, etc.) to re-establish electrical power during the absence of electric grid availability. Additionally, tens of thousands of mine sites that are not currently economically viable could suddenly be made viable with inexpensive, clean energy, creating the potential to free up huge deposits of mineral wealth. This possibility can be applied most notably to Africa, where mineral wealth exists but is often inaccessible due to the power demands of modern mining operations. Similarly, all remote industrial projects could potentially benefit from our microreactors. Wherever diesel generators are deployed, our microreactors could provide a power source with fewer inherent logistical challenges, as they do not require daily refueling like diesel generators.”

“Other large markets identified included remote habitation. We believe, based on market research, that over a hundred remote settlements in Canada run exclusively on diesel. This observation was complimented by the observation that countries with numerous islands, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Philippines, and others, also have large numbers of inhabited islands sustained predominantly by diesel fuel. Catering to this market would open tens of thousands of sales opportunities to our company.”

“If countries are also serious about electrifying their transportation infrastructure, only microreactors would be able to service charging stations for electric vehicles throughout a country. Wind and solar can only be sited where they can generate sufficient output energy, and batteries cannot be shipped to charging stations on a daily basis, especially outside of cities, or between urban developments. Microreactors could make it possible to actually eliminate the need for fossil-fueled vehicles, which no other energy form can currently claim.”  

“We also believe the shipping industry is a major area of potential growth for our company. The U.S. Navy has already demonstrated decades of successfully powering large ocean-going ships with nuclear fuel without incident or any carbon emissions. Oil tankers, shipping container vessels, and other large ships all use bunker fuel, which is incredibly polluting and bad for the environment. The global focus will eventually shift to substituting this fuel as soon as a candidate is identified. We believe we will have that replacement technology in our nuclear microreactors.” 

Favorite Memory 

What has been your favorite memory working for the company so far?

Jay Yu: “My favorite memories are meeting passionate world class engineers and prominent leaders in the Nuclear Industry. Also understanding how NANO Nuclear Energy can help reinforce USA Energy Sovereignty by recruiting former national leaders and driving clean energy initiatives.” 

James Walker: “I was particularly encouraged to see so much investment coming into the company from nuclear professionals and engineers, it was the strongest commendation and assurance from the nuclear industry that we are on the right track, and that we are building a company able to stand out and give confidence to the experts who understand the industry best.”

Core Products 

What are NANO Nuclear Energy’s core products and features? Walker explained:

We are developing two advanced portable nuclear micro reactors in technical design and development. The first, ‘ZEUS,’ is a Solid Core Battery Reactor, designed by world-class engineers trained at the University of California-Berkeley. It has a fully solid core, where heat is removed solely by thermal conduction. This requires the deployment of high conductivity, high melting materials, and careful materials design. The reactor will use uranium dioxide fuel, so no new fuel developments are necessary. Reactivity will be controlled with absorber drums outside of the central core. The generated heat will be conducted from the fuel to the outside of the core via thermal conduction through a thermally conductive material, allowing for the elimination of coolant, creating a far safer reactor than historically developed. Heat will be removed from the outside of the core by recirculated air or helium gas, which delivers the heat to the gas turbine to produce electricity. The gas turbine will be affixed to the top of the reactor to reduce piping and minimize the size of the plant.  The benefit of not incorporating a primary liquid loop is that it reduces the manufacturing costs and enhances simplicity for modeling, testing, optimizing, and constructing. The secondary loop outside the monolith will be inert gas, allowing to reach high temperatures and direct heating of a gas turbine, which will be compact and small. Without coolant, typical reactor pumps and piping can be removed from the design, allowing for further compactness, with the aim being to construct a full core and electricity-generating gas turbine within a container meeting International Organization for Standardization specifications. The smaller power core will also mean less neutrons are absorbed by the non-fissionable materials, allowing for longer operational life despite the small core.”   

“Our second reactor in development, ‘ODIN,’ will be a Low-Pressure Coolant Reactor, which uses relatively simple uranium and zirconium HALEU hydride. The zirconium hydride densely packs hydrogen, and so provides substantial moderation. Low pressure “solar” salt (sodium-potassium nitrate eutectic) coolant will be used to minimize the stress on structural components and improve the reliability and service life. The design will take advantage of the natural convection of the coolant for heat transfer to the power conversion cycle at full power, as well as for decay heat removal during reactor shutdown, operating transients, and off-normal conditions. A nitrogen or open-air Brayton cycle will be used for power conversion due to its simplicity, flexibility, and its wide use within the conventional power industry. Reactivity control system design will have high reliability and robustness through minimizing the number of moving parts.”

Challenges Faced

After asking Walker about the challenges that were faced in building the company, he acknowledged:

“The industry is slow moving, which can mean long waiting periods for permission to proceed to more advanced investigations and studies. If applications or submissions are not followed up, they can remain unanswered, and the company can end up waiting indefinitely without notification. The waiting periods for responses in the nuclear industry can often be responsible for the most time expended during the launch of any project.”

Evolution Of NANO Nuclear Energy’s Technology 

How has NANO Nuclear Energy’s technology evolved since launching? Walker noted:

Our technology has undergone rapid, iterative improvement since the company was launched. Our technical teams continue to make incremental improvements on all our technology as we continue to work on and model our reactors to continuously optimize the designs, materials, outputs, and specifications.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of NANO Nuclear Energy’s most significant milestones? Walker cited:

– Recruiting two world-class technical teams populated with some of the best nuclear scientists in the world. Forming a partnership with the former executives of the world’s largest delivery company.

– Securing support for our operations from the DOE, the U.S. nuclear national laboratories, and bringing into the company some of the industry’s leaders.

– Receiving support from billionaire investors following extensive due diligence.

Customer Success Stories

After asking Walker about customer success stories, he highlighted:

“As we began building the company, an enormous number of companies began approaching NANO Nuclear for partnerships, but also making inquiries about our microreactors to power their remote operations. We have had mining companies, industrial projects, oil and gas, data centers, and even shipping companies approach us to inquire about our timelines, products, and request technical data so they can incorporate microreactors into their planning. The reception has been extremely positive throughout our startup.”

Funding/Revenue

After asking Walker about the company’s funding and revenue information, he revealed:

“We cannot disclose our financial modeling analyses and findings as they are likely to change as we make further progress and introduce further refinements. However, we can share that our models show that the price of our reactors will come down by 70% with the introduction of mass manufacturing optimization. This would make our reactors less expensive than any alternative for remote operations.”

Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is NANO Nuclear Energy pursuing? Walker assessed:

“The market is trillions of dollars. Unlocking remote previously uneconomic resources alone will be a multibillion-dollar opportunity. Combined with taking maritime nuclear, introducing nuclear powered charging stations throughout the world, powering island and remote communities, running processing plants and industrial facilities on nuclear, and powering data and AI centers with nuclear, the size of the energy market is incalculable.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates NANO Nuclear Energy from its competition? Walker concluded:

“Almost all microreactor companies have advanced using funds acquired from government grants or awards. Even with their private funding, they have been stifled by a lack of investor interest because of the long return timelines and high risks. NANO Nuclear is different in many ways. Firstly, the company has not had to rely on any government funding and has enormous experience in raising funding for projects, with its first funding rounds all being oversubscribed, and bringing in big players early, such as the former executives of the world’s largest transportation company, and an unnamed billionaire. NANO Nuclear also identified that far more investment would be available by progressing towards the capital markets early on, while simultaneously providing the company with a far larger pool of investors and access to capital.”

“On the technical front, NANO Nuclear benefited hugely from insight into the problems that affected earlier movers within the nuclear space. Some companies have raised over billions of dollars for development but essentially had to shut down because of the lag in developing or acquiring the fuel necessary to advance their reactors. This led to NANO Nuclear’s collaboration with INL to build its own fuel fabrication facility and use more conventional fuel with a greater operational history. The company also brought in more high-placed government contacts. This was complemented by bringing in experts and top-level people involved in every major part of the nuclear industry, from regulation to laboratories to technical teams. NANO Nuclear’s technical team is now world-class, with simple, realizable reactor concepts that do not require exotic fuels like TRISO, and who are aware of all the difficulties faced by almost every other reactor company that has chosen alternative designs.”

“The nuclear market has a high barrier to entry given the expertise required and the larger investment necessary to progress reactor designs to prototype, and then through licensing. This high barrier to entry has acted in Nano’s favor, leaving huge opportunities and business areas vacant and neglected. There are no microreactor prototypes, there is one licensed SMR, there are no microreactor or SMR companies in revenue, there are no HALEU fuel fabrication facilities, there is no transportation system for HALEU, there is no deconversion facility for HALEU. Huge national capability gaps have been left in an enormous market, caused predominantly by this high barrier to entry. These capability gaps are exacerbated by nuclear companies being unwilling to branch into areas outside their focused business objectives, like an SMR company expanding into fuel and transport, or enrichment companies expanding into fuel fabrication.”

“This phenomenon is peculiar to the nuclear industry for several reasons. SMR and microreactors typically begin their inception as academic exercises without market focus, and few have demonstrated the financial capacity to progress to the prototype stage (pre-licensing but with design finalized and test work completed). These companies have suffered from a lack of experience with raising capital or a failure to access the public markets to draw funds and raise the company’s value. Companies that have spent 10 years developing a microreactor and never progressed to reactor testwork due to insufficient personnel, funds, and resources. Consequently, these types of companies have never even been able to consider branching into different areas of the nuclear business. Large SMR companies have not built a revenue generating reactor, and well-financed groups have selected fuels which impeded their expansion and progress, inhibiting large areas of the nuclear industry from private development.”