By: Nathan Jackson
The 2022 USNIC AR Summit was a key event in gathering stakeholders, suppliers, regulators, and financial backers in the nuclear industry together. The energy and optimism during the summit were exciting to see and indicates a strong market force for nuclear to thrive in the coming decades. Canada has established itself as the leader in advanced nuclear, primarily through the reduction in regulatory burden and a united focus in moving forward with this technology. The activity and expected growth in Canada is enormous and deserves tremendous recognition as a first mover. Perhaps the most important attendees were the financial personnel representing JP Morgan, Guggenheim Partners, and C5 Capital, bringing the message that the financial backing is present and dedicated to nuclear as the only viable long-term option to curb carbon emissions. The size of the market beyond grid power became apparent as well: Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil spoke about their companies’ directives to apply SMRs for the deep decarbonization of chemical production facilities. Beyond this, NASA, the DoD, and hydrogen producers all expressed the need for advanced nuclear in their sectors.
Challenges were also presented and discussed including: HALEU supply, supply chain, regulatory resistance, and workforce development. The incentives and market signals needed to stand up HALUE production facilities and re-establish a nuclear supply chain require the initiative and capital investment of a first mover, likely with the backing of federal cost-share programs, which have a history of successful partnerships with the private sector. The NRC acknowledged the challenge and room for improvement in streamlining a regulatory process that can support expected application quantities far beyond the current rate. Finally, the challenge of workforce development requires a holistic approach from the university level increasing enrollment in nuclear programs to the commercial sector sourcing qualified personnel from adjacent technical areas and supporting trade unions in maintaining qualification programs.
The call to action from the summit was clear: The advanced nuclear industry must deliver on our promises. The level-headed discussion of both opportunities and challenges may come to prove this event as an inflection point, driving the focus and commitment needed across the industry to successfully transition the US and Canada’s energy.