As the race to replace fossil fuels heats up, a few Canadian startups are betting on the nuclear option.
“We need a game-changing energy innovation,” Simon Irish, chief executive of Oakville, Ont.,-based Terrestrial Energy, said in a recent interview. Renewable power like wind and solar aren’t able to meet the world’s growing energy demands, Irish says, so people have to rethink nuclear energy. “This is clean energy on a massive scale,” he said.
Irish’s company plans to develop a nuclear reactor in Canada in the next decade using molten salt rather than the solid nuclear fuel and highly pressurized water of conventional designs like the Candu reactor. The new technology results in a reactor six times more efficient, producing a third the nuclear waste while improving the safety of the system, he says. The idea of the liquefied salt reactors have been around since the early days of nuclear power, but they’ve never been developed commercially.
Terrestrial, which raised $10 million last month in its first major financing, says it’s aiming to change that, with a design it says will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels. “We’re not looking to build a reactor in a laboratory,” said Irish. “We’re just taking a reactor design off the shelf, taking it out of national lab, and we’re seeking to commercialize it.”
Burnaby, B.C.,-based General Fusion also says it’s also trying to develop nuclear energy, but it’s not exactly using off-the-shelf technology. The company, as the name suggests, is trying to build the world’s first commercial fusion reactor, which releases energy by crushing atoms together. Today’s reactors are based on fission, where atoms are instead split apart. General Fusion has already raised $100 million from investors like Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos and oilsands producer Cenovus Energy. But that’s a pittance compared with the many billions of dollars governments are spending to try to build a successful fusion plant in France called Iter. Michael Delage, General Fusion’s vice president of technology and corporate strategy, predicts his company’s practical approach will allow it to succeed with far less money.