Rory O'Sullivan

CEO, North America

Moltex Energy

December 13, 2021

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Ep 343: Rory O'Sullivan - CEO, North America, Moltex Energy
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Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Well, today, we are here with Rory O'Sullivan, the North American CEO of Moltex Energy. Welcome to Titans of Nuclear, Rory.

Rory O'Sullivan
Good morning. It's great to be here.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Good to be here. So we're at the WNE conference in Paris, France. You are from Ireland originally and you're now in Canada working with Moltex in the North American region. And we originally interviewed about two years ago, three years ago in 2018, a co-founder and the UK CEO, Ian Scott, but it's great to be back and to hear an update about what all you guys have been up to in the past three years.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, I think you guys have been doing a lot in the last two years as well since then. You've had a lot of different people on, so it's great to be here.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Let's start back at your beginning and tell the Rory O'Sullivan story, if you will. How did you first enter the energy space, enter the nuclear space? What got you interested in this to begin with?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, sure. So I graduated mechanical engineering. I was a mechanical engineer from Trinity College, Dublin, and INSA Lyon in France. I actually graduated anti-nuclear. Most Irish people are anti-nuclear there, because of the waste, because of the cost, and because of safety - the usual reasons. I was on the fence, but I ended up anti-nuclear, so I thought I'd go and work on a wind farm. And there was a lot of wind in Ireland.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So you say when you graduated, but you did go to school in France as well, where nuclear is incredibly popular.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, yeah, it's true. But nuclear wasn't really part of the curriculum when I was there. I was there for a year and a half and we didn't cover nuclear. In Ireland, we did some and so I did fall on the anti-nuclear fence.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
All right, all right.

Rory O'Sullivan
But there was a big wind industry in Ireland at the time, so I went and worked on a wind farm down the West Coast. I was, This is going to be the future. And then after about six months down there, I realized wind is not going to solve the planet's problems. They were just destroying the countryside, huge, big trucks like wrecking the land.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
This is mostly onshore wind?

Rory O'Sullivan
It was onshore wind when onshore wind was just starting out. It was very expensive. And since that was what, 20 years ago or something, and now I can't believe it has gotten so much cheaper. It really has gotten much cheaper, but it's still using huge land usage, taking up beautiful countryside. So after the six months there, I realized, yeah, this is not going to solve the planet's problems. So I was very dismayed by energy and went and got a job in London, England.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Okay, doing...?

Rory O'Sullivan
Construction, project management. So I started out as an engineer on-site, mechanical engineer. Kind of worked my way up. In the end, I was running about a 60 million pound mixed commercial residential unit, running about 350 people on-site. Really exciting day to day, loved the job, but the bigger picture just wasn't very interesting. It's just construction. I'm still always interested in energy. It was around 2014 when I heard about the concept of molten salt reactors.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So molten salt reactors and this different type of nuclear technology that promises to be safer and has all these additional environmental benefits. That kind of helped sway you back, first of all, into the energy space where the things that were dismaying you were the environmental impacts the cost and then kind of ultimately just not being too enthralled by energy in general.

Rory O'Sullivan
Exactly. And molten salt reactors, even back then there was like maybe one. The Chinese had a startup that was great. But they have the potential to deal with the waste, the potential to be low cost, and the potential to have a radical improvement in things.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And how did you first hear about molten salt? Was it by reading papers or hearing a lecture?

Rory O'Sullivan
I attended a lecture that was organized by an 84-year old Jasper Tomlinson. He set it up through the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London. And I went along, just got an email, this lecture in nuclear innovation. Okay, let's go have a listen. And I knew that day that I was like, this is the future.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Wow.

Rory O'Sullivan
And nobody in the industry had heard about Molten Salt Reactors then. I mean, literally, ask anybody in energy. They didn't know they were.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And this is a technology that was developed- or not developed, but conceived of and written about decades ago at the beginning of the nuclear power sector, 50 years ago or so in the laboratory setting, but has never really been thought of as a potential commercial, viable energy source.

Rory O'Sullivan
Exactly. There was the prototype in the 60s. There was some work in the 70s. But really then it was put on the shelf and it wasn't until people like Kirk Sorensen with Flibe Energy, David LeBlanc of Terrestrial Energy, who started to go back and look at this. And Ian Scott, the founder of Moltex, was one of those at the same time. So I hadn't met any of them, Moltex, or any of them at the time. But I was fascinated. So myself, and Jasper, the 85 year old, we got together and said we want to do something about this. What we did was we got a government - UK Government - grant, 75,000 pounds or something, and we got- he put up some money and Frazer-Nash Consultancy put up some money. And we did an evaluation of molten salt reactors to be able to build a prototype in the UK. And that was looking at the various kind of concepts and ideas that are around at the time.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So this is just kind of an academic study, but with the intent to see if it will be viable from an economic perspective, from a supply chain perspective, or what all were you evaluating?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, that's it. I mean, really, the objective was, could a molten salt technology be developed in the near term for large scale commercial rollout? Was it feasible, essentially. And so we got up this pool of experts around to look at all the different options. It was pretty quick that we saw the Moltex design that was really just Ian Scott in his basement - fancy big house in the countryside rather than basement, but still - had come up with the idea. But he had the basics and the main patents and the technology there. And I got into this by I took a year off work. I studied maybe at night for two years before this and then got this pool of experts together to do this evaluation with that. We set up a company Energy Process Developments and the report is still- I think it's still out there online. It was used a lot at the time: Molten Salt (MSR) Feasibility Study. It's an interesting read, I think. But anyway, quite quickly into that study, we found that the Moltex design was way ahead of the rest in terms of likelihood for near term development. And that's because of the unique patents and the ability to put fuel in tubes. So we were looking at collaborating with Ian, the founder and the team that I had set up there, looking at collaborating doing different projects. Then really, it made sense to actually just merge with Moltex. And that's what happened. The team that we had set up ended up just merging with Moltex.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
What was your role then when you merged into the Moltex company with Ian?

Rory O'Sullivan
Well, it wasn't really a company then. It was Ian. It was Ian and he had already come across the partner, John Durham, who put up the first million pounds. So it was really at that point we started to look and expand and recruit people. That's when it became a company and I was leading operations, really. Might be the role there for the first few years before I moved to Canada as Chief Operating Officer. But it was very small at the time. We were looking for where's the best country to deploy the technology?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right. Right. And so when you were looking across the technological landscape, obviously - or the country landscape - obviously there's the demand, right? In the UK, you're probably part of why the government was so eager to sponsor these studies and to be involved in this process to date. There's a lot of energy need and decarbonisation need and the current fleet is retiring. SMRs and AMRs and different types of technologies need to be on the horizon, so there's a great need to sponsor that type of work. And of course, you're now in Canada. What were you looking at? Regulatory? Supply chain? Economics? Energy demand?

Rory O'Sullivan
We were looking at a regulator that was able to license innovative designs. We were looking for customers that wanted new nuclear power and needed clean energy and generally a good ecosystem. And we thought the UK had a lot of that. What was interesting is really the UK was focused then on big nuclear and there was no customer available, which you wouldn't really notice when you first look at the UK, because it's a very big industry, but actually, EDF is the French government and they're the only utility operate nuclear operator in the country. Canada has a very- well, not special situation, but a very, very good environment in this regard, because there are several utility customers that don't have a technology bias. So as soon as we went over to Canada to look and speak to them, it was a very different discussion, because they need low carbon solutions, economic development, all the same things, but they didn't have any biases. They were just looking for the best solution. And so we had great traction immediately in Canada, because I think we've got a great solution.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Where are we in time now?

Rory O'Sullivan
This is probably 2016. I spent time in Malaysia. I spent time in Indonesia. I was back and forth to China five times in a couple of years. Then we were in India a couple of times. We looked at obviously the USA. We looked everywhere for the best.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Canada had kind of the right options.

Rory O'Sullivan
Canada kind of really had the right mix. It has a good regulatory environment. It has customers, of course. There's a need for new clean energy solutions. And it has an established nuclear industry that was open to innovation.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And a regulator that's open to innovation.

Rory O'Sullivan
A regulatory framework that is ready for innovation.

Rory O'Sullivan
Right. Okay, so you establish operations in Canada. You become the North American CEO.

Rory O'Sullivan
We are doing the Vendor Design Review, which is the Canadian regulatory process for vendors from the UK. We started from the UK, started submissions, like first submission in December 2017. And then it was around February 2018 that New Brunswick Power- we came across New Brunswick Power and they were doing their technology evaluation. And there wasn't really any utilities at this point that were seriously looking at SMRs. They were the first. And they were looking at 90 different technologies and they selected us and ARC as the top two technologies to work with. They were also looking for partners to move to New Brunswick and set up a presence here. We were looking at options to move to Canada, so it was just really good timing. It was a really good fit. So that's when I moved over to New Brunswick - it was July, maybe July, August 2018 - to start up the Canadian operations properly.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Excellent. And so I guess at this at this time you are establishing your team, growing the company, and at what point are you ready to enter into the regulatory process? Or is that- that's actually, just entered into the regulatory process.

Rory O'Sullivan
We had just started that. We were kind of starting it slowly. And we were building the team at the same time… in Canada and the UK were helping us through that process, helping us build the team. It was around mid-2018 when we had our investment from IDOM. IDOM, a major European engineering firm, they were looking at different technologies and they decided to invest in us, so that really helped build our team, because they were able to send us as many engineers that we liked to be able to scale up fast.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Great. What was that period like? When you establish operations and you're ready to- your design is final enough that they're no more changes you made, it's ready to be submitted to the regulator. You don't have a supply chain. You have to build up staff. You have to build up your safety case. You have to perform all different types of analyses. You have to build a fuel supply chain, as well. What has that process been like?

Rory O'Sullivan
It's exciting. There have been a lot of ups and downs. Some of the learning with the regulatory process- you know, looking back you'd always do things differently, of course - but it was a really big challenge, we had people from all over the world working on the project and translating how you do a nuclear design. And how you do nuclear safety was really very challenging, because we were trying to do it in the Canadian language - the way Canadian regulators and any industry are familiar with - but a lot of our expertise were from Spain, from the UK, from the USA, from France, Asia. And that that was a real struggle. So we were trying to develop our own procedures and our own safety processes. But bringing with such a diverse background, it was very tedious to get that off the ground.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And you would think that having kind of all those different perspectives would actually be really smart in the long run, right? So you build your first few plants in Canada, license them with the Canadian regulator, but then hopefully you kind of thought about all these other different perspectives and ways of thinking about safety that allow your technology to then be either a new license given or exported to other countries under a different regulatory paradigm.

Rory O'Sullivan
So I think now, looking back, it's great. It's absolutely not done, it's a long way to go. But we have gotten to a really good place today because we've had that really diverse input. But the need to have it aligned with the specific regulator you're going to is very, very important. Of course, you can take innovative approaches to any regulator, but it's a challenge, because you've really got to go and spend a long time going through why this process is different to the way regulators have seen it before. So yeah, at the moment we've got our main fundamental procedures done and an amount of the system is mostly done, but there's a long way to go. There are a lot of details we've still got to go. And it's a big focus of ours at the moment as we prepare for Phase Two, the vendor design review.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
What was Phase One? You were just submitting a basic design, making sure there are no huge red flags? You kind of check high level boxes and okay, this looks all right. There's nothing we're too scared of. We can move on. Or what does that entail?

Rory O'Sullivan
It's really- it's actually more of an assessment of the vendor than the design in Phase One. And you wouldn't really read that from the paperwork, but that's the intent is the regulator wants to know that you are a competent designer that can design a safe reactor. The submissions are partly how you do the design - it's how you do the design, and your companies to do it - and what the actual design looks like. Because sensibly, they understand the design is going to evolve as you progress the detail, so they're really more interested in are we going to control the changes and safely manage this design process as we get through the various phases of design and construction? Because even when you get a design built, it's going to evolve on the ground over time.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right. Right. So it's really just checking for organizational competency.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah. I wouldn't say I've just checked with that. That's a major- it's probably the biggest part of it.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
May half of your evaluation?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, half or more, and then they're- the Phase Two, what you get is a sentencing. You have no fundamental barriers to licensing. The Phase One is you're on track to get into Phase Two and to give the detail. So I think of another way of saying it is, Phase One is, this is how you're going to give the details to demonstrate that. You're giving the methodologies and the high level principles and often the claims. And then in Phase Two you give the details of all the analyses and the justification behind everything.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So you guys are a startup, which means funding and time is really important, right? So how- talk to me about the timeline of the regulatory process and how you see that kind of working with your company and whether- how you will be successful through this. How long was the first phase of the regulatory process? And then how much longer do you expect the rest of the review to be? And kind of from that startup mentality, I expect you're pushing for things to be as streamlined and efficient as possible, so that you aren't spending a billion dollars in regulatory queue.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, and some of that attitude is not compatible with operators. So we have a bit of a- utilities are very conservative. And thankfully we're working with New Brunswick Power and Ontario Power Generation who are very innovative and open, but they're still big utilities that are very risk averse. So there's sometimes some alignment that needs to happen there. But the Phase One took, I think, about two years. I don't remember the exact timeframe. Now, we're preparing for Phase Two and the overall timeline is to be finished with that around the end of 2024. And so our whole development, that's the Phase Two of the development period, as well. And that's what our agreements with NB Power are, clear milestones through that period. Then we have Phase Three, which is really the detailed design phase where we and our partners will be doing the detailed design. NB Power will be leading the licensing activities at that point, so we'll be providing the design information to them. They will be making the submissions.

Rory O'Sullivan
Right, because as the operator, they also have a very important role that the regulator needs to have kind of that same assurance of competency-

Rory O'Sullivan
Oh, yeah.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
-for this design. Can this- obviously competent operator, because they do have their assets, but they haven't ever operated this specific type of coolant or molten salt, let alone this design. I think in the UK that's called the intelligent customer, correct?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yep. And Canada is adopting similar language, actually. But they're the licensee. They're the one with responsibility and they will be design authority of the plant. At a certain point, like typically commissioning, we will pass over the ownership of the design to the operator. And that's one of the things that the regulators are looking for, that they then have that competency to really understand and own the design as they manage it over the years. They're already a very competent operator that's well respected at CNSC, so the first hurdle is already overcome.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Fantastic. I guess I'm kind of curious to think more about some of the challenges that you're going to be doing over the next few years while you're going through regulatory process. So you said through the next four years will be the licensing process for the next phase. Are you doing any things in parallel with licensing so that as soon as you get your license, you can start construction, start assembly if you're doing factories. Talk about the other things that are happening in parallel with regulatory.

Rory O'Sullivan
Well, just clarify on the- in Canada, the vendor design review really gives confidence to investors and utilities to be able to do their licensing process. It's actually an optional process, which is different to the USA and other countries where the design will be certified. But irrelevant, it's pre-licensing, is really the word. But as we're doing that process, yeah there's a million other things going on. The biggest challenge for us is we have decided to take on the challenge of recycling spent fuel. Back in the early days, we decided that one of the biggest challenges to nuclear power is nuclear waste. And it's always gonna be the Achilles heel of nuclear power. So we decided - a startup doing a new nuclear reactors is a challenge - that we wanted to go all the way. While we're doing it, let's go all the way and build a recycling plant as well. Half or more of our effort now is going into that technology. So we've really got two mega projects. And we're set up in that way that we've got two mega projects going on. That recycling plant, WATSS - Waste to Stable Salts - needs to be on first, because that has to be operating for two to two and a half years producing the fuel for the reactor.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And does that require its own licensing process?

Rory O'Sullivan
Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Okay. And so where are you in that process? You have to design- it's just like what we just talked about. You design the facility, finalize all those plans, and then kind of go through this whole process once again.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, because it's totally new - Canada has never had a reprocessing facility, most countries haven't - there's no vendor design review equivalent. So we have a process called the Four Step Process with the CNSC. And at the moment we're in pre discussions with them about how it will be licensed with NB Power. We're also working with them and with the IAEA on safeguards and incorporating safeguards at the earliest stage to make sure it's in line with best practices. But through the period now, we're doing our experiments with uranium, simulated fission products on that, to really demonstrate that it will absolutely work as expected and convert the spent fuel. Around the similar timeframe, we'll be developing a pilot plant for that to demonstrate a larger scale with real spent fuel.

Rory O'Sullivan
Who is the supplier of spent fuel? Are you getting it from New Brunswick Power or just anyone in Canada?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, the model internationally is that we'd have one of our recycling plants adjacent to where there's already spent fuel, typically.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
On or adjacent to the site.

Rory O'Sullivan
So in Canada, we're in New Brunswick and the spent fuel there, so we'll be putting the WATSS plant and the reactor on the same site. We don't need to move spent fuel around, which is a huge advantage. And we'll still have some waste at the end that has to move, but generally we won't be moving it. When hopefully we go and build plants in Ontario as well, it's still open whether we do one or two centralized facilities or one per reactor site. It's still up in the air. In the US, you'd probably do it regionally, perhaps one WATSS plant or operator for several reactors. In the UK, everything has typically gone through Sellafield and there are good rail networks, so we'd want one WATSS plant for the whole country.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
I see. So are you working with other international reprocessing experts on - so you were here in France - to kind of either learn from the regulatory process or a lot of these kind of complex challenges like transportation, safeguards and security and all these different things that go along with this type of endeavor.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yes, the expertise is very hard to find. There are really- very few people have been working on this in the last 10 or 20 years, so it's been a real challenge to get the right expertise on board. So we've mostly got that. Obviously, we have people in-house that we've got on board. Some great skills and expertise that we're very proud of. But we then have worked with specialist companies. Like there's one company in the UK, DBD, that has done a lot of work on specialist reprocessing facilities around the world. We've leveraged them quite heavily. Some specialists in France, some in Japan, and we'll continue to use their expertise more and more in the future. One of the things that we are doing now and we'll be doing in the future is policy work in this space. Because although, in Canada as an example, there's no specific policy saying you can't reprocess. It is an option available and it's obviously quite controversial. So we have been and will continue to do outreach to the public and governments to, you know, ensure this is what the public wants.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
I'm actually curious about the cost of this whole part of your company. When you're talking about reprocessing, I think the way the models that are currently in operation are government funded. But you're essentially creating a supply chain for your own plants or for your operator. What are the economics like for reprocessing, including that in the whole overall vision for Moltex?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, well, let me- there are two parts to the cost. Of course, there's the reactor cost and the WATSS cost. So let me start with the reactor costs. We made some pretty bold claims when we first started this in 2016 roughly. We had an independent cost estimate by Atkins in the UK which came out around 2000 pounds per kilowatt.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh, wow.

Rory O'Sullivan
And 35 pounds a megawatt hour. In the US that was around $2,700 USD and forty-five cents per kilowatt hour. The rate units there? Four and a half cents a kilowatt hour. And now we've recently updated those cost estimates. And we are obviously delighted and very proud that they have come in line with those original cost estimates, just around 3,000 US dollars per kilowatt capital cost and similar OpEx costs. This is all about cost at the end of the day. And so having those low capital cost is what's going to enable the large scale rollout of nuclear power, because countries aren't- you can do a lot of talk about climate change and getting low carbon pollution, but at the end of the day, if it's going to increase bills, it's not going to happen. So that's on the reactor side. And on the WATSS side, there's a lot more uncertainty around the cost estimate, because it's so new. But we seem to have very big margins. Even if we just look at the cost of the WATSS plant and operation of the WATSS plant comparing to the need to buy fresh uranium fuel, it looks like our fuel conversion recycling facility will be cheaper than buying regular uranium.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
And have you guys- when you're looking at the economics for the WATSS side, how are you thinking about- and I'm not as familiar with Canada's system, but obviously, in the United States we have a pool of money, if you will, for spent fuel that the government provides, or that the utilities provide the government that could be tapped into. How does that work, that kind of- the utility and government funding that might be able to go to you, because you are solving the problem that all of this funding is-

Rory O'Sullivan
You hit the nail on the head there. There's a very big liability in every country that has nuclear waste. And in most countries, it's similar. The operator pays a fee per megawatt hour that goes into a fund for future disposal. Canada's estimated liability at the moment is around $25 billion. The US is around $45 billion. The UK I think is around 20, 25 billion. I don't recall the exact number. What we are doing is assessing the various waste rates. And in Canada, we're working with the nuclear waste manager organization to really understand what the most appropriate waste route is for our various waste streams. Because all we do is-

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
By waste route, do you mean intermediate, high level-

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, exactly, the technical route of how we're going to dispose of that, because we're taking the large volumes of high level waste, separating that into various streams of taking- say the CANDU bundle is 22 kilos of high level waste. Well, we take out all of the long lived transuranic, so everything heavier than uranium on the periodic table. And that's less than 1% of it. And we turn that into chloride form and that's what we can put into our reactor. When it comes out of our reactor, about roughly half of that long live transuranic 300,000 year radioactive waste no longer exists. It is destroyed. It has been converted to clean energy. Literally matter into energy. E equals MC squared. It then creates shorter lived waste fission products, but they're much easier to deal with. And then so the output of our reactor, we can then recycle it and put it back in again. So that process goes around. But that was really just 1% of the originals.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
The other 99% of the original bundle is still there.

Rory O'Sullivan
You have roughly another 1% - or actually it's about half a percent - of fission products. They are the radioactive elements, the byproducts of nuclear fission that are very radioactive for a shorter period. So after sort of 200 or 300 years, they've decayed back to zero, basically - to almost zero - and they can often be used to repurpose. So we've now kind of got those two separated out. One goes into a reactor. The destroyed fission products can either be used as a heat source, stored at surface, and then recycled in 200 or 300 years, or disposed of underground. We have various options. But then the roughly 99% is essentially low activity uranium, close to what was originally started. The uranium that came from the ground. So that's the big kind of saving here is we're taking that large amount of high level waste and getting the big volume back down to regular low radioactivity uranium. If we can dispose of that now in an intermediate level waste repository or a much safer form - it depends on the country - you can have very significant social, environmental, and economic savings. Well, that's amazing. We think so. But- the but, of course, is there are a lot of details to this. So all of our R&D and our work at the moment is validating exactly the amount of separations, the contamination level of each of those streams, and what waste repository they can actually go into. So we're working with them. That's what we're doing. That's what our R&D is leading towards, to verify all of our claims on this, which is all going in the right track. And we're working with Canada's nuclear waste manager organization to verify the different routes and what would happen.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
You guys had an ARPA-E grant several years ago on the US side. Are you working with CNL? Or do you have your own in-house laboratories? Do you have your own in-house research staff at this point to work on this?

Rory O'Sullivan
Yep, we have our own labs with uranium licenses. So we're doing some of the work. Typically, we do the smaller work ourselves so that we can understand the details. We have some corrosion experiments, some heat transfer experiments, and some of the WATSS recycling experiments with just uranium and then other non-radioactive fission products or elements that represent the other transuranics. Yeah, typically we do those experiments really to scope out the details, make sure nothing goes wrong. And then we can give the big labs very specific, narrow, experimental descriptions, so that they don't have to do all that discovery, because typically their rates are rather high. They cost a bit more. So we do the exploratory work, make sure we've really got it precise, and then give it to the big labs.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right, but it's also really great. I mean, not only kind of creating a body of knowledge, it's beyond kind of even the private sector, but that really serves a greater good in terms of public funded research. But also kind of getting that reputational credibility from National Laboratories, from other outside stakeholders, I'm sure it's very important as well.

Rory O'Sullivan
The ARPA-E example you mentioned is a little different, because that was- the ARPA-E typically funds more innovative ideas and topics. So that enabled us to leverage some of the US capabilities a little more than we would usually have been able to. The first grant was $2.2 million, plus various extensions over a couple of years. And the core of the project was looking at radically innovative construction techniques to accelerate the construction process.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
So getting back to the plant, then, obviously you have the main innovation really is in the fuel and the reactor. But there's, of course, the whole balance of plant that has your steam cycles and your cooling and all of these different things. Talk to me a little bit about the rest of the plant. Is it kind of just like a standard nuclear power plant or standard thermal plant? Or are there other innovations in that side as well?

Rory O'Sullivan
There are and there aren't. We have sort of three technologies. So we talked about WATSS as a recycling plant, the SSR-W - the Stable Salt Reactor Wasteburner - is the reactor, and then we have grid reserve. Grid reserve is the energy storage which is exactly a copy and paste from the commercial concentrated solar power plants. They are mirrors in a circle that reflects the sun off a molten salt in a tower and they put that molten salt into large tanks that can store it as thermal energy so that they can get constant electricity. We do the reverse. We have high temperature, clean energy from a nuclear power plant. So we store that heat as molten salt in these big large tanks and then we can have whatever size turbine we want to use the stored heat in those big tanks and from the reactor together, so that overall you've got a peaking plant, rather than nuclear base. Most of the SMRs, they talk about variable plants and what they mean is they can actually ramp down. So if they have a 300-megawatt reactor, they can ramp down to 100 and back up to 300. We've designed the reactor so that it runs at full capacity all the time, but stores the heat when you don't need- you know, when all wind and solar is going at full speed, so you're storing the heat in these tanks. And if we have a 300-megawatt reactor, the example we give is we can store the heat in the tanks for say 16 hours and then you could have a 900-megawatt turbine running for eight hours a day to follow demand.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Okay, so is all of this then focused on electricity use? Or can you also use that heat for other applications?

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
How high temperature? What's the max?

Rory O'Sullivan
It really doesn't matter. We've designed our- what we designed is the standard reactor, standard recycling plant - WATSS - with a minimum size of grid reserve, like an hour of storage, which is required for our safety case. The customer can have any size storage and any size turbine they want. So it was totally site specific, whatever they need. So if it's an industrial plant, they just use that heat directly for whatever their industrial need is. If it's a big customer like OPG or NB Power, they will likely want big flexible turbines. So in New Brunswick, we're talking about turbines that are a little bigger than 300 to give that flexibility. But what's also very advantageous is, because of our high temperature, we can have regular thermal turbines.

Rory O'Sullivan
The output's around 550 after we've gone through- the reactor at the temperature is higher, but because of the limiting temperature of these molten salts in the storage, the temperature that gets back into the turbines is around 550, 560, which is perfect for thermal power plants. That's exactly the same temperature as coal, superheated steam. So we've been talking to the turbine manufacturers and they're giving us quotes which are exactly the same turbines as used in the coal industry. So for replacing coal plants, it's absolutely straightforward. We can use any coal plant or CCGT. Coal plants, steam turbine, biomass, it's all the same. And the cost difference is huge. In the original cost estimates, we had for a 1,000-megawatt plant in the original design, it was- the difference in the turbine cost was 1 billion pounds for a 1,000-megawatt nuclear turbine compared to a non-nuclear. And they were cost from the same supplier.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right. Right. And that's just because of different qualifications?

Rory O'Sullivan
Different qualifications. And well, typical nuclear is a lower- in light water reactors is around 300-degree Centigrade output temperatures, so your turbines are double diameter, roughly, and they're way lower efficiency.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yes, yes, yes. Because you're using the same ones that are used for coal plants.

Rory O'Sullivan
They're making them one a week. They're rolling them off the factory and they just make them cheaper.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
That's fantastic.

Rory O'Sullivan
That makes a big difference in the bottom line.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Right. Well, I mean, sometimes speaking about- first of all, actually, I'm really surprised, but it's a really great use of the technology. And when you think about the decarbonisation, kind of taking this full circle back to wind turbines, even in Canada where we have variable renewable use, this is a perfect kind of solution to marry that future energy mix where we're going to need the different types of capacity and decarbonizing an industry.

Rory O'Sullivan
That's what we really tried to do. We tried to design it so that we're actually enabling more renewables, because without this flexible solution, renewables can only get to about 30, 35% on the grid. But if you have this nuclear peaking plant, you can have 60 maybe even 70% renewables with this nuclear peaking plant and you have a very reliable, stable grid. That's the kind of aim is to enable that.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Oh, fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Rory. This has been a really, really fascinating conversation.

Rory O'Sullivan
It's been great fun. Thank you.

Michelle Brechtelsbauer
Yeah. I've really enjoyed learning so much about it. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Rory O'Sullivan
Yeah, thanks for having me and enjoy the rest of the conference.

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