Next generation reactor system design decisions will make or break investor confidence

27 October 2022

Partnering with a system developer that already has next generation experience will help you avoid early errors that can challenge your business plan. 

In contrast to existing nuclear plant designs, next generation reactors have lower development costs, take less time to construct and benefit from gains associated with using the same design across multiple sites. These qualities mean private investors can take a leading role in financing their development and delivery. While increased access to capital accelerates progress, private financing exposes companies to intense scrutiny, as investors seek assurance that the return on their investment will be delivered on time.

If you work at a next generation company, you’ll already understand the importance of controlling costs and time throughout the development and delivery journey to maintain investor confidence. Our focus here is highlighting the importance of system design choices on your ability to maintain that control. Any mistakes can sit silently within the development, emerging later to cause significant issues that are very hard to resolve. This will jeopardise achieving time and cost targets, risking the success of further funding rounds, even on promising reactor designs. 

You can choose one of three systems design approaches, in-house, buying off the shelf or working with an experienced third-party solutions company. Each has pros and cons in respect to helping you deliver the time and cost targets you’ve committed to.  

Going it alone increases the chance of costly mistakes

You’ve an exciting vision and a talented team, why wouldn’t you go it alone?

Next generation reactors are by definition, new. Their systems need to be designed from the ground up or be a first of a kind adaptation of systems used on existing designs. This is challenging territory in which to innovate. Lessons you learn over the program will be hard won. While your company will own everything you create, this will include any mistakes made that have gone unnoticed.

Our experience has shown us that an in-house approach often leads to high validation risks, licensing challenges, and program delay with unforeseen cost exposure in the later part of the program when it has the highest impact.

Buying off the shelf locks you in to someone else’s IP and jeopardizes long-term service cycles

Buying solutions from a vendor’s list means everything is taken care of and you can simply bolt it all together, right?

Given your design is new, it’s likely that off the shelf solutions don’t exist or will need significant adaptation. If you do find something that works at a good initial price, the long-term cost of ownership may be very high due to being locked into proprietary designs over which you have no ongoing control, creating a restrictive impact on your platform. There is also a risk the company may stop producing the technology. Given your reactors may operate for 60 years or more, the unavailability of technology will inevitably compromise refresh and service cycles. While this challenge may be met by the utility company rather than the design originator, long-term cost of ownership is likely to be explored in the buying phase and it's not a good look. 

Again, we caution against procuring off the shelf, as standard products may lead you to compromise your vision and can lead to predictable problems further down the line that you or others may struggle to manage.

Collaborating with specialists supports investor confidence by securing time and cost goals

If going it alone or buying off the shelf doesn’t work, what does?

Next generation companies can benefit greatly from partnering with third party systems developers that have already learned many of the required lessons through experience.

We have supported several next generation companies over the last ten years, working to help them develop systems, gain regulatory approval and meet their commitments to investors. We have suitably skilled and experienced personnel, nuclear qualified facilities and the controls required by the nuclear industry and its regulators. The solutions we co-develop are typically based on proven approaches and delivered to meet specific needs. Risks associated with going it alone or buying off the shelf are avoided, and ownership of IP is arranged to future proof the company.

IP retention – the ability to create and own IP to allow full control and exploit current and future commercialization opportunities

Technological freedom – not being locked into a third party owned technology offers clear through-life ownership advantages, including the ability to continue making improvements

Decision support – good long-term partnerships enable the right decisions to be made at the right time to reduce technical, regulatory, cost and program risk, helping to maintain investor confidence

Ultra Energy has supported the nuclear industry since its first major expansion in the 1960s. We’re now essential to its safe ongoing operation and ability to comply with increasingly stringent safety regulations. We’ve supported leading nuclear companies, such as EDF Energy, NuScale and Rolls Royce, delivering complex, first of a kind safety and control system design and supply projects. Ultra Energy is the first I&C supplier to have gained US regulatory approval for SMR.

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