These French start-ups that want to breathe new life into the nuclear industry

Posted on Oct 24, 2022, 7:55 am

Over the past decade, start-ups have brought a powerful renaissance to the space sector, which has long been reserved for state or parastate actors. Will the nuclear industry have the same fate?

While the EDF is going through one of the most serious crises in its history, several young French nuclear snipers are pointing the tip of their nose. Of course, its aim is not to replace the leading energy company, but to use new technologies to provide some answers to the climate crisis.

Jimmy is one of them. This young shoot, which was born in 2021, has just raised 15 million euros in funding, namely from Eren Industries, Noria, Otium Capital and Polytechnique Ventures. He seeks to design thermal generators based on a nuclear microreactor (HTR type). “This type of reactor allows reaching very high temperatures (500, 600 degrees) and is very safe”, explains Antoine Guyot, founder of Jimmy.

Build thermal generators

Jimmy’s thermal generators will measure 8 meters on the ground and 15 meters high. The start-up wants to deploy them as a priority in the food, chemical and paper industries, which need significant heat sources. Companies that primarily use fossil fuels and seek to secure their supplies and reduce their CO emissionstwo. “It could be an industrial revolution”, enthuses Antoine Guyot.

Jean-Luc Alexandre would not deny this speech. Having worked for several large industrial groups (Suez, Alstom, etc.), he co-founded Naarea with Ivan Gavriloff. The partners are working on an ultra-compact 4and generation, which will utilize the untapped potential of spent radioactive materials, and thorium, an unused mining waste.

“Our plan is to launch a digital twin next summer,” explains Jean-Luc Alexandre. This tool should allow the young shoot to carry out tests and accelerate the development of its first prototype.

For its part, Renaissance Fusion is committed to nuclear fusion: a complex technology that, unlike nuclear fission, consists of fusing two light atoms into one heavier one, releasing an enormous amount of energy in the process.

“Our goal is to develop a nuclear fusion reactor to produce carbon-free, abundant, non-intermittent energy with almost unlimited resources,” explains Simon Belka, project manager at the Grenoble start-up.

risk philosophy

“These new companies are making the sector question its foundations”, we explained to the management of CEA, the entity that provides these start-ups with their technological platforms and their scientific heritage.

For tricolor nuclear nuggets, patience will be required. Jimmy is targeting marketing in 2026, Naarea has a 2030 horizon, and Renaissance Fusion expects to be operational in about ten years. These companies will also need significant capital to realize their dreams. “Unlike digital, competition is less strong because the entry ticket is high”, we recall the direction of the CEA.

“We need to find investors who are committed to the long term, such as ‘family offices'”, deciphers Jean-Luc Alexandre, whose start-up has already raised “a few tens of millions of euros” at this stage. “As you ‘de-risk’ technology, you can bring in other types of investors, like impact funds,” he projects.

Convince the ASN

These young companies will have to convince the nuclear safety authority (ASN) of their seriousness. Jimmy indicates that he has reached the end of a first phase of instruction. Others will come in the next few years.

Jimmy, Naarea and Renaissance Fusion hope to surf in a dynamic context. “The demand for electricity will be multiplied by four in the next thirty years”, says Jean-Luc Alexandre. “The current crisis shows that our industry is not energy independent,” adds Antoine Guyot.

These companies have already applied – or will apply – to the so-called “Innovative Nuclear Reactors” for projects launched as part of the France 2030 program. If their application is accepted, they could benefit from an additional financial boost to industrialize their technology.

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