Meeting the Energy Needs of Industry with Small Modular Reactors

Advanced nuclear reactors can provide safe, scaleable, and consistent power to industries, data centers, and the power grid. These were some key takeaways from the SMR & Advanced Reactor 2024 conference, hosted by Reuters to discuss and overcome the increasing demand for reliable, clean electricity and process heat.
Nuclear solutions can address both our worsening climate and energy security crises. With new safety advances, small modular reactors (SMRs) have the potential to provide energy to industries, data centers, and other energy-intensive activities without adding extra load to the power grid. Any single actor can’t leverage this potential, which is why Reuters brought together over 600 nuclear changemakers from utilities, financiers, reactor developers, technology providers, and regulators in Atlanta for the SMR & Advanced Reactor 2024 conference to overcome barriers and unlock this potential.
Anthropocene Institute, as a Platinum Sponsor, hosted the panel Decarbonizing the tough-to-abate: supercharging the industrial energy transition with new nuclear during the conference to discuss the role of SMRs as well as Advanced Reactors (ARs) in decarbonizing industrial applications and data centers. Speakers included Mark W. Nelson, Managing Director, Radiant Energy Group (moderator); Erin Henderson, Director of Nuclear Development Acceleration, Microsoft; Dr. Adam Stein, Director of Nuclear Energy Innovation, The Breakthrough Institute; and Dr. William Labbe, President and CEO, ARC Clean Technology.
Pictured, from left to right: Mark Nelson, Erin Henderson, Dr. Adam Stein, and Dr. William Labbe, on the panel Decarbonizing the tough-to-abate: supercharging the industrial energy transition with new nuclear
Pictured, from left to right: Mark Nelson, Erin Henderson, Dr. Adam Stein, and Dr. William Labbe, on the panel Decarbonizing the tough-to-abate: supercharging the industrial energy transition with new nuclear

The panel began by noting an often-forgotten gap between what industries need and what the power grid can offer. Industrial processes require massive and constant amounts of energy, and the energy demand from data centers is expected to explode to consume 7% of the total energy demand in the US due to the increased use of artificial intelligence. Electrifying these processes isn’t an easy task, as the power grid can’t reliably provide renewable electricity at these volumes. “If you go and try to buy Titanic scales of energy—scales that we’ll hear about in just a moment—what you’re going to find is that you can’t do it. You can’t find giant-scale energy to purchase. You have to develop it,” said Mark W. Nelson.
Another challenge is that renewable energy technologies are not globally repeatable – they must be adapted to the conditions and resources of each region. SMRs present the most apt technology currently available to meet corporate demands of repeatable and scalable clean energy technologies that can output the energy needed without overloading the grid.
These reactors can be co-located with industrial facilities and data centers, removing the strain on the grid while providing a constant stream of clean energy. The newest models of these smaller reactors are easy to operate and have the potential to be introduced to the market swiftly if customers are willing to take the first step and commit to multi-project agreements with nuclear providers. The security and safety concerns tied to this are a thing of the past, explained William Labbe: “Our emergency planning zone turns out to be the site fence. It’s not a 10-mile radius. We can condense it down to a very small footprint.”
While these co-located reactors can help remove industrial energy demands from the grid and lower prices for baseload energy, advanced nuclear reactors can also be deployed at a larger scale to provide clean baseload energy to the grid, lowering prices further. For example, new nuclear reactors can be built on decommissioned coal power sites to utilize the already existing energy infrastructure and skilled labor force in the area.
While the technology exists and is very promising, implementing new nuclear reactors is a complex matter. It’s a matter of funding, where customers must be willing to pay the upfront cost to bring down energy prices in the future. It’s a matter of cooperation, as customers prefer not to operate their nuclear plants and must collaborate with utility companies that can maintain co-located reactors. Finally, it’s a matter of public perception, where governments and companies need to put in the work to educate people on why it’s a challenge to provide baseload energy through renewables, why it’s important, and why nuclear is a safer and more reliable option now than it was during the 20th century. The faster we can overcome these challenges, the faster we can transition away from fossil gas, a prominent fuel in industries today, which will mean less greenhouse gas emissions and more energy security.
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