Producing energy in a safe, reliable and sustainable way through innovative fourth generation reactors, capable of using nuclear waste that already exists as fuel: small modular reactors, 6 meters by 6 metres, (we are talking about the so-called small modular reactors, capable of satisfying the energy needs of 600 thousand families), which can be mass-produced and transported to installation sites, ready in three years, when production is fully operational. This is what Newcleo, a startup established in 2021 that deals with the development of nuclear technology, proposes.
Founded by Stefano Buono, Elisabeth Rizzotti and Luciano Cinotti, the company is working on the construction of nuclear systems with these objectives: eliminate the need for large geological deposits, using a fast neutron flux that avoids the net production of radioactive elements, accelerate the development of new fuel cycles, which provide cheap, clean, safe and inexhaustible energy from cores and the opportunity to burn long-lived nuclear waste produced by the older generation of nuclear reactors.
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The agreement with London and the acquisitions
The company has entered into a €1 million agreement with the London School of Economics and Political Science to develop advanced research in energy economics and energy policy. The agreement, lasting 5 years, aims to explore the economic benefits of technological innovation for the energy transition and will allow us to develop an understanding of which are the cheapest sources of clean energy, taking into account geopolitical events global trends and the need to accelerate the diversification and security of energy supply. The other pieces? The closing of the acquisition of Srs Servizi R&D and Fucina Italia, companies active in the design and construction of nuclear systems that use liquid lead technology. “We don’t just want to design reactors but also build them and make them available. Creating a supply chain allows us to internalize skills”, explains Elisabeth Rizzotti. The deal, completed two years after the company’s launch, will provide the company with nuclear engineering, manufacturing and waste management capabilities.
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The 1 billion round
Since its establishment, the company has raised 400 million in financing (two rounds also participated by Exor, Liftt and Investors Club) and in March it opened a capital increase of one billion euros. “The operation is going very well and is in line with our expectations, demonstrating a very strong sensitivity, the same that we detected when we founded the company and raised 400 million in a short time,” explains Rizzotti. “We plan to close during 2024”.
Buono, Cinotti and Rizzotti, co-founders of Newcleo
A physicist and business manager, Rizzotti worked first at Cern, then at Accenture in strategic consultancy, risk management and control for companies in the financial sector, arriving in 2007 at UBI Banca, where he held numerous managerial roles. In 2021 she returned to her love of physics, co-founding newcleo. Chief Operating Officer (nuclear engineer Luciano Cinotti is Chief Scientific Officer), Rizzotti supervises Newcleo’s activities in the United Kingdom and France, as well as holding the role of Managing Director for Italy. «This time», she specifies regarding the 1 billion operation, «the round is longer because the actors involved are not only private individuals but high profile strategic and financial investors». To date, newcleo has started activities in the United Kingdom, France and Italy (the company does research and development in Turin where it employs more than 100 scientists and has a second research center at Enea on Lake Brasimone), with the aim to reach over 500 employees by the end of the year. A startup? “We have retained the freshness, flexibility, enthusiasm and desire to make an impact from the startup”.
Rizzotti, is the nuclear chapter in Italy open again?
“Yes, absolutely. We already had an inkling of this when we founded the company in 2021, sensing that even then there was a very strong sensitivity to the issues of climate change: we know that nuclear responds exactly to this solution, it does not emit CO2 and consumes very little material Before”.
Has the need to decarbonise brought people and governments closer to nuclear power?
“With the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the issue of energy independence has become a priority aspect on governments’ agendas: there is a need for responses to climate change, as I explained before, for energy independence, and for a lower cost of energy acceptable. On a political level, I also sense a renewed sensitivity, especially towards a new nuclear power plant, for which, according to Minister Pichetto Fratin, there may not be a need for a new referendum”.
A new nuclear?
“We are talking about fourth generation nuclear power, intrinsically safe and above all clean, for two reasons: nuclear energy does not emit CO2 and consumes very little fuel. The characteristic of these reactors is that they can use nuclear waste as combustible material, processed and re-introduced to the point that there will no longer be a need to dig in mines: we are talking about old nuclear waste and that which will be produced by new reactors. Think about overcoming the enormous problem of their disposal.”
“The reactor, when an uncontrolled reaction occurs, automatically shuts down through a cooling system that creates a sort of sarcophagus. Everything stops, preventing any type of radioactivity leakage.”
In Italy you are planning a first test on a non-nuclear prototype in 2026 together with Enea.
“Yes, tests on non-nuclear systems will begin in 2026 at the Enea del Brasimone center, on the Bolognese Apennines, where we have a research laboratory under construction. An area that we are redeveloping: here the experimentation on lead, the material we use, will be concentrated for the cooling of our reactor. At the same time we have already started the entire authorization process for the project in France of a first small-scale, experimental reactor of 30 megawatts of electricity. Starting from 2032 there will be the first commercial reactor of 200 megawatts of electricity and it will be the one that will be mass-produced in question to produce electricity: it could be housed in England or even in France.”
With Fincantieri and Rina you are also working on a mini-reactor to be installed on ships.
“It is an agreement aimed at a feasibility study which will serve to understand how to optimize our technology for the naval sector. Propulsion of this type is an extremely interesting area to explore: it can in fact offer efficient solutions (a reactor may not require the of fuel for 10-15 years), economic and sustainable”.