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These tiny nuclear reactors already have $25 BILLION in contracts

The pursuit of clean energy has lead to some interesting small businesses, including miniature nuclear reactors?

The base of a nuclear reactor and large power plant with sheep grazing in a field nearby.

The trend of making gigantic things into small things and then marketing them based on that appeal will, in all likelihood, never die down. Perhaps that’s one of the less-salient reasons that Bret Kugelmass, founder and CEO of Last Energy, has over $25 billion in contracts for his proportionally tiny nuclear reactors.

The contracts in question are exclusively European at this time, reportedly constituting a total of 51 reactor orders. According to Fast Company, Kugelmass hopes to have his first one up and running by 2026.

The idea of a scaled-down nuclear reactor certainly isn’t proprietary to Kugelmass–a Stanford alum with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering–as both China and Russia have made substantial progress in establishing Small Modular Reactors (or SMRs) in the last few years, and Portland-based startup NuScale’s reactor was actually the first United States-located SMR to receive a certification by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

However, Kugelmass’ approach–mirroring SpaceX’s development–is notably more streamlined, relying on “off the shelf” parts and “on-site” assembly to keep costs at around $100 million per reactor. Reportedly, one such unit would be enough to power 20,000 American homes.

And while referencing an older system developed by Elon Musk in 2023 is kind of like wearing a fur coat to the petting zoo, Kugelmass claims to be able to “borrow” systems from oil and gas operations, further cementing his process as more iterative and responsible than more proprietary nuclear power developments.

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SMRs offer a variety of benefits in comparison to traditional reactors, the most obvious of which include a less-imposing presence in their respective communities and a perceptible increase in safety in comparison to more traditional models. Purportedly, Last Energy’s reactors will entail a hands-off approach that refuels once every six years, leaves spent fuel alone until decommissioning, and operates entirely underground.

“The idea is, don’t touch the thing as much as possible,” quips Kugelmass, casually addressing perhaps the most important concern with nuclear energy–operator error.

It’s clear that cleaner and more efficient energy is necessary in a world that is quite literally on fire. Kugelmass’ SMRs are a ways away from being mass-produced, but they offer a glimpse of what the future could entail.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.


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