|Fig. 1: Startup Candy Factory (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
After the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011 the application and usability of nuclear power plants has been called into question. Although a great source of energy, many worry that nuclear power will never be safe enough to be used without concern. However, with the increase in global warming nuclear power still seems like a promising avenue to pursue that reduces carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation. So what is the future of nuclear power?
Currently there are four main barriers for nuclear power. The first is cost: nuclear power has very high initial and lifetime costs compared to most other alternatives.  The second is safety: as written about before, nuclear power has adverse safety, environmental and health effects.  The third is proliferation: nuclear power entails potential security risks. And lastly is waste: nuclear power has unresolved challenges in long-term management of radioactive wastes. 
Although multiple barriers, there are still many positive aspects of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy does not emit any greenhouse gas or any gas causing acid rain or photochemical air pollution, which is a huge concern in the recent years as the effects of global warming are being seen.  It is the only energy technology that treats, manages and contains its wastes in a way that is complete and segregates from the public and the environment. Nuclear power has low impact on the environment because it does not require large areas for resettling populations.  Although not the complete answer to the world's energy problem, nuclear power represent a good start to saving greenhouse emissions.
In 2010 US President Barack Obama announced an $8.3 billion loan guarantee for a power company hoping to build two new reactors, and the while house asked for an additional $36 billion in loan guarantees for similar projects.  Moves like this have allowed for what people are calling Nuclear Power Startups to arise. Fig. 1 shows an ironic image of a candy startup, which is similar to the irony of calling any type of nuclear plant a start up. These startups are not the stereotypical Silicon Valley startup, but rather are usually what are called small-scale nuclear plants. However, these plants are just like the larger ones and must go through years of testing and certification by government entities such as the NRC.
In 2009 Babcock and Wilcox Co. announced they would be creating a small nuclear reactor called mPower. This reactor would be used for smaller grids or limited electricity-demand areas.  This meets a demand for reactors in developing countries whose transmission systems cannot handle large reactors. The reactor would also be manufactured in modular units on an assembly line, cutting manufacturing and construction costs. 
Some other nuclear startups include: NuScale Power is an Oregon based startup that got $2.65 million from CMEA capital in September 2008. Hyperion Power Generation landed an investment from the private equity firm Altira Group to commercialize a fission battery technology that has emerged from Los Alamos National Laboratory. Terra Power takes a slightly different twist, utilizing the depleted byproduct of the fission process to produce more power. Meaning that the reactor does not need to be refueled or have its waste disposed of.
In the coming years we will see how the nuclear power startups fair with funding and with safety regulations. All of these new companies have promising technology that will hopefully help us reduce greenhouse gas emission, and help fight global warming.
© Lily Katz. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 "Current Issues in Nuclear Energy,"International Nuclear Societies Council, January 2002.
 C. Ferguson and L. E Marbuger, "A US Nuclear Future? The Best Way Forward," Nature 467, 391 (2010).
 K. Ling, "Company Calls New Small Nuclear Reactor a 'Game Changer'," New York Times, 10 Jun 09.