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Russia-Ukraine war helped countries ‘overcome’ aversion to nuclear: Lightbridge CEO

Lightbridge Corporation CEO Seth Grae joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss nuclear energy, changing perceptions around the energy source, and the outlook for nuclear policy in the U.S. and globally.

Video Transcript

INES FERRE: And Poland has picked the US to build the Central European nation's first nuclear power plant in an effort to burn less coal and gain greater energy independence. The nation's prime minister tweeting that a strong alliance between the US and Poland, quote, "guarantees the success of our joint initiatives."

For more on the state of the nuclear industry, let's bring in Seth Grae, CEO of Lightbridge Corporation. Seth, you were part of the US delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which just wrapped up its ministerial meeting last week. Tell us, what were some of the takeaways from that meeting?

SETH GRAE: Well, I'd start with what you just said. It was sort of electrifying toward the end of the meeting when Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced the US consortium led by Westinghouse to sell reactors to Poland. There had been a feeling, especially, I think, in leadership in Russia and China that the United States could not put together teams to sell large reactors overseas again.

So to end the conference with an announcement of big US reactor sales overseas with the US government and industry working together to land that sale was very important. I'd say that while climate change was a topic, the main topic of the conference was energy security, and certainly from the US delegation and working with our allies on how to make sure that they don't have to rely on Russia for their energy as much and that nuclear power is going to be a big part of that.

INES FERRE: And speaking of that, nuclear power has really gone through a transformation, at least in perception. Are there still misconceptions out there about nuclear power? Which are they?

SETH GRAE: There are some misconceptions, but it's amazing how Russia cutting off your energy can make you overcome some of those pretty quickly, like we see in Germany suddenly extending the lives of reactors and other countries that had planned to shut them down. And I think that what is also happening to help people move in favor of nuclear energy is new technologies, new approaches that address the concerns, like what we're doing at Lightbridge with our advanced nuclear fuel technology.

INES FERRE: And speaking of what you're doing at Lightbridge, you are hiring-- planning to hire additional technical experts. You talk about the nuclear power industry overall in a hiring spree. Can you tell us a little bit about that, specifically in what areas? And also, can you find workers in this labor market?

SETH GRAE: Yeah, it's an interesting question. For the new reactors being built, a lot of these need skilled tradespeople. They need specialty welders, electricians, and people gaining those skills can have a bright future in an expanding nuclear power industry.

For the companies designing new technology like Lightbridge, we're looking at engineers. We're looking at scientists. And we're also working with national labs and universities that, in turn, are on a hiring spree. We're doing a lot of our work at Idaho National Laboratory, which is hiring a tremendous number of technical experts right now, some of whom will be working with us, as we'll be demonstrating our fuel technology there.

INES FERRE: And where do you see the nuclear power industry in the next 5 to 10 years? Which countries do you think are the best positioned to take advantage of nuclear energy?

SETH GRAE: Well, the United States has done a very good job at positioning itself to take advantage in terms of developing new technologies, new reactors here, deploying them domestically, but also for exports, and hence a lot of the jobs here for domestic and for export markets. But France is doing a good job expanding its nuclear power sector. South Korea is.

Again, this is an area that a lot of people have thought was going to be ceded to Russia and China, but the US and its allies are really stepping up. And I'll just mention one more. In the United Kingdom, we're seeing a big push and a lot of new reactors being ordered and under construction.

INES FERRE: And you're seeing a big push, but what's the biggest challenge to developing nuclear energy right now?

SETH GRAE: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge has been that the big reactors, like the ones that Westinghouse will deploy in Poland, can take a decade between the time the discussions start, and there's power on the grid. And they can cost billions of dollars. And just that amount of time and that amount of money is something that's hard for a lot of customers to do.

So I think that moving to smaller reactors that can be built in factories and shipyards and then shipped to the site, deployed much more quickly, and much lower cost is much better. Lightbridge's fuel is being designed to work in these kinds of small modular reactors to improve their economics, safety, non-proliferation, the kind of concerns you were alluding to in your first question about nuclear, concerns that people have. So I think the biggest way to overcome all of this will be with these smaller, safer, cheaper, more rapidly deployed systems.