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Contrary Newsletter #18: The Future of Nuclear Energy and The Decarbonized Economy

Published 8 months ago • 3 min read

What's New:

Foundations & Frontiers

Nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor of any fuel source, making it the most reliable and most powerful means of producing power by far. It relies on breaking the strongest force known in physics — the strong force — which on its own is over 100 times stronger than the force of electromagnetism.

Although nuclear energy has been around for 70 years, and despite its potential to provide relatively cheap and abundant power, it never quite achieved that potential. Fears of nuclear accidents or reactor mismanagement, along with the growing costs of building new nuclear plants, have put the brakes on the nuclear energy industry for decades. Today, nuclear power supplies roughly 10% of the world’s electricity, about as much as it did 20 years ago when nuclear power plant construction plateaued.

Not only has the construction of nuclear energy plants stagnated, but some nations (like Germany) are actively shuttering the ones they already have. Around the world, new nuclear capacity has been falling over time, especially relative to the growth of novel renewable energy capacity like wind and solar. Only 2.4 GW of nuclear power came online in 2019, as opposed to 98 GW of solar and 58.3 GW of wind.

Despite this, there are encouraging signs on the horizon for nuclear energy. The driving force behind this is innovations that have made small, modular nuclear reactors viable for the first time. These “microreactors” promise solutions to many of the issues that have plagued nuclear energy from the early days, including the high cost of reactor construction and the problem of nuclear waste disposal. If that promise is realized, it could usher in a new age of nuclear energy.

Further Reading on Nuclear Fission:

  • An essay in Palladium Magazine on how America lost the atomic age.
  • A series of blog posts on Hacker Noon covering the history of nuclear energy.
  • An essay from Works in Progress explaining why nuclear waste might not be the big deal we think it is.
  • A blog from Jason Crawford explaining why nuclear power flopped.
  • An article in IEEE Spectrum outlining the excitement behind small modular reactors.

Contrary Research

Contrary Research publishes thoughtful analysis of the best private technology companies.

The Decarbonized Economy: It’s common to address climate-related topics by starting with the nuances of a particular category, whether that's carbon accounting, carbon sequestration, or some other specific component. The focus of this report is instead on unpacking the path toward decarbonization as an ecosystem of solutions that are interconnected. Read the full report here.

AirGarage: Contrary Research Radio dives deep on the world's most exciting private tech companies with Kyle Harrison, General Partner at Contrary. This week, co-founder and CEO Jonathon Barkl joined Contrary Research Radio to discuss AirGarage. Listen to the full episode here.

Tropic: Tropic initially started as a procurement-as-a-service solution, but in the past year, it expanded into a broader suite of tools to streamline spend management. Tropic's platform is intended to help businesses take control of their procurement processes, achieve cost savings, and enhance operational efficiency. Read the full report here.

Vannevar Labs: Vannevar Labs is a company that provides defense and national security technologies for critical national security problems. Vannevar Labs' flagship software, "Decrypt", is a foreign text workflow platform that helps intelligence officers find patterns and insights in vast amounts of battlefield information, translate foreign languages, and search for key documents. Read the full report here.

Redwood Materials: Redwood Materials recycles lithium-ion batteries from EVs and consumer electronics in order to extract anode and cathode components, refine them into reusable material, and repurpose them for battery cell production by US auto manufacturers. This allows auto manufacturers to accelerate production and meet demand, decreases reliance on foreign supply chains, and reduces costs and emissions related to mining and the transportation of metals. Read the full report here.

Know any chefs? How We Work is an essay and interview series by James Hennessy dedicated to surfacing insights about the economy and the people who help make it work (you can see our most recent interview with a lineworker here).

Over the next couple of months, we're exploring a variety of spaces including the restaurant space and we're looking to feature a head chef at a commercial kitchen or major restaurant. If you know anyone who fits this description, please email us at If we end up publishing an interview with someone you refer, we will send you a $50 gift card!

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