Last year's record low levels of Antarctic Sea ice have already been beaten in 2023. Additionally, this is also an El Nino year, with scientists predicting heat waves like we haven't seen yet. And in California, the 2022-23 winter season has brought massive disruption due to storms, snowfall, rain, and the ensuing floods and landslides.

Courtesy of Jay Jiang Yu
Courtesy of Jay Jiang Yu Courtesy of Jay Jiang Yu

Even people not directly hit by flooding, high winds, or a landslide can experience the damaging effects of these extreme weather events. For instance, just a few months into the year, hundreds of thousands of people in California have already experienced disruptions in infrastructure and services.

The science explaining the processes by which these weather extremes happen is complicated. The fact that their increase in frequency is influenced by human activity — isn't. And while the world's governments are steering their policies too slowly, several additional minor actors have popped up, offering specific solutions to the planet's problems.

When he was starting NANO Nuclear Energy, the problem Jay Jiang Yu had on his mind was how to achieve net zero by 2050. The goal would see the world's energy sector find a path toward achieving net zero status regarding CO2 emissions. It would mean that CO2, which contributes to around three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, would be released at the same rate it's being absorbed, effectively ending its contribution to global warming.

Jay Jiang Yu focused on the problem from the emissions side, not the absorption side. And there, he was looking for something specific.

"When I was first researching clean energy, I looked at wind turbines and solar panels. And I didn't find any innovation there," Jay Jiang Yu says. "I was looking into baseload energy, and the only solution was nuclear, literally the only other solution for clean energy."

Jay Jiang Yu's approach combined two demands. The first was that the solution he would explore has to involve substantial innovation. The second was that its development, from the first sketches to production, mustn't take decades and billions of dollars. The idea of net zero isn't to come up with solutions by 2050 but to have them ready and working on a global scale by then. A leading country like the United States should get there much sooner.

The solution he discovered was a smaller version of Small Modular Reactors or mSMRs. These reactors are classified as nuclear reactors of up to 300 MWe and designed to be modular, with short construction times and the possibility of serial production. NANO Nuclear Energy is working on technically micro-SMRs, which are big enough to produce one to twenty megawatts of thermal energy, either for heating or conversion to electrical power.

Nuclear physics and engineering aren't something a layperson can do. Jay Jiang Yu holds a degree in psychology and has been a banker and an investor, with his expertise in setting up businesses and scaling them, not building reactors. So he set up a company — NANO Nuclear Energy — and approached top scientists to join him. He calls his team the Ocean's 11 of Nuclear.

With the development of micro-SMRs, NANO Nuclear Energy aims to attack the current climate crisis on at least two fronts. The first is the proliferation of nuclear energy as a cleaner and ultimately safer alternative to oil, coal, and gas that we're using to satiate our energy needs today.

The other way NANO Nuclear Energy can contribute is through disaster relief. Unfortunately, the events like the ones California's been seeing this year will only get more frequent. So besides preventing them from getting any worse through climate action, finding ways to cope with the destruction left in their wake is just as important.

Thanks to their size and portability, reactors like the ones NANO Nuclear Energy is developing can be deployed quickly when a sizable power source is needed.

Only thing: "Imagine a hurricane wiping out the electrical grid in a city or an island country. Usually, you bring in generators that are using fossil fuel, emitting a lot of carbon into the air," Jay Jiang Yu explains. "But imagine we roll in with our portable microreactor, the one we call 'ZEUS,' and we power up to potentially 500 homes with clean energy. That's natural disaster relief, and it's disruption."

"ZEUS" is a solid core battery reactor, the smaller and more portable of the two reactors developed by NANO Nuclear Energy. The bigger, low-pressure coolant reactor currently under development is called "ODIN." Between the two, they have use cases ranging from disaster relief to powering remote communities and industrial sites.

The reactors are still in the first step of the process, the design step, but Jay Jiang Yu doesn't plan for them to stay there for too long. He's looking at this from an investor's perspective, and he doesn't want to wait for decades to see his plans come to fruition. And neither does anyone living in the path of a future extreme weather event.