A nuclear bank for scaling and risk mitigation

6 September 2023

The mobilisation of trillions of dollars of global capital necessary for the nuclear sector to scale in the near-term can be supported by a new kind of financial institution – an international multilateral infrastructure bank focused exclusively on nuclear energy.

Above, Figure 1: Illustration of Nuclear Sector’s Transformation from ‘Vicious Circle’ to ‘Virtuous Circle’ (Source: IBNI-IO SAG)

Attaining current policy onjectives, including 2050 Net Zero, will require global nuclear technologies to scale to an unprecedented magnitude and at breakneck speed. This historically unmatched scaling will also require the very rapid mobilisation of multiple trillions of dollars of capital into the sector. Existing nuclear project delivery and financing mechanisms rely mainly on governmental support and attract very limited risk appetite from the global financial markets. Such existing models will be insufficient for catalyzing the very significant quanta of capital necessary required to enable nuclear to scale as quickly as possible to achieve multiple 100s of GW’s of additional global nuclear generation capacity. If the world is going to achieve its ambitious climate, clean energy, energy transition and energy security goals in this short period of time, there simply needs to be a fundamental change in the approach toward financing nuclear infrastructure.

Scaling of the nuclear sector faces numerous and multidimensional impediments. These interrelated impediments span a broad spectrum and include among others: public policy; regulatory, markets and ESG frameworks; social license; geopolitical; commercial and risk allocation models; and perhaps most importantly, affordability and accessibility. Each of the nuclear sector’s impediment is manifested in the form of financial risk. Clearly, the nuclear industry will need to do its part through increased on-time and on-budget performance and other progressive improvements, alongside the key roles of governments, owner-operators, end-users/ratepayers and all other stakeholder groups that will each need to do their part. However, the ‘sum of these parts’ (e.g. what each stakeholder can individually do) does not add up to a solution that will enable nuclear to scale.

The mobilisation of the necessary capital required for nuclear to scale, requires formulation of systemic and multidimensional risk mitigation solutions. The nuclear sector is currently caught in a ‘vicious circle’, whereby nuclear cannot and will not scale without access to a ‘runway’ of cost-efficient capital and such capital is not accessible unless nuclear becomes sufficiently de-risked due to scaling. Nuclear’s ‘vicious circle’ needs to be very rapidly transformed into a ‘virtuous circle’, which will require immediate risk mitigation solutions and unlocking capital flows well before scaling can begin.

From a financial risk management perspective, the nuclear sector poses excessive financial risk as it is measured in the form of the Value at Risk (“VaR”) metric. From a financier’s perspective, VaR can be described simply as: the amount of at-risk capital deployed and the probability of loss.

Due to the fact that nuclear sector financings are both highly capital intensive and the real and perceived risks of the sector are viewed to be high, it is intuitive that the nuclear sector’s VaR profiles currently compare unfavourably against many other alternative asset classes.

A new nuclear investor

The proposed International Bank for Nuclear Infrastructure (IBNI) will be a new multilateral nuclear infrastructure bank that will be focused on enabling nuclear technology to rapidly scale and become both highly affordable and accessible within all its member countries, globally. Importantly, IBNI will finance and support both the production and supply chain (supply side) as well as the customer side (demand side) of the nuclear sector in member countries ranging from developing countries through highly developed ‘nuclear mature’ countries. The bank will act as the global early and long-term patient capital provider and it will finance and support all areas of the nuclear value spectrum on a technology-, vendor-, and country-neutral basis including: new-build (Gen. III/ III+, Gen IV and future fusion, other); life-extensions and re-starts; refinancing and restructurings; fuel cycle (mining through repository); production and supply chains; nuclear infrastructure; and decommissioning and nuclear waste management projects, programs and industries.

IBNI will be capitalised, governed and operated using models similar to those that have been proven mission successful by the world’s major global multilateral banks, which have been in existence for many decades. Those models include the World Bank Group (WBG); European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); and Asian Development Bank (ADB). In other words, the IBNI will have an estimated 30+ sovereign governmental member shareholders, each with aligned views on nuclear energy and other global policy objectives. Whereas those existing ‘multilateral development banks’ like the WBG, EBRD and ADB are generally focused on missions such as economic development and poverty eradication (and generally, within defined geographies, developmental and/or income strata), IBNI – as a specialised ‘global nuclear infrastructure bank’ – will have a global mandate to finance and support nuclear sector projects, programmes and industries in all its member countries (not limited to geography, developmental status or income level). The existing multilateral banks are currently not providing any material support for the nuclear sector. While the change in longstanding policies of these institutions toward nuclear is highly encouraged and would be complimentary (not competitive), these institutions are ill-equipped to be seen as a substitute for IBNI’s proposed role as the global nuclear financing institution.

On the one hand, the bank will use its own capital to directly co-finance and support qualified nuclear projects based on the principle of ‘additionality’ (i.e. ‘bridging gaps’ throughout the nuclear value spectrum where existing public and private funding and financing are not adequately accessible on a cost-efficient basis). It is anticipated that the bank’s main commercial operating arm, the IBNI Ordinary Operations Fund will be a self-sustaining entity that will issue long-term debt in the global ‘sovereign and supranational bond markets’. Based on the strong shareholder liquidity and support offered by the bank’s shareholders, it is envisaged that the fund will achieve ‘triple-A’ credit ratings or the highest credit quality that will allow IBNI to borrow funds at the lowest cost and in turn, pass along lowest cost financing for the benefit of the bank’s programme participants. Certainly, accessing least-cost capital is one critical element that will drive down nuclear generation costs and enable nuclear technologies to achieve affordability targets, which are critical for enabling nuclear to scale.

On the other hand, and most importantly, where the bank aims to achieve the most significant global impacts will be in catalysing a highly significant ‘capital multiplier impact’, which represents the total quantum of global financial markets capital mobilised relative to each dollar of public investment (by sovereign shareholder member states) in the bank. IBNI’s advisory team projects that the bank should reasonably target a ‘capital multiplier impact’ of more than 100x, from the bank’s targeted establishment date in 2024/25 through 2050. Accordingly, the potential for the highly significant ‘capital multiplier impact’ effect targeted by IBNI will provide the highest value for money for each public dollar invested. Thus, a comparative investment in the bank would represent the most efficient means of achieving both national and global policy objectives, relative to strictly inward investments in a countries own nuclear sector’s domestic and bilateral initiatives (which the bank would not compete with).

Managing nuclear risk

In order to accomplish the bank’s core mission of scaling nuclear to attain a sustainable 2050 Net Zero World, IBNI will need to enable multidimensional risk mitigation solutions that will rapidly and sufficiently reduce nuclear sector VaR profiles to levels that become acceptable and in-line with other similar infrastructure asset classes.

IBNI will implement programmes and offer customised financial product lines that will be engineered to systemically and progressively ‘flatten’ the VaR curves all across the nuclear sector. This ambition goes well beyond the necessary goal of developing market confidence through the necessary demonstration of global fleet deployments of serialised, repeatable, successful nuclear projects delivered within schedule and budget. IBNI will also serve as a global aggregator of an adopted set of universal nuclear-specific standards and criteria and the bank will aim to become a global institutional repository of nuclear financing expertise, which will become relied upon by investors, lenders and financing institutions for their own evaluation of nuclear sector financing transactions. Borrowing from the World Bank’s phraseology, IBNI will become the ‘Gold Standard’ of nuclear finance. While currently there are discrete elements of nuclear-specific financing standards and expertise available (from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, and Equator Principles IV, International Finance Corporation Standards, for example), there is, by no means, the necessary comprehensive set of nuclear-specific financing standards and criteria, such as those that pertain to every other asset class which are available from the existing major multilateral financing institutions like the World Bank. Nuclear is a very unique asset class that deserves its own global financial institution that would have the deep expertise within the sector and understanding of the unique multidimensional risk elements of nuclear finance. Such an institution would be able to adopt a set of standards and criteria specific to these unique elements.

Without an IBNI, and despite the valiant combined efforts of individual governments, sporadic international cooperation and the nuclear industry itself, the nuclear sector’s ability to scale will most likely continue to be constrained and the ‘vicious circle’ will persist unbroken. IBNI offers a unique ‘whole of the world’ proposition that will enable the global nuclear sector to rapidly and efficiently break the ‘vicious circle’ that persistently plagues the sector. Only through a global and systemic approach toward mitigating nuclear’s multidimensional risk elements and sufficiently ‘flattening’ the nuclear sector’s VaR curves can the sector’s ‘vicious circle’ be transformed into a ‘virtuous circle’. IBNI offers this unique global risk mitigation solution which will enable the mobilisation of trillions of dollars of global capital necessary for the nuclear sector to scale in the near-term.

Further information on the IBNI initiative can be found at www.nuclearbank-io-sag.org.

The author can be contacted at d.dean@nuclearbank-io-sag.org

Figure 2: Illustration of a Typical VaR Curve for a New-Build Nuclear Sector Project (Source: IBNI-IO SAG)
Figure 3: Illustrations of Targeted ‘Flattening’ of Nuclear Sector Project VaR Curves (Source: IBNI-IO SAG)

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