The first ever Nuclear Energy Grand Challenge: Reimagining Nuclear Waste will engage collegiate innovators and entrepreneurs to tackle one of the most unique challenges facing the nuclear energy industry – the perception of nuclear waste. The nuclear industry has historically responded to calls against its “waste” by offering solutions around concentrating, storing indefinitely, and separating it from humans, which only further—albeit counterintuitively —deepen the public’s distrust, misunderstanding, and wariness of the energy source at large.

Nuclear power is an essential tool in the fight against climate change producing massive amounts of energy without any greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, deploying nuclear power at scale worldwide represents the most efficient path to deep decarbonization. Despite this potential, the nuclear power industry is hindered by social, political, and economic challenges in many parts of the world. The Nuclear Energy Grand Challenge represents a series of prize competitions organized by the Energy Impact Center to spur a new approach to nuclear power deployment on a time frame that can make a difference.

“If we can make nuclear energy cheap enough to produce heat three-times cheaper than fossil fuels does, the whole world gets access to clean air, clean water, and abundant energy, which is prosperity.” said Bret Kugelmass, Energy Impact Center managing director. “Here at Michigan, You are going to start with the first step to tackle this challenge.” 

Over the 2019–2020 academic year, interdisciplinary student teams will be challenged to create business plan proposals which productize this incredible asset, and incentivize the creation of new markets that re-imagine how we manage and utilize spent nuclear fuel. Students will have opportunities to receive expert feedback on their proposals through a series of facilitated workshops and one-on-one mentorship with UM faculty and industry leaders. 

“One of our goals at the Center for Entrepreneurship is to get our students excited about opportunities to change the world and serve the common good,” said Jonathan Fay, CFE Executive Director. “Nuclear energy shows great promise to help humanity have abundant energy while decarbonizing our economy.”

The competition will conclude with a live pitch competition, where teams will be judged on their proposal’s overall product desirability, technical analysis, customer validation, go-to-market strategy, and legal/regulatory evaluation. The winning team will be awarded a $17,000 cash prize.

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