Imagine taking a punch in the gut every day at work — then waking up each day excited to keep grinding away anyway. That’s how Canon Bryan, Founder and Chief Financial Officer of Terrestrial Energy, describes being a nuclear energy professional and advocate. Terrestrial Energy is a company developing a proprietary molten salt reactor that will be ready for deployment by the 2020s.
Mr. Bryan has extensive experience providing M&A and corporate development services to resource-based clients, and was a financial analyst for 12 years with mining and biotechnology companies. He now also serves on the Board of Directors for Generation Atomic.
He explained that his particular passion for nuclear can’t be traced to one catalytic moment, but forming a uranium mining company (Uranium Energy Co) in 2004 set his career on a path of no return. “I had known a lot about the business of uranium mining companies before that, so it was instrumental in putting me on the path of pursuing a career in nuclear power. After that, I undertook the process of learning as much about the industry as I could.”
For a nuclear industry leader of his caliber, Mr. Bryan’s background is relatively unusual.“It’s pretty unlikely for someone like me to get into this business. I have everything going against me. I had no science background or education, and I live in a part of the world (Vancouver, BC) where there will never be nuclear power and never be a need for it in the province.”
His high-profile executive management experience, however, was the perfect jumping-off point for what’s become an increasingly impressive career. He's a co-founder of Uranium Energy Corp and NioCorp, and served as Chief Financial Officer and Secretary of Rare Earth Services Ltd. He also founded Thorium One International Limited. He's served on boards for public and private companies in Canada and the US. For his success in seeking out new technology and bringing it to mainstream he credits his analytical skills, sense of business pragmatism, and persistent curiosity to find the truth. He's now extremely knowledgeable about the science behind nuclear.
“The learning path doesn’t ever really end. The more I learned, the deeper I wanted to go. This of course sounds counterintuitive given all the negativity that exists in the nuclear industry. It’s hard to do what I do in this industry when I’m the guy reading all the news about our industry and it’s 90% negative. It’s challenging to stay positive.”
He explained that his background in finance had made his involvement in the nuclear industry even more unlikely. The investment community at large has very little understanding of the industry. As nuclear power is never financed through capital markets, its financing has been done by the government or on large industrial balance sheets. In the past 60 years, he says, nuclear technology was not appropriate for capital markets (arguably, there was a time when nuclear plants were built cheaply in China and Korea, but happened to not be financeable in capital markets, even though they would be providing suitable investment returns for shareholders).
“It creates a situation whereby capital markets have no infrastructure to be able to handle securities related to the nuclear power industry. So say Terrestrial wants to raise $1 billion on Wall Street to build a nuclear plant. Wall Street has no investment panels with expertise in nuclear power, and with no experience investing, the two industries have no interface.”
Mr. Bryan started to become interested in the technology aspect of the industry (his specialty is in the supply side and fuel cycle). Despite his lack of a formal science education, he loved the science and took it upon himself to learn about it. With a deep understanding of the industry as a whole, began to form a vision for a new investment plan, one that could bring nuclear into the eye of the investment market and possibly be trillions of dollars in scope.
“There’s so much to know about it and I love that aspect. I love the feeling of undertaking projects when the solutions are difficult but you know that they’re there and there’s a galaxy of knowledge to assimilate. That’s what excites me most. The search for the truth can go on indefinitely - and it’s extremely intellectually tantalizing.”
His familiarity with unfavorable circumstances made him especially well equipped to embark on this search. “I thought to myself: ‘There’s this thing called nuclear power. It’s terrific. As far as I can tell, it’s the energy of the future. But there are things about it that people don’t like. If there’s a technology out there that has all the benefits of nuclear power but not the reputation, that would be the killer app for the energy industry.’”
He set out to find the mystery technology that would soon reveal itself to be the advanced Integral Molten Salt Reactor that is currently under development at Terrestrial. He looked at all different kinds of technologies, traveling around the world to different labs and universities and speaking with experts. His fascination with the subject expanded in new ways. That was the beginning of his journey down the Gen IV path he’s still on.
Terrestrial energy started in 2015, and has been developing the advanced small modular reactor that has, as he says, the potential to be a “killer app” in the global energy industry. It became clear that his search was over — he’d found a technology so efficient and so powerful that it could turn the energy paradigm upside down. Now his company is trying to deliver it to the world.
“I find it a fascinating industry because whenever you have something that is grossly misunderstood, that exhibits virtuous characteristics that basically go wholly unrecognized, then it’s a market anomaly. Economic theory doesn’t like market anomalies. It suggests that they can only possibly be temporary and will eventually self correct. That’s why even though nuclear is tremendously virtuous as a source of energy, it’s structurally not working in terms of economics.”
Mr. Bryan believes he can fix this problem. He’s spotted an opportunity for a new investment plan based on tackling the biggest problems with the nuclear power industry, which are largely rooted in economics. “I knew I had something good, that I had an opportunity worth investigating. It’s worth 10 years of my life so far. I plan to continue for a long time.”
The constant opposition and uncertainty that’s built into a career in the nuclear industry is enough to make Mr. Bryan’s work seem unexpected and unconventional from a business perspective. But despite more lucrative offers throughout his career, championing the nuclear industry was simply his calling. He believes that the more people embrace the truth, the better we can make our economy and our world. He’s found the truth that he needs to bring into the world. And he promises that the truth about nuclear is never boring; it’s always fascinating.
“There’s a generation of people who’ve had the wrong ideas about nuclear pounded into their thought process. Now we have a new generation that’s available with a fresh slate ready to embrace new ideas. That’s why I love Generation Atomic, because they’re empowering the younger generation with the right ideas. They arrived at those ideas on their own.”
“There are people that already have fixed ideas they’re unwilling to change, people searching for the truth about something, and people who don’t know anything and don’t want to. All the big decisions are made on the margins — by small groups of people who represent the masses who don’t have the will or capability to do their homework.”
These groups, like Generation Atomic, take it upon themselves to shoulder the burden of millions if not billions of people — and keep up an arduous and concerted effort for a long period of time. It’s up to groups like these to reverse the damage the other side has done.
“I think we’ll be successful. We have data on our side. Now is a perfect turning point for all things to roll over from one era to another era. There’s new technology and a new class of extremely motivated students embracing that new technology. That’s all we need - that’s how we’ll win.”