Interesting to see that plans are advancing to build small nuclear reactor power plants in the UK. As noted in this BBC News article, these are intended to be in addition to large-scale nuclear power plants and not as an alternative to those large-scale power plants.  

Companies that are active in nuclear fission-based power tend to file relatively few patent applications. Problems that arise when designing a nuclear fission power plant, and the inventions devised to solve those problems, may be specific to a particular power plant. As a result, it may not be commercially worthwhile filing patent applications for those inventions. 

However, what is now being planned is smaller sized reactors which may be more standardised and which can be built in a factory (instead of being built-on site). This move towards factory manufacturing of many reactors of the same design means that patent protection for inventions relating to such reactors may now be commercially valuable.  

Patents last for up to 20 years, and thus a patent can provide protection for an invention in a nuclear reactor for a substantial proportion of the lifetime of that reactor. The deterrent effect provided by a such a patent would be significant. The cost of a small nuclear reactor is expected to be £2bn, and it is hard to envisage a company investing money on this scale without first checking for third party patent rights and ensuring that the patents are avoided or licences are obtained.

We may well see growth of nuclear fission patent applications over the next few years. 

Reactor designer Rolls-Royce will announce that a consortium of investors will back plans for a new smaller nuclear reactor project. As part of its 10 point green energy plan, the government has already announced it would provide £210m in funding if that could be matched by private capital. An announcement that money has been raised could come as soon as Tuesday.

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