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Billionaires backing Rolls-Royce reactors bet on atomic resurgence

A billionaire French oil family’s decision to back Rolls-Royce’s plans for a fleet of mini nuclear power plants is part of a set of investments predicated on a renaissance for atomic power, according to their investment adviser.

Sean Benson, director of BNF Capital, the London-based investment office owned by members of the Perrodo family, said that recent investments have focused on uranium as “we feel the energy transition is not possible without a heavy reliance on nuclear power, hence also the Rolls-Royce investment”.

“We think nuclear is required as part of the net zero carbon targets that everyone wants to meet,” added Benson, who has been advising the family on its multibillion-dollar office portfolio for several years.

The Perrodo family, whose estimated £3.9bn fortune was built on investments in oil and gas, emerged last week as one of two private backers of the UK aero-engine group’s plans to build small modular reactors. The funding helped to unlock backing from the British government for the initiative, part of a new push into nuclear power designed to help the country meet its net zero carbon targets.

The family’s main asset, oil and gas group Perenco, was founded by the late Hubert Perrodo, an entrepreneur descended from Breton fishermen who also amassed several wine estates in Bordeaux. Perenco’s operations today span projects in West Africa, Latin America and Asia. The group, which is also a significant producer in the UK’s North Sea, is run separately by the family.

Benson said the decision to back the Rolls-Royce initiative was not driven by a move to diversify from fossil fuels. BNF Capital two years ago first approached the UK group, whose reactors power the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet. Benson said they considered investing in other SMR technologies but Rolls-Royce’s design was particularly attractive as it uses existing technology in the form of pressurised water reactors seen in large power stations. A separate vehicle, BNF Resources, controls the investment in RR SMR.

“It is putting [existing technology] together differently and more efficiently . . . We are looking at it as an investment that stands up in its own right. It has the ESG angle,” said Benson.

Other investments include lithium and nickel, commodities required in the manufacture of electric vehicles. Benson said not enough capital was being put into the “mining of these enabling commodities to keep up with demand” and that the expectation was that prices would continue to rise in order to incentivise production.

BNF Capital has seeded two fund vehicles active in what Benson calls “energy transition commodities”, the Tees River Uranium Fund and Tees River Critical Resources Fund, both managed by Benson. The uranium fund has about $280m assets under management and is up around 200 per cent for the year to date.

Separately, Benson said he was looking at possible investments in carbon capture and technology which he said could “help in the medium term before nuclear can seriously get going”. 

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