Sunday, July 21, 2024
HomeNuclearSmall Modular Reactors: who is leading the CEE region?

Small Modular Reactors: who is leading the CEE region?

Today, the European Union depends on nuclear power for about one-quarter of its electricity, as reported by the World Nuclear Association, pointing out that nuclear energy would remain the cheaper option in 2050.

Currently, there are 103 nuclear power reactors (with a cumulative power of 100 GWe) operating in 13 of the 27 EU Member States, with over half of the EU’s nuclear electricity produced in France alone.

The sector today faces major challenges within the EU, with countries openly against the use of nuclear energy in the long term. However, innovative technology is raising a lot of interest within the industry: small modular reactors (SMRs), which can play an important role in the clean energy systems of the future.

Small and modular: all the advantages of SMR technology

As explained by the International Atomic Energy Agency, SMRs are advanced nuclear reactors that have a power capacity of up to 300 MWe per unit, which is about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors. As their name suggests, they are small, physically a fraction of the size of a conventional nuclear power reactor and they are modular, making it possible for systems and components to be factory-assembled and transported as a unit to a location for installation. Due to their simplicity and flexibility, they are a much-preferred option nowadays.

Cosmin Ghita, CEO of Romania’s electricity distributor Nuclearelectrica and President of the Board of the joint venture RoPower Nuclear, defines the SMR technology as “the international nuclear industry’s response to energy independence and global decarbonisation needs.”

“SMRs bring flexibility, scalability, access to remote areas, features that together greatly facilitate access to clean energy sources at accessible prices, support local regional development, contribute to reducing energy poverty,” he tells CEENERGYNEWS.

That’s why Nuclearelectrica, since 2019, showed interest in NuScale Power, a US-based company, a leader in SMR technology.

“From the security point of view, NuScale reactors are very advanced,” explains Mr Ghita. “NuScale’s SMR technology can be shut down and self-cool for an unlimited period of time, without operator intervention, without the need for additional water and without the need for electricity.”

Other than the safety aspect, Diane Hughes, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at NuScale also highlights that NuScale’s power plant technology is the only technology that is “scalable” in that the facility can be operated from as few as one NuScale Power Module™ (NPM) to as many NPMs as the building is capable of housing.

“This scalable feature allows customers to expand the facility’s installed capacity over time to meet load growth or other economic considerations by the addition of modules up to the maximum amount of modules the building can house,” she tells CEENERGYNEWS.

Finally, a NuScale plant can provide highly reliable power to critical infrastructure like medical facilities, defence installations, digital data storage centres and other industrial processes and other mission-critical installations requiring such reliability.

“The technology is not just capable of producing reliable baseload electricity, but is also designed for flexible operations that complement renewable energy generation sources,” Ms Hughes adds. “Technology to make fossil fuels cleaner is not viable today and renewables are still not capable of supporting 100 per cent of our global energy needs. Wind and solar alone face intermittency and reliability challenges, but SMRs add flexibility and can be easily integrated into a renewables-heavy system.”

CEE countries interested in developing SMRs

In particular, several countries from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), have shown interest to develop and put the first SMRs into operation, including Romania, Czechia and Poland.

“In keeping with climate-related commitments, NuScale’s VOYGR™ SMR power plants are timely solutions across the globe and especially in Central and Eastern Europe, as our SMRs offer an opportunity for true decarbonisation with safe, flexible and affordable zero-carbon baseload technology that will help achieve a decarbonised energy system and energy security,” underlines Ms Hughes. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Europe needs a more diverse mix of clean energy and that underinvestment in nuclear energy and an overreliance on natural gas is not the way forward. That’s why we’re seeing such strong interest in advanced nuclear technology and SMRs across the region.”

She mentions, for example, how, within the last year, the natural gas market has experienced increased volatility, influenced by geopolitical tensions and subsequent concerns over supply and energy sanctions.

“Nuclear fuel prices are and have been much more stable as compared to natural gas and therefore nuclear energy offers a more reliable source of energy,” she recalls. “Fuel costs only make up a small fraction of operating costs at a nuclear power plant, whereas, natural gas prices are a dominant factor in operating costs at a gas plant. Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is easily and cheaply transportable.”

Romania

Romania has two nuclear reactors generating about 20 per cent of its electricity and the country’s targets, as underlined by Mr Ghita, are very ambitious: a reduction of CO2 emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and a reduction of dependence on energy imports from 20.8 per cent today to 17.8 per cent by 2030.

“Therefore, we want to ensure that, in addition to the high-power reactors at the Cernavoda Power Plant, by expanding the current capacity with both large-scale and small modular reactors, we can ensure both securities of supply in Romania, but also availability and flexibility at the same time,” Mr Ghita says. “This is an advantage that few countries have.”

At the same time, he recognises that while Romania needs clean energy sources, renewables are not sufficient to meet all system needs as they are dependent on weather conditions.

“I would say that this cooperation with NuScale represents an optimal point of meeting the needs of Romania for long-term decarbonisation, energy security, security of supply, in a safe, clean, flexible way and the availability of an advanced, safe, approved technology,” says Mr Ghita.

And, in this regard, several agreements and memoranda were signed by Nuclearelectrica. Recalling some of them, the company’s CEO mentions the Teaming Agreement signed in 2021, on the occasion of COP26, with NuScale to advance the implementation of the first SMR in Europe. At the beginning of 2021, Nuclearelectrica received 1.2 million US dollars from the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) to identify and evaluate the potential sites for SMRs. Additionally, in June 2022, US President Joe Biden announced the allocation of a grant of 14 million US dollars for the next stage of the development of NuScale SMR in Romania. As for the location, in May 2022, several adequate potential sites were identified and the site of the former thermal power plant at Doicești, Dambovita County, was selected as a candidate site for further in-depth studies and developments.

“The next steps for constructing the first SMR in Romania include performing environmental impact assessments, evaluating site and country-specific impacts to NuScale’s standard plant design and the development of a project-specific cost estimate,” explains NuScale’s Diane Hughes. “The eight-month scope of work includes tasks and the production of deliverables that will define the site and customer-specific inputs for a VOYGR-6 SMR power plant at the Doicești Power Station in Romania, a site with a decommissioned coal-fired plant and natural gas-fired units and represents another step toward a signed commitment.”

Poland

Within the region, also Poland plans to have nuclear power from about 2033, as part of a diverse energy portfolio, moving it away from heavy dependence on coal. In particular, the country has a number of energy-intensive industrial companies – including the chemical manufacturer Synthos, PKN Orlen and the copper and silver producer KGHM, working towards upgrading plants to include new small reactors.

In August 2021, Synthos Green Energy began screening sites for SMRs while in December 2022, PKN Orlen announced that the company plans to build its first SMR in Poland within the next three years.

“In February 2022, NuScale Power and KGHM signed a landmark agreement to initiate work towards implementing advanced SMRs in Poland, following the September 2021 collaboration announcement between the two parties,” explains Ms Hughes. “Under this agreement, NuScale will work with KGHM to support the deployment of SMR technology and together, the organisations will take steps toward deploying a first NuScale VOYGR™ power plant in Poland as early as 2029, which would help Poland avoid up to 8 million tons of CO2 emissions per year.”

Czechia

Finally, the Czech Republic has six nuclear reactors generating about one-third of its electricity. In February 2020 the country’s utility group, CEZ signed an MoU with GE Hitachi to examine the feasibility of constructing a BWRX-300 – an SMR of 300 MWe – in the country.

This followed the signing in September 2019 of an MoU with NuScale to explore SMR deployment in the country. In November 2020 CEZ signed an MoU with Rolls-Royce to explore the potential for deploying its 400 MWe SMR in the Czech Republic. CEZ has also signed MoUs relating to the deployment of SMRs with EDF, Westinghouse, Holtec and KHNP.

Finally, in March 2022 CEZ said that it had earmarked an area of land at its Temelin site to be used in the future for the construction of the country’s first SMRs.

Who is going to win?

With all these developments underway, one must assume that the competition is tight. Mr Ghita believes that “as one of the first countries to join the drive for energy independence with one of the most advanced nuclear energy technologies, Romania will gain a leading position and multiple socio-economic benefits: it has the potential to become a base for supporting the production and assembly of SMR components and a centre for training and education of future operators and specialists.”

Cooperation is indeed key, as Mr Ghita highlights, recalling the MoU signed in September 2022, with Poland’s KGHM for offering support and expertise for the development of the first SMR in Poland.

“Through developing and deploying the NuScale SMR technology, Romania and Poland will strengthen their energy security with a secure, stable, affordable and clean source of energy while achieving their decarbonisation goals,” he concludes.

Sign up for our newsletters

    Monthly newsletter – Delivering the most important energy stories of the month selected by our Editor-in-chief
    Weekly Oil&Gas roundup - All major news about the oil and gas industry, LNG developments, the upscaling of new gases and related EU regulations arriving in your mailbox every Monday.
    Weekly Renewables&Climate roundup - All major news about investments in renewable energy sources, environment protection, green hydrogen and new innovative ways to tackle the climate crisis arriving in your mailbox every Tuesday.

    Most Popular