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Will NuScale’s Utah project collapse impact SMR development in CEE?

On 8 November, industry-leading provider of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) announced to have mutually agreed to terminate the Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP).

UAMPS Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Mason Baker defined the decision as very disappointing, yet the best one.

The project aimed at the development of six reactors of 462 megawatts (MW) to be launched in 2030. Considering that NuScale’s is the first and only SMR to have its design certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, it was a severe blow to US nuclear ambitions.

However, the same question arose for NuScale’s international projects, especially if we think about Central and Eastern Europe, where the US company has agreements in place (or about to have) with several countries like Poland, Romania and Ukraine.

“The Carbon Free Power Project (CFPP) decision does not change NuScale’s commitments to other customers or to our market pursuits globally. This situation is unique to the CFPP,” Diane Hughes, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at NuScale Power tells CEENERGYNEWS.

“NuScale has made substantial progress toward preparing our technology for deployment, maturing our design and developing our supply chain and our work to date will support future deployments of our SMR technology,” she explains. “Materials under production and a substantial body of information developed for the CFPP are project-generic and could be used to support and expedite other NuScale projects, including the agreement we recently announced with Standard Power and ENTRA1 [two small modular reactor-powered facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania].

“We continue to see high levels of interest in the many applications of our technology from major industrial companies, utilities, local governments and others seeking clean, reliable energy and process heat,” she adds. “NuScale has reached the stage of commercial deployment and we’ll continue to build on that success with future customers both here in the US and internationally.”

Indeed, the interest in Central and Eastern Europe has grown over the past years, as the whole world is looking for energy sources that are smarter, cleaner, safer and cost-competitive.

As mentioned by Ms Hughes in an interview with CEENERGYNEWS earlier this year, in October 2022, the USTDA awarded a grant to initiate front-end engineering and design work to develop a NuScale SMR power plant in Romania.

“The next steps 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,” she said.

At the beginning of October, the Romanian National Commission for Nuclear Activities Control (CNCAN) approved the Licensing Basis Document (LBD) for the NuScale SMR power plant with a gross installed power of 462 megawatts-electric (MWe), a key milestone of the SMR Project.

The Chief Executive Officer of Nuclearelectrica, Cosmin Ghita commented on the decision underlining “NuScale’s strong commitment and high responsibility level towards regulatory compliance and project timeline.”

“For us, at Nuclearelectrica, it is a further, independent confirmation of a solid, safe and reliable SMR technology and a further motivation to continue the deployment of an SMR technology project that will reshape the role of nuclear energy in the economy,” Mr Ghita said.

NuScale is also present in Poland, after signing an agreement in February 2022 with mining company KGHM to support the deployment of SMR technology and deploy the first NuScale power plant in the country as early as 2029, which would help Poland avoid up to 8 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

And KGHM confirmed that the agreement with NuScale has not been terminated.

“KGHM is continuing to advance its plans related to SMRs,” read the company’s press statement.

Surely, there are also challenges related to SMR development. First of all the timeline, as Polish experts are indicating the mid-2040s as the earliest time to see an installed capacity that exceeds 5 gigawatts (GW). Second, the costs, as recent estimates by NuScale Power itself indicated over a 50 per cent increase in the price, considering also the subsidies of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), without which the price could be even higher.

The Utah project was mutually terminated as it appeared unlikely that it “will have enough subscription to continue toward deployment”, so it is clear that NuScale and its partners want to proceed with SMR projects. Thus, it will be also a question of local acceptance. In Poland for example, there is a high support for nuclear technologies so SMRs represent an incredible opportunity to decarbonise some sectors like district heating. Will the region change its mind once the costs increase? It is important to remember that, in the words of the former Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, the cost of inaction will be definitely higher.

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