ROMANIA MAY GO AHEAD WITH the construction of Cernavoda 3&4, if final approval of China’s preliminary investment offer by the Romanian and Chinese governments is granted by the end of July. “It is necessary to decide Romania’s long-term strategy and install capacity,” said Serban Valeca, nuclear power adviser to Romania’s prime minister, Viorica Dancila, referring to the need for the construction of new units at Cernavoda.

“Cernavoda investment plans for units 3 and 4 [were] initially approved by shareholders in May, but they are now expected to get a final greenlight at the end of July, when the Chinese government is expected to finalise its investment offer,” Roman Urjan, the director of refurbishment at Nuclearelectrica said at Foratom’s Nuclear in a Changing World conference in Bucharest on 26 June.

Officials from China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN) and Nuclearelectrica signed a Preliminary Investors Agreement (PIA) for the construction of Cernavoda 3&4 on 8 May, according to the Nuclearelectrica website. The agreement creates a joint venture company for construction of Cernavoda 3&4, with CGN holding 51% of the company and Nuclearelectrica 49%. The preliminary agreement was approved on 10 April by Nuclearelectrica’s shareholders, of which the Romanian government and state-owned funds make up around 90%. The Chinese side has also approved the PIA, but the agreement remains subject to formal approval by the Romanian and Chinese sides within 60 “working days” of the 8 May agreement.

The PIA calls for the joint venture company to last for an initial period of two years. The PIA does not give a cost for the construction of Cernavoda units 3 and 4, but Romanian press reports have said that it could be around €7 billion per unit. It does not specify which reactor technology will be used.

Cernavoda 3 is currently around 15% complete and Cernavoda 4 around 14% complete. The vast majority of this work was done in the 1980s prior to the fall of the communist government of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989. Cernavoa 1&2 are 720MW Candu 6 reactors, and the working assumption at the time of the initial construction was that units 3&4 would also be Candus.

Over the years, Romania has had various energy strategies, but the plan was always for nuclear power to comprise 41-43% of the country’s electricity mix.

An advisory source to the Romanian government said in an interview that the Chinese funding for the construction of Cernavoda 3&4 would need state aid approval by the European Commission and that this could prove very challenging. The EC will have the final decision on state aid from China for Romania’s nuclear construction and may look at it differently to the state aid from France’s EDF for the UK’s Hinkley Point C, as China is a third party to the EU.

Valeca said that the underlying factors behind the need for the construction of Cernavoda 3&4 were increased electricity demand in Romania as a result of the 2050 decarbonisation goals and consequent decarbonisation in the transport and industrial sectors. He also noted that the Romanian industry has had a “problem to innovate and reduce carbon dioxide [emissions].”

Gerassimos Thomas, deputy director general energy, at the European Commission, said that the figures to build new nuclear in Europe look high, but not in comparison to the cost of EU’s necessary energy transition by 2050. Across Europe, €50 billion is needed for nuclear power plant life extension in the next 10 to 20 years and €350-450 billion for new construction by 2050.  

Life extension at Cernavoda 1

Meanwhile, a €3.5 billion major refurbishment of the Cernavoda 1 Candu reactor is going ahead as part of Romania’s plan to decarbonise electricity by 2050.

Urjan explained that Cernavoda 1&2 are currently in operation, using fuel from a Romanian factory. Now unit 1 is has approval for refurbishment unit 2 will become Romania’s main source of electricity from nuclear power.

He said, “We are in the first phase of this work, spending money for refurbishment, undertaking studies, so we can complete the feasibility studies between 2018-2021”. He said the plan was to shut Cernavoda 1 in December 2026 for two years for refurbishment and restart in 2028. Refurbishment would allow for the reactor to extend its life by 30 years from the original finish date.

In January, Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) signed an agreement with US-based engineering firm Sargent & Lundy to collaborate on a planned modernisation project at Cernavoda. The Cernavoda reactors are of the same design as Wolsong in South Korea, where KHNP has already completed a similar modernisation project, while Sargent & Lundy has participated in upgrading Canadian PHWRs. 

Author information: Rumyana Vakarelska, Journalist covering the energy and environmental sectors