Nuclear newcomers surge

7 July 2022

Dozens of countries are turning to nuclear power to meet their energy needs. The nuclear newcomers are here.

Currently some 30 countries are considering, planning or starting nuclear power programmes as they seek a secure, low-carbon supply of energy. According to Rafael Mariano Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Director General, based on their current national plans, 10 to 12 newcomers to nuclear power are expected to have begun development by 2035. There are a number of reactors already under construction in newcomer nations.

Nuclear plants under construction

BANGLADESH began construction of its first reactor in 2017 and its second in 2018. Two 1200MWe VVER-1200 reactors are being built by Rosatom at Rooppur, 160km northwest of Dhaka. Russia and Bangladesh signed an inter- governmental agreement for Rooppur as a turnkey project in 2011 and ASE Group was appointed general contractor in 2015. Rooppur 1 is scheduled to start operating in 2023 and Rooppur 2 in 2024. Rosatom will maintain the plant for the first year of operation. By 2023 more than 1500 Bangladeshis are expected to have trained at Novovoronezh II. Russia will also supply fuel for the plant and take back the used fuel for processing.

BELARUS began construction of Ostrovets 1 (in the Grodno region) in 2013 and unit 2 in 2014. The plant is based on Russia’s VVER-1200. Russia will supply fuel and take back the used fuel. Unit 1 began commercial operations in June 2021. Construction of unit 2 is complete, and hot functional tests were completed in October 2021. Fuel loading started in December 2021 and commissioning is underway. Rosatom’s Atomstroyexport (ASE) is building the 2400MWe plant under a 2011 intergovernmental agreement that includes a Russian state loan of US$10bn for the project.

TURKEY invited bids for construction of a plant at Akkuyu on the Mediterranean coast in 2008. Russia’s ASE and Inter RAO UES with Park Teknik (Turkey) proposed a plant with four 1200MWe reactors. In 2010 Russia and Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement for Rosatom to build, own and operate (BOO) the $20bn plant – the first nuclear project to be built on this basis. Rosatom will retain at least 51% of project company Akkuyu Nuclear, set up in 2011. Construction of unit 1 began in 2018, with start-up planned for 2023. All four units are now under construction with work well advanced at units 1&2. All four units are scheduled for operation by 2025 when the plant is expected to meet about 10% of Turkey’s electricity needs. In 2013 Turkey accepted a proposal from a consortium led by MHI and Areva (with Itochu and Engie) to build a second plant with four Atmea 1 reactors but work was frozen in late 2018 when MHI pulled out of the project.

THE UAE embarked on a nuclear power programme after accepting a US$20bn bid from a South Korean consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) in 2009 to build four APR1400 reactors at Barakah between Abu Dhabi city and Ruwais. Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (Enec) and Kepco then set up Barakah One to deal with the financial aspects of the project. This included managing loan agreements of about US$19.6bn.

Construction of unit 1 began in 2012, unit 2 in 2013, unit 3 in 2014 and unit 4 in 2015. The plant is now more than 96% complete and is generating electricity. Barakah 1 began commercial operation in April 2021, and unit 2 in March 2022. Units 3 and 4 are in the final stages of commissioning. The four units are expected to produce up to 25% of the UAE’s electricity requirements.

Nuclear plants proposed or planned

Alongside countries with reactors under construction are many more nations that are laying the groundwork to develop a nuclear power programme.

ALGERIA began laying the legal basis to introduce nuclear energy by 2030-50 in 2018. It had already established the Atomic Energy Commission, built two research reactors and established an institute to train nuclear engineers. In 2009 the government announced plans for an operating nuclear plant by 2020, but in 2013 this was deferred to 2025. Agreements with Rosatom in 2014 and 2016 envisaged construction of VVER reactors with a view to completing the first in 2026. Agreements with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) in 2015 and 2016 relate to a nuclear research centre, the Hualong One reactor, and the ACP100 small reactor.

AZERBAIJAN received a proposal from Rosatom on nuclear power cooperation in 2018, including construction of an NPP. Rosatom offered two options – to start immediately at a site in the southern Avai region selected in Soviet times, or to develop cooperation over 5-6 years, installing a research reactor, building up competencies, and training staff.

EGYPT’s El-Dabaa NPP in Matruh province on the Mediterranean coast will comprise four VVER-1200 reactors constructed by Rosatom based on 2017 contracts. Russia will supply nuclear fuel throughout the lifecycle of the plant, arrange training, and assist in operation and maintenance for the first 10 years. The $30bn project is mostly financed through a $25bn Russian loan. The Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) was granted a site permit in 2019. Rosatom had hoped to begin work in 2020 for operation of unit 1 in 2026; on unit 2 in 2021 for operation in 2026; and on unit 3 in 2022 for operation in 2027. Construction will begin as soon as the necessary approvals are in place.

ESTONIA identified sites for a possible NPP in 2008. In 2009 state energy company Eesti Energia said that it was considering two 335MWe IRIS reactors, from Westinghouse. Government energy policy provided for Eesti Energiato build a NPP of up to 1000MWe and the company was granted a permit for site surveys of Suur-Pakri Island. However, interest then switched to SMRs and Fermi Energia was set up in 2019 to investigate. An agreement with UK-based Moltex Energy to undertake a feasibility study followed. In spring 2021 Fermi Energia signed co-operation agreements on SMR development with GE Hitachi and Rolls Royce. Estonia joined the US Department of State’s Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme at the end of 2021. In April 2022 Canada’s Laurentis Energy Partners agreed to work with Fermi on SMRs.

GHANA’s government announced plans to introduce nuclear power in 2007, specifying 400MWe of nuclear capacity by 2018. Long-term plans envisaged 700MWe by 2025 expanding to 1000MWe. The Energy Ministry has identified three potential sites. In 2018 Ghana said construction of a 1200MWe NPP could begin in 2023-29 and in 2012 and 2015 Ghana signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Rosatom followed by an agreement for NPP construction. In 2021 Ghana signed an MOU Concerning Strategic Civil Nuclear Cooperation with the USA and in 2022 and Ghana joined the US FIRST programme for SMR development.

INDONESIA’s National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan) in 2001 led a call for tenders for two 1000 MWe units but these were put on hold. In 2007 Kepco and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) signed a MOU for a feasibility study on two 1000MWe units but in 2013 Batan’s focus shifted to SMRs.

In 2014, nuclear co-operation with Japan was extended to research into high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTRs). A 2015 agreement with Rusatom Overseas related to small floating plants and a consortium of Russian and Indonesian companies won a contract for the preliminary design of a multi-purpose 10MWt HTR. In 2016 China Nuclear Engineering Corporation also signed a cooperation agreement to develop HTRs. In 2018, Batan launched a roadmap to develop an engineering design for an experimental small pebble-bed HTR and a site licence was received for a 10MWt reactor at Puspiptek research facility.

JORDAN planned to have two 1000MWe nuclear units in operation by 2025 but is now considering SMRs. It has signed multiple nuclear cooperation agreements. The Committee for Nuclear Strategy, set up in 2007, had planned for nuclear power to provide 30% of electricity by 2030, and to provide for exports. In 2008 the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) investigated plant technologies including AECL’s Candu-6, the Areva-Mitsubishi Atmea 1 and a KHNP design. In 2009 JAEC contracted Tractabel Engineering for a siting study at Al Amra in Al Mafraq province and signed WorleyParsons for the pre-construction phase of a two-unit plant. In 2013 JAEC decided on two AES-92 units on a BOO basis with Rosatom Overseas. However, in 2018 the project was cancelled on the grounds of cost in favour of SMRs, and a new agreement was signed with Rosatom Overseas. A MOU was also signed with Rolls-Royce for an SMR feasibility study, and another with X-energy on its 76MWe Xe-100 HTGR. Talks were held with CNNC in 2018 on the possible construction of a 220MWe HTR-PM reactor for operation from 2025, and in 2019 an agreement was signed with US NuScale.

KAZAKHSTAN has been discussing nuclear power with Russia since 2006. In 2016 Kazakhstan had considered five possible sites – Ulken near Lake Balkhash in the south; Kurchatov, in the northeast; Taraz, near the border with Kyrgyzstan; and Aktau, on the shore of the Caspian Sea. In 2021 Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Kazakhstan needed a NPP and advocated further investigation and the Energy Ministry began to study possible sites.

KENYA began considering nuclear power in 2010 and the Kenya Nuclear Electricity Board (KNEB) was set up in 2014. In 2015 and 2017 KNEB signed agreements with China General Nuclear Power (CGN) to investigate building a Hualong One reactor. Rosatom and Kepco also signed agreements with Kenya in 2016 on NPP construction. Kenya confirmed a target of 1000MWe online by 2025 and 4000MWe by 2033. In 2019, KNEB became the Nuclear Power and Energy Agency (NuPEA) and in 2020 deferred the timeline for an initial plant to 2035 and said SMRs would also be considered.

NIGERIA has a well-established nuclear infrastructure. Nigeria’s first research reactor, supplied by China, was commissioned in 2004. In 2009 the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NEAC) set out a Strategic Plan, targeting 1000MWe of nuclear capacity by 2020, plus 4000MWe by 2030. In 2010, NEAC shortlisted four possible sites. Plans were revised in 2015 targeting first NPP grid connection by 2025 and increasing nuclear capacity to 4800MWe by 2035. In 2009 Russia signed an agreement with Nigeria for construction of a NPP and research reactor. In 2011 Rosatom and the NEAC finalised a draft intergovernmental agreement on the design, construction, operation and decommissioning of an NPP with three more plants planned at a total cost of $20 billion. In 2012 Rosatom and NAEC signed a MOU to prepare a programme including financing options and considering a BOO arrangement. In 2021, a reconstituted Russian-Nigerian Joint Coordination Committee (JCC) on National Atomic Energy was launched for cooperation in the design, construction and decommissioning of NPPs.

PHILIPPINES is considering a nuclear power programme, including possible revival of the 621MWe Westinghouse mothballed NPP Bataan project or constructing an SMR. A 2008 update of the national energy plan envisaged 600MWe of nuclear online in 2025, with further 600MWe increments in 2027, 2030 and 2034. The Philippine Energy Plan 2018-2040 included a Nuclear Power Programme Roadmap, targeting the first NPP in 2027. In 2017 two nuclear cooperation agreements were signed with Rosatom, followed by another in 2019, to assess the feasibility of an SMR, floating or on land. In 2021 DOE identified 15 possible locations for a NPP and in February 2022 DOE was mandated to develop and implement a nuclear programme, including the possible revival of Bataan.

POLAND decided in 2005 that its first NPP should be operating soon after 2020. In 2009, the Council of Ministers called for construction of at least two plants. The government plan envisaged construction of the first unit in 2016-20 and successive units by 2030. Power utility PGE announced plans to build two 3000MWe NPPs. A nuclear power programme, approved by the government in 2011, was confirmed by PGE in 2012.

A draft energy policy to 2040, adopted in 2021, targeted halving coal use in favour of nuclear. Three NPP sites have been identified and the Energy Ministry plans to launch the first 1-1.5GWe reactor in 2035 and five more by 2043, for a total capacity of 6-9GWe. In 2021 a new state-owned company, Polish Nuclear Power Plants (Polskie Elektrownie Ja?drowe, PEJ), was set up to pursue investment. PEJ selected the coastal location of Lubiatowo-Kopalino in Pomerania for the first reactor.

In 2021, the US Trade & Development Agency provided a grant to support design studies by Westinghouse and Bechtel for a AP1000 reactor. EDF offered to build up to six 1650 MWe EPR units and KHNP indicated it would offer its APR-1400. In 2022 Bechtel and Westinghouse signed an MOU with GE Steam Power for joint pursuit of civil nuclear projects in Poland. Poland also plans to build a cogeneration 200-350MWt HTR for process heat and a 10MWt experimental HTR at Swierk. There is close cooperation with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency on HTRs and in 2022, US NuScale Power and Poland’s KGHM Polska Miedz´ agreed to initiate deployment of NuScale’s SMR technology.

SAUDI ARABIA set up the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) in 2010 to advance alternative energies including nuclear. Plans included the construction of 16 reactors to generate about 20% of Saudi Arabia’s electricity and smaller reactors for desalination. In 2013, three sites were short-listed. Construction was expected to begin in 2016 to build 17GWe of nuclear capacity by 2032,  but plans were scaled back in 2015 and the target date was moved to 2040. KA-CARE requested proposals for 2.9GWe of nuclear capacity, from South Korea, China, Russia and Japan. In 2018 a project was launched to build a research reactor. Saudi Arabia is also investigating SMRs, signing agreements with: the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute; with Argentina’s Invap; and China Nuclear Engineering Corporation. The Kingdom is working on a framework programme for nuclear energy for 2022-2027.

SRI LANKA’s Long Term Generation Expansion Plan 2015- 2034, developed by the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), includes a scenario for 600MWe NPP from 2030. The draft of the 2020-2039 plan has a 600MWe nuclear unit starting up in 2035 and another in 2037. In 2010 the government commissioned its Atomic Energy Authority and CEB to conduct a pre-feasibility study on introducing nuclear energy from about 2025. The Atomic Energy Authority Act was revised in 2014 to establish the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Board and the Sri Lanka Atomic Energy Regulatory Council. Sri Lankan nuclear experts are being trained in Russia. In 2015 the government signed nuclear cooperation agreements with India and Pakistan.

SUDAN’s Ministry of Energy & Mines initiated a nuclear power programme in 2010. The Ministry of Electricity and Water Resources set up the Nuclear Energy Generation Department to undertake a feasibility study for four 300- 600MWe units by 2030. This was changed in 2015 to two 600MWe PWRs by 2027. In 2016, a framework agreement was signed with CNNC to build one or two 600MWe reactors, with a nuclear cooperation roadmap for the next decade. A 2017 nuclear cooperation agreement with Rosatom included assessing the feasibility of a nuclear science and technology centre with a research reactor and power plant.

THAILAND’s 2010 Power Development Plan (2010-2030) planned 5000MWe by 2020. After Fukushima, the date was pushed back to 2023 and deferred again under PDP2015, which targeted a 5% nuclear share (two 1000MWe PWR units) by 2036. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) signed agreements on nuclear development with CGN in 2009 and Japan Atomic Power Co in 2010. In 2014 the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Rosatom.

UGANDA began establishing a framework for its nuclear power programme in 2008 when the Atomic Energy Bill came into effect. Uganda’s Vision 2040 roadmap envisages significant nuclear capacity as part of the future energy mix. The Uganda Atomic Energy Council developed a Nuclear Power Roadmap Development Strategy that was approved by the cabinet 2015. In 2017 Uganda said it planned to build a 2,000MWe NPP by 2032. The base case scenario is for two 1000 MWe units by 2031 and potential sites were identified. Co-operation agreements were signed with Rosatom in 2016 and 2017 and with various Chinese companies, including CNNC in 2017 and 2018. Uganda said in 2022 that it had acquired land for the construction of its first NPP.

UZBEKISTAN expects nuclear to account for about 15% of energy generation by 2030. In 2018 an agreement was signed with Russia on cooperation in design and construction of a $13bn two-unit station, with the first VVER-1200 reactor in operation by 2028. Most of the investment is expected to come from Russia. In 2019, a roadmap was issued detailing nuclear development for 2019-2029, including plants totalling 2.4GWe. The main stages are: site selection and licensing (2019-2020); design of nuclear plants and infrastructure (2020-2022); construction and commissioning (2022-2030). Uzbekistan is choosing a site for the first reactor and said in 2019 the first two units would be followed by two more.

It is clear from this analysis that Russia plays a key role in many newcomer nuclear countries. The current conflict in Ukraine is certain to roll back Russia’s participation in the nuclear power programmes of NATO countries, even those with decades of experience using Soviet/Russian nuclear technology. However, for newcomer countries, and others in Central Asia, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America, this is unlikely to be a key factor in their technology choices. No other nuclear supplier offers such all-round support, including soft financing and BOO options. Russia takes a long view, committing to support that may last a century, sometimes begining with assistance in establishing nuclear research centres and research reactors. Extensive training is also provided as well as fuel supply, used fuel management services and decommissioning. So, while other suppliers, in particular the USA, are making rapid inroads in Europe, the rest of the world may still prefer to look to Moscow.

The UAE has become one of the latest new entrant nuclear countries with the commissioning of Barakah (Photo credit: ENEC) The UAE has become one of the latest new entrant nuclear countries with the commissioning of Barakah (Photo credit: ENEC)
Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh is under construction Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh is under construction
The mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant in the Philippines could finally be commissioned (Photo credit: ABS/CBN Philippines) The mothballed Bataan nuclear power plant in the Philippines could finally be commissioned (Photo credit: ABS/CBN Philippines)
Foundation of the El-dabaa administrative building in Egypt is being built Foundation of the El-dabaa administrative building in Egypt is being built
Ostrovets in Grodno region, the first nuclear power plant in Belarus (Photo credit: horyd yury/ Ostrovets in Grodno region, the first nuclear power plant in Belarus (Photo credit: horyd yury/

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