Start-up nuclear energy company Fermi Energia on 16 February announced an initial investment round for a proposed reactor in Estonia, saying it will file a planning application later this year, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported. The new call for funding aims to complete a series of investments of €2.5 million ($3m) required to formally launch the planning project for deployment of a small modular reactor (SMR).

Fermi Energia announced that to date it has financed all preparatory activities with a total funding of €560,000 from Estonian private investors and US venture capital fund Last Energy VC. It is now looking to raise another €1 million in open funding through the Funderbeam crowdfunding platform. The company expects to apply to the government to begin the planning process at the end of 2021. The Estonian government will then have 90 days to decide whether to start this procedure or not. The planning process is expected to take 4-5 years, which Fermi Energia says is in line with the timeline for the development of SMR technology.

Fermi Energia that Martin Willig, founder of the Bolt e-transportation system, and Martin Henk, founder of software company Pipedrive, were key investors in this funding round. Funderbeam crowdfunding platform is a global electronic marketplace for private company financing and trading. Funderbeam, founded in 2013 in Estonia, claims to have helped companies raise more than € 29 million in funding.

Funderbeam CEO Kaidi Ruusalepp said: "Fermi's decision to engage investors from the very start is a bold move. New energies are a crucial move to the sustainability of the planet. The decision to list the company on Funderbeam demonstrates the will of transparency that is expected, especially from companies developing projects that impact the whole society.”

Several locations have been touted as potential sites for the proposed plant. One is Kaberneeme, east of Tallinn, and another is Kunda, Lääne-Viru County, while three different sites in Lüganuse municipality in Ida-Viru County have also been suggested.

Fermi Energia CEO Kalev Kallemets told AK that a special state plan was the only option in any NPP. "Of course, we are not the government of the republic, but our role can be to prepare this proposal as thoroughly as possible," he said. Investor money would cover costs related to the special plan, however, including impact assessments conducted ahead of submitting the application.

Kallemets said: "Estonia has set an ambitious goal to end electricity production from oil shale by 2035. Simultaneously, the country cannot be dependent on wind and solar power only, as those sources depend on weather conditions, and the neighbouring countries are projected to be short on energy export output. The application of a new generation small modular reactor would solve this challenge for Estonia and is relevant for the wider region." Kallemets added, via a press release.

The Finnish energy companies Vattenfall and Fortum and the Belgian engineering company Tractebel also participate in the initiative of Fermi Energia to build a nuclear plant in Estonia. In 2019, Fermi Energia and US-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy signed a cooperation agreement regarding the potential deployment of GEH's BWRX-300 small modular reactor in Estonia.

"If we want to be taken seriously in having small reactors producing electricity by 2035, we cannot waste one year," Kallemets told an online conference – New Generation Nuclear Energy Conference: Leading the Force – on 10 February. This is the second such meeting organised by Fermi Energia, which said it will now become an annual event.

He said a construction contract must be concluded by 2030 at the latest and the procedure for obtaining a building permit would take at least 12 months. The procedures have to be assessed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), so the regulator has to be established a few years before the licensing starts. A nuclear law establishing a regulator would first need to be drawn up and adopted.

 "There is a lot to be done yet," he noted.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, opening the conference, said developing a nuclear programme can be a long process that needs "smart regulation and sound financing". There are many stakeholders to reassure about safety and relative value, he said, adding: “With a well-structured milestone approach, the IAEA is here to help."

Kallamets said Fermi Energia had made two principal decisions. The company will only consider reactor designs that are currently in the licensing process and are "a reliable option to be completed this decade, and the final choice of design will only be made after the first reactor of that type has been built. “"We are convinced there is one Generation IV reactor that can be built in Europe which is in use today," he said. "That is the high-temperature gas reactor developed by Ultra Safe Nuclear and that will be built in Canada. A high-temperature gas reactor is already in operation in Japan. That is why we have decided with Fortum, Vattenfall and Tractabel to take a closer look at this technology."

During the conference, a declaration was signed by representatives of Fermi Energia, Fortum, Vattenfall, Tractebel, Synthos Green Energy of Poland, CEZ (Czech Republic), Romania's Nuclearelectrica, the e-Lise Foundation (Netherlands), and Ireland's 18for0.The “Tallinn Declaration on the Future of SMR Licensing” identifies the key issues needed to overcome licensing and regulatory challenges and sets out nine principles to support and promote for SMR licensing. These include a pragmatic approach, standardisation of SMR designs and regulatory harmonisation. It also calls for a mechanism for international design certification.