The European Commission (EC) has approved, under European Union (EU) state aid rules, a €300m ($320m) French measure to support Electricité de France's (EDF) subsidiary Nuward in researching and developing small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs). The EC said the measure will contribute to the achievement of the strategic objectives of the European industrial strategy and the European Green Deal.

France notified to the Commission its plan to grant €300m to Nuward to support its research and development (R&D) project on SMR technology.

The project aims to develop processes for the design and construction of SMRs based on a simple and modular design and with a power output equivalent to or less than 300 MWe. The front-end design is the third phase of the overall Nuward project, which contains five distinct phases. In December 2022, the Commission already approved a €50m French measure to support the second phase of the project, aimed at acquiring new knowledge for the design and construction of SMRs.

The aid will take the form of a direct grant of up to €300m that will cover the R&D project until early 2027. The measure will support Nuward in sizing the modules and components of the SMRs and validating their integration in the SMRs by means of numerical simulators and laboratory tests. Nuward will also carry out industrialisation studies relating to the modular design and mass production of SMRs. Finally, the measure will also support Nuward in the preparation of the required safety demonstrations for the approval of the project by the national nuclear safety authorities.

The Commission found that:

  • The measure facilitates the development of an economic activity, in particular R&D activities for the development of the SMR technology.
  • The aid has an ‘incentive effect', as the beneficiary would not carry out the investments in R&D activities for SMRs without the public support.
  • The measure is necessary and appropriate to promote the relevant R&D activities. In addition, it is proportionate, as the level of the aid corresponds to the effective financing needs.
  • The measure has sufficient safeguards to ensure that undue distortions of competition are limited. In particular, the supported R&D activities will focus on technologies that are not immediately marketable, occurring at a very advanced stage, and ready for industrial deployment only in the long term.
  • The aid brings about positive effects that outweigh any potential distortion of competition and trade in the EU.

The EC said it recognised the potential contribution of SMRs to achieving the energy and climate objectives of the European Green Deal in its recommendation of February 2024 for a 2040 emission reduction target, which underlined that all zero and low-carbon solutions will be needed to reach the EU's climate neutrality objective by 2050. The Commission is working on establishing a new European Industrial Alliance to facilitate and accelerate the development, demonstration and deployment of SMRs in Europe by the early 2030s, and recently launched a call for membership.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy said the Nuward project “will contribute to the decarbonisation of energy systems and to the EU’s open strategic autonomy, while limiting possible distortions of competition”.

Image: The EDF Nuward SMR design