An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) has concluded in Estonia. The eight-day mission was conducted at the request of the Government. The team concluded that Estonia has developed a comprehensive assessment of its nuclear power infrastructure needs to enable the government to decide whether to launch a nuclear power programme.

Estonia, seeking to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, is looking at nuclear power as a reliable and low carbon option to diversify its energy mix by 2035 when it plans to phase-out use of domestic oil shale. Plans for nuclear energy are focussed on the deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs).

The Government established a Nuclear Energy Working Group in 2021 to review the nuclear infrastructure required for the nuclear power programme. Its comprehensive report , which is planned to be completed in December, will provide recommendations to support Government decisions regarding the nuclear energy programme.

The INIR team comprised three international experts from Brazil and the UK, as well as six IAEA staff. It reviewed the status of 19 nuclear infrastructure issues using the IAEA evaluation methodology for Phase 1 of the Milestones Approach which evaluates the readiness of a country to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power programme.

The mission team noted good practices in Estonia’s approach. It has commissioned a comprehensive set of detailed studies with the support of external experts as part of its assessment. The team also said Estonia’s strategy to support future human resource development aims to ensure the short-term and long-term success of the nuclear power programme. Finally, the inclusion of a review of possible locations for the geological disposal of used nuclear fuel in its assessment will help provide greater confidence to the public in Estonia’s ability to manage waste disposal.

“Estonia is well-organised in its preparations towards the decision on launching a nuclear power programme to support the country’s just transition towards net zero carbon emissions,” said Eric Mathet, Operational Lead of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section and Team Leader for the mission. “During the cooperative and open discussions held over the past days, we observed the strong commitment from Estonia’s highly motivated and competent professionals to developing the infrastructure needed for a nuclear power programme.”

The team said that Estonia now needs to finalise its comprehensive report to support the decision on a potential nuclear power programme, including with clear timelines for the major activities. The team also found that Estonia needs to complete its plans and policies and give further consideration to the development of its legal and regulatory framework to support the next phase of the programme.

Antti Tooming, Deputy Secretary General of the Ministry of Climate and Head of the Nuclear Energy Working Group said the team’s findings will be integrated into the working group’s comprehensive report. “The mission provided us with reassurance that we are on the right track with our nuclear energy considerations and gave us valuable insights for follow-up activities in the next phase if Estonia decides to embark on nuclear power.” According to Tooming, the debates were difficult, but the result was gratifying.

Mathet recommended that Estonia should set up an independent national supervisory body to oversee nuclear energy. He also recommended to start working on workforce planning and regulations to ensure that the programme does not stall.

"The key areas for further action that have been identified is first the completion, the need to complete a comprehensive report and to prepare to coordinate a nuclear power programme. The second area that was identified is to give further considerations for the development of the legal and regulatory framework. And the third one is the need to finalise the plan and policy to support the next phase of the programme," he said.

Based on the outcomes of the INIR Mission, the IAEA and Estonia will develop an Integrated Workplan to provide coordinated support in line with the future development of nuclear power programme.

The IAEA will now send to Estonia a clear edited version of the report, after which Estonia will make public in 90 days.

Image: Eric Mathet, Operational Lead of the IAEA Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section and Team Leader for the recent mission to Estonia (courtesy of IAEA)