Netherlands Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Eric Wiebes has said that more nuclear power may join solar and wind in the Dutch energy mix after 2030, in particular small modular reactors (SMR) with a capacity of up to 400MW.

“Various studies show that nuclear energy can be a cost-effective opportunity and is a positive business case,” Wiebes said in a letter to members of parliament. “SMRs can become an attractive alternative to larger nuclear reactors. Through serial production in factories, the shorter construction time and the modular design makes financing easier,” he added.

Wiebes had commissioned researchers to investigate the possible role of nuclear power following a motion from pro-nuclear MPs. A report by the researchers, who work for Austrian consultancy Enco, concluded that nuclear power is no more expensive than wind and solar if all costs are considered, including balancing costs passed on to grid operators. Wiebes said that the study “confirms that CO2-free controllable power after 2030 is one of the cost-effective options".

The Netherlands currently operates a single-unit pressurised water reactor at Borssele, which accounts for about 3% of the country's electricity production. Borssele, which started operating in 1973, is currently licensed to operate until 2033. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent energy policy review that lifetime extension "could prove of great benefit to maintain the low-carbon generation…and the know-how of the Dutch nuclear sector".

The Netherlands has a parliamentary majority for the construction of new nuclear power plants. Recently, a motion was put forward by the governing People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the Party for Freedom (PVV), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Reformed Political Party (SGP) members – all conservative – asking the Cabinet to consider how companies could be persuaded to invest in nuclear. The motion passed with a majority in favour although left-wing opposition parties opposed it, as did Democrats 66 (liberal) and GroenLinks (green).

VVD wants up to 10 new nuclear plants to be built. VVD MP Mark Harbers believes the climate goals for 2050 will not be achieved without nuclear energy: "You can focus on solar and wind, but then you need backstop. If you add a few nuclear power stations, you have just a little more stability." Harbers pointed out that there is also increasing resistance to coal-fired power stations, biomass and gas from Russia. Coalition partner CDA has a similar response.

Report on possible role of nuclear in the Dutch energy mix

The 88-page Enco report – The possible role of nuclear in the Dutch energy mix in the future – was published on 1 September. It looks at the current status of nuclear power worldwide;  the opinion of international organisations on the possible role of nuclear energy in the energy mix; the duration of nuclear power plant construction, conditions and project cycle for new build; and estimate of the costs for new nuclear units.

It says: “From the information collected for this report and the analysis undertaken, several relevant conclusions could be made. Nuclear is a safe, secure and emission free energy with a low carbon footprint, which is able to supply a continuous and secure flow of electricity for generations to come. The main hurdle nowadays remains the economics of new nuclear power.” 

The report acknowledges that first of a kind new build projects in Finland, France and the USA faced major construction delays and cost‐overruns. However, its said "The experiences in China show us that those construction problems are solvable, resulting in plants built on time and without (or with smaller) costs overruns.”

Another economic hurdle is the cost of financing, the report notes, but “new approaches are being employed by governments to reduce potential financial risk, by utilising different mechanisms”.

The report says: “Increasing difficulties in financing the construction of large Generation III reactors, coupled with the need for more low‐carbon dispatchable generation, are driving policy and investor interest in SMRs. This type of nuclear reactor could be more easily financed and maybe provide the additional push for nuclear fission technology.” However, “none of the SMR designs have yet reached commercial maturity”. 

It also says that "For economic and not technical reasons, nuclear power plants are not to be used as ‘Peaker’ units. EDF’s experience shows that NPPs can be used in load-following mode. Nevertheless, in its pathway to a decarbonised energy system nuclear could have an important complementary role to play, supplementing VRE sources like solar PV, onshore and offshore wind.”

The report concludes: “On the question, asked by the Ministry of Economy of The Netherlands, as to whether nuclear could play an important role in the future energy mix of the Netherlands, the answer is affirmative. Nuclear energy, both large units and SMRs, when compared to VRE by using the same metrics, are cheaper, able to deliver dispatchable electricity to the grid (and stabilise the grid when needed) in a reliable fashion independent of weather conditions, while having the orders of magnitude smaller land‐footprint than any other source of electricity, in particular, VREs.”

However that conclusion of the Enco report is at odds with an earlier investigation by the Berenschot and Kalavasta offices that Wiebes had ordered. The study, released in April, found that nuclear energy is more expensive, except when nuclear power always takes precedence over the electricity grid and the government assumes a large part of the financial risks.