US-based NuScale Power and Romania’s RoPower Nuclear have signed a contract for Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) as a step towards deployment of a NuScale VOYGR small modular reactor (SMR) power plant in Romania. RoPower is owned in equal shares by Romania’s nuclear utility SN Nuclearelectrica and Nova Power & Gas. The new contract follows signing in June of a Memorandum of Understanding between NuScale and Nuclearelectrica to begin engineering studies, technical reviews, and licensing and permitting activities for the eight-month project.

The first phase of the FEED work aims to define the major site and specific inputs for a VOYGR-6 SMR planned for construction at the Doicesti Power Station site in Romania. It includes awarding subcontracts for the environmental impact assessment and subsurface geotechnical investigation, evaluation of site and site-specific requirements for the NuScale plant design, and development of a project-specific cost estimate.

This comes a few days after NuScale said it has completed the Standard Plant Design project for its VOYGR SMR ahead of schedule, which it has now submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for approval. The design features the same fundamental safety case and totally passive safety features approved by the NRC in 2020, with a power uprate and select design changes to support customers’ capacity needs and further improve economics. The 2020 approval is so far the only one granted by NRC for an SMR.

The NuScale Power Module is a small pressurised water reactor designed to generate 70MWe, which and can be scaled up to meet customer needs. The 12-module VOYGR-12 power plant would be capable of generating 924MWe. NuScale is also offering a four-module VOYGR-4 (308MWe) and six-module VOYGR-6 (462MWe) power plants, as well as other configurations.

John Hopkins, NuScale President & CEO, said starting the Phase 1 FEED “keeps Romania on the path toward becoming the first country in Europe to benefit from safe, reliable and carbon-free small modular reactor technology”. Nuclearelectrica CEO Cosmin Ghita, for his part, said the FEED contract “follows nearly four years of collaboration, research, and studies to ensure we select the safest and most performing technology, as well as the appropriate site”.

The Romanian project is part of President Biden’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment announced last June and there has been significant ongoing US support. When RoPower was launched in October the ceremony was attended by Jose W Fernandez, US Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy & Environment at the US Department of State.

In April 2021, the US State Department launched its Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme to provide capacity-building support to partner countries developing nuclear energy programmes to support clean energy goals. As an initial investment, the department committed $5.3m to support FIRST projects. By November this had increased to $6.3m.The aim of the programme is to strengthen US relationships with international partners, through government, industry, national laboratory, and academic institution engagements, the State Department said. NuScale is closely involved in the programme.

In November 2021, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins announced a commitment of $25 million to support expanding access to clean nuclear energy. As part of this Nuclear Futures Package, the US said it would partner with Poland, Kenya, Ukraine, Brazil, Romania and Indonesia, among others. FIRST was included in this package. However, the US has focused particularly on former Soviet and East European states. Both Latvia and Estonia have already joined the FIRST programme.

In September 2022, Nuclearelectrica signed a memorandum of understanding with Poland’s KGHM for the development of SMR projects in both countries based on NuScale technology. The first SMR in Poland aims to supply energy to KGHM’s copper production facilities and KGHM has already submitted an application to the National Atomic Energy Agency to evaluate the technology and prepare a siting study.

In announcing its FEED contract with RoPower, NuScale once again warned that caution must be exercised in relying on any “forward-looking statements”, noting that “due to known and unknown risks, NuScale’s results may differ materially from its expectations and projections”.

Image: L-R, Romanian Energy Minister Virgil Popescu, E-Infra CEO Teofil Muresan, Nuclearelectrica Chairman Teodor Chirica and US Under Secretary for Economic Development, Energy & Environment Jose Fernandez (courtesy of Nuclearelectrica)