European Commission plans SMR industrial alliance

9 November 2023

European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson says the European Commission (EC) is to establish an Industrial Alliance focusing on small modular reactors (SMRs) in early 2024. In June, the EC set up a European SMR pre-Partnership to identify enabling conditions and constraints for the safe design, construction and operation of SMRs in Europe in the next decade and beyond. It looked at compliance with the EU legislation including the Euratom legislative framework.

"After a long and intense work of preparation, we must now draw conclusions on the opportunity and potential for establishing a European Industrial Alliance on SMRs. Simson told a recent European SMR Partnership event in Bratislava, Slovakia. “Industrial alliances are a tool to facilitate stronger cooperation and joint action between all interested partners. Industrial alliances can play a role in achieving key EU policy objectives through joint action by all the interested partners.”

She said successful deployment of SMRs by the next decade “will be an important and timely milestone on our path to climate neutrality by 2050”. She added: “I am confident that the EU can have a leadership role in achieving technological maturity for SMRs. This means to me that the first SMRs must be connected to the European electricity grid within a decade at the latest. This must be our goal."

Referencing the European SMR pre-Partnership, Simson said an industrial alliance had been suggested as the “appropriate concept" for a European SMR Partnership noting that a recent Stakeholders' Forum had “confirmed interest and readiness" for such an alliance.

"With a clear mandate from the member states willing to use this technology in their energy mix, this determination of the stakeholders calls on the Commission to do its part and prepare the establishment of an Industrial Alliance on SMRs.”

She said the stakes in the global competition are high, “and it is important that we maintain European technological and industrial leadership in nuclear”, noting that the EC already plays its part in such efforts. “Our utmost priority is a safe deployment of SMRs.

Financing through the Euratom Research & Training programme supports research and innovation in the safety aspects of future SMRs.”

She recalled that, in December 2022 the EC had cleared EDF's SMR project under State Aid rules approving €50m ($54m) investment by France in the form of research and development funding for the Nuward SMR project.

She said that, since the beginning of 2022, the European nuclear industry, research community and nuclear safety regulators had been closely collaborating within the European SMR pre-Partnership. “The preparatory work has pointed to the significant contribution that SMRs can make to the production of decarbonised electricity and other energy products, such as heat for industrial and district heating processes, and for the production of hydrogen.”

SMRs can therefore help the maintain the workforce and jobs in places where local industry traditionally relied on fossil fuels,She added.

“We know well that licensing will be a key issue for the rollout of SMRs. In the EU, licensing is a national responsibility and I see the Commission's role in supporting collaborative work among interested regulators. The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) offers a solid framework for any such collaboration to ensure that the deployment of SMRs in the next decade follows the highest safety standards.”

Simson said that, under the Euratom Treaty, the EU has “the most coherent, comprehensive and enforceable legal framework for nuclear safety”. This also includes rules and policies for safe and responsible management of used fuel and radioactive waste.

She added that all these issues – skills and industrial competence, licensing, management of used fuel and radioactive waste – “will need to feature prominently in the next steps towards a European initiative on SMRs”.

She listed three major objectives:

  • First, new SMR designs under development should ensure that nuclear energy is used only with the highest standards of safety, radiation protection, responsible management of radioactive waste and used fuel, and a reliable non-proliferation regime.
  • Second, a successful deployment of SMRs must take place by the next decade in order to provide a significant contribution to our path to climate neutrality by 2050.
  • Third, there is a strong need to consolidate different member states' efforts and initiatives in a coordinated approach that will guarantee collective success.

Image: Commissioner Kadri Simson speaking at the European SMR Partnership meeting (courtesy of @KadriSimson/X)

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