An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has concluded a safety review of Romania’s process for selecting the site for a planned small modular reactor (SMR), which could become the first SMR built in Europe.
In May, the Romanian Government, through state company Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica SA (SNN), announced that it had chosen Doice?ti, approximately 90 km northwest of the capital Bucharest, as the preferred site for the SMR, following an in-depth study conducted with a United States Trade and Development Agency grant. Romania requested the IAEA to conduct a Site and External Events Design (SEED) review mission to assess the process that was followed in choosing the preferred site. The SEED mission, which took place from 22 to 24 August, was the first ever IAEA SEED mission to look into site selection for an SMR. The mission team comprised three experts from Germany, Türkiye and the UK. They met with senior staff from SNN at its premises in Bucharest.
SEED missions assist IAEA member states at different stages in the development of a nuclear power programme, including by reviewing site selection, site assessment and design of structures, systems and components, taking into consideration site specific external and internal hazards.
The three-day mission was conducted at the request of SNN. Romania currently has one operating NPP in Cernavoda, which generates around 18% of the country’s electricity. The country is considering expanding and modernising its nuclear power programme through the deployment of SMRs at suitable sites, in addition to other actions on the existing large plant site.
SMRs have the potential to contribute to global access to reliable nuclear power. They are a fraction of the size of large reactors - about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors - and have lower upfront capital costs, shorter construction times (owing to prefabrication) and pose fewer risks to the population in case of an accident.
The IAEA’s review assessed how Romania conducted the process for the site selection of the SMR against IAEA safety standards, taking into account potential impacts to a site from external events, such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods, and potential impacts to the population from low probability accidents at the site.
“This comprehensive review will provide assurances to the Romanian public and beyond about the SMR site selection,” said Paolo Contri, Team Leader for the review and Head of the External Events Safety Section in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security. “The recommendations made will help Romania to prepare for the construction of the SMR, by making sure that potential issues associated with site safety are carefully considered early in the process and that alternative sites are available in the event that the selected site does not meet the requirements on the basis of the detailed site characterization. It is important that potential external hazards are identified early to allow for adequate consideration and assessment of protective measures that may be necessary for the defence in depth approach.”
The team welcomed the effort spent by SNN to conduct an objective, feasible and safety-oriented site selection process in Romania. Romania documented the site selection process in a preliminary SNN report, which will be followed by a preliminary Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) study. The SEED mission said a limited amount of additional work is needed on sensitivity analysis and collection of confirmatory data for the FEED study, together with detailed recommendations on the minimization of project risks.
The team provided some recommendations to support the optimisation of the site selection process and to minimise the risk that the following phases will identify important safety issues that may affect project implementation. In particular, the IAEA team recommended that:
- All data be collected in a site selection summary report, according to the recommendations issued in IAEA Safety Guide SSG-35, to provide traceable support for later decisions and site evaluation phases.
- A suitable graded approach be applied for the specific technology selected for the SMR to be deployed, and in accordance with the potential radiological consequences of accidents, to meet overall safety objectives. Guidelines on the IAEA approach to grading were provided.
- A possible additional data collection phase for the selection process — through light investigation and monitoring — be implemented for the preferred site, as back-up solutions, focused on the most discriminating selection criteria.
Romania informed the IAEA that further in-depth assessments of the Doice?ti site are to be conducted in the upcoming period and it is actively addressing the recommendations of the IAEA SEED mission to support this work.
“We invited the IAEA SEED mission because it is a priority for us to build in Romania a state-of-the-art SMR project, in full compliance with the highest safety standards, as we have done in the 25 years we have operated the Cernavoda NPP,” said Cosmin Ghita, SNN CEO. “With the continued support of the IAEA, our experience in siting and building our first SMR can be used by other countries considering building SMRs. SNN is ready to share our experience on strategic and technical aspects of SMR deployment projects.”
The final mission report will be delivered to the Government of Romania within three months.
Image: Europe's first SMR plant is planned for construction in Romania (courtesy of Energetika)