New innovation and business network boosts Finnish SMR expertise

24 September 2020

Helsinki at night (Photo: VTT)Mitigating climate change to sustainable levels requires strong changes in society, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland said in a press release on 23 September, in which it announced a new project to develop business opportunities around small modular reactors.

“Humanity’s energy use, now 80% of which is produced using fossil sources, must shift almost entirely to low-emission sources in the coming decades.” These low-emission forms of energy production include nuclear energy and various renewable energy sources including small modular reactors (SMRs).

“The two-year EcoSMR (Finnish Ecosystem for Small Modular Reactors) project, which began in August and is funded by Business Finland, brings together Finnish actors to develop business around the possibilities of small reactors,” VTT said.

"The project supports Finnish industry to create an international innovation and business ecosystem that understands customer needs and the potential of Finnish technological know-how in the global energy market," said Ville Tulkki, VTT's responsible director for the project .

The project analyses the requirements, licensing and business of nuclear energy technology and supports their development to meet market needs. Networks of actors, activating joint innovation activities and getting to know customers and their real needs are the key ways of working on the project. The project will also investigate the piloting of technology in Finland, as the domestic reference is an important accelerator of knowledge exports.

VTT and LUT University are responsible for the research of the EcoSMR project. There are currently nine business partners in the project. Fortum, Teollisuuden Voima Oyj and Refinec have launched their own product development projects, which package know-how into products and services for sale. For example, in its business project financed by Business Finland, Fortum Power and Heat Oy is developing the export operations and production of nuclear district heating. Other business partners include: Helen Oy, Vantaan Energia Oy, Clenercon Oy, Environmental research and assessment EnviroCase Oy, and Rock Design Ltd Rockplan Ltd.

“We see small nuclear power as a significant part of the future of nuclear power. We consider it important that small nuclear power technology and export opportunities for high-quality Finnish nuclear power expertise are developed in Finland. We want to be involved in a national project to develop our expertise and business,” said Eero Vesaoja, Fortum's head of Nuclear Research and Development .

In recent years, Finland has discussed the transition of district heating production to low-carbon alternatives, and nuclear energy would be one way to produce the required heat. Most of the small reactors designed in the world are intended either for electricity generation or as an energy source for high temperature industrial processes. The approximately 100-degree water required for district heating enables simpler and cheaper solutions. The EcoSMR project will also investigate boundary conditions for the use of a nuclear power plant for district heating. In Central and Eastern Europe, for example, district heating is also widely used, which requires a low-emission energy source, so there is an international, currently unmet, need for know-how.

Reactor safety research professor Jaakko Leppänen from VTT described the advantages of a reactor tailored for district heating as follows: “In traditional second-generation pressurised and boiling water reactors, a high level of safety is achieved with multiple backup systems. The complex technology is reflected in the price of the plant. More and more passive cooling systems have been designed for the new generation of reactors, in which the flow of water takes place in a natural cycle. In a low-temperature district heating reactor, such a passive cooling cycle can be implemented with a very simple technology.”

EcoSMR is part of a larger nuclear energy research package and a sister project to VTT's dECOmm (Finnish Ecosystem for New International Decommissioning Services) project, which was launched earlier this year. dECOmm brings together Finnish expertise that is used in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants.

Photo: VTT is an innovation partner that contributes to the research and development of future cities is leading a two-year project on small reactors (Courtesty VTT)

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