Brussels-based nuclear trade association, Nucleareurope, has published a 20-page position paper highlighting the benefits of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) for Europe’s energy system. It provides an overview of ongoing SMR projects, and the potential challenges they may face, and also includes a series of policy recommendations to facilitate their development and deployment in Europe. The paper “provides information on the potential of SMR technologies for interested stakeholders and policymakers”.
“We are in the midst of a climate and energy crisis. SMRs, together with large reactors, have the potential to support the EU’s low-carbon transition and strengthen security of energy supplies”, said Nucleareurope Director General Yves Desbazeille. “In addition, the benefits which they could bring to the areas in which they are eventually deployed include industrial development and job creation.”
In the face of the growing energy crisis, sparked by sanctions on Russian oil and gas, SMRs may help to provide a solution. Nucleareurope said they can help to tackle climate change, ensure security of energy supplies, bring stability to the grid and energy markets, and potentially support industrial development and job creation.
While SMRs integrate higher modularisation, standardisation and factory-based construction, which can maximise economies of series production, their deployment is not without challenges, requiring carefully planned and well implemented solutions. In this respect, the creation and development of a harmonised ‘domestic’ SMR European programme which takes into account the whole value chain (applicable also to existing foreign technologies) is key, Nucleareurope noted.
Over the coming years the focus will be on light water SMRs given that they are a proven technology used in hundreds of reactors worldwide, the paper said. However, it added that several other promising technologies will become available in the near future, including high temperature gas-cooled reactors, fast spectrum liquid metal reactors, molten salt reactors and fast neutron reactors.
Numerous countries in Europe have shown interest in SMRs, with some of them having already signed agreements with suppliers in view of their deployment. The paper provided “a non-exhaustive list of countries interested in SMRs” including Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine [not part of the EU] and the UK.
While SMRs look very promising, their deployment is not without challenges, requiring carefully planned and well implemented solutions, the paper noted. “Promoting the creation and development of a harmonised ‘domestic’ SMR European programme (including foreign technology) is key. The EU should build its own capacity in order to become a leading actor in the future SMR market and create industrial and economic value at a European scale. Facilitating access to financial resources throughout the design development phase will be key to ensuring a timely development of SMRs.” It added that technical challenges, relating to both design and widespread deployment, including supply-chain development, licensing procedures, investment frameworks, and nuclear fuel cycle adaptation must also be addressed.
The paper noted that pressurised water SMRs that require 3-5% uranium enrichment “will be able to take advantage of the well-established fuel supply chain in Europe” but some advanced need 20% enriched High Assay low Enriched Uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is not currently produced in any Western country. Consequently, “security of supply may be at risk as the US fabricated fuel stockpile is depleted, and the reliability of Russian imports can no longer be considered a given”. The paper said, for such SMR technologies, “spent fuel reprocessing and waste management solutions must be developed to enable new fuel types, and thus boost both the circular economy of nuclear and improve social acceptance”.
It added: “At a later stage, securing the availability of HALEU will be critical to the success of advanced SMR deployment in Europe. This will require the intervention of political actors both to secure uranium supplies and to upgrade infrastructure, logistics and regulations. The EU should anticipate and develop domestic production, building on its unique expertise and know-how as recommended by the Euratom Supply Agency Working Group on HALEU (2022).”
The paper noted: “An initiative related to deployment of SMRs in Europe is currently under preparation, with the goal of establishing a European SMR Partnership. During the pre-Partnership activity, work is underway with regulatory bodies to create conditions that will ease the licensing process of these reactors.”
Policy recommendations for regulators to ensure design standardisation, an optimised licensing process and harmonisation of regulations and requirements included:
- Creating a joint design assessment and acceptance process for standardised designs.
- Accepting the justifications of equivalence between codes and standards.
- Supporting the development of new European-wide codes and standards.
With respect to policymakers, the paper noted that “existing SMR development programmes are being vastly funded by their respective governments either directly or indirectly via the financing of state-owned companies (US, UK, Russia, China, South Korea). That is why promoting the creation and development of a European “domestic” SMR program is key. The EU should build upon its own capacities to become a leading actor in the future SMR market and create industrial and economic value at a European scale. Recommendations included:
- Setting up a European SMR Initiative that aims to prepare a roadmap for the deployment of the first SMRs in Europe, which would help to establish an integrated supply chain in and would support initiatives for new R&D collaborative projects.
- Analysing the potential recognition of European SMR deployment as an Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI), for which the sector seems well suited.
- Integrating an R&D public-private partnership on SMRs within the Euratom programme.
- Encouraging interested member states to embrace nuclear energy-inclusive and supportive legislation to improve their emission reduction obligations.
The paper concluded: “The European Commission should encourage political support for the development of these technologies, finance integrated projects and prototypes and support the required investment in industrial capacity. SMRs will contribute to the fight against climate change, support the European industry and economy, boost European integration by undertaking joint projects and, above all, reduce Europe’s energy dependence on third countries.”