Romanian signs nuclear agreement with the USA

12 October 2020

Romania's Cernavoda nuclear power plant (Credit: SNN)US Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette and Romania’s Minister of Economy, Energy and Business Development Virgil Popescu initialled a draft Intergovernmental Agreement to cooperate on expansion and modernisation of Romania’s civil nuclear power programme. 

The agreement will lay the foundation for Romania to utilise US expertise and technology with a multinational team to construct units 3&4 at the Cernavoda nuclear power plant and refurbish Cernavoda 1, a 700MWe Candu reactor.

“Nuclear energy is crucial to ensuring Romania has a reliable, affordable, and emissions-free supply of electricity, and the US nuclear industry looks forward to providing their expertise to advance this important energy source,” said Brouillette. “Today, Romania is taking a huge step forward in the development of its strategic partnership with the USA, in terms of the energy component, namely cooperation in the civil nuclear field,” said Popescu.

DOE said the US and Romania “will continue to strengthen our bilateral relationship under various multilateral frameworks, including the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation (P-TEC) created under the Trump Administration. Under P-TEC, the US and Romania co-chair a working group on civil nuclear cooperation. This working group will remain a cornerstone for expanding this strategic and commercial partnership.”

Earlier in October, in a statement posted on the US Embassy in Romania’s website, US ambassador Adrian Zuckerman said the $8bn project “will be a paradigm for future Romanian-American economic and energy development projects”. He also announced the signing of a bilateral Roadmap For Defense Cooperation Agreement for the years 2020 to 2030. “This strategic defense agreement will further confirm the United States’ commitment to assist Romania defend itself against malign foreign powers and preserve its border integrity,” he said.

Popescu, who was in Washington,was also to meet with the president and chairwoman of US Exim Bank, Kimberley Reed, to execute a memorandum of understanding for the financing of the Cernavoda nuclear project and other projects in Romania. The financing package is the largest financing package ever received by Romania and is indicative of the confidence the US has in its longstanding partner and ally, Zuckerman said. In July, during a visit to the Cernavoda station, prime minister Ludovic Orban had said Romania  would invest €8-9bn to build the two new plants, which should be ready by 2030.

Collapse of agreement between Romanian and China

The US agreement came after the collapse of Romanian co-operation with China. In May 2019, Nuclearelectrica had signed a preliminary agreement with China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) and CGN Central and Eastern Europe Investment (CEERI) to establish a joint project company for the construction of the units. The business entity was to be a joint stock company that would function for at least two years, with CGN holding a stake of 51% and Nuclearelectrica holding 49%.

However, cooperation between Nuclearelectrica and CGN became unlikely after Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis and US president Donald Trump signed a joint declaration in Washington in August 2019 calling for closer cooperation between US and Romania in nuclear energy. This came in the context of growing tension between Washington and Beijing, including the imposition of US trade sanctions on China.

In January, prime minister Ludovic Orban hinted that Romania planned to pull out of the deal with China. “It is clear to me that the partnership with the Chinese company is not going to work,” he said, adding that the government has already started to look for a new partner and financing for this project. In June, Nuclearelectrica said that its shareholders had decided to terminate all deals and negotiations with two Chinese companies for the construction of Cernavoda 3&4, complying with an energy ministry request.

Cernavoda has two commercially operational Candu 6 pressurised heavy water reactors supplied by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd and built under the supervision of a Canadian-Italian consortium of AECL and Ansaldo. Construction of the two-unit station began in the early 1980s.

Cernavoda 1 has a capacity of 700MWe, and accounts for about 10% of Romania’s electricity demands. It was commissioned and began commercial full power operation in December 1996. Cernavoda 2 was commissioned in 2007. Construction of three more units began, but was stopped in 1990.

The Cernavoda 3&4 project aims to complete and commission two further Candu 6 reactors. According to Nuclearelectrica,  the two units currently comprise the reactor building, the turbine-generator building and hydrotechnical circuit structures in various stages of completion.

Photo: Romania's Cernavoda nuclear power plant (Credit: SNN)

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