US launches Nuclear Expediting the Energy Transition (NEXT) for SMR support

14 September 2023

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, at the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Bucharest, announced US actions “to further the role of new, secure, and safe nuclear technologies in accelerating the clean energy transition”. The US State Department said in a statement. “These actions expand on Romania’s leadership role in building the first small modular reactor (SMR) in Europe and in converting a former coal plant to advance nuclear energy”. The Three Seas Initiative, launched in 2016, includes Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania.

Kerry also launched the Nuclear Expediting the Energy Transition (NEXT) One Stop Shop for SMR Support. This will provide countries in Europe and Eurasia that are approaching SMR deployment decisions access to the NEXT virtual centre where they can apply for a suite of advanced project preparation tools and services.

These services may include in-person technical, financial, and regulatory consultancies and advisory services; expert study tours to visit US nuclear facilities, national laboratories, and universities; and competitively selected provision of an SMR simulator to support workforce development as a regional training hub. In addition, it will support “university-to-university partnerships for curricula development, faculty and graduate student and other educational exchanges to support the next generation of nuclear engineers, operators, and technicians who prioritise the highest international standards of nuclear security, safety, and non-proliferation”.

Building on the launch of Project Phoenix at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El Sheikh (COP27) in 2022, Kerry also announced, in a side event, that project proposals from Czechia, Slovakia, and Poland had been competitively selected to participate in Project Phoenix and will receive support for coal-to-SMR feasibility studies. The side event took place at the University Politechnica of Bucharest and also featured the SMR simulator training centre that was installed earlier in 2023.

Project Phoenix aims to support energy security and climate goals by creating pathways for coal-to-SMR power plant conversions while retaining local jobs through workforce retraining. The successful proposals will receive a share of $8m in US government support.

One successful grant application, by a partnership including Slovak utility Slovenské elektrárne proposed five Slovak sites for consideration SMR feasibility studies: the Jaslovské Bohunice and Mochovce NPP sites; the Nováky and Vojany thermal power plant sites; and the site of the US Steel steel plant in eastern Slovakia. The feasibility study will assess several aspects and select the most suitable sites for the possible future construction of SMRs.

Polish company Orlen Synthos Green Energy (OSGE), which also received a grant, plans to use the funds to study a site at Ostroleka. Ostroleka is one of seven locations shortlisted by the company for further geological surveys to host SMR plants based on GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy's BWRX-300, for which it holds the exclusive right in Poland.

Kerry said the USA and the Government of Slovakia will co-host a Project Phoenix launch event, including a workshop with foreign partners in Bratislava in November. Project Phoenix supports energy security and climate goals by creating pathways for coal-to-SMR power plant conversions while retaining local jobs through workforce retraining.

Project Phoenix and NEXT One Stop Shop are sub-programmes of the State Department’s Foundational Infrastructure for the Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme.

During the Bucharest meeting, Kerry also said countries such as Romania and Bulgaria could use natural gas in their energy transition provided steps were made to capture emissions from new developments. "In the conversations that I've had with the leaders in this region, they're very aware that if they're going to use fossil fuels, they have to capture the emissions," Kerry told Reuters.

"And gas can be part of the transition for sure, because gas is cleaner than coal, cleaner than oil. We have to make certain that we're able to capture the emissions." Kerry also said the UN climate change conference later this year, which will include work on a loss and damage fund for climate-hit states, needed to raise global ambitions on mitigation.

Image: US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Bucharest

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