The US has awarded Slovenia consultancy and technical services under the Phoenix Project to support the transition from coal to small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). The decision came in a letter from US Assistant Secretary of State (International Security & Non-Proliferation) CS Eliot Kang delivered by US Ambassador to Slovenia Jamie Lindler Harpootlian to Tina Seršen, State Secretary at Slovenia’s Ministry of the Environment, Climate & Energy.

The Phoenix Project is part of the US State Department’s Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) programme, which was established in 2021 to provide capacity-building support to partner countries developing nuclear energy programmes to support clean energy goals. By August 2023 it claimed 20 partner countries in which it had invested some $21m.

In June 2023, at the invitation of the US Embassy, the Ministry of the Environment, Climate & Energy applied to participate in the Phoenix Project. The application was prepared by the Ministry as a coordinator with the participation of GEN Energija, Termoelektrarna Šoštanj, Holding Slovenske Elektrarne and consulting company HATCH. Later, ELES and Slovenia’s Nuclear Safety Administration (URSJV) joined the project.

Energy services company Sargent & Lundy was selected in a State Department tender to obtain funds, with which it will provide Slovenian stakeholders with technical and advisory services for the transition from coal to nuclear energy.

Seršen said participation in the Phoenix Project “gives Slovenia the opportunity to fulfil the commitments of the National Energy & Climate Plan (NEKP Nacionalnog Energetskog i Klimatskog Plana), which, among other things, envisages examining the possibility of introducing new nuclear technologies”. She added: “New nuclear technologies include mainly technologies of small and advanced modular reactors, which are the subject of technical assistance from the Phoenix project. This technology has been developing intensively around the world lately, we are definitely interested in the possibilities of its use in Slovenia as well.”

The Ministry has set up a project team to study the possibility of introducing new nuclear technologies in cooperation with Sargent & Lundy in the preparation of a pre-feasibility study. The Ministry said the USA and Slovenia are committed to a strong partnership in the field of long-term peaceful use of nuclear energy in Slovenia, which includes advanced small modular reactors and large-scale reactors.

In his letter Kang thanked Slovenia “for its keen interest in Project Phoenix – the coal-to-nuclear small modular reactor {SMR) conversion program that was announced by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27)”. He said the application “was competitively selected to receive SMR technical advisory and consultancy services funded by the United States”.

The letter continued: “To determine the scope of work provided under the terms of the award, the Department of State, through Sargent & Lundy, will work closely with any designated representatives of your government and other Slovenian stakeholders involved in the project to identify priority focus areas.”

Based on discussions with Sargeant & Lundy, “it is understood that you desire to use the services provided under Project Phoenix to facilitate your government’s completion of a pre-feasibility study for potential future SMR deployment. Such services may include a comprehensive overview of various international approaches to the construction and operating licensing of SMRs, e.g., the methodologies of international agencies, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, French Nuclear Safety Authority, UK Office for Nuclear Regulation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)”.

The scope of work “may also provide technology assessment of SMR vendor technologies… The result of this assessment will be a comparison of vendor technology capabilities to the goals and priorities identified by Slovenian stakeholders as agreed upon before the commencement of the assessment”.

Moreover, Sargent & Lundy may be tasked with “compiling information to aid in the analysis of the overnight cost, levelized cost of electricity, and/or economic benefits of SMR facility construction and operations in Slovenia”. Depending on the desired outcomes of the project, “Sargent & Lundy may also fill the role of expert-based reviewers of the Slovenian team-authored feasibility assessment outcomes”.