Poland has become a focus of interest for companies seeking to develop small modular reactors (SMRs).

On 23 September, Canada’s Cameco, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), GEH SMR Technologies Canada, (GEH SMR Canada) and Synthos Green Energy (SGE), a member of the Synthos Group signed a non-exclusive and non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to evaluate the potential establishment of a uranium fuel supply chain in Canada capable of servicing a potential fleet of BWRX-300 SMRs in Poland.

The BWRX-300 is a 300MWe water-cooled, natural circulation SMR with passive safety systems that leverages the design and licensing basis of GEH’s US NRC-certified ESBWR. As a result of innovative design simplification, GEH projects the BWRX-300 will require significantly less capital cost per MW compared with other SMR designs. 

Synthos, a manufacturer of synthetic rubber and one of the biggest producers of chemical raw materials in Poland, is interested in obtaining affordable, on-demand, carbon-free electricity from a dependable, dedicated source. In 2019 SGE and GEH agreed to collaborate on potential deployment applications for the BWRX-300 in Poland. SGE and GEH signed a strategic agreement in 2020 that further advanced the cooperation. 

Cameco supplies uranium, uranium refining and conversion services to the nuclear industry worldwide. In July 2021, Cameco, GEH and Global Nuclear Fuel-Americas (GNF-A) agreed to explore several areas of cooperation to advance the commercialisation and deployment of BWRX-300 SMRs in Canada and around the world. “We believe nuclear energy will play a major role in helping countries and companies around the world achieve their net-zero emission targets,” said Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel. “This MOU is a great example of the kind of innovative solutions businesses like Synthos Green Energy are exploring and how SMRs could contribute to industry-driven efforts to decarbonise.”

Rafał Kasprów, President of the Board of SGE said: “We look forward to working with Cameco and GEH in understanding the uranium requirements for a fleet of BWRX-300s in Poland and the support that Canada has to offer. In addition to this MOU, SGE is working closely with GEH to identify supply chain opportunities in Poland that complement the export capabilities being developed in Canada for the BWRX-300, which could enable us to successfully deliver carbon-free electricity to the grid.”

GEH President & CEO Jay Wileman  said GEH “is honoured to be working with Cameco and Synthos Green Energy to deploy the BWRX-300”, adding: “Through our collaboration we look forward to the opportunity to bring carbon-free energy generation to Poland and support the creation of valuable uranium supply jobs in Canada.” By leveraging the existing ESBWR design certification, utilising the licensed and proven GNF2 fuel design, and incorporating proven components and supply chain expertise, GEH believes the BWRX-300 can become the lowest-risk, most cost-competitive and quickest to market SMR.

In a forward looking statement, the companies noted that the project was subject to a number of risks, “including: the risk that a uranium fuel supply chain to service SMRs in Poland may not be successfully established; the risk that the BWRX-300 may not be commercialised and deployed within the expected time and at the expected costs, or at all; the risk that nuclear energy and SMRs may not contribute to decarbonisation to the extent expected; and the risk that it may not prove possible for the parties to provide carbon-free electricity in Poland or create additional employment opportunities in Canada.”

Nuscale inks MOUs with Polish companies

The same day, another MOU was signed by US-based NuScale Power, KGHM Polska Miedź, and Piela Business Engineering (PBE) to explore the deployment of NuScale’s small modular reactor (SMR) technology as a coal repurposing solution for existing coal-fired power plants and electricity and heat for KGHM’s industrial processes in Poland. KGHM is a Poland-based leader in copper and silver production and PBE is a Poland-based consultancy which specialises in business engineering advisory.  

NuScale’s light water SMR aims to supply energy for electrical generation, district heating, desalination, and other process heat applications. It features a fully factory-fabricated NuScale Power Module capable of generating 77MW of electricity using pressurised water reactor technology. NuScale's scalable design—a power plant can house up to four, six, or 12 individual power modules reduces the financial commitments associated with gigawatt-sized nuclear facilities. In August 2020 it became the first SMR design to receive approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NuScale and Fluor are currently working for Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems to commercialise the plant. NuScale has signed and announced memoranda of understanding with potential customers interested in considering a deployment of its SMR technology in 12 countries.

Under the MOU, NuScale will support KGHM and PBE’s examination of NuScale’s SMR technology as a coal repowering/repurposing solution for existing coal-fuelled power plants and more broadly for new nuclear plant implementations, as well as for energy in support of industrial operations in Poland. The examination will include an analysis of technical, economic, legal, regulatory, financial, and organisational factors.

“NuScale is thrilled to partner with KGHM and PBE on the potential deployment of NuScale Power plants in Poland,” said John Hopkins, Chairman and CEO of NuScale Power. “The retirement of ageing coal-fired power plants is leading to changes in power generation, infrastructure needs, and workforce opportunity. NuScale’s SMR technology is an ideal flexible clean energy solution to repurpose retiring coal fuelled power plants and most importantly, retain and retrain the skilled power plant workforce already in place in these Polish communities.”

Marcin Chludziński, President of the Management Board of KGHM Polska Miedź said changes in the climate required decisive actions. “We are already feeling the impact, including in a financial sense, connected among others with the increases in energy prices. The construction of small nuclear reactors by 2030 is a solid declaration and an element of our energy transformation. We are pioneers in Poland, as we expect that the first of our NPPs will come online in 2029. SMR technology will not only help us to protect the environment but will also substantially reduce the costs of operating our business.” He added that the company planned to generate power commercially in order to assist in the green transformation of Poland and bring down costs for the average household.

“With the future energy sector, design modular energy sources will play an exceptionally important role,” said Piotr Piela, Founder and Managing Partner of PBE. “This is why the SMR, which is not competitive but truly complementary to big nuclear reactors, is not only a crucial component fitting energy transformation of Poland and many others fossil fuels dependent European Union (EU) countries, but also considered the ‘technology of common interest’ essential to successfully implement the Pan European Green Deal.”

Also on 23 September, NuScale Power, Getka Group (Getka) and Unimot had signed an MOU with business purposes including to explore the deployment of NuScale’s SMR technology as a coal repurposing solution for existing coal-fired power plants in Poland. Getka is an Oklahoma-based integrated energy company providing construction, and delivery of petroleum, refined products, and alternative energy. Through its Zero Impact Strategy, Getka is focused on reducing emissions output through renewable energy. Unimot is a Poland-based multi-energy Capital Group that offers its wholesale and retail customers fuel products, gas and electricity, including renewable energy. NuScale will support Getka and Unimot’s examination of NuScale’s SMR technology as a coal repowering/repurposing solution for existing coal-fuelled power plants and more broadly for new nuclear plant implementations in Poland. 

“NuScale is excited to partner with Getka and Unimot on the potential deployment of NuScale Power plants in Poland,” said NuScale CEO John Hopkins.  Dariusz Cichocki, Chairman and CEO of Getka Group said the  project aligns with Getka’s commitment to decarbonise and diversify Poland’s energy infrastructure. “Through our ongoing partnership with Unimot, we are pleased to partner with NuScale to bring innovative solutions to market in Central Europe,” he added.

Adam Sikorski, President of the Management Board of Unimot said this is another area to develop low-emission projects in Poland. “Our role will be promoting SMR technology as a reliable alternative for coal technologies, and acquiring business partners in the Polish market. Ultimately, we also intend to create a platform of collaboration with Polish academic centres and potential Polish component suppliers to develop this technology in our country. Because of this, we can actively support the energy transformation of Poland, simultaneously diversifying our Group’s business.”  

According to the Polish government's Energy Strategy, Poland plans to construct six nuclear power units. In 2033, Poland should launch the reactor generating some 1-1.6 GWe. Subsequent reactors should be constructed every two to three years until the target of six units is reached. US companies Bechtel and Westinghouse Electric Company in July announced that they had formed a team to pursue NPP projects in Poland. France’s EDF has opened an office in Warsaw in order to prepare a comprehensive proposal for   construction of Poland's first NPP. South Korea’s Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power have also expressed interest.