Romanian nuclear utility SN Nuclearelectrica (SNN) and the Polytechnic University of Bucharest (UPB) have launched a NuScale Power Energy Exploration Centre (E2 Centre) at the University’s Faculty of Energy Engineering. It includes a control room simulator for NuScale’s VOYGR small modular reactor (SMR) power plant. It is the first E2 Centre to be established outside the USA. The first E2 Centre was opened at Oregon State University in 2020.

It is the latest step in increasing US involvement in Romania’s nuclear development plans and builds on the Intergovernmental Agreement between the US and Romania for nuclear energy cooperation signed in December 2020. The launch was attended by the US Ambassador to Romania, Kathleen Kavalec and Principal US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ann Ganzer. Romanian officials included Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă, Minister of Energy Virgil Popescu and Politechnica University Rector Mihnea Costoiu as well as industry executives. According to a statement from the US Mission to Romania, it cements “a multi-decade relationship on civil nuclear advancement”.

Participating partners for the E2 Centre include a multinational consortium from NuScale, SNN, RoPower, and Politehnica University. The Centre is supported by the US Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) capacity building programme. The US mission statement says FIRST “supports Romania’s leadership in being a trailblazer in Europe to deploy SMR technology, and in training the workforce of the future to advance climate action, energy security, and energy access throughout Europe and the world”.

The E2 Centre simulator “fulfils the commitment made by [US] Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control & International Security, at the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26),” the US mission noted. “As part of the ‘Nuclear Futures Package’, the Under Secretary announced a SMR simulator to support Romania’s ambitious civil nuclear energy programme and stated desire to be a SMR hub in the region. Romania, with more than 26 years of experience in safe nuclear power operations and performance is an ideal partner in deploying the first SMR in Europe. This technical assistance builds upon the US-Romania Intergovernmental Agreement for cooperation on Romania’s civil nuclear power programme (IGA) signed in December 2020, cementing a multi-decade relationship on civil nuclear advancement.”

The US-Romania partnership has developed significantly since 2019, when SNN and NuScale signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to evaluate the development, authorisation and construction of SMRs in Romania. This was followed by the IGA in 2020, while US Exim Bank concluded a MOU with Romania’s Ministry of Energy, on energy investment projects in Romania totalling $7bn. In 2021 NuScale and SNN signed a collaboration agreement to accelerate the implementation of the first SMR in Europe. Nuclearelectrica received $1.2m in funding from the US Trade & Development Agency (USTDA) to identify and evaluate potential sites for SMRs.

In 2022, SNN and Romanian private company Nova Power & Gas launched RoPower Nuclear – a project company for development of SMRs in Romania on the site of the former coal-fired power plant in Doicesti, Dambovita County. This was also supported by the US State Department.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ann Ganzer said: "The SMR project at Doicesti, which this E2 Centre supports, will showcase Romanian leadership in energy innovation, accelerate the clean energy transition, create thousands of jobs in Romania and the US, and strengthen European energy security while upholding the highest standards for nuclear safety, security, and non-proliferation."

Nuclear power currently provides 2% of domestic energy in Romania. Since its founding in 1998, SNN has operated Romania's only NPP at Cernavoda, which has two commercially operational Candu 6 pressurised heavy water reactors supplied by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Construction of three more units was started, but was stopped in 1990. However, Romania is now implementing the Cernavoda 3&4 project, which aims to complete two further Candu 6 reactors.

SNN CEO Cosmin Ghita said at the launch of the E2 Centre: “Today’s generation is the generation that will operate both Candu and SMRs…. The E2 Centre is only the beginning of a new advanced era in technology and human resources.”

Virgil Popescu, Romanian Minister of Energy noted: “We chose a technology with 60 years global operating history, more than 300 light-water reactors worldwide currently in production, which are the basis of the up-to-date highly advanced NuScale SMR technology. The 26 years of Romanian safe operation expertise are the basis for further developing Romania’s nuclear energy programme. The energy transition is not possible without maintaining and expanding the role of nuclear power and it requires strong international partnerships, like the one we are enhancing today. I thank our American partners for their continuous support.”

NuScale Power said its 2021 teaming agreement with SNN aimed to deploy a 462 MWe NuScale VOYGR-6 power plant in Romania by the end of the decade. It added that NuScale and RoPower had already begun front-end engineering and design work for the Doicesti site as the preferred location for the deployment of the VOYGR power plant.

“Romania has the potential to be one of the first deployments of an SMR in Europe and to become a catalyst for SMRs in the region by serving as a base for supporting operations of this new technology in other countries, as well as the production and assembly of plant components,” NuScale said.

It added that the E2 Centre is an innovative learning environment that offers users a hands-on opportunity to apply nuclear science and engineering principles through simulated, real-world nuclear power plant operation scenarios. It employs state-of-the-art computer modelling to simulate a NuScale VOYGR SMR power plant control room. “Users have the opportunity to take on the role of a ‘control room operator’ at a VOYGR plant to learn about the advanced operational and safety features unique to NuScale’s technology.”

NuScale’s VOYGR SMR plants are powered by the NuScale Power Module, a smallpressurised water reactor that can each generate 77 MWe or 250 MWt (gross), and can be scaled to meet customer needs through flexible configurations up to 924 MWe (12 modules) of output. NuScale’s design is the first and only SMR to be certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Image: Opening of the NuScale VOGYR power plant simulator at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest (courtesy of Nuclearelectrica)