Small nuclear growth continues with US-Europe deal

The world of nuclear energy received a significant boost this week with the US providing substantial engineering support for construction work in Eastern Europe.

Small modular reactors are nuclear fission reactors but are considerably smaller than conventional ones.

A US-origin small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) to be built in Romania is among the first projects to be supported as part of a major pledge by the Biden administration to form nuclear partnerships with low- and middle-income countries. 

The $14 million award to NuScale Power and Romania’s SN Nuclearelectrica will go toward an engineering design study for a six-module, 462 MWe (megawatts electric) SMR in the town of Doicești. 

The grant follows a commitment that John Kerry, the presidential envoy for climate, made to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis at last December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. 

The NuScale reactors would replace a shuttered coal-fired power plant. NuScale’s SMR design is the first to be approved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), though no reactor has yet to be deployed commercially.

“This will help bring online zero-emission nuclear energy to Europe faster, more cheaply, and more efficiently,” President Biden said in announcing the grant.

He added that the “ground-breaking American technology” will also create thousands of jobs in Romania and the US.

The award is part of the US contribution to the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, a US-led initiative which aims to secure some $600 billion in government and private funding from G7 nations toward a “values-driven, high-impact, and transparent infrastructure partnership” with low- and middle-income countries. 

Clean energy and climate resilience make up one of the four investment priority areas. 

Other US investments announced include Department of Commerce and Export–Import Bank backing for a $2 billion solar energy project in Angola and a US Agency for International Development provision of $40 million to support Southeast Asia’s Smart Power Program, which aims to decarbonize and strengthen the region’s power system.

The announcement of the US deal comes in the same week that engineering firm Rolls-Royce unveiled a shortlist of six sites for a major new factory building nuclear reactors in the UK.

The UK government wants to build 16 Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the next 25 years to secure the UK’s energy supply and hit its net-zero target by 2050.  They would be built on a production line and assembled at existing sites.

The potential factory locations are: Richmond in North Yorkshire, Deeside in Wales, Ferrybridge, Stallingborough in Lincolnshire, Sunderland and Carlisle.

Two more factories would then follow.

Rolls-Royce SMR chief executive Tom Samson said it had had a “fantastic” response to calls for suggestions of where the site could be, which showed the “ambition and appetite of the UK” for the reactors which would “provide affordable, low-carbon electricity for generations to come”.

He added the final location would get “significant investment” and “long-term high-skilled jobs”.