While fuel prices skyrocket and energy supply and security concerns continue, interest in nuclear power is gaining momentum around the world.
The International Energy Agency (“IEA”) released a June 2022 report entitled “Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions” acknowledging the unique opportunity for nuclear in the context of today’s energy crisis and ambitious decarbonization goals. The report notes that both the challenge of net zero and the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are reviving global interest in nuclear, and particularly, garnering increased interest in advanced nuclear technology—including in small modular reactors (“SMRs”). However, according to the IEA Executive Director, Faith Birol, a new era for nuclear power will depend on governments establishing robust policies to ensure safe and sustainable operation of nuclear plants for years to come—and to mobilize the necessary investments. While financing and bureaucratic hurdles still exist, interest in SMRs and the clean, reliable, and safe energy benefits attributed to SMR designs are leading to new international partnerships—involving both government entities and the private sector.
With the global focus on decarbonization and energy security, there have been a significant increase in recent months in new nuclear project developments. Below is a summary of some recent new nuclear projects and plans being announced around the world.
- Central and Eastern Europe: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has steered many countries in Central and Eastern Europe looking at decarbonization and energy security toward starting or expanding domestic nuclear programs, and many countries are looking to the U.S. to supply this technology. These countries include, for example, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria, and we briefly walk through some recent developments below.
- Poland is working on a number of new nuclear initiatives. Some of these new initiatives are backed by the U.S. government. For example, in 2021, the United States Trade and Development Agency (“USTDA”) provided a grant to Westinghouse “to progress” nuclear energy and launch front-end engineering and design work in Poland. Notably, the USTDA intends to support nuclear energy in its agenda to promote energy security across Eastern Europe.
In January, Westinghouse Electric Company signed memorandums of understanding (“MOUs”) with ten Polish companies for cooperation on the potential deployment of AP-1000 nuclear power plants in Poland and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe. The MOUs include cooperation on the possible construction of six AP-1000 plants for the Polish nuclear power plant program.
In April, a South Korean company Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (“KHNP”) submitted to Poland what the country called a “technical and price offer” for the construction of six APR-1400 reactors in Poland (the same reactors completed at Barakah in the UAE), with a total capacity of 8.4 GW and the first potentially commencing operations as early as 2033.
In June, Polish state-owned company, Enea SA, signeda letter of intent with Last Energy, a U.S. SMR developer, to partner on the deployment of SMRs in Poland. The two companies agreed to initially cooperate on the development, construction and further distribution of SMR, with the possibility of establishing a joint company in Poland, responsible for the implementation of Last Energy’s SMR technology in Poland. Last Energy’s SMR technology is based on a pressurized water reactor with a capacity of 20 MWe or 60 MWt.
In December 2021, Polish companies Synthos Green Energy and PKN Orlen signed an investment agreement to establish a joint venture for the deployment of a SMR fleet in Poland. The Orlen Synthos Green Energy joint venture is intended to commercialize micro modular reactor (MMR) and SMR technology, in particular GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy’s BWRX-300.
In February, NuScale and Polish company KGHM signed a definitive agreement to deploy NuScale SMRs. Under this agreement, NuScale will work with KGHM to support the deployment of SMR technology, and together, the organizations will take steps toward deploying a first NuScale VOYGR power plant in Poland as early as 2029.
Additionally, private companies are collaborating on project construction and supply. In June, Bechtel, a U.S. engineering and construction company, signed an MOU with Japan’s Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions and Toshiba America Energy Systems to collaborate on the delivery of steam turbines and generators for Poland’s first nuclear power plant.
- Romania and the U.S. have reached a series of nuclear cooperation agreements, including a U.S.-Romania Intergovernmental Agreement signed in December 2020 and a separate cooperation agreement on SMRs. To ensure international collaboration between the U.S. and Romania, the U.S. government has funded a number of nuclear initiatives. For example, the U.S. Department of State’s Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Reactor Technology program provided funding for NuScale’s SMR simulator (“E2 Center”) to be installed at the University Politehnica of Bucharest. As part of this effort, Romania will have the first simulator for the control room of a NuScale SMR in Europe, which will be used for training the new generation of nuclear experts, engineers and operators. Another example is USTDA’s $1.28 million grant awarded to Romanian national nuclear company, Nuclearelectrica, for a site suitability review to identify potential locations in Romania to host SMRs.
Both countries have begun to expand and modernize the Cernavoda nuclear power plant—Romania’s only nuclear power plant. Collaboration with the U.S. was further solidified at the G7 Leaders’ Summit when President Biden announced the commitment of $14 million to a Front-End Engineering and Design study to provide the basis for the deployment of a SMR in Romania.
This effort is intended to support the deployment of the first NuScale VOYGRTM-6 SMR power plant, which was the subject of an MOU signed in May by NuScale Power and Romania’s state nuclear power corporation.
In a project announced in March, Last Energy also plans to build a 20 MW SMR in partnership with Romania’s Autonomous Directorate of Nuclear Energy Technologies.
- Czech Rebpublic is exploring alternative nuclear fuel supply options to reduce its dependence on Russia. Czech Republic’s ČEZ recently signed partnership deals with Westinghouse Electric Company and France’s Framatome to deliver fuel supplies to Tremelin Nuclear Power Plant for more than 10 years starting in 2024, relinquishing the plant’s current supplier, Russia’s TVEL – a subsidiary of Rosatom. Since April 2019, six Westinghouse lead fuel assemblies have been in operation in Temelín Unit 1.
Additionally, in early 2022, Westinghouse signed MOUs with seven Czech companies, covering cooperation on the potential deployment of an AP-1000 plant for the Dukovany 5 project as well as other potential AP-1000 projects in Central Europe. The country is also looking at SMRs. ČEZ and NuScale have an existing MOU in place to exchange nuclear and technical expertise, particularly on nuclear supply chain development, construction, and operation and maintenance, as the two companies begin the application process to deploy NuScale’s SMR technology.
- Bulgariahas also announced interest in the deployment of U.S. nuclear technology for their next round of reactors. Bulgarian Energy Holdings, Fluor and NuScale signed an MOU in October 2021 regarding new SMR facilities, and Bulgaria now intends to build a new reactor unit at the existing Kozloduy nuclear site. In addition to new builds, Bulgaria is seeking an alternative to Russian fuel supply for the Kozloduy plant, an effort supported by a 2021 analysis that Westinghouse Electric Sweden conducted on an alternative fuel type for the Kozloduy Unit 5.
- France: Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, France, which already gets roughly 70 percent of its power from nuclear energy (the largest percentage in the world), announced plans for a so-called nuclear renaissance, including construction of up to 14 new reactors in France and continued development of SMRs. French President Emmanuel Macron also announced a nuclear new build program, aiming to build six EPR2s and to study construction of eight additional EPR2s. Construction is intended to begin by 2028, with the first reactor commissioned by 2035.
- China: In June, the China National Nuclear Corporation announced the start of construction of Sanman 3. This project follows an April partnership deal between China and Westinghouse Electric Company to build four additional AP-1000 reactors—which would bring the total fleet of AP-1000s globally up to ten reactors. The new four reactors to be built, Sanmen 3 and 4 in Zhejiang Province, and Haiyang 3 and 4 in Shandong Province – will join existing AP-1000 reactors, Sanmen 1 and 2 and Haiyang 1 and 2, which are rated at 1,157 MWe and at 1,170 Mwe, respectively.
In addition to the four Westinghouse units, China’s State Council approved the plans for the construction of Units 5 and 6 at the Lufeng site in Guangdong Province. In a Shenzhen Stock Exchange statement on April 21, China General Nuclear announced that Lufeng Units 5 and 6 would be Hualong One reactors.
In December 2021, China also connected an advanced reactor to the grid – the world’s first industrial-scale, high-temperature gas-cooled reactor was put into operation in the Shandong province. This advanced reactor heats helium instead of water to produce power and is designed to shut down passively if something goes wrong.
- United Kingdom: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recently-released Energy Security Strategy aims to construct up to eight new nuclear reactors (roughly one per year), plus SMRs. Similarly, a UK government whitepaper published in December 2020 demonstrates an ambitious intent to tackle climate change with both large and small scale nuclear. The UK has renewed efforts to build a selection of new nuclear power plants in the country, committing to provide £1.7 billion of direct government funding to get one large-scale nuclear project to the point of Final Investment Decision by the end of the current Parliament. Additionally, Rolls-Royce is working to build 16 SMR plants in the UK within 10 years, and the UK government not only pledged to invest £210 million to help develop this project, but in May 2022 it approved the design. In addition to the Rolls-Royce SMR technology, NuScale and Shearwater Energy, Ltd., a UK-based hybrid energy developer, have an MOU in place to explore opportunities for combined generation of nuclear power based on NuScale’s SMR technology, with offshore wind and hydrogen production at UK sites.
Through the UK Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Feasibility and Development Project, the UK government aims to invest over £40 million to license and build newer, smaller advanced nuclear power plant designs (the hope is also that this initial government funding will spur follow-on private investment). The AMR Competition selected eight advanced reactors to produce feasibility studies. Of these, three projects were chosen in Phase 2 for demonstrating “clear value for money and government approval”—Tokamak Energy Ltd, Westinghouse Electric Company UK, and U-Battery Developments Ltd.
- Canada: Canada is on track to becoming a key player in the development of next-generation nuclear reactors, with a number of companies intending on purposing new nuclear projects in Canada. In late 2021, Ontario Power Generation selected GE Hitachi to partner on deployment of a BWRX-300 SMR at the Darlington site in Ontario by as early as 2028, and on May 26, 2022, a Canadian subsidiary of GE Hitachi signed an MOU with the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Supplier’s Association, for deployment of a BWRX-300 at Saskatchewan. The MOU also requires engagement with local suppliers to maximize Saskatchewan’s role in the nuclear energy supply chain.