By Maduabuchi Efegadi.
With fuel prices skyrocketing and energy supply and security concerns continuing, interest in nuclear power is gaining momentum around the world, according to a summary of recent developments.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) report in June this year, titled, “Nuclear Power and Secure Energy Transitions”, acknowledged the unique opportunity for nuclear energy in the context of today’s energy crisis and ambitious decarbonization goals.
The report noted that both the challenge of net zero and the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are reviving global interest in nuclear energy 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 mobilise 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 has been a significant increase in recent months in new nuclear project developments.
A summary of some recent new nuclear projects and plans being announced around the world are Central and Eastern Europe where 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 programmes, and many countries are looking to the U.S. to supply this technology. The countries include Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, and Bulgaria.
In 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 its territory, and continued development of SMRs.
French President Emmanuel Macron also announced a nuclear new build programme, 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.
Other countries embracing nuclear programmes are China, which in June its China National Nuclear Corporation announced the start of construction of Sanman 3. The 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.
In the United Kingdom, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently announced the Energy Security Strategy which 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.
Meanwhile, Canada, with nothing on the card that will be sizing up the two, is on track to becoming a key player in the development of next-generation nuclear reactors, with a number of companies intending on proposing 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.
In May, a Canadian subsidiary of GE Hitachi signed an MoU with the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Suppliers Association, for deployment of a BWRX-300 at Saskatchewan. The MOU also requires engagement with local suppliers to maximise Saskatchewan’s role in the nuclear energy supply chain.