June 21, 2024
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EU: Parliament backs development of small nuclear reactors

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The European Parliament backed the development of small nuclear reactors (SMRs) this week, a move welcomed by EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, who has already called for a rapid turnaround of EU initiatives.

Tabled by Slovenian EPP MEP Franc Bogovič, the  European Parliament’s initiative report on “small modular reactors” was adopted with 409 votes in favour, 173 against and 31 abstentions on Tuesday (12 December).

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“For the first time under this mandate, the European Parliament is voting in favour of a text that is 100% dedicated to nuclear energy”, said French centrist MEP and nuclear backer Christophe Grudler after the vote.

Reacting on X, EU energy chief Kadri Simson said the European Commission “will continue close cooperation with the co-legislators to finalise in the nearest future the legislative initiatives relevant for SMR technology and nuclear power production at large”.

In the report, the European Parliament acknowledges that “nuclear power can help to improve energy security in Europe” and offer “a possible means of achieving the Union’s energy and climate objectives”.

To this end, SMRs have several advantages.

Their small size, to begin with, means they can be deployed for multiple purposes, including industrial, urban, and military. Unlike large reactors currently in operation, they can be deployed to produce electricity and heat for industrial or even urban use, notes the report.

Other uses envisaged by MEPs include “competitive and sustainable” water desalination or the production of low-carbon hydrogen for industry and sustainable fuels.

SMRs also have other advantages “linked to the nature of their design,” as they are potentially safer than large reactors and more flexible in electricity production. Because it would be produced by series, it would also be cheaper and quicker to design.

Financing

To develop SMRs, MEPs propose focusing on third-generation technologies – such as those used in larger reactors currently in operation – and on fourth-generation technologies, better known as “advanced” reactors.

To achieve this, funding must follow with the report expressing “concerns about the overall budget for SMRs compared to the generous subsidies given by economic partners and competitors, particularly China, Russia and the US”.

According to MEPs, “all possible options for financing European SMR production and scale-up” must be explored. These include private investment, national public investment, EU funds, loans from the EU Investment Bank and support from the Strategic Technologies for Europe (STEP) platform or similar instruments.

Public spending can also play a role, with the Parliament report calling for “a European preference in future public procurements related to SMRs” meaning EU companies would have priority over Chinese or American competitors, although US firm NuScale has already signed an agreement to develop an SMR in Romania.

But Parliament is not opposed to international collaboration.

“Collaborative investments with international partners can facilitate knowledge sharing, joint research and development efforts and standardisation of SMR technologies, contributing to economies of scale and enhanced competitiveness on the global stage,” Bogovič told Euractiv France.

Safety and skills

The report underlines that the success of SMR deployment lies first in recognising “commonly accepted safety assessments”, which means harmonising procedures and standardising models.

As for cyber security, it “needs to be considered as a fundamental part of overall nuclear security”.

Security of fuel supply was also highlighted, which calls for investments in new facilities.

But the development of SMRs will also require a skilled workforce, with EU lawmakers calling for “strategic workforce planning” that is “forward-looking and adaptable” according to needs.

For all these reasons, MEPs are calling for the “development of a comprehensive strategy for the deployment of SMRs in the EU, taking into account the specific needs and circumstances of different regions, including remote and sparsely populated areas and different economic sectors”.

EU backing

The European Parliament’s report has already received backing from the European Commission.

The European Union needs “all technologies” to decarbonise its economy, including nuclear power, Simson said after adopting the Parliament report.

While EU Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of the report, “there’s still a lot of work to be done”, said Simson, who announced the launch in early 2024 of an industrial SMR alliance to facilitate and accelerate their deployment.

Parliament lawmakers are calling on the European Commission to play an active part and publish an annual report assessing progress on SMR deployment.

“There is no time to lose. The Commission now must launch the European Alliance of SMRs that everyone is calling for as soon as possible,” says Grudler.

A notable exception includes the Greens and the Left in the European Parliament.

“Small modular reactors are an illusion, a dangerous distraction in the name of the climate emergency,” said Green MEP François Thiollet on Monday, echoing the words of the late Michèle Rivasi, whom he replaced in the European Parliament.

In his view, the report would lead to a “diversion of investments that should be prioritised towards sobriety and renewables” to meet the EU’s climate targets by 2030, while the first SMRs would not see the light of day before 2035.

He concluded that “more reactors also means more radioactive waste”, “pressure to lower standards and therefore the risk of more accidents”, and also a “perpetuation of neo-colonial relations” with uranium suppliers.

Source: Euractiv

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