Belgium will join an international consortium to develop Small Modular Reactors (SMR), the small nuclear power stations of the future. On Wednesday, the Belgian nuclear research center SCK CEN in Mol signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four international partners.
These are the Italian researchers from Enea, the Romanian researchers from Raten, the American Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and the Italian Ansaldo Nucleare – to jointly build an innovative, lead-cooled SMR for testing in Mol by 2035. Commercial applications aren’t expected before 2040-2045.
The Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) and the Romanian President Klaus Iohannis were present during the ceremony. The Belgian federal government released 100 million euros for research into SMRs.
An SMR is a compact nuclear reactor with limited power, up to 300 MW. It is said to be safer, produce less waste, reuse even the nuclear waste of old power plants, and emit fewer emissions. So, it is a better solution for the climate and contributes to Belgium’s energy independence – an aspect that should not be neglected with the war in Ukraine in the background.
Unlike a classic nuclear power plant, an SMR does not need water pumps to remove the heat from the reactor. SMRs are passively cooled by lead without any human interaction. Another advantage of such a ‘modular’ power plant is that parts of the reactor can be produced in advance in the factory and assembled at location, which reduces production costs.
SMRs could be climate-friendly alternatives for gas-fired power stations that we now use when we do not have sufficient renewable energy. They will need to be integrated into the energy mix.
Due to the arrival of a lot of renewable energy and the decentralization of energy production, SMRs will sometimes have to absorb peak moments in power production, and sometimes, if there is sufficient renewable energy, they will have to produce hydrogen, for example.
The first SMR will be constructed in Mol and operational between 2035 and 2040. A larger one will follow next in Pitesti, Romania. The ultimate goal is a commercial SMR built by the American company Westinghouse, which was already involved in building the reactors in Doel and Tihange, and the Italian Ansaldo Nucleare. The first commercial reactor will not be available until about ten years later. It is not yet clear where it will be situated.