November 8, 2023
Together with reputed international partners from Romania, Italy and the US, Belgium wants to accelerate the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) received Romanian President Klaus Iohannis and the American and Italian ambassadors at Wetstraat 16 on Wednesday morning for the signing of a cooperation agreement on nuclear energy. With the nuclear study center SCK CEN, Belgium is joining an international consortium for the industrial development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).
In addition to SCK, four established names in the nuclear sector are part of the consortium. The Romanian state-owned nuclear technology company RATEN is also joining, in addition to the Italian agency for new technologies ENEA, the American reactor builder Westinghouse and the Italian nuclear energy specialist Ansaldo Nucleare.
Lead-cooled small nuclear reactor
I am proud that Belgium is leading the world towards sustainable nuclear energy.
Alexander De Croo
The consortium focuses on the research steps and demonstration projects required to achieve a commercial lead-cooled SMR. Unlike water-cooled nuclear reactors, such as in Doel and Tihange, reactors cooled with liquid lead are safer. If the fission reaction gets out of hand, a meltdown will not occur, but the reactor core will float on top of the literally heavy coolant. Furthermore, a lead-cooled reactor should lead to more efficient use of nuclear fuel and a reduction in long-lived radioactive waste.
To achieve a commercial reactor that ‘generates sustainable nuclear energy at competitive prices’, the consortium will conduct research and test projects. The SCK in Mol is building a small-scale demonstration reactor by 2040 to perfect the technology and design. It received a subsidy of 100 million euros for this purpose from the federal government. SCK has extensive experience in Mol with the MYRRHA research project, which works with a combination of lead and bismuth as a coolant.
A lead-cooled reactor should lead to a reduction in long-lived radioactive waste.
In the meantime, work is also underway on the next phase of development, with the construction of the 125 megawatt ALFRED demonstration reactor in Pitești, Romania. The preparation for this investment of an estimated 1 billion euros has been going on for ten years by the FALCON consortium to which Ansaldo Nucleare, ENEA and RATEN belong. The lead-cooled reactor design developed by the American giant Westinghouse will form the starting point for the project with the aim of global commercialization, the press release reads.
“This newly formed collaboration shows that we not only talk about sustainable change, but that we also take action,” says De Croo. ‘I am proud that Belgium is leading the world towards sustainable nuclear energy.’
The consortium will have a prominent place in March at the nuclear summit that Belgium is organizing in Brussels together with the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA.