“We are forerunners in the fight against global warming.” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) says he is proud of the consortium on which an agreement was reached on Wednesday morning. SCK CEN is joining forces with the Italian researchers from Enea, the Romanian researchers from Raten, the American company Westinghouse – which previously built nuclear power stations in Belgium – and the Italian company Ansaldo Nucleare.
The intention is to join forces in the construction of an innovative lead-cooled SMR, i.e small nuclear reactor. This is a so-called “fast reactor”, which produces less highly radioactive waste. Such an SMR could also use used fuel from current reactors as new fuel.
Demonstration in Mol
In the memorandum of understanding that was signed on Wednesday by Prime Minister De Croo and Romanian President Klaus Johannis, a step-by-step plan has been agreed. This starts with a small demonstration reactor that would be in Mol by 2035. The reactor must demonstrate that the project is technically possible. If everything goes well, the construction of a first “real” reactor will follow in Pitesti, Romania, with a capacity of 300 megawatts.
The development of the reactor in Pitesti has been prepared for ten years by three of the partners with whom SCK CEN is now working. “We combine our expertise to work on one end product,” says Peter Baeten, director general of SCK CEN.
“We are thus in line with our historic mission to be a pioneer in nuclear technology, as we were before the construction of the nuclear power stations in Doel and Tihange,” says Derrick Gosselin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of SKC CEN. He sees this project as a first step in an industrialization plan that should enable Belgium to take charge of the construction of such a reactor as much as possible.
100 million euros
The Belgian government has already pledged 100 million euros to develop the new type of SMR. The contribution from the other partners is expected to be 75 million euros. Government financing will also be required for the next phases, which is something for subsequent governments.
SCK CEN hopes that the SMRs can supply the first electricity by 2040-2045, depending on the speed at which they are developed. The SMRs will not only produce electricity to supplement renewable energy, but can also create hydrogen or heat if wind and sun generate enough electricity. This combination will make it important to find locations close to industrial clusters.
Before the construction of an SMR can start, the law on nuclear phase-out must still be amended. There have been bills in the House for some time that would make this possible, but they have not been dealt with. According to Baeten, politicians have until 2027-2028 to make a decision. A change in the law is not necessary for the construction of a demonstration reactor.
The intention is for this agreement to be included in the nuclear summit that the Belgian government will organize in March 2024 in collaboration with the IAEA, the international atomic energy agency.