Commission invites industry to join support platform for mini nuclear

The European Commission has invited interested companies to help “to facilitate and speed up the development, demonstration, and deployment” of small modular nuclear reactors, a fledgling technology it hopes will help the EU achieve its goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

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The EU executive is inviting applicants to a European Industrial Alliance with a view to seeing Europe’s first small modular reactors (SMR) integrated into power grids or district heating systems early in the next decade, in line with its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 90% below 1990 levels over the next 16 years.

“They can contribute on our decarbonisation pathway to complement renewables, and provide baseload energy production for deep electrification, reliable source of heat for industries and urban districts, as well as for low-carbon hydrogen production,” energy commissioner Kadri Simson as she invited companies on Friday (9 February) to join the platform, announced earlier this week in a climate policy package.

 The alliance is open to firms “willing to work together to facilitate and speed up the development, demonstration, and deployment” of a fledgling technology that has also been recognised in the Net Zero Industry Act agreed provisionally earlier this week, potentially easing planning processes and smoothing access to state support.

The inclusion of nuclear power in Europe’s climate mitigation policy has been divisive, with France leading a group of EU members in favour promoting it as a low-carbon solution and Germany against – a fact recognised by Simson’s stressing that it would only be rolled out “in the countries that choose to do so, in full respect of the highest standards of nuclear safety”.

Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said SMRs would play a “central role” in Europe’s climate action. “In a context of increasing business competition on SMRs at global level, Europe is promptly responding, capitalising on its strong nuclear competence, innovation, and manufacturing capability,” he said in a statement.

Small reactors of less than 300 megawatt capacity, and as little as 10 MW, could be “considerably more flexible” – with regard to site selection, construction time and the amount of water needed to cool them – than conventional large plants, which typically consist of several units of around 1,000 MW, the Commission said.

Environmental groups have criticised the Commission’s reliance on technologies, including SMRs and carbon capture and storage, that have yet to be proved at scale for meeting EU climate targets, rather than focusing resources on promoting existing solutions such as solar and wind power.

The SMR platform is the latest of several such industry alliances set up to further Europe’s ‘green deal’ agenda, with the first designed to develop domestic battery production capacity for batteries followed by others in areas as diverse as zero-emission aviation, plastics recycling and hydrogen production.