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Small reactors and funding on the agenda of French-led Nuclear Alliance

8 months ago 30

The French-led ‘nuclear alliance’ will meet again in Bratislava on Tuesday (7 November), with host Slovakia set to discuss the EU’s role in accelerating the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Read the original French article here.

At the end of August, Slovenian Conservative MEP Franc Bogovič of the European People’s Party (EPP) presented an own-initiative report to be voted on in December on the EU’s contribution to the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Those in favour of SMRs – from 10 MW to 300 MW, compared with more than 700 MW for a conventional reactor – could make a major contribution to decarbonising the EU, particularly its energy-intensive industry and areas with patchy access to the European electricity grid.

At the same time, industry players, researchers, regulatory bodies, potential customers and the European Commission set up a “European SMR pre-partnership” in June, also as a way of countering the ambitions of the US, whose projects could rapidly emerge on EU soil.

Now, EU member states are also stepping up to the plate.

To send out a common message on SMRs, the Nuclear Alliance, initiated by France in February, will meet for the fifth time on Tuesday in Bratislava, on the fringes of the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF), which begins on Monday evening (6 November).

The meeting’s main objective is to support the development of SMRs.

Ahead of the meeting, 12 European ministers have already sent a joint letter on the subject to EU Green Deal chief Maroš Šefčovič, Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton and Innovation and Research Commissioner Iliana Ivanova.

Seen by Euractiv France, the joint letter calls on the European Commission to “create an ‘industrial alliance’ for SMRs at EU level”. The aim is to urge the Commission to “stimulate investment in European SMR capabilities and the development of a European value chain”.

To achieve this, the Commission’s support must “ensure that these innovative projects benefit from existing and future European legislation,” note the signatories.

In mid-September, Bogovič told Euractiv France that European support for investment could be used to encourage research, international collaborations and public-private partnerships to develop skills, workforce, demonstration projects and infrastructure for future SMRs. The EU could also reduce regulatory uncertainties for investment and promote financing mechanisms like subsidies, and low-interest loans, Bogovič said.

Earlier, the MEP also proposed drawing inspiration from the American model, which authorises tax credits for SMRs and devotes $700 million to developing new forms of uranium for use in these reactors.

In other words, with this new meeting, the Commission is being asked “to show ambition,” said French Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

14 European countries to attend Bratislava meeting

So far, 14 European countries are expected to be represented in Bratislava: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania,  Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Unlike previous Alliance meetings, Belgium will be a full participant rather than an observer. Italy will remain an observer, while Simson will represent the European Commission.

The members of the Nuclear Alliance intend to use their influence to “put the issue of European funding for nuclear power back on the agenda,” according to the joint letter.

This is something that might not please the other group which has been forming at the EU level – the “Friends of Renewables”, which was set up by Austria in opposition to the Nuclear Alliance and has been joined by countries like Germany, Spain and Luxembourg.

Workforce and financing

The European Commission has already come out in favour of developing third- and fourth-generation nuclear reactors, including SMRs, as part of its Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) tabled in mid-March.

EU member states have yet to agree a common position on the NZIA, although many are interested in SMRs.

While Sweden and Finland are in the process of defining a roadmap and the Czech Republic is identifying potential sites, Estonia, Bulgaria, and Romania have already expressed interest in SMRs.

France, meanwhile, has set targets for the development of SMRs and plans to allocate €1.2 billion in public funding to projects.

Tuesday’s meeting will also provide an opportunity to plan staffing needs for the SMR industry. According to Pannier-Runacher’s office, 300,000 nuclear jobs are expected in the EU by 2050, including 100,000 in France alone.

The cabinet also mentions that future discussions on nuclear power could be raised at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, with the office stating that promotional meetings on the subject will indeed be held there.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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