Ukraine is the latest country in emerging Europe to sign up for an SMR project, one which aims to support the country’s energy security and signals a new direction in its energy development policy – decarbonisation.
Ukraine, in partnership with the United States, as well as Japan and South Korea, will participate in a public-private consortium to research and develop small modular reactors (SMRs).
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A pilot project was announced this week by US Presidential Special Envoy on Climate Issues John Kerry and Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Galushchenko at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Egypt.
The pilot project involves the construction of an SMR in Ukraine which, according to the US State Department, will involve the production of environmentally-friendly hydrogen and ammonia and advanced electrolysis technologies.
According to the State Department’s press service, the project builds on existing cooperation in developing nuclear energy capabilities initiated under the US Basic Infrastructure for Responsible Use of SMR Technology programme. SMRs are a key part of the US Energy Department’s goal to develop safe, clean, and affordable nuclear power options. Both Romania and Poland have previously signed agreements to explore the construction of SMRs with US technology.
The duration of the Ukrainian SMR project is a highly-ambitious two to three years. The list of participants includes both leading nuclear companies and research institutes.
In particular, NuScale (which is involved in the Romanian and Polish projects), FuelCell Energy, Clark Seed and Argonne National Laboratory will participate on the American side, with NAEC Energoatom and the State Science and Technology Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety representing Ukraine.
Doosan Enerbility, IHI Corporation, JGC Corporation, Samsung C&T and Starfire Energy will also participate in the project.
“Even during the war we will not stop shaping the new energy future of Ukraine,” says Galushchenko. “Carbon-free energy is one of the main directions of the global technological development. There is no doubt that Ukraine will participate in the global agenda with its experience and potential in the field of nuclear energy.”
Proponents of SMRs say that they are far safer than standard nuclear reactors, in part because their small cores produce far less heat than the cores of large reactors. They are deployable either as a single or multi-module plant and are designed to be built in factories and shipped to utilities for installation as demand arises.
Innovative designs in SMR technology can also reduce other engineering risks, like coolant pumps failing. According to NuScale, its SMR has far fewer moving parts than traditional nuclear reactors, lowering the likelihood of failures that could cause an accident.
The installed capacity of a single unit SMR is around 77 MW, enough energy to power up to 60,000 homes, the equivalent of a small city like recently-liberated Kherson.
According to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there are around 50 SMR designs and concepts globally. Most of them are in various developmental stages and some are claimed as being near-term deployable.
The IAEA says that SMRs display an “enhanced safety performance” through inherent and passive safety features, offer better upfront capital cost affordability and are suitable for cogeneration and non-electric applications.
In addition, SMRs offer options for remote regions with less developed infrastructures and the possibility for synergetic hybrid energy systems that combine nuclear and alternate energy sources, including renewables.
However, while NuScale’s SMR was in August given final certification by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the European Union has yet to approve the deployment of the technology. NuScale itself admits that its own SMR plant in Idaho is unlikely to become operational until 2029.
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