European Nuclear Society High Scientific Council’s Statement on Small Modular Reactors
Today’s European Union Declaration on Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) marks an important step towards the decarbonised and autonomous Europe.
Climate change is a tremendous threat to human well-being and our societies. The ever-more alarming messages on anthropogenic climate change, as expressed by the IPCC, call for urgent action to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. The global economy continues to grow faster than emissions intensity reduction; coal is still the largest source of electricity generation. In view of the stakes, decarbonisation of the world economy must be a top priority.
In this context, nuclear energy is back at the forefront of the overall global agenda and undeniably also in Europe. The recent re-discovery and recognition of security of energy supply as a basic necessity triggered by geopolitical tensions has awakened Europe. Together with a broader notion that, in the real competitive world, some degree of strategic autonomy is called for, European policy makers and public opinion seem to realize that all necessary trustworthy means are to be considered as contributing to a potential solution to providing clean, reliable, secure and affordable energy provision, without the a priori exclusion of any technology.
Considering those priorities, nuclear technologies should be seen as a strategic asset and one of the few instruments available to pursue sustainable development of Europe. And while large-scale nuclear technologies of Generation III are already readily available to contribute to decarbonisation of European economies, and should be adopted without undue delay – along with lifetime extensions of the sizable existing nuclear fleet – there are also other prospective solutions, which – if developed properly – will contribute to European Future. These might be light water Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) in the short run and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMRs) in the medium term.
SMRs are designed to be scalable and quickly deliverable. They are expected to be easier to finance and site, easier and quicker to build and to offer a simpler, more standardised, and potentially safer design integrating inherent and passive safety features and enhanced built-in-by-design safeguards.
AMRs using breeder technologies would also allow the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle, so minimising the amount of radwaste.
Whereas many of the advantages of such new technologies are yet to be confirmed by practical deployments, the climate crisis requires us to pursue all prospective solutions for emission-free power generation, and investigation of them should be at the forefront of policies defined by climate-conscious societies. Participation in development of new technical solutions, creates multiple opportunities for various businesses – suppliers of both products and services, as well as research and educational facilities. Eventually this could help in bringing Europe back to the forefront of nuclear science and technology development.
Furthermore, thanks to their potential for wider energy applications beyond electricity, SMRs and AMRs, if commercialised successfully, would play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions and decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors and being synergistic with renewables in regional low-carbon energy hubs.
Innovation and opportunities that SMRs and AMRs can offer, open further possibilities to discuss their deployment with energy-intensive sectors and industries, policymakers, and local communities. Widespread education of new nuclear engineers and popularisation of multiple benefits of nuclear energy are necessary.
Heated international competition on SMRs prototypes and models is ongoing, but Europe is currently not a front-runner. European SMR projects are emerging, gaining interest and open to collaboration among EU countries: they need a strategic recognition and due support at the EU level.
If Europe wants to keep its technological and geopolitical leadership, massive investments in new nuclear technologies are vital. Demonstrators should be built and financed by European funds as well as interested Member States and business operators. Upstream, investing in European experimental facilities to develop and test SMRs and AMRs innovations is fundamental and will accelerate their licensing, deployment, and the upgrade of the European supply chain, improving competitiveness of European industry.
Innovation does not only involve technology but also licensing processes, manufacturing, and energy systems, thanks to the multipurpose uses that SMRs/AMRs can offer.
SMRs and AMRs are an opportunity to further improve nuclear safety. Safety can be also improved through a European SMR (and AMR) licensing harmonisation process, in which the European Commission, Euratom and ENSREG must play a key role.
By supporting innovation, safety and harmonisation, cooperation, experimental tests, and data sharing, Europe could achieve strategic autonomy.
We strongly believe that development of SMRs and AMRs are crucial both for the energy transition via a decarbonised energy mix, alongside large-size nuclear power plants and renewables, and for the increase of the European resilience.
The European Nuclear Society High Scientific Council
The High Scientific Council (HSC) consists of 22 scientists of high repute from 16 European countries. The HSC is a scientific body within the Society that advises the ENS on nuclear-related developments in different science fields, including Physics, Biology, Medicine, Engineering and Social Sciences. As well as serving as a think-tank and advisory body, the HSC provides statements on behalf of the ENS to the outside world on matters related to science and technology, and their impact on society. Read more in the published Position Papers.
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