Small nuclear reactors (SMR) are units with a capacity of up to about 300 MW, and countries such as Canada, the United States, Great Britain and France invest in them. The technology has been known for many years, but it is controversial. There are three such units in Russia in the world, models manufactured in the USA and Canada are at the stage of obtaining a license. Micro and small nuclear power plants have already been used in submarines and ships in the past. It is estimated that they can become an alternative to large nuclear power plants. They can be used to create energy complexes, the construction time is short (they are delivered to the site of operation). If they prove to be competitively priced, they can become an additional, emission-free source of electricity.
The chemical company Synthos wants to build a small nuclear power plant with a capacity of 300 MW within the next decade, informed GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, which will cooperate with Synthos on this project.
Synthos Green Energy and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy have concluded a letter of intent with BWXT Canada, a leading producer of components for nuclear energy, in the field of cooperation for the construction and development of the supply chain for BWRX-300 reactors in Poland, the USA and Canada. In the signed agreement with BWXT Canada, SGE declares an order for the European market, including Poland, of at least ten BWRX-300 reactors, for which BWXT will make some components, including one of the most important elements of the entire structure – the reactor pressure vessel.
At the same time, SGE signed an agreement with OPG. Under this agreement, the Polish company will be able to take advantage of the knowledge and experience from the implementation of work on the world’s first BWRX-300 reactor, which will be built at the Darlington power plant in Canada. This will be the reference project for SGE.
As Poland is phasing out carbon sources, SMR reactors can play an important role in deep decarbonization and in meeting the energy needs of the growing economy. Due to this, Poland will occupy a special place on the global map of SMR technology development.
Synthos is interested in a reliable, “dedicated” source of CO2-free electricity, which is why both companies decided to consider the potential of building a SMR BWRX-300 class reactor in Poland.
The construction of the first small nuclear reactors in Poland may start as early as 2026.
The Small Modular Reactors (SMR) technology of the BWRX-300 type is the latest technology, the design of which was completed in December 2018. The BWRX-300, according to GEH’s assurances, is based on certified ESBWR solutions, is even more simplified and at the same time much less capital intensive . The company estimates that the cost of building 1 MW is 60 percent. lower than other SMR designs.
Due to their small size and modularity, SMRs can be almost completely built in the factory and installed module by module, which improves efficiency.
The small reactor will be placed underground or under water. Therefore, the site of the old power plant is sufficient for its location, without the need to interfere with external buildings or installations. The power grid that allows for the evacuation of power from the power plant does not require reconstruction either. The requirements for access to cooling water are also lower.
Cooperation with Orlen
Synthos has also concluded a cooperation agreement for the development of micro and small nuclear reactor technology with PKN Orlen.
The companies intend to jointly invest in the construction of four to six small modular nuclear reactors with a capacity of 300 MW each.
The Ministry of Energy is skeptical about the technology of small nuclear reactors. “Until now, even a prototype or test module has not been developed in any country, and even the initial licensing, i.e. only theoretical evaluation of the project itself, has not ended anywhere. the equivalent of large reactors “- informed the Ministry of Energy.
Synthos Green Energy stated that as part of public consultations the company with a group of advisers developed and presented to the Ministry of Climate and Environment a proposal for changes in the nuclear law aimed at facilitating the licensing and construction of such units.
The current Act – the Atomic Law of November 29, 2000, is currently the most important document regulating matters related to nuclear safety in Poland. It defines, inter alia, activities in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy related to actual and potential exposure to ionizing radiation from artificial radioactive sources, nuclear materials, equipment generating ionizing radiation, radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, as well as the principles of civil liability for nuclear damage. In addition, the Act provides for the imposition of fines for violation of the provisions on nuclear safety and radiological protection and the procedure for their imposition. Unfortunately, the above law is not adapted to the current picture of nuclear power plants. Therefore, in order to start developing a business plan for a Polish nuclear power plant, Poland must first pass a new nuclear law.
When designing new legal regulations, it should be taken into account that the nuclear power plant will be the first project in Poland involving the commissioning of a nuclear power facility. So far, the provisions of the Atomic Law Act concerning nuclear processes have been applied in practice only in medicine or in relation to research and scientific objects. On the other hand, the provisions on energy and environmental protection do not cover nuclear energy.
We should start with verifying the consistency of national regulations with international law and international treaties and agreements ratified by Poland in terms of the provisions that may be applicable in Poland.
Particular attention should be paid to the regulations on the safety of construction, commissioning and operation of power plants and related nuclear facilities, radiological safety, protection of workers and the public against the effects of radiation, environmental protection and limitation of the effects of energy impact of nuclear facilities, export and import of radioactive materials and equipment. nuclear facilities, as well as the exchange of information on radiation emergencies that may have an impact on the population and the environment.
In addition, it is also important to define a detailed legal framework for the procedure for determining the location of the power plant and determining its environmental impact.
In addition, when developing the above regulations, the requirements of the International Atomic Agency, European Utility Requirements (EUR) and Western European Nuclear Regulator’s Association (WENRA) should also be applied. However, these requirements should be treated as a framework, as it will be necessary to adopt and adapt many detailed regulations and technical standards in force in the country of origin of the nuclear component technology – this is a commonly accepted practice in the world.
Another problem to be solved is the conflict between the state’s control functions in the field of nuclear safety and its promotional functions. The minister responsible for nuclear power is the Minister of Economy, while the authority for the promotion, but also supervision and coordination of nuclear projects is the President of the National Atomic Energy Agency (PAA). The division of competences of the Minister of Economy and the President of the PAA is clear only at the level of the use of nuclear energy for scientific purposes, but the scope of responsibilities becomes unclear in the case of industrial use of nuclear technology. Therefore, it is important to separate the functions of the nuclear supervision authority from the promotion of nuclear energy and the enactment of legal regulations in the field of nuclear power.