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What kind of nuclear reactor did Klaus Iohannis agree with the Americans to build?

The Romanian public was surprised by his announcement that the United States was preparing to build an experimental small nuclear reactor in Romania and would export the technology to other countries in the region. There are many outstanding issues related to technology and publishing in Romania. In any case, the stated goal of replacing coal-fired power plants, which account for the largest share of Romania’s electricity production, over the next 11 years, will be difficult to achieve.

Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are now seen as fusion reactors at the turn of the millennium: a miracle technology that satisfies the energy hunger of modern society while not polluting and not yet available, but in the vicinity.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 67 modular nuclear reactors are under development worldwide. One is NuScale Power Module NP (NPM), whose founder signed an agreement with Nuclearelectricia, the Romanian operator of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant, on November 4 to build the first modular nuclear reactor. More specifically, NuScale Power LLC. (the American equivalent of SRL or Ltd.) will build its first reactor in Romania by 2028.

Rolls-Royce on Tuesday announceIt has raised more than £400m to fund the development of modular nuclear power plants “that can help meet the UK’s future pollution-free energy needs”.

what about them?

SMRs are a carbon-neutral alternative to oil or coal polluting power plants and will ensure a continuous flow of energy where supply may be disrupted by fluctuating solar and wind power plants.

This also applies to conventional nuclear reactors, but their construction is expensive and time-consuming. How true this is is well illustrated by the decades-old “Galaling” of blocks 3 and 4 in Cernavoda.

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Small modular reactors can be run with a relatively small investment, without having to wait decades to start production. By the way, they produce not only electricity, but also heat if necessary, so they can be a substitute in the most polluting and heat-intensive industries such as metallurgical or chemical industries. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 73 percent of the heat used in it is currently produced from fossil fuels.

How it works?

Nuclear power plants use the energy of nuclear fission. The energy released heats the water circulating around the core, and the resulting steam causes a turbine to drive the generator and convert the rotational energy into electrical energy. The steam is cooled and then pumped back into the reactor.

Photo: Wikipedia

The planned small modular nuclear reactors will be distinguished from conventional power plants, which also operate in Cernavoda, by the fact that they can be manufactured due to their size, while the “old” must be built. For example, a NuScale reactor unit would be only about 20 meters high and less than 5 meters wide – not counting the turbines and generators, of course. The reactor planned in Romania is slated to consist of 6 of these units, but NuScale plans to install a total of 12 on the same site with one common control room.

There are many similar developments in the United States anyway, although it is true that, as the US Embassy in Bucharest said, Communication He asserts that only NuScale has had his plan approved by the relevant nuclear regulatory authority. The letter also notes that the Romanian reactor is scheduled to be delivered “two years before its use in the United States.” In other words, the first 77 MW unit will be produced in 2027, and production at the six-module reactor in Romania can start a year later. At least that’s the theory.

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In practice, we can not talk about the final technical parameters yet. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency last year in posting The 60MW NuScale units are still available, according to the company’s announcement. Most importantly, SMEs do not have a well-developed business model. In other words, the technology may be technically excellent, but it is not economical. Nothing proves that this problem can arise more than the fact that so far only one SMR has been operated, including in the Russian Arctic, where profitability is not a primary consideration for the Moscow government.

He didn’t even mention the money President Klaus Iohannis, nor later on the energy minister, who personally assisted in the agreement between NuScale and Nuclearelectrica. However, the US Embassy in Bucharest, citing NuScale estimates, said the cost could be as high as $3.5 billion per gigawatt. But it is unclear, for example, whether this amount includes the regulatory burden associated with nuclear investment, regardless of size, for a nuclear reactor, and what the commercial implications of a $450 million grant from the Washington government for development and licensing costs are. He is. nek.

Photo: Medium.com

For comparison, Cernavoda Units 3 and 4, with a capacity of 700 megawatts, cost a total of 7 billion euros, or 5 billion euros per gigawatt.

Rolls-Royce has estimated the cost of its four-module 500-megawatt reactor at £2 billion. The conventional nuclear power plant, also under construction at Hinckley Point, has a capacity of six and a half times the capacity and ten times the cost of construction.

Is it really an alternative?

Energy Minister Virgil Popescu said in a statement that Romania will replace coal-fired power plants with standard nuclear power plants by 2032.

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Even if the SMR technology proves to work, the numbers are not correct. Only 16 NuScale units to replace the 1,285-MW Mintia coal-fired power plant, which closed last year, Oltenia Energy Complex Four of its units can be replaced by 42 reactor units. Even if the first one is completed by 2028, it is hard to imagine that the next 400 will be operational in the next four years, and the $11 billion needed to do so is estimated at $11 billion so far.