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France Gathers Majority of EU Countries in its Nuclear Alliance

The energy crisis and advances in the small modular reactor (SMR) technology have boosted political support in the European Union for an expansion of the nuclear power sector. Belgium, Estonia and Sweden joined the informal group of EU member states called the Nuclear Alliance while Italy is an observer and the United Kingdom participated in the latest meeting as a guest.

Italy is changing its stance on nuclear power as the government of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, which took over in October, got parliamentary support to include the technology in its energy mix. The shift in the balance in the European Union began with the energy crisis in 2021.

The pro-nuclear group of countries spearheaded by France managed to include the sector in the 27-member bloc’s so-called green taxonomy early last year. In February, the European Commission also opened the way for pink hydrogen, the kind produced using nuclear power, to be considered green.

Italy’s U-turn changing balance in EU

Italy rejected a return to nuclear power at a referendum in 2011, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The country’s last two nuclear power plants were closed ahead of schedule also after a plebiscite, organized in 1987 after the first major nuclear disaster – in Chernobyl.

Now Meloni’s ruling coalition, with support of one part of the opposition, is working on a framework to facilitate imports of nuclear power. Moreover, the government has an ambition to build nuclear reactors.

Germany took a different path, refusing to reconsider the shutdown of its last reactors. Austria and Luxembourg fiercely oppose nuclear power as well. Still, Germany was also sidelined at a meeting of the Group of Seven right after it declared the end of its nuclear era on April 15.

Nuclear Alliance aims to get 50 GW more online by mid-century

France formed an informal group of European Union member states called the Nuclear Alliance in late February. Belgium, Estonia and Sweden joined in the meantime, lifting the number of countries to 14, while Italy became an observer.

The United Kingdom was a guest at the latest meeting, held this week in Paris. European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson was at the table, too. The pro-nuclear bloc said in a joint statement that nuclear power may provide up to 150 GW of electricity capacity by 2050 in the EU, compared to the current 100 GW.

It implies building 30 to 45 large units and small modular reactors or SMRs, according to the announcement. Britain plans to deploy 24 GW by 2050, equivalent to 25% of its projected electricity demand, the group said. It reiterated that the EU should recognize nuclear energy in its energy strategy and other relevant documents. The Nuclear Alliance asked for more financing, which is currently limited to advanced technologies.

The issue seems to be becoming more and more divisive in the EU. France and several other countries from the pro-nuclear group have just blocked the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive. They reportedly demand a greater role of nuclear energy in the decarbonization efforts.

The French Parliament passed a bill two days ago to simplify the procedure for the construction of nuclear power plants.

NuScale launches SMR plant simulator in Romania

In other news, NuScale Power, based in the United States, opened an SMR control room simulator at University Politehnica of Bucharest. The learning facility, funded by the US Department of State, enables users to apply nuclear science and engineering principles through real-world nuclear power plant operation scenarios. The system simulates a NuScale VOYGR plant control room.

George Agafitei NuScale France EU Nuclear Alliance
Photo: The opening ceremony at NuScale’s SMR plant simulator (George Agafiței / LinkedIn)

The creation of the first such simulator outside the US follows an agreement from 2021 for the company to deploy an SMR system of 462 MW in electricity capacity in Romania by the end of the decade. It would consist of six VOYGR reactors of 77 MW each.

Romania has the potential to be one of the first deployments of an SMR in Europe, the company said. The project aims to support capacity building for the Romanian nuclear workforce.

As for neighboring Bulgaria, it no longer relies on Russia for nuclear fuel as it signed contracts with France’s Framatom and Canada’s Westinghouse, according to Minister of Energy Rossen Hristov, who represented his country at the meeting in Paris. Nuclear energy is reliable and affordable, he argued. There is no way to achieve the decarbonization goals without it, in Hristov’s view.

Source: Balkan Green Energy News