Strategic cooperation between Romania and the US in the race of nuclear reactor deployment

Romania will buy small modular nuclear reactors from the United States in the first commercial agreement of this kind. The U.S. has not yet built one on its territory. But the competition for the deployment of the next generation of nuclear power plants is already on.

The nuclear power plant in Cernavodă, Romania
The nuclear power plant in Cernavodă, Romania. The only nuclear facility in the country, providing 20% of the electricity with two reactors of 650 MW each | © Nucleare electrica

As COP26 gathers most of the world leaders to fight climate change, the summit is also a strategic business opportunity.

On November 2, the president of Romania Klaus Iohannis met with John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

And the United States announced that they would partner with Romania to install a small modular nuclear reactor plant, “possibly two years prior than anywhere else in the world” according to the U.S. Embassy in Romania.

Small modular reactors are considered to be the next generation of nuclear power plants. Five to thirty times as small as traditional nuclear reactors, they are more adaptable, can be transported in a ready-to-install form to the plant and avoid on-site construction.

This first-of-a-kind” SMR commercial agreement will include a six-module plant provided by an American company, NuScale.

Through the White House statement, the United States considered taking a “lead in the global race for SMR deployment“.

Indeed, the race is on for mini nuclear reactors. However, the SMR that Romania bought from the U.S. is still in prototype phases.

Russia deployed a floating SMR in 2019

In 2020, there were 72 reactors under development or construction in 18 countries, including the United States, Russia, the European Union, China, Argentina, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan…

Russia was involved in 17 SMR technology development projects and the United States in 18, both more than any other countries.

There are several types of mini nuclear reactors and with different power capacities: water cooled, gas cooled, land based, water based, high temperature, fast neutron spectrum, etc.

And two years ago, Russia deployed 2 floating mini reactors with a capacity of 35 megawatts each, half the capacity of future Romanian modules. Installed on a boat, they sailed through the Arctic Ocean for 4 weeks until being connected to grid in Pevek, in Russia’s Far East.

As such, the Akademik Lomonosov became the “world’s first SMR power plant to enter commercial operation” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

NuScale’s SMR technology, a light-water-cooled pressurized-water reactor, obtained a design approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2020. But it will not be able to deliver an operational module before 2028.

NuScale has not yet built or tested its mini-reactor in the United States and the first commercial NuScale plant targeted to be operational is in 2027 in Idaho.

The 2 Russian operational reactors are water based and not land based like the NuScale one. However, Russia is also developing a land based SMR project planned for commissioning in…2027.

Argentina and China are also front-runners with their SMRs due to begin operation within the next few years.

A multi-billion dollar deal and a regional opportunity

The financial details of the multi-billion dollar agreement between the U.S. and the former member of the Eastern bloc have not been released yet as a press conference is scheduled on November 4.

With SMRs, Romania would also be able to repurpose coal power plant sites to nuclear technology. It expects to save approximately $100 million by transforming a plant instead of building a new one.

Romania currently has 7 operating coal power plants. It has 1 nuclear power plant with two reactors with a capacity of 650 MW each which and produce around 20% of the country’s electricity.

The country also hopes to become an education and training center of SMR reactors in Europe.

Nuclear energy reduces a country’s carbon footprint; although nuclear waste doesn’t make it a green energy and the safety of multiple small nuclear reactors is still subject to debate.

The deal is initially supposed to create 3,700 jobs between the United States and Romania.

Read more about Romania

U.S.-Romania Cooperation on Small Modular Reactors (Fact Sheet), U.S. Embassy in Romania, November 2021, Free accessNuclear Power for the Future: New IAEA Publication Highlights Status of SMR Development, IAEA, October 2020, Free access

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