About a decade ago, Romania’s then president, Traian Băsescu, announced that the base in Deveselu, Olt County, would host a complex anti-missile defense system equipped with SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors, a decision that placed Romania under the security umbrella of the USA. Now, it’s the United States’ turn to bring to Romania non-military technology as well, which is essential not only to Romania, but to the whole of Europe. It’s nuclear power plant made based on the revolutionary small modular reactor (SMR) technology.
It is noteworthy that NuScale Power is the only American company that, after an investment of about half a billion dollars and several years of research, has obtained the approval of the US authorities to use this state-of-the-art technology.
In August 2020, NuScale made history as the first and only company to receive an SMR design approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In July 2021, the Commission published the proposed rules for the certification of a nuclear project, a crucial step towards building and installing these SMRs that will be a game changer not only in the US but also in the world.
Currently, there are approximately 70 types of small modular reactors worldwide in various design phases. Of all these, only the one designed by NuScale has already been licensed
The SMR technology ensures the provision of low-carbon nuclear power with a lower initial investment capital and better scalability than the traditional larger reactors. Also, locations that are not fit to accommodate such large traditional reactors can be used to house these SMR modular reactors.
Moreover, the SMR technology developed by NuScale Power can stop and cool down for an unlimited period of time, without the intervention of an operator, without needing additional water or electricity. Therefore, US experts say that this technology is much safer than the traditional one, and its use, for example, would have prevented the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.
Plans for the future
The nuclear power plant that the Americans from NuScale will build in Romania will consist of 12 modular reactors, with an installed capacity of 77MW each, which would provide Romania with 924 MW, which is over 25% of the country’s total energy consumption. Currently, Romania gets about 20% of its energy, i.e. 700MWh, from the two units of the Cernavoda nuclear power plant.
It should also be mentioned that Romania aims to get in line with the EU rules on green energy and the process of reducing CO2 emissions. Therefore, the implementation of this new technology towards the 2028 horizon, will make up for the decommissioning of many coal-fired power plants, which are much more polluting.
The US will offer this technology to other allies in the region as well, such as Poland or Bulgaria, but not only that Romania is going to be the first country to implement it, it will also become a “regional hub” for the production of such reactors. Thus, Romania will play a pioneering role in Europe in implementing and developing the SMR technology in Europe on the American chain, but also in achieving emission reduction targets.
“We are delighted to be one of the first countries in the region to which NuScale will provide the SMR technology and a center for the production and assembly of SMR components that can be then used in other potential projects in the region, such as the countries of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), such as Poland and Bulgaria”, said the director of Nuclearelectrica, Cosmin Ghita, upon signing the agreement with the American company, on November 4th.
In the first phase alone, this project will create about 3,700 jobs, according to a recent White House statement, and then a total of about 30,000 as the project develops. At the conference held for the signing the agreement between NuScale Power and Nuclearelectrica, the CEO of the Romanian company ,Cosmin Ghita, announced the hiring in Cernavoda of another 500 specialists in the field.
In its 2020 World Energy Outlook Special Report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) identified the modular reactor technology (SMR) as having the potential to deliver low-emission nuclear power and ensure better scalability, as well as to provide a large number of jobs in design, manufacturing, supply and construction activities. The IEA then recommended that Western governments supported the development of this energy source.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are SMRs in various advanced stages of construction in Canada, Argentina, China and Russia. Moreover, some of the largest industrial companies, in addition to NuScale, that are trying to develop such technologies are Terrapower, founded by Bill Gates, and Rolls Royce.
Also, several French institutions and companies are working on a new SMR design, with a capacity of 300-400 MW, pending certification. Therefore, it is expected that this technology will be certified in Europe as well within a few years.
Romania commits to reaching ambitious targets in the EU
In fact, Romania announced at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow that it would get in line with the European ambitions for green energy and commit to contributing to the EU efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to the 1990 levels) and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The SMR technology can significantly help achieve these ambitious and environmentally friendly goals.
Nuclearelectrica has been interested in the NuScale technology since 2019. Back then, a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding was signed on exchanging information on this type of technology. After Romania canceled, in May 2019, the controversial agreement with China General Nuclear Power (CGN) for the refurbishment of the Cernavoda plant, Romania subsequently signed, late last year, a similar agreement with the USA worth 8 billion, which was then ratified by the Romanian Senate in June 2021.
“Energy means security for all our countries. If we want to achieve zero carbon dioxide emissions, this cannot be done without nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is essential”, said the Minister of Economy, Virgil Popescu, at the signing of the agreement between Nuclearelectrica and NuScale Power on November 4.
In turn, the director of Nuclearelectrica, Cosmin Ghita, explained that as Romania evolves, “new sources of clean energy are needed to reach our decarbonization targets and to ensure security and energy stability”.
In another move, the US State Department senior advisor for nuclear activities, Justin Friedman, stated during the event that SMR technology will replace coal-fired power plants, not only in Romania, but throughout Central Europe and beyond.
By implementing and contributing to the development of this nuclear green technology - SMR, Romania will solve several problems related to energy security. On the one hand, it will align with EU and global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; on the other hand, it will ensure its energy independence and thwart Russia's and China's plans in this regard in the region.
This could be particularly relevant for states such as the Republic of Moldova, which could be connected to European energy sources and escape its dependence on the MoldoGRES power plant in the Transnistrian separatist region, which belongs to the Russian Inter-RAO group.
Last but not least, in addition to the military security umbrella offered by the USA through massive investments in the military bases at Deveselu, Câmpia Turzii and Mihail Kogălniceanu, Romania will also get under the energy security umbrella provided by the USA through this transfer of state-of-the-art technologies in the nuclear field ensured by the NuScale company.
The US’s intentions are clear, namely to stabilize and strengthen a strategic partner in the Black Sea region and on the southeastern flank of NATO, and Romania will fully benefit from this status rendered by Washington in the coming years, not only in military terms, but also with regard to state-of-the-art technology and investment.