We are expanding the possibilities of nuclear energy: Ukraine plans to build a modular reactor

Ukraine, in partnership with the USA and other developed countries, plans to develop the latest technologies of small modular reactors for the production of electricity. tried to find out how a new and environmentally safe mini-nuclear power plant will affect the future of Ukrainian energy, which the terrorist country Russia is trying to destroy with missiles.

After several massive attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine, there is not a single thermal or hydroelectric plant left that has not been hit by rockets. Only during October-November, Russian war criminals hit half of Ukraine’s energy complex.

On Wednesday, November 23, another strike by the attackers on energy facilities led to a blackout in our energy system, but by the morning of the next day, energy workers were able to connect the system and start supplying electricity to critical infrastructure facilities. According to the Minister of Energy Herman Galushchenko, energy experts expect that the nuclear power plants will start operating by the evening, so the electricity deficit will decrease.

These dramatic events today highlight the key role of the electric power sector for our country. After the victory of the heroic Ukraine in the war with the terrorist country Russia, the issue of radical reconstruction of the national energy industry will inevitably arise before our state.

The authorities and experts in the industry can kill two birds with one stone: restore electricity generation using the latest technologies that the world has recognized as reliable and environmentally friendly, and attract money from foreign investors to Ukraine.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, announced that Ukraine has a plan to build small modular nuclear reactors for the production of electricity.

At the UN International Conference on Climate Change, it was announced that our country, in partnership with the USA, as well as Japan and the Republic of Korea, will take part in a public-private consortium for the scientific and practical development of such small modular reactors.

“Even during the war, we do not stop in modeling the new energy future of Ukraine. Carbon-free energy is one of the main focuses of the world in technological development,” – said the Minister of Energy of Ukraine Herman Galushchenko.

The achievements of the international consortium will be used to build the new energy system of Ukraine after the victory and accelerate the “green transition” of our country to the construction of an environmentally friendly economy. The term of implementation of the pilot project for the development of such a reactor will be approximately two to three years.

Advantages of small rectors

Small modular reactors (SRMs) are designs significantly smaller in size and power than conventional large nuclear reactors that were developed back in the days of the Soviet Union. However, they produce electricity according to the same principle of nuclear chain reaction as more powerful nuclear power units.

A big advantage of MMR is their mobility: for example, they can be built in one place, and then sent, put into operation and operated at a separate site. Currently, this technology is not used in industrial operation anywhere in the world, but many countries are interested in these developments.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are about fifty projects and concepts of small modular reactors in the world. Currently, such reactors are at relatively advanced stages of development in Argentina, China and other countries.

In Ukraine, nuclear energy plays a key role in the national energy system and is one of the most powerful among European countries / photo

Several more projects are at the level of research and development works. In particular, American companies are engaged in this.

Recently, the developed countries of the world are increasingly declaring their intention to invest significant funds and develop small reactor technologies. This issue became especially relevant against the background of the energy crisis in Europe, when due to brutal Russian energy blackmail, the prices of electricity and gas increased several times, which became a significant problem for the population and the authorities.

The Canadian authorities felt the need of the hour and included small modular reactors among environmentally friendly energy technologies eligible for new investment credits. Private companies are not far behind: the Finnish energy company Fortum has announced plans to build small nuclear reactors in Sweden and Finland. For this purpose, the Finnish authorities intend to change the national legislation on the development of nuclear energy.

Small modular reactors will be manufactured at factories, delivered in disassembled condition to installation sites and assembled there.

“We need more sources of nuclear energy,” said the Minister of Economic Development of Finland Mika Lintilja.

An alternative to dirty coal

In Ukraine, nuclear energy plays a key role in the national energy system and is one of the most powerful among European countries. We operate fifteen power units: 13 VVER-1000 reactors and two VVER-440 reactors, which produce ecologically clean energy. However, the largest station on the continent – Zaporizhia NPP, which has six reactors, is currently occupied by Russian invaders and does not produce electricity for Ukrainian consumers. At the same time, the Rashists are constantly shelling the station, trying to blackmail the world in their usual way.

Therefore, it is understandable and correct that Ukraine, where more than half of the electricity is produced by nuclear power plants, has been trying to advance in the development of such mini-nuclear power plants for several years and offers its expertise to the world.

In 2019, the National Atomic Power Generating Company “Energoatom”, the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, as well as the American company Holtec International signed an agreement on the creation of an international consortium for the introduction of SMR-160 small modular reactor technology in Ukraine. In 2021, Energoatom and the American NuScale Power signed a memorandum to study the possibility of building the company’s nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

Atomic energy expert Olga Kosharna believes that cooperation with Holtec was more beneficial for our country, as it provided for a license agreement that would allow the production of small reactors at Ukrainian facilities. However, this cooperation is currently on hold.

The creation of an international consortium announced at the UN International Conference on Climate Change will be a continuation of the Ukrainian-American partnership in the field of development and technology development of small modular reactors. It is about the fact that the money of foreign private investors will be invested and Ukraine will join the project.

In Ukraine, more than half of the electricity is produced by nuclear power plants /  photo, Andriy Krymskyi

“I think that this is the future of nuclear energy in Ukraine because the era of gigantomania, when large units were built, is over. They are not needed now from the point of view of safety and technology development, because these are more modern reactors,” said Kosharna.

Small reactors do not require large capital investments at the beginning of construction. They can be built on the production sites of thermal power plants that operated on coal, polluting the environment. And also to replace large nuclear power plants after the end of their operation period.

According to preliminary expert assessments, the estimated cost of building one SMR-160 modular reactor is one billion dollars. At a time when one large nuclear power unit will cost ten billion.

It is clear that a billion dollars is quite a significant amount for Ukraine, considering that six small rectors need to be built to replace one VVER-1000 unit.

Is there a willingness to invest in a new direction?

The executive director of the private holding DTEK, Dmytro Sakharuk, said that despite the war and large-scale destruction of power plants and power grids, the company does not abandon plans to invest significant funds in the newest directions. We are talking not only about renewable energy, but also about small modular nuclear reactors.

“I would advise investors to invest not only in renewable energy, but also to look at small modular reactors and hydrogen energy, because these are directions that play a big role not only in Ukraine, but also in the whole world,” said Sakharuk.

“Maybe not now, but tomorrow – it will be a good replacement for outdated capacities, such as, for example, nuclear energy,” he added.

According to the executive director, the new realities of life in Ukraine after the war will force the construction of all national energy facilities only together with the existing air defense system, which, for example, is done by Israel.

Expert Kosharna noted that currently Ukraine has a rather conservative legislation, which establishes that nuclear technologies can be considered only after reference experience of operation.

DTEK says that despite the war and large-scale destruction of power plants and power grids, the company does not abandon plans to invest significant funds in new directions / photo  (Olexandr Sinytsia)

“This means that the reactor must be built in another country, work there. Then, based on the collected information, the regulatory body will consider the possibility of building a reactor in Ukraine,” she explained.

In addition, in her opinion, the project group of the declared consortium should include not only international specialists, but also Ukrainian nuclear design institutes “Kyivenergoproekt” and “Kharkivenergoproekt”.

Ukrainian experts call small modular reactors a very promising direction for the country’s energy industry. But, of course, in order to implement this project, you must first win the war against barbaric Russia.

Before the victory, which will come soon, in order not to waste an hour, the relevant ministry and the energy industry need to do a lot and take care of a lot. So far, it is difficult to imagine how grandiose plans for the construction of a new type of small nuclear power generation in Ukraine and the world will be implemented. However, our country has every chance not to be left behind, but to play a significant role in the progress of humanity and a careful attitude to ecology. And after many hours of sitting in the dark, grateful Ukrainians will certainly support and appreciate the development of new capacities in the national electric power system.

Anna Bredykhina

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