Consortium to speed up development of lead-cooled SMRs

09 November 2023

Five partners from Belgium, Italy, Romania and the USA have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the development, demonstration and commercialisation of lead-cooled small modular reactors (SMRs).

The signing of the MoU (Image: SCK-CEN)

The agreement is between Belgium's SCK-CEN nuclear research centre, ENEA (the Italian national agency for new technologies, energy and sustainable economic development), Italy's Ansaldo Nucleare, Romania's Regia Autonoma Tehnologii pentru Energia Nucleara (RATEN) and Westinghouse Electric Company of the USA.

The MoU was signed in Brussels in the presence of Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, Romania's President Klaus Iohannis and representatives from the Italian and US embassies in Belgium.

"With their combined efforts and shared drive to implement a cost-competitive energy-generating solution, the partners will nurture this promising technology, facilitating the commercial-scale deployment of sustainable nuclear energy," SCK-CEN said. "The newly formed collaboration has outlined a clear vision, based on a step-wise approach to demonstration. Beginning with a small-size reactor to demonstrate the technological and engineering aspects of the commercial SMR-LFR in Mol, Belgium."

It noted: "The Lead-cooled Fast Reactor design developed by Westinghouse will be the starting point for this project ultimately targeting its global commercialisation."

The consortium will initially work towards the next development phase, which is the construction of the Advanced Lead-cooled Fast Reactor European Demonstrator (ALFRED) in Pitești, Romania, focusing on the technical and economic feasibility of future commercial SMRs. It will leverage and expand the work done over the past 10 years by Ansaldo Nucleare, ENEA and RATEN under the Fostering ALFRED Construction (FALCON) consortium toward this objective.

A 300 MWt demonstration ALFRED unit is being built at RATEN-ICN's facility in Mioveni, near Pitesti, where a fuel manufacturing plant is in operation for the country's two operating Candu reactors. ALFRED is seen as a prelude to an industrial demonstration unit of about 300-400 MWe. The lead-cooled reactor will employ mixed-oxide fuel and will operate at temperatures of around 550°C. It features passive safety systems. The total cost of the project is put at some EUR1.0 billion (USD1.1 billion).

The conceptual design of the ALFRED reactor and the integrated project were led by Ansaldo Nucleare under the seventh Euratom framework programme. ENEA performed the core design, technological development and safety analyses through numerical and experimental approaches.

"Thanks to the Myrrha (Multipurpose Hybrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications accelerator-driven research reactor) project, SCK-CEN is a global leader in lead-bismuth research, and it will merge its acquired knowledge with RATEN's extensive expertise in lead and ENEA’s widespread experience in lead technology development," SCK-CEN said. "Westinghouse Electric Company and Ansaldo Nucleare will bring extensive experience in design, licensing, construction and commercialization of nuclear power plants globally."

Prime Minister De Croo said: "A year and a half ago, we took the strategic decision to accelerate our energy transition. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, limiting our gas emissions and our dependence on countries like Russia, by investing massively in offshore energy, hydrogen infrastructure, but also the nuclear power of the future. We have decided to do this by drawing on the expertise developed in Belgium, and by allocating EUR100 million to the research and development of SMRs.

"From the beginning, we are convinced that this would be set up in cooperation with international partners. The agreement SCK-CEN has just signed today with Ansaldo Nucleare, ENEA, RATEN and Westinghouse is the first visible milestone in this strategy, a solid foundation on which we will continue to build."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News