Dutch study finds commercial support for nuclear new build

08 July 2021

Market participants - such as contractors, operators and suppliers - would invest in the construction of new nuclear generating capacity in the Netherlands provided the government contributes to the cost and there is public support, a report by consultancy firm KPMG indicates. In response to the study, demissionary Minister for Economic Affairs Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius has requested a study into the possibility of including nuclear power in the country's plans for meeting energy and climate goals.

(Image: KPMG)

A motion was adopted in the House of Representatives on 17 September 2020 in response to a motion by Klaas Dijkhoff - former leader of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy - who asked the cabinet to investigate the conditions under which market parties are prepared to invest in nuclear power plants in the Netherlands, what public support is required for this, and in which regions there would be interest in hosting a nuclear power plant. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy subsequently asked KPMG to conduct a market consultation on nuclear energy in the Netherlands.

KPGM began work on the study on 8 February this year. It interviewed 41 national and international market participants, including contractors, core technology suppliers, operators, decommissioning specialists and financiers. Interviews were also conducted with 14 Dutch regions. Publicly-available information sources were also consulted.

Proven technology preferred

The consultation found most of the potentially involved companies emphasised the importance of choosing a proven reactor technology that meets applicable safety requirements. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are seen as an interesting option, but these are not yet commercially available. An SMR based on a generation III+ reactor design is expected to take about 10 years to licence and build, but a proven design will only become available in 2027-2035 at the earliest, the study found.

The market participants said Generation IV reactors have potential benefits in terms of safety and/or waste, but are not expected to be commercialised until after 2040, as a result of which they will come to market too late to achieve the 2050 climate target. Market parties therefore indicated broadly that the Netherlands should opt for a Generation III+ reactor now and in due course for a Generation IV reactor once the technology has been proven.

The study found that market participants consider stable government policy with regards to nuclear energy a pre-condition for nuclear new build. They said the substantial financing size, substantial risks and lead time mean government involvement seems inevitable. This could be by providing guarantees to financing risks.

KPMG found that provincial authorities in the province of Zeeland - where the country's only operating nuclear power plant, Borssele, is located - were in favour of another plant being built. In addition, the province of Noord-Brabant said the construction of a plant there would be negotiable under certain conditions.

Furthermore, there was wide support for the Borssele plant, whose 485 MWe (net) pressurised water reactor is currently scheduled to shut down in 2033, to be kept online longer as it is economically profitable and nuclear knowledge would be preserved. However, it still needs to be investigated what investments will be required for this.

Further studies

In response to KPMG's report, Minister for Economic Affairs Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius yesterday wrote to the House of Representatives saying she has requested a study examining how nuclear energy can play a role alongside other sustainable energy sources, such as solar and wind, for the period 2030 to 2050 and beyond.

She said she is also exploring how the country's Nuclear Energy Act can be amended to keep the Borssele plant in operation for longer. This is at the request of the House of Representatives, following a motion by Agnes Mulder and Mark Harbers.

"We do not have the luxury of excluding a sustainable energy source," Yesilgöz-Zegerius said. "The Netherlands wants to emit less CO2 and generate more sustainable energy. To achieve our climate goals, we will have to pull out all the stops, including nuclear energy if it is profitable and safe. That is why I also want to look at how we can maintain and strengthen the nuclear knowledge we have in the Netherlands. We must keep all options open."

Nuclear power currently has a small role in the Dutch electricity supply, with the Borssele plant - which began operating in 1973 - providing about 3% of total generation.

Last year, EPZ - operator of the Borssele nuclear power plant - called for an extension to its operation beyond 2033 and/or the construction of two new large reactors at the site in order to help the Netherlands meet its energy and climate goals.

The KPGM report (in Dutch) can be downloaded here.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News