Vattenfall considers building SMRs at Ringhals

28 June 2022

Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall announced it is initiating a pilot study looking at the conditions for constructing at least two small modular reactors (SMRs) adjacent to the Ringhals nuclear power plant.

The existing Ringhals plant (Image: Vattenfall)

It said the pilot study will consider the central issues in order to assess the conditions for proceeding with a decision to build at least two SMRs next to the existing Ringhals plant. Work on the pilot study will start immediately and it is expected to be completed by around late-2023 or early-2024.

"We will need all fossil-free energy sources to meet the increasing demand for electricity in Sweden. SMR is a fossil-free technology that has come a long way in recent times, so we want to investigate the conditions for building small modular reactors in the vicinity of Ringhals nuclear power plant," said Vattenfall CEO Anna Borg.

She added: "No investment decisions have been made but, during the spring, Vattenfall's management team have been working on the issue of new nuclear power in Sweden. Provided that a pilot study concludes that it would be profitable and all other conditions for a future investment decision are met, in particular, new regulations for nuclear power, it should be possible to have the first SMR reactor in operation by the early 2030s."

Vattenfall noted there is a need for more electricity generation in southern Sweden, which is why the pilot study is focusing on the conditions for building SMRs in the southern bidding zones, primarily close to Ringhals nuclear power plant.

"Ringhals is a suitable location for new nuclear power for several reasons," explained Torbjörn Wahlborg, head of Business Area Generation at Vattenfall. "On the one hand, we are allowed to replace the two shutdown reactors Ringhals 1 and Ringhals 2 within the existing legislation, and on the other hand, there is already grid infrastructure in place that makes connecting new electricity generation simpler. There's also a lot of acceptance for both existing and new nuclear power at Ringhals and Forsmark. One major advantage is also the comprehensive skill level available at Ringhals."

A framework agreement announced in June 2016 by the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats allows for the construction of up to ten new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire. Setting 2040 as the date at which Sweden should have a 100% renewable electricity system, the document stresses that 2040 is a 'goal' and not a cut-off date for nuclear generation.

Ringhals 1 and 2 were closed at the end of 2020 and 2019, respectively - several years earlier than planned due to the economic impact of punitive taxes. When it announced its intention to close the plants, in 2015, Vattenfall said: "Market conditions and the impact of the high output tax have prompted us to limit investments in Ringhals 1 and 2." The final decision was made in October 2015. Two other reactors will continue to operate at Ringhals until the early 2040s.

In June 2021, Vattenfall signed an agreement with the Estonian nuclear energy start-up company Fermi Energia in order to become a minority shareholder of the company with a seed investment of EUR1 million (USD1.2 million). Fermi Energia is studying the deployment of SMRs in Estonia. In addition to Vattenfall, the initiative involves other European energy companies, including Finnish power company Fortum and Belgian engineering firm Tractebel.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News