Estonian company Fermi Energia has selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor for the country’s first nuclear power plant. The reactor will provide Estonia and foreign customers with a 300 MWe clean electricity source. However, to start construction, it will be necessary to seriously change the country’s legislation in the field of nuclear regulation, which should happen as soon as possible.
In September 2022, the Estonian Fermi Energia announced a competition for projects of small modular reactors, the main advantages of which include relatively fast construction, relatively low costs and increased operational safety. The projects of GE Hitachi, NuScale and Rolls-Royce units were submitted to the competition. Bids were submitted by December with full technical documentation needed to estimate construction costs. According to the company, the technology selection criteria were technological maturity, the creation of a reference plant, economic competitiveness and the participation of Estonian companies in the supply chain.
The other day Fermi Energia announced the choice made. The BWRX-300 GE Hitachi reactor was chosen as a working design. This choice was most decisively influenced by the fact that a similar plant will be built in Canada. More precisely, the BWRX-300 project has been accepted by the Canadian regulator for licensing, and preparations for construction may soon begin. Everything goes to the fact that this will be the first small modular reactor built on the North American continent. It’s not a working rig yet (as the terms of the contract required), but the rest of the developers don’t even have that. The NuScale reactor went through a number of milestones in obtaining a license, but the application for construction in the US will not be submitted until the first quarter of 2024.
Another important advantage of the BWRX-300 reactor must be considered that it uses traditional fuel, while the NuScale reactor will require fuel based on metallic high-grade low-enriched uranium fuel (HALEU) with a uranium-235 isotope content of 20% (in conventional fuel it no more than 5%). Only Russia has enough HALEU fuel, and the Estonian company probably considered such dependence unnecessary.
Finally, the principle of operation of the BWRX-300 reactor is based on the scheme of boiling water-water reactors, which have been used for a long time in large installations, in which water is converted into superheated steam in the core. All this has been repeatedly tested in practice and is very reliable, but at the same time, due to scaling down, it will lead to a multiple increase in radioactive waste. Perhaps this is the only serious disadvantage of MMPs built according to classical schemes.
The selection of the BWRX-300 reactor for implementation in Estonia starts the procedure for developing a detailed design for budgeting. Next, legislators should step in to create a legal basis for the implementation of the project. After that, the search and certification of sites for the construction of the reactor will be launched. By the time construction starts in Estonia, the BWRX-300 project should be fully developed in Canada, which the Estonians are counting on, since there is not a single such reactor in the world and someone’s experience will help to avoid many mistakes on the spot. Ultimately, the BWRX-300 MMP is expected to be launched by Fermi Energia by Christmas 2031. For GE Hitachi, which hopes to take over the European nuclear market, this will be a matter of honor.
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