Small Modular Reactors May Become an Alternative to TPPs

By 2030, Ukraine has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65% from the 1990 levels. These goals were approved by the Government in the Updated Nationally Determined Contribution of Ukraine under the Paris Agreement in July 2021. This indicator is planned to be achieved over the next eight years, particularly, by upgrading energy and industrial enterprises.

It is worth thinking about the strategy of restoring energy enterprises not only because today russia has damaged 40% of thermal generation and 50% of distribution system equipment, but due to international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is another prism through which to analyse future decisions in the energy sector.

The energy infrastructure renovation strategy should not be a copy of the former document. It should contain not only financial, economic and technical parameters for the construction of new power plants or repair of damaged ones, but also be a conceptually new document elaborated with due regard to the war experience.

Furthermore, it should be kept in mind that the pattern of consumption in Ukraine has also changed. There is no longer a big number of energy-intensive facilities. russia destroyed them. The integrated energy system was significantly damaged. And while earlier we were proud of the country’s high level of electrification, now most of the distribution networks have been either very badly damaged or completely obliterated. It makes, therefore, no sense to keep following the Soviet principle of “large generating capacities for large plants.” The energy sector needs new, though not simple solutions.

The energy sector and the burning of fossil fuels causes 67% of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, considerable progress can be achieved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Ukraine’s targets through replacing coal-fired power plants with other cleaner and more innovative technology. Small modular reactors (SMRs) and their combination with renewable energy generation facilities will meet the region’s electricity and heat needs without additional pressure on the environment.

TPP sites already have a number of ready-made solutions for their re-equipment for the construction of small modular reactors. More particularly, these are the availability of power distribution equipment, the very ground area with the appropriate designation purpose, access to water bodies and water storage systems, which are necessary for cooling, as well as rail and road communications that will preserve the logistics supply chains of fuel. There are also a number of other systems and buildings at TPPs that can be repurposed. These are compressed air systems, chemical depots, industrial gas storage systems, wastewater treatment systems, mobile lifting equipment, service and office buildings, etc. In addition, TPPs already have qualified personnel. They, of course, will need to be additionally trained. But preserving human potential and jobs plays an important social role, will reduce social tension in the region and support community development.

Therefore, the conversion of TPP sites for SMR construction will reduce capital investments and curtail the cost of nuclear power plant construction projects.

Thus, the conversion of coal-fired power plants to SMRs will contribute to further electricity output for regional and local needs. Moreover, SMRs can also be used for heat production, which is also important for large and medium-sized cities.

However, not everything can be repurposed or adapted. Important tasks will be decontamination of the TPP site, its assessment from the perspective of nuclear power plant deployment, assessment of SMR impact on the environment, organisation of financial benefits and compensations to the local population, development or revision of emergency preparedness and response plans. Carrying out all necessary procedures to take into account the public opinion is a mandatory condition that has to be met, as Ukraine is a Party to the Aarhus Convention and the Espoo Convention.

These measures should be carried out in either way, whether for a new site or for a TPP site.

There is already practical progress in the conversion of coal-fired TPPs to SMRs. Here the pioneers are Romania and the United States. Back in May last year, Romania’s state-owned SN Nuclearelectrica nuclear energy corporation announced that the coal-fired power plant in Deucesti would be the first location in the country to install SMRs.

As part of the plan to deploy SMRs at TPP sites, the company has already done engineering studies, technical inspection, licensing and completed all permitting procedures.

In the United States, PacifiCorp plans to reduce its coal fleet by two-thirds by 2030 and replace some of its coal-fired power plants with nuclear ones. After relevant studies and evaluation of four sites, a site was selected near the Naughton coal-fired power plant that is going to be decommissioned in 2025. This site was identified as the preferred location for a sodium-cooled fast SMR with molten salt energy storage.

Perhaps, Ukraine should also move towards the conversion of TPPs into SMRs? Since we have plenty of coal-fired power plants, the war has brought significant destruction to the Integrated Energy System, Ukraine has international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, has its own strategies and plans to reduce the carbon footprint. It seems that some energy generating companies have the will and intentions to develop SMRs. There is one little thing left — to make the relevant decisions at the governmental level and work out a strategy to restore the energy system, making the latter up-to-date, flexible, safe and more reliable.

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