Is Ukraine Ready for Development of Nuclear Technologies at Legislative Level?

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, almost 70 different small modular reactor (SMR) technologies are currently under development. Today, they are planned to be used for clean energy generation, but previously, since the 1950s, they have been used for military purposes, such as icebreakers and aircraft carriers, which must be at sea for long periods without refueling, or for powerful submarines.

Currently, implementation of small modular reactors is a promising area of development for many countries. The implementation of SMR technology has been repeatedly supported by the U.S. President Joe Biden, in particular by approving a 2023 budget for the development of technologies for the production of clean energy in the amount of $2.1 billion, and Canada has its own action plan for the development and deployment of small modular reactors. Romania is also planning to implement small modular reactors, and in June 2022, a contract between the companies NuScale Power and RoPower was signed to perform the first phase of engineering design activities for the construction of the VOYGR-6 SMR in Romania.

Ukraine will also take part in the project for the development and construction of small modular reactors for clean energy generation, which was announced by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi during the 27th UN Climate Conference (СОР27). However, the idea of construction of small modular reactors in Ukraine is not new. Five years ago, in 2017, the idea of creating a hub for the production of equipment for small modular reactors at Ukrainian enterprises was first voiced, and already in 2019, a Partnership Agreement was signed between Energoatom, SSTC NRS and Holtec International. The Agreement provides for the creation of an international consortium, the purpose of which is to promote activities related to the introduction of SMR-160 small modular reactor technology in Ukraine. In 2020, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the SSTC NRS and the NuScale Power company, which enabled assessing national regulatory and design documents related to implementation of NuScale technology for the construction of small modular reactors in Ukraine.

Among the preconditions for the introduction of small modular reactors in the short-term perspective, Energoatom singles out:

  • Ukraine’s commitment, in accordance with the Paris Agreement, that the level of greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will not exceed 60% of the level of greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 (Cabinet Resolution No. 980-r of 16 September 2015);
  • Increasing influence of renewable energy sources on the energy system structure;
  • Deficit of peaking power capacity in the Unified Energy System of Ukraine.

In addition, by 2050 there may be a huge gap in electricity generation, as 880 MW (2 VVER-440) may be decommissioned. In the period from 2040 to 2050, 10 NPP units may reach the end of their service life if their operation is not extended, which may lead to loss of annual electricity generation up to 76 billion kWh. By 2055, operation period of remaining 3 NPP units may expire, which will reduce annual electricity generation by another 21 billion kWh.

It is worth noting that small modular reactors are primarily the same nuclear installations as reactors with a large generating capacity. Accordingly, their implementation will be regulated by the Law of Ukraine “On Nuclear Energy Use and Radiation Safety”, “On Electricity Market” and the Law of Ukraine “On the Procedure for Decision-Making on Siting, Designing, and Construction of Nuclear Installations and Facilities for Radioactive Waste Management, which are of National Importance”.

The issue of physical protection of nuclear installations is regulated in Ukraine by the Law “On Physical Protection of Nuclear Installations, Nuclear Materials, Radioactive Waste, and Other Radiation Sources “, which defines basic principles of activities of physical and legal entities in the physical protection of nuclear installations.

The legal basis for the operation of the electricity market is also the Constitution of Ukraine, other laws of Ukraine such as “On Alternative Energy Sources”, “On the Combined Production of Thermal and Electric Energy (Cogeneration) and the Use of Waste Energy Potential”, “On the National Commission that Carries out State Regulation in the Field of Energy and Communal Services”, “On Natural Monopolies”, “On Protection of Economic Competition”, “On Protection of the Natural Environment”, “On Energy Efficiency”, international treaties of Ukraine, consent to the bindingness of which was given by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, etc.

The Editorial Board of the website asked Maksym Pyshny, an expert of the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, whether Ukrainian legislation is ready for introduction of new nuclear technologies.

– Mr. Maksym, in your opinion, is Ukraine ready for the introduction of small modular reactors at the legislative level?

This issue needs to be split into two: the first will concern legislation at the nuclear regulation/licensing level, and the second one will be legislation to attract investments.

Regarding the legislation at the nuclear regulation/licensing level, I believe that Ukraine has a fairly strong regulatory framework that can be adapted for the introduction of technology in a rather short time period – what we need are only “customers”. By the way, the conformity of the legislation with international standards has been confirmed by such institutions as Euratom and the EBRD, because in order to receive a loan for the implementation of the project “Comprehensive (Consolidated) Program to Increase the Level of Safety of Nuclear Power Units” Ukraine had to confirm that it has the appropriate nuclear legislation, the compliance of which has been confirmed by international institutions.

As for the legislation to attract investments, some regulations should be amended and, perhaps, additional ones should be developed, which will allow attracting investors for the SMR construction. In my opinion, the first SMRs in Ukraine will appear exactly thanks to private investors.

It is worth noting that three Laws of Ukraine on activities in the field of nuclear energy use came into force in December, but they do not provide for the implementation of SMRs in Ukraine. It is about the Law of Ukraine No. 2758-IX dated 16 November 2022 “On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Nuclear Energy Use and Radiation Safety” regarding Radiation Protection Expert”, Law of Ukraine No. 2762-IX dated 16 November 2022 “On Amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Nuclear Energy Use and Radiation Safety”, Law of Ukraine No. 2755-IX dated 16 November 2022 “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine Regarding Improvement of Authorizing Activity in the Field of Nuclear Energy Use”.

– You have already mentioned that it is necessary to further develop the regulations to attract private investors, and what other regulatory documents need to be additionally developed and adopted by Ukraine for the construction of the SMRs?

In accordance with the Ukrainian legislation, the entities of the legislative initiative are the President, people’s deputies and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. Therefore, first there should be a decision of one or all of the above entities regarding development of nuclear generation involving SMRs, and after that, draft laws should be initiated. By the way, in 2019, the President issued a Decree (No. 104/2019 dated 4 April 2019 “On Measures to Support the Development of Nuclear Energy and Increase the Safety Level in the Field of Nuclear Energy Use”), by which the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine decided to facilitate implementation of SMRs at nuclear power plants and ensure production of the equipment necessary for the application of such technologies at domestic enterprises.

The first and biggest obstacle to attract private capital is the provision in the Law of Ukraine “On Nuclear Energy Use and Radiation Safety” regarding the exclusive national ownership rights for nuclear materials, which are an integral part of the production of electricity at a nuclear installation, which, on the other hand, can belong to any entity. Therefore, in my opinion, it is worth studying the experience of other countries and amending this standard.

It is also necessary to amend regulatory documents regulating the issues of the Decommissioning Fund and the Radioactive Waste Management Fund. The reformation of these Funds is “overdue” for quite some time. In case private operators appear, this will contribute to the establishment of their functioning, which will help both the state operator and the State in general.

These are the main amendments that must be made in the event of a decision on the construction of SMRs in Ukraine with the involvement of private investors.

– What international documents shall be ratified by Ukraine to be able to implement the SMRs?

Currently, there are no international documents in the world that would directly regulate implementation of the SMRs and that need to be reviewed and ratified by Ukraine. Perhaps, in order to accelerate the process of implementing and licensing of SMRs, it would be advisable to consider the issue of concluding and ratifying international treaties of Ukraine on mutual recognition of relevant licenses.

– Do you have any information about the projects that will be implemented in Ukraine to deploy SMRs?

Currently, the Ukrainian NPP operator Energoatom has concluded only Memoranda of Understanding with the developers of SMRs (NuScale power and ARC Clean Energy) and the international Consortium “Ukrainian Module” has been established among the operator, the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC NRS) and Holtec International (Consortium activities are “frozen”). In addition, the SSTC NRS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NuScale Power, which provides for the revising national regulatory and design documents related to the implementation of NuScale small modular reactor technology.

There is also already news about possible start of private nuclear generation. Thus, recently the Ukrainian company Eco-Optima and Fermi Energia (Estonia) signed an Agreement to study the possibility of deploying SMRs in Ukraine. Therefore, private companies see the future in implementing SMRs in Ukraine. I think there will be more such news during the year.

– In your opinion, has Ukraine lost its investment attractiveness for the construction of the SMRs in connection with the full-scale invasion of the russian federation into Ukraine?

On the contrary, after destruction of part of the generation capacities, and especially the distribution systems, most experts note that Ukraine needs to focus on decentralized power generation and distribution in the process of recovery. If the expediency of such an approach to restoring Ukraine’s energy system is accepted (and there are already official reports of the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine), then state-level decisions creating favorable conditions for attracting private investments can be made. In addition, Ukraine has a powerful nuclear industrial complex, which can be involved in construction of SMRs and localization of production, which will create a kind of a hub for disseminating technologies throughout Europe and the world. However, it is necessary to make a decision as soon as possible, since the technology developers have already reached agreements of a different level other than signing Memoranda with neighboring European countries, and therefore, Ukraine may lose all the advantages it currently has.

The Editorial Board of the website