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Study Shows Potential for Operation of Modular Nuclear Reactors in the Netherlands

Netherlands: A Different Trend Than in Germany | Image by Monica Schreiber on Pixabay

A recently published study, commissioned by Dutch Minister of Climate Rob Jetten, suggests that the approval and construction of smaller, modular nuclear reactors could be implemented faster than previously thought. The investigation, conducted by the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG), demonstrates the possibility of building approved and established water-cooled modular nuclear reactors within seven years. However, the implementation of novel nuclear technologies not previously utilized in the Netherlands would require more time.

The Dutch government plans to construct two new nuclear power plants as an alternative to fossil fuels in order to achieve their climate goals by 2035. Minister Jetten has chosen the Borssele site in the province of Zeeland, where an existing nuclear reactor is located, as the preferred location for the two new larger nuclear power plants. While Jetten closely monitors developments in the field of smaller modular reactors, the cabinet has not yet made an official decision on the so-called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), which are also under discussion in other countries such as France, the United Kingdom, and Belgium.

Some companies claim to already have an operational modular reactor by 2030. Jan Leen Kloosterman, Professor of Reactor Physics at TU Delft, recently referred to this ambition as "technically feasible." Other experts anticipate a longer lead time. Advisor Ruut Schalij forecasted that between 2035 and 2040, electricity could be generated from an SMR in the Netherlands if the construction process were to commence now. Retired Professor Wim Turkenburg identified 2045 as a realistic target for the Netherlands.

Compared to planned large-scale nuclear power plants, SMRs offer more cost-effective procurement options. Additionally, modular reactors can be completed faster due to the standardized production of all components in factories. Unlike large-scale power plants, a standardized construction approach is applied. Smaller reactors can provide on-site heat and energy for heavy industries while requiring less cooling water. As a result of these advantages, the province of Limburg has already expressed interest in modular reactors. In particular, the Chemelot chemical park in Limburg could have a high demand for process heat and energy from SMRs. It is expected that these smaller reactors could also play a role in rural areas to ensure a reliable and decentralized energy supply. However, safety and waste disposal aspects related to SMRs need to be considered. Comprehensive evaluation and monitoring of this technology are necessary to minimize potential risks and ensure safety. Adequate regulation and waste management are crucial to avoid potential negative impacts. Several countries, including the Netherlands, are currently exploring the possibility of SMRs as a future option for nuclear energy.

The study and market analysis provides valuable information for the Dutch government to make informed decisions regarding the country's future energy supply. The discussion on the use of nuclear energy, especially SMRs, will continue as the Netherlands intensify its efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and rely on renewable energies. Time will tell if modular nuclear reactors can make a significant contribution to the Netherlands' energy supply and support the set goals in terms of climate change and sustainability.

Situation in Germany

In Germany, the last three nuclear power plants have been permanently closed. Originally, they were supposed to be shut down last year, but due to the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, the closure was postponed. The nuclear power plants in Lower Saxony, Bavaria, and Baden-Württemberg were finally decommissioned in mid-April 2023. The phase-out of nuclear power was accelerated after the Fukushima disaster. Germany is increasingly relying on coal-fired power plants and gas to meet its energy demand, as the expansion of renewable energies has been progressing slowly. In contrast, the Netherlands is exploring the possibility of smaller modular reactors to diversify its energy supply. While Germany is moving away from nuclear power, the Netherlands is considering innovative solutions for future energy needs. This divergence in approach reflects the varying strategies adopted by different countries in their pursuit of sustainable and reliable energy sources.

Sources:
[1] NRC, "Studie: in zeven jaar kunnen kleinere, modulaire kernreactoren draaien in Nederland", https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2023/05/23/studie-in-zeven-jaar-kunnen-kleinere-modulaire-kernreactoren-draaien-in-nederland-a4165319, retrieved on 23 May 2023.
[2] Tweede Kamer, "Antwoord op vragen van de leden Erkens en Bontenbal over het artikel 'Provincie Limburg zet nieuwe stap in grootschalig onderzoek naar kernenergie'", https://www.tweedekamer.nl/kamerstukken/kamervragen/detail?did=2023D20283&id=2023Z05487, retrieved on 23 May 2023.
[3] Rijksoverheid, "Kernenergie in Nederland'", https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/duurzame-energie/opwekking-kernenergie, retrieved on 23 May 2023.

 

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