The declaration calls for “a pragmatic approach” to SMR licensing to overcome licensing and regulatory challenges and reduce SMR project risk relating to nuclear regulation and the licensing process. It says SMR design standardisation must be facilitated “to the greatest extent possible”.
“In developing or updating the regulatory framework applicable to SMRs, host country nuclear regulatory bodies should seek to facilitate regulatory harmonisation,” the declaration says. “Regulatory frameworks should be based on International Atomic Energy Agency safety standards and European Union nuclear safety directives should be implemented.”
SMR host countries should also consider compatibility with relevant vendor and reference plants.
The declaration was signed during a virtual conference on SMR deployment in Estonia by Fermi Energia, Finland’s Fortum, Tractabel of Sweden, Vattenfall of Belgium, Synthos of Poland, the Czech Republic CEZ Group, Nuclearelectrica of Romania, the e-Lise Foundation of the Netherlands and the 18for0 lobby group from Ireland.
Fermi Energia said during the conference that it aims to apply to the government to start the planning process for an SMR in late 2021, with the process expected to take up to five years. The first SMR could be operational in the early 2030s and would be one of the first in Europe and the first commercial nuclear plant in Estonia.
Fermi Energia, established in 2019, has said it is “technology neutral” and is following the licensing process for SMR designs in the US and Canada to see which technologies are suitable.
The small EU member state of 1.3 million people has for decades generated most of its energy from burning oil shale.
“Estonia has set an ambitious goal to end electricity production from oil shale by 2035,” Fermi chief executive Kalev Kallemets told the conference. “The reactor would solve this challenge for Estonia and is relevant for the wider region.”
In November 2020, Estonia said it planned to establish a national working group to consider the introduction of commercial nuclear power generation.
The government said the idea of introducing nuclear energy had been discussed at a cabinet meeting and it was decided that a national working group should be created “to define the nation’s positions towards the issue”.
The Fermi Energia SMR initiative also involves Finnish energy companies Vattenfall and Fortum and Belgian engineering company Tractebel. For the past year they have been working on a feasibility study into SMR deployment in Estonia.
Vattenfall said Fermi Energia had begun discussions with two municipalities interested in siting SMRs, but did not name the municipalities. According to press reports in March, Fermi Energia wants to build an SMR near the town of Kunda, in the municipality of Viru-Nigula in the north of the country near the Gulf of Finland.
In October 2019, Fermi Energia and US-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy signed an agreement to collaborate on the potential deployment of GEH’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor in Estonia.