European Union presses ahead with SMR technology as bitter nuclear feud deepens

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The European Union will forge ahead with the development of small modular nuclear reactors with a view to deploying them by the early 2030s, its energy commissioner has stated, as the Albanese government shuns the uptake of the technology.

While not explicitly weighing in on the proposal to develop nuclear generation in Australia, Kadri Simson, the political bloc’s energy commissioner, told the National Press Club on Monday that Brussels was expecting to rely on small modular reactors (SMRs) technology to help meet its climate targets.

“In Europe, one of the technologies with considerable potential is nuclear, more precisely small modular reactors,” Ms Simson said.

Technological developments on small modular reactors, Ms Simson said, offered an opportunity for low-carbon power generation, while assisting energy supply and reliability.

“They can help bring the price of electricity down, they can produce heat for industrial processes and urban districts, they can generate power for balancing the grid.”

While Ms Simson said it was up to individual EU member states to determine if nuclear was an appropriate addition to its own energy mix, she added governments were increasingly looking to all available renewable and low-emissions energy sources to bolster supply.

“There is a growing sense that we need to be pragmatic and fully leverage the potential of various technologies – including nuclear – for those countries who want to do so,” she said.

Earlier this year, the European Commission established a new industry alliance aimed at accelerating the development of SMRs.

Ms Simson’s address comes amid an increasingly heated debate over the role of nuclear generation within Australia’s energy grid with the Coalition currently developing a policy which proposes to build reactors on the sites of decommissioned coal fired power stations to bolster baseload electricity supply to firm intermittent renewable sources.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has pledged that a future Coalition government would plan to deploy its first SMR by the mid-2030s.

However, industry experts have poured cold water over the proposal, citing that the technology remains in development, is yet to prove commercially viable, and is likely to be extremely expensive.

A US-based venture to develop a small modular nuclear reactor (SMNR) collapsed late last year, squibbing $US600m ($AU930m) of taxpayers’ funds after cost overruns extinguished the project’s commercial viability.

Meanwhile, nuclear powered generation is viewed in some markets, including Europe, as key towards decarbonisation goals, large scale reactors have also been plagued by cost blowout and mutli-year delays.

The United Kingdom’s Hinkley Point C project, which will develop a two-unit 3.2-gigawatt nuclear power station, has been delayed until 2029 at the earliest, an is expected to cost £46bn ($AU88.2bn), more than double its original estimate.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stepped up his attack on the Coalition’s plan, arguing that with SMRs not available for commercial deployment, large scale reactors would take decades to build.

“Peter Dutton’s policy is for nothing to happen, meanwhile for there to be in the future a real shortage of energy because nothing has happened. That’s what his recipe is for,” Mr Albanese said.

“There isn’t a single private sector organisation putting their hand up saying that they want to fund a nuclear reactor here in Australia.”

As Brussels seeks to reduce its reliance on Russia for enriched uranium following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Ms Simson added Australia had a critical role as a supplier of the commodity for civilian nuclear energy generation.

“This was particularly important when supplies were at risk of disruption due to recent geopolitical events,” she said.

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