Government to provide funding of €100m over four years Prime minster Alexander De Croo said SCK CEN will ‘lead Belgium towards sustainable nuclear energy’. Belgium’s nuclear research centre SCK CEN is to conduct research into small, modular reactors of the future with a budget of €100m over four years from the federal government.

Nuclear research at SCK CEN, at Dol to the northeast of Brussels, has generally focussed on the safety and technical life of reactor components for Belgium’s fleet of seven commercial nuclear power plants.

But Eric van Walle, SCK CEN’s director-general, said the government has decided to invest in research into innovative SMRs, potentially in cooperation with national and international partners.

In a speech to mark SCK CEN’s 70th anniversary, prime minster Alexander De Croo said SCK CEN will “lead Belgium towards sustainable nuclear energy”.

Energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten said the €100m funding would be made available in four tranches of €25m over four years for the development of Generation IV reactor technologies. “This should allow us to verify whether sustainable nuclear energy is technically feasible,” she added.

If Belgium chooses to explore lead-cooled SMRs, it could benefit from lessons earned during the development of the Myrrha research reactor. Myrrha is not an SMR, but it shares some principles, such as its size and the lead-bismuth coolant it uses.

The Myrrha project, supported by the European Union, is to design and build a multifunctional research installation.

Myrrha will be the first prototype of a nuclear reactor driven by a particle accelerator. The system consists of a proton accelerator that delivers a beam to a spallation target, which in turn couples to a subcritical lead-bismuth cooled fast reactor.

Belgium’s decision to launch an SMR programme follows concerns over energy security and the planned phaseout of the country’s large-scale reactors.

A federal law of 31 January 2003 requires the phaseout of all nuclear electricity. The law was amended in 2013 and 2015 to provide for the Tihange-1, Doel-1 and Doel-2 reactors to remain operational until 2025.

In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and goals to reduce fossil fuel dependency, the federal government decided in March to take steps to extend 2 GW of nuclear capacity at Tihange-3 and Doel-4 by 10 years, including modifying the 2003 law. Under this new arrangement, most of Belgium’s nuclear generation capacity will be phased out by 2025.

Background

Nuclear energy has historically provided over half of Belgium’s electricity generation. Belgium has seven nuclear reactors located at two nuclear power plants: Doel in Flanders (four reactors) and Tihange in Wallonia (three reactors), with a combined generation capacity of 5.94 GW.

From 2012 to 2020, electricity generation from nuclear experienced notable annual variations resulting from a combination of technical, regulatory, policy and external factors, and leading to an average capacity factor of 68.3%. In 2020, all seven of Belgium’s reactors were once again fully operational, with nuclear availability reaching up to 92% in 2021.

All seven of Belgium’s reactors are operated by the private company Electrabel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Engie. Electrabel owns 50% of Tihange-1, 89.8% of Tihange-2 and Tihange-3, 100% of Doel-1 and -2, and 89.8% of Doel-3 and -4. The private company

Luminus owns 10.2% of Tihange-2 and -3 and Doel-3 and -4. EDF Belgium owns a 63.5% stake in Luminus, and also holds a 50% stake in Tihange-1.

Date: Thursday, 26 May 2022
Original article: nucnet.org/news/sck-cen-gets-go-ahead-for-research-into-next-generation-smrs-5-3-2022