EU to accelerate development of SMRs in nuclear industry

19 February 2024 | Knowledge, News, The Right Focus

On 6 February 2024, the European Commission published a Communication,[1] launching a public debate on the European Union’s 2040 climate targets. The European Climate Law[2] sets an ambitious goal for the EU to become climate neutral by 2050.

By then, interim targets (for 2030 and 2040, respectively) are also to be achieved,[3] with a gradual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Communication, new investments in nuclear energy, among other things, can contribute to achieving these targets. In this context, the Commission has announced measures to develop small modular reactors (SMRs) in the EU.

SMRs: what they are

Nuclear technology has been evolving for several decades, with new design solutions to increase reactor efficiency, whilst reducing reactor size. SMRs are expected to be the next step in this evolution.

SMRs offer:

  • Significantly smaller size compared to conventional nuclear units
  • The possibility of being assembled often from prefabricated components, which can reduce production time and costs
  • The possibility of using nuclear energy in completely new locations, e.g. directly on industrial sites, and of combining several reactors to match energy demand

From an environmental perspective, small reactors, like their larger counterparts, generally produce no greenhouse gas emissions during operation.[4] They can therefore be a tool contributing to the decarbonisation of the energy industry, providing stable supply and low prices of energy.

SMRs: what the EU is planning

According to the Communication, all zero- and low-carbon energy technologies (including nuclear) are essential to decarbonise the energy system by 2040.

To stimulate investment in SMRs, the Commission plans to set up an Industrial Alliance to facilitate cooperation between all stakeholders in the deployment of this technology.

The EU aims to ensure a robust supply chain of components for SMRs and an associated skilled workforce. These measures are expected to accelerate the deployment of the first reactors by as early as 2030.

What an EU small-scale nuclear industry can expect

The Communication does not yet introduce specific legal mechanisms for the development of a small-scale nuclear industry in the EU. However, it undoubtedly heralds new work and legislative directions at European level that may assist the implementation of SMR projects in the coming years.

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Wojciech Wrochna

Bartosz Brzyski

[1] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘Securing our future. Europe’s 2040 climate target and path to climate neutrality by 2050 building a sustainable, equitable and prosperous society’, COM(2024) 63 final, 6 February 2024 [accessed: 7 February 2024].

[2] See Article 2(1) of Regulation (EU) 2021/1119 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 June 2021 establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and amending Regulations (EC) No 401/2009 and (EU) 2018/1999 (‘European Climate Law’) (OJ L, 2021, No. 243, p. 1).

[3] See Article 4 of the European Climate Law.

[4] How can nuclear combat climate change?, World Nuclear Association [accessed: 7 February 2024].

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Wojciech Wrochna, LL.M.

Wojciech Wrochna, LL.M.

Partner, Head of Energy, Infrastructure & Environment Practices Group

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