IAEA gives thumbs-up to Estonia’s nuclear infrastructure development

November 8, 2023, 7:00AMNuclear News
Eric Mathet (left), operational lead of the IAEA’s nuclear infrastructure development section, presents the INIR mission report to Antti Tooming, deputy secretary general of Estonia’s Ministry of Climate and head of the country’s nuclear energy working group.

A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency recently concluded an eight-day mission to Estonia, finding that the Baltic state has developed a comprehensive assessment of its nuclear infrastructure development needs, enabling the government to make an informed decision on whether to pursue a nuclear power program.

Estonia established a nuclear energy working group in April 2021 to review the infrastructure required for such a program. A comprehensive report from the group, expected to be finalized next month, will provide recommendations to help the government reach a decision.

The IAEA team—made up of three international experts from Brazil and the United Kingdom, as well as six agency staff members—reviewed the status of 19 nuclear infrastructure issues using the agency’s evaluation methodology, which gauges the readiness of a country to make a knowledgeable commitment to a nuclear power program.

According to an October 30 IAEA press release, the team identified “good practices in Estonia’s approach” and said that the country “now needs to finalize its comprehensive report to support the decision on a potential nuclear power program, including with clear timelines for the major activities.” In addition, Estonia should “complete its plans and policies and give further consideration to the development of its legal and regulatory framework to support the next phase of the program,” the release stated.

Official words: “Estonia is well organized in its preparations towards the decision on launching a nuclear power program to support the country’s just transition towards net-zero carbon emissions,” said Eric Mathet, operational lead of the IAEA’s nuclear infrastructure development section and team leader for the mission. “During the cooperative and open discussions held over the past days, we observed the strong commitment from Estonia’s highly motivated and competent professionals to developing the infrastructure needed for a nuclear power program.”

Antti Tooming, deputy secretary general of Estonia’s Ministry of Climate and head of the country’s nuclear energy working group, said he welcomed the team’s findings, which are to be integrated into his group’s report. “The mission provided us with reassurance that we are on the right track with our nuclear energy considerations and gave us valuable insights for follow-up activities in the next phase if Estonia decides to embark on nuclear power,” he added.

Background: According to the International Energy Agency, most of Estonia’s energy comes from domestically produced shale oil, giving it a significant degree of energy independence, but also the highest carbon intensity among all IEA countries. (There are no nuclear power facilities in Estonia.) In early 2021, the Estonian government announced plans to halt the production of shale oil by 2035 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In September 2022, Fermi Energia—a privately held Estonian company formed in 2019 to investigate the possibility of bringing small modular reactors to the country to address both climate and energy security goals—issued tenders to three SMR firms: GE Hitachi (GEH), NuScale Power, and Rolls-Royce SMR, developers of the BWRX-300, NuScale Power Module, and Rolls-Royce SMR, respectively.

In February of this year, the Estonian firm selected GEH’s BWRX-300 for potential deployment.

GEH and Fermi Energia have worked together since 2019, when an agreement was reached to collaborate on potential deployment applications for the BWRX-300. The collaboration advanced in 2021 when the two parties entered into a teaming agreement to work together in areas that included licensing support and supply chain development.

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