IAEA Concludes First Review Of SMR Site Process

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded a safety review of Romania’s process for selecting the site of the country’s planned Small Modular Reactor (SMR), which could become the first SMR built in Europe, the UN's atomic energy task force said.

BucharestIn May, the Romanian Government, through state company Societatea Nationala Nuclearelectrica SA (SNN), announced that it had chosen Doicești, approximately 90 km northwest of the capital Bucharest, as the preferred site for the SMR, following an in-depth study conducted with a United States Trade and Development Agency grant. Romania requested the IAEA to conduct a Site and External Events Design (SEED) review mission to assess the process that was followed in choosing the preferred site. The SEED mission — which took place from 22 to 24 August — was the first ever IAEA SEED mission to look into site selection for an SMR.

SEED missions assist IAEA Member States at different stages in the development of a nuclear power program, including by reviewing site selection, site assessment and design of structures, systems and components, taking into consideration site specific external and internal hazards.

The three-day mission was conducted at the request of SNN. Romania currently has one operating nuclear power plant (NPP) in Cernavodă, which generates around 18 percent of the country’s electricity. The country is considering expanding and modernizing its nuclear power program through the deployment of SMRs at suitable sites, in addition to other actions on the existing large plant site.

SMRs have the potential to contribute to global access to reliable nuclear power. They are a fraction of the size of large reactors — about one-third of the generating capacity of traditional nuclear power reactors — and have lower upfront capital costs, shorter construction times (owing to prefabrication) and pose fewer risks to the population in case of an accident.

The IAEA’s review assessed how Romania conducted the process for the site selection of the SMR against international standards, taking into account potential impacts to a site from external events, such as tsunamis, earthquakes and floods, and potential impacts to the population from low probability accidents at the site.

IAEA team leader Paolo Contri, who is the Head of the External Events Safety Section in the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security said the review process, "will help Romania to prepare for the construction of the SMR, by making sure that potential issues associated with site safety are carefully considered early in the process and that alternative sites are available in the event that the selected site does not meet the requirements on the basis of the detailed site characterization. It is important that potential external hazards are identified early to allow for adequate consideration and assessment of protective measures that may be necessary for the defense in depth approach.”

The mission team comprised three experts from Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom. They met with senior staff from SNN at its premises in Bucharest.

The team's final report is due for completion within three months. For now, the team provided some recommendations to support the optimization of the site selection process and to minimize the risk that the following phases will identify important safety issues that may affect project implementation. In particular, the IAEA team recommended that all data be collected in a site selection summary report include raceable support for later decisions and site evaluation phases. In addition, a suitable graded approach should be applied for the specific technology selected for the SMR to be deployed, and a possible additional data collection phase for the selection process — through light investigation and monitoring — should be implemented for the preferred site, as back-up solutions, focused on the most discriminating selection criteria.

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