Bringing a small modular reactor to Estonia will require quite a lot of prior knowledge and research. Clear understanding of the options and their implications is needed before a country can make an informed and knowledge-based decision in principle to go nuclear or not. A decision in principle to use nuclear power does not mean that a decision to build a plant has been taken.
Here is an overview of how the planning of a small modular reactor plant might look like:
How to find a suitable location?
To find suitable sites for a nuclear power plant, a National Special Plan (NSP) is needed. This will analyse which sites are suitable for which type of plant.
It only makes sense to plan a nuclear power plant where it can operate safely and with the least possible impact on its surroundings. It is also wise to exclude unsuitable sites when selecting possible locations. When selecting a possible site for a nuclear power plant, all factors must be considered as a whole, so that both the safety of the plant and its minimal impact on the surrounding environment, including people and the natural environment, ensure. It is not rational to build a nuclear power plant in areas prone to flooding, on the banks of the coast, on the edge of large towns, in a nature reserve, far from major transmission lines or cooling water, or where the geology is not favourable. Understanding and support from the local community is also an important factor, without which it is impossible to do business in a democratic country.
Fermi Energia has ordered a preliminary analysis of the site selection, according to which the most suitable locations for the plant are in Lääne- and Ida-Viru County, both on the coast and, in favourable circumstances, away from the sea. However, these are the results of a preliminary analysis and the selection of a potential site is expected to take place in the middle of this decade, following thorough studies in the context of a specific national planning process.
Where to find staff?
Unfortunately, it will not be possible to train the entire nuclear sector with the will of the private sector alone. It is important that the public sector also contributes, because education and research benefit the whole Estonia, not just the builders and officials involved. New well-paid jobs in the high-tech sector, tax revenues from this sector, revenues for the state budget both at the plant construction and power generation stage, reduced electricity imports, increased energy security and contributing to reaching climate targets are just a few of the positive effects for the Estonian state.
Experts are needed by both the operator and the national supervisor
First of all, there is a need for competent people to join the team of the future operator, a company developing the project (estimated at 70-150 people). The second largest and most important organisation from a national point of view is the nuclear regulator, the National Supervisory Authority (estimated at 30-50 people). For example, the Slovenian Nuclear Regulator employs just over 40 people to supervise the 700MWe Krško nuclear power plant. The amount of resources needed in universities and research institutes will depend on the strategy to be chosen, whether and to what extent we want Estonia to have a nuclear research capability.
In addition to the above, a certain level of competence and relevant knowledge is also needed in ministries and other government departments and agencies where staff already exist (e.g. ambulance, fire brigade, police). In addition, there are also potential Estonian construction companies and suppliers of components.
Developing a nuclear energy policy will in practice mean hiring additional staff for the Energy Department of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Climate and Radiation Department of the Ministry of Environment, as well as further training. The competence to carry out planning is already available in the Ministry of Finance and other agencies. Fermi Energia, as an interested party, is obliged and willing to cover the costs related to the planning activities and the strategic environmental assessment.
After the decision in principle in favour of the nuclear option, the national regulator and/or the relevant areas of the Environment Agency and the Nuclear Safety Authority will also need to be staffed.
There are a number of different international organisations and programmes that provide support to countries and institutions wishing to develop nuclear energy. One of the most important of these is certainly the International Atomic Energy Agency, which assists Member States with various guidelines, training programmes and expert missions. World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) organises a range of training and peer-review programmes. The Western European Nuclear Regulators Association (WENRA) helps to ensure that nuclear safety is maintained at a consistently high level in Member States around the world. There are many other organisations and training and assistance programmes. In addition, transnational cooperation programmes, for example between neighbouring countries, also play an important role. Once a project is so far advanced that a specific reactor technology is selected, the supplier of that technology will help to train the engineers and the more detailed technical knowledge of the specifics and nuances of the particular design, also providing training for future operators to ensure that the necessary competence is in place when it is needed.