EDF sees huge market for small reactors to replace fossil fuels

Image: Electricite de France SA

Electricite de France SA, the world’s biggest operator of atomic plants, sees a huge global market for small reactors from the next decade to replace fossil-fuel generators as countries scramble to meet carbon-emission reduction goals.

Companies including NuScale Power LLC in the U.S., China National Nuclear Corp. and Russia’s Rosatom, are racing to develop so-called small modular reactors that would be easier and faster to build than large atomic plants. They’re betting on the appeal to developing nations that don’t need large reactors, but would still need carbon-free generators to supplement wind and solar power.

“I’m convinced we’ll see a market that will be considerable in the years 2030-2040 in the entire world,” Xavier Ursat, head of EDF’s new nuclear projects, said at a conference Wednesday. “We’re convinced that a lot of countries will be very late in their low-carbon strategies, and will urgently need to replace oil, coal and possibly gas-fired plants.”

EDF aims to complete the basic design of a 170-megawatt reactor by the end of next year, and to convince the French government to build a pilot project by about 2030, Ursat said. Having a pilot plant in France is key to win exports, he said.

Pairs of such compact reactors could easily fit at current sites of coal, oil and gas-fired power generators, Ursat said.

In France, EDF is seeking government approval to build 6 new reactors of about 1,650 megawatts to replace some of its aging atomic plants. The new units would be very similar to the European Pressurized Reactors that EDF has completed in China and constructing in France and the U.K., though with an easier-to-build design.

EDF also plans to have completed the design of a 1,200-megawatt version of the EPR that would be ready for a tender to be held in the Czech Republic, Ursat said.

EDF and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. have abandoned the joint development of reactor with a similar capacity – called Atmea – because it doesn’t suit French needs and no other country wants to buy a first-of-a-kind model, he said.

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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