February 8, 2024
North Macedonia and Slovenia are in talks with the United States and the United Kingdom on projects to install small modular reactors, the governments in Skopje and Ljubljana have said. Slovenia had already announced plans to harness this innovative technology, and now it is known who it will work with, while North Macedonia’s decision marks a new development in the region.
Slovenia and North Macedonia have now joined the group of European countries that are either working on projects to install small modular reactors (SMRs) or are interested in them. These include countries in Eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic – but also nations in Northern, Southern, and Western Europe – Finland, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, and Sweden.
The interest in SMR technology is due to an ongoing revival of nuclear energy, seen by many European Union (EU) members as a legitimate choice for their energy mix, as well as a way to phase out coal. It is worth noting that this is an emerging technology, and that there is currently only one operational SMR in the world – Russia’s Akademik Lomonosov. Moreover, supporters of SMR technology were dealt a serious blow when a pilot project of the US-based NuScale was stopped in November 2023.
In the region tracked by Balkan Green Energy News, only Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Cyprus, Kosovo*, and Greece have not been mentioned in the context of nuclear energy, which is a minority compared to Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Turkey.
Serbian officials have said the country is interested in buying a stake in one of the nuclear plants planned in the region (such plans exist in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia), that it wants to participate in the construction of the Paks nuclear plant in Hungary, and even that it could built its own nuclear power plant, or small modular reactors.
America and Project Phoenix
The development of small modular reactors in Europe is largely led by the US, as is the case in Slovenia, but France should not be overlooked either.
Cooperation with the US is part of Project Phoenix
The Slovenian government has said that US Ambassador to Slovenia Jamie Lindler Harpootlian has handed a letter to Tina Seršen, the State Secretary in the Ministry of the Environment, Climate, and Energy, awarding Slovenia technical advisory and consulting services funded by the US. The services, according to the announcement, are part of Project Phoenix – a program for coal-to-nuclear small modular reactor (SMR) conversion.
The project, launched by the US Department of State, is intended for Europe and Eurasia, offering workshops, feasibility studies, and advisory services. It kicked off in November 2023, when the start of cooperation with Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic was announced. The three countries will receive financial and technical support for feasibility studies [on the transition from coal-fired thermal power plants to nuclear energy], according to US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
Sargent & Lundy will advise Slovenia
In June 2023, the Slovenian Ministry of the Environment, Climate, and Energy successfully applied to participate in Project Phoenix, according to a press release from the US Embassy in Slovenia The application was prepared in cooperation with state energy companies GEN Energija, Termoelektrarna Šoštanj, and Holding Slovenske elektrarne, with the help from consultancy HATCH.
Later, ELES and the Slovenian Nuclear Safety Administration (URSJV) also joined the project. Power and energy services company Sargent & Lundy was competitively selected by the US Department of State to receive a grant to provide Slovenian SMR stakeholders with coal-to-nuclear technical advisory and consultancy services, according to the press release.
Tina Seršen said that participation in Project Phoenix provides Slovenia with an opportunity to meet the commitments of its National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), which includes examining the possibilities of introducing new nuclear technologies.
According to her, new nuclear technologies primarily means Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Modular Reactor technologies (SMRs and AMRs).
Bytyqi: North Macedonia negotiating with US and UK
North Macedonia has been working on decarbonization over the past few years by building solar power plants and wind farms, and preparing projects for gas power plants. Its latest move was the drafting of bills and agreements on strategic partnership with private companies for the construction of three solar power plants and a cogeneration plant.
The documents were prepared after several years of negotiations, but they have still drawn public criticism, mainly over the subsidies the investors will receive and because state-owned power utility Elektrani na Severna Macedonia (ESM) is not investing enough. Responding to the criticism, Deputy Prime Minister Fatmir Bytyqi has said he expects the country to emerge from the crisis, allowing ESM to start implementing its own investment projects.
The investment is valued at some EUR 2 billion
He recalled that an agreement has already been signed with the US-based General Electric to build the 800 MW Negotino gas-fired power plant, and that the installation of the 300 MW Bitola gas power plant is being prepared.
In addition, negotiations are under way with the US and the UK on the installation of small modular reactors, he announced, according to local media.
Bytyqi sadi that the investment has been estimated at about EUR 2 billion for a an installed capacity of 470 MW.
He also said that the four projects for which agreements have been prepared will bring multiple benefits to North Macedonia, including the long-term predictability of electricity prices.