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Development of SMRs: European Experts Explore Strategies for Stakeholder Involvement

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Building on decades of experience helping to deploy prototype, demonstration, research and power reactors, CNL is now helping to develop SMRs and to engage with stakeholders. (Photo: CNL)

Open and transparent engagement with stakeholders is essential to building trust, promoting understanding and enhancing confidence in a new or operational nuclear facility. The topic of stakeholder involvement was at the centre of a regional meeting, organized by the IAEA from 18 to 22 January, to help countries interested in the development and deployment of small modular reactors (SMRs) to engage with a range of different stakeholders including non-governmental counterparts, industry and the public.

Stakeholders include the media, local community bodies and non-governmental organizations. As countries assess the viability of SMRs as an option for low carbon electricity and non-power applications, building proactive, trustworthy and long-lasting relationships with the various interested parties is essential. SMRs are advanced reactors that generally produce electricity of up to 300 MW(e) per module. While a few SMRs have been deployed worldwide, many more are at various stages of development.

“This meeting served as the first IAEA event to explore what stakeholder engagement opportunities exist, and what challenges may persist, in the deployment of this new technology, in particular in comparison to large nuclear power plants,” said Lisa Berthelot, Stakeholder Involvement Officer at the IAEA. “International experts from countries more advanced in SMR deployment delivered presentations at the meeting, allowing us to leverage their experience in stakeholder involvement.”

When a new SMR is proposed to be integrated into an industrial park or complex, how best can industry stakeholders be involved? What strategies exist to engage with public questions and concerns regarding the construction of an SMR near a population centre? How is waste treated, and what non-electric applications exist?

These questions, among others, were addressed and explored by international experts from Canada, Denmark, France, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, as well as FORATOM, who shared their broad experience with stakeholder involvement across the entire lifecycle of nuclear facilities.

Canada, for example, is actively planning for the development, demonstration and deployment of SMRs and recently launched an Action Plan that was the result of extensive consultations across the country with officials, utilities, communities, indigenous peoples, academia and civil society.

“Public engagement on nuclear technology is critical to building trust, both trust in you as the proponent and in the technology itself,” said Philip Kompass, Section Head of Employee Communications at the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL).

Seen here from the Meuse bike path near the French-German border, the Cattenom Nuclear Power Plant has benefitted from continuous stakeholder involvement with local partners throughout its operation. (Photo: M. Sepp/Wikimedia)  

“As evidenced by the greater support for nuclear technology in areas closest to operating reactors, education is key to support, and only through early stakeholder engagement will you create the opportunity for this to occur,” explained Kompass, who described his experience promoting stakeholder involvement in support of CNL’s SMR siting initiative during a presentation delivered on at the meeting.

While Russia recently deployed the world’s first advanced SMR, wider deployment of this technology is expected to begin over the next decade, with the IAEA cataloguing over 70 SMR designs under development or construction in 18 countries. SMR components are prefabricated before assembly on site, which is expected to reduce construction times compared to large reactors. Due to their small size, SMRs require less upfront capital and have lower overall financing costs. Capacity can be scaled up by adding units, which may be well suited for non-electric applications such as district heating, seawater desalination or low carbon hydrogen production.

“Participation, consultation and governance are an essential trio for the success of an SMR project,” said Yves Lheureux, the Director of the French National Association of Local Information Committees and Commissions (ANCCLI) and an invited expert speaker.

“Dialogue with civil society is a long road that requires patience, humility, pragmatism, sincerity, loyalty and transparency,” added Anne-Laure Maclot, Social Innovation Officer at the Departmental Council of Moselle in France, which hosts the world’s ninth largest nuclear power plant.

“Maybe the most important tip for me was the approach that everything starts with asking questions—do not assume that you know what may or may not be of interest to stakeholders,” said Marily Jaska, an Advisor in the Ambient Air and Radiation Department of Estonia’s Ministry of Environment. “Regarding SMRs, this is a new concept and technology. This means that communication should be more scientific-based and must consider all benefits and risks.”

This meeting is one of several activities organised under a regional technical cooperation project[1] on assessing the role of low-carbon technology for climate change mitigation, which is helping countries to increase their knowledge in a wide range of SMR-related topics, such as assessing their business case, as well as their role in future energy markets and in climate change mitigation. Across all of these dimensions, stakeholder involvement is an integral part of the process, and will continue to feature in the ongoing technical cooperation project and its activities.

[1] RER2017, ‘Assessing the Role of Low Carbon Energy Technologies for Climate Change Mitigation

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