Belgium Govt Invests €100 Million in SMR Research

Belgium’s SCK-CEN nuclear research centre will receive €100 million from the federal government to conduct research into small modular reactors (SMRs)

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaking at the event to mark SCK-CEN’s 70th anniversary. Credit: SCK-CEN website

Belgium’s SCK-CEN nuclear research centre will receive a budget of €100 million from the federal government to conduct research into small modular reactors (SMRs).

Minister of Energy Tinne Van der Straeten said: “The government is making €25 million available per year for research into fourth-generation small modular reactors for a period of four years. This should allow to verify whether sustainable nuclear energy is technically feasible. The researchers of SCK-CEN belong to the absolute world best and are now looking for major breakthroughs in both the technological field and in the field of passive safety, non-proliferation, minimisation of long-lived waste and economic feasibility.”

The government wants the funding to be used to research SMRs that do not use water as a coolant. A liquid metal – sodium or lead – or a gas must cool the reactor core.

If Belgium chooses to explore lead-cooled SMRs, it could benefit from the development pathway of the Multipurpose Hybrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications (Myrrha) accelerator-driven research reactor. Although Myrrha is not an SMR, it shares some principles, such as compactness, the coolant, and thus fast neutrons, SCK-CEN noted.

SCK-CEN can transfer the lessons learned from the Myrrha development pathway to the development pathway of innovative SMRs, although the objective remains fundamentally different. “Innovative SMRs will produce electricity,” explains SCK-CEN Director-General, Eric van Walle. “With Myrrha, we need those fast neutrons to demonstrate that we can convert highly radio-toxic waste into waste that is no longer toxic, gives off less heat, and for the most part has a shorter lifespan. With that process, transmutation, we can reduce the ecological footprint of a future geological repository.”

“We realise that there is still a lot of research work to be done before Belgium can build a first SMR,” added SCK-CEN Deputy Director-General Hamid Aït Abderrahim. “In order to succeed, national and international cooperation – both on a scientific and on an industrial level – is an absolute necessity. Therefore, the research constitutes the start of the search for suitable industrial partners for the realisation of the innovative SMRs.”

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