Enel and Newcleo Agree to Partner on New Gen-IV Small Modular Reactors

Enel and Newcleo Agree to Partner on New Gen-IV Small Modular Reactors

The Enel Group and clean nuclear technology company newcleo signed an agreement under which they will work together on Generation IV nuclear technology projects.

Under the deal, Enel will collaborate with newcleo by providing “specialized expertise” through the sharing of “a number of the company’s qualified personnel.” newcleo, for its part, will secure an option for Enel as first investor in its first nuclear power plant. newcleo has said the first step of its “delivery roadmap” will be the design and construction of a first-of-a-kind Mini 30-MWe lead fast reactor (LFR) to be deployed in France by 2030, rapidly followed by a 200-MWe commercial unit in the UK. At the same time, newcleo said it will directly invest in a mixed uranium/plutonium oxide (MOX) plant to fuel its reactors from existing nuclear waste.

According to newcleo, LFRs have the ability to be fueled by some of the most long-lived and dangerous waste produced by commercial reactors today. This could reduce the amount of waste that needs to be stored in geological repositories. The company says LFRs (Figure 1) are also capable of extracting up to 100 times the energetic content from natural uranium compared to conventional thermal reactors, resulting in a reduced need for mining and further enhancing waste management.

1. This is a cutaway of newcleo’s LFR-AS-200—a lead fast reactor amphora-shaped (referring to the shape of the inner vessel) 200-MWe small modular reactor design. Courtesy: newcleo


“Innovation is crucial to the development of technologies that can secure clean, reliable, affordable energy that is as independent as possible from geopolitical factors. For this reason, we continue to explore any area of the energy spectrum,” Francesco Starace, CEO of Enel, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “This collaboration with newcleo is the latest example of our tireless search for the best companies to join us on our journey towards a clean future and we look forward to supporting newcleo in its challenging but promising roadmap to provide zero-emission electricity in a safe, affordable and sustainable way.”

The Enel Group has nuclear power experience, with more than 3.3 GW of nuclear capacity currently operating in Spain. Enel also holds a 33% stake in Slovenské elektrárne, the largest electricity producer in Slovakia and one of the largest in Central Europe. Slovenské elektrárne is currently building two new 471-MWe VVER 440/V-213 pressurized water reactor (PWR) units at the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant in southern Slovakia, between Nitra and Levice. Unit 3 was connected to the grid in January. Meanwhile, Unit 4 is reportedly more than 88% complete, according to Slovenské elektrárne.

One significant difference between newcleo’s design and a standard PWR is that it uses lead as the coolant instead of water. The company says, “Lead shows excellent properties for the nuclear application and is abundant, relatively low cost, shows high boiling temperature, does not interact with water, air or fuel—unlike sodium—and offers some radiation shielding. These characteristics allow achieving high efficiencies while working at atmospheric pressure, greatly simplify the reactor design and enhance passive safety in an accident scenario.” newcleo acknowledges that there are “well-known challenges” associated with the use of lead as a coolant, but it appears confident the difficulties can be overcome.

newcleo is privately funded and headquartered in London. The company was launched in 2021 with a mission “to generate safe, clean, economic and practically inexhaustible energy for the world, through a radically innovative combination of existing, accessible technologies.” It says the fast reactor design “has been optimised over the last 20 years leading to the concept of an ultra-compact and transportable 200-MWe module with improvements in energy density compared to other technologies.” Costs are expected to be “kept low by means of simplicity, compactness, modularity, atmospheric pressure operation and elevated output temperature.”

Stefano Buono, CEO of newcleo, said he was delighted that Enel has chosen to partner with his company. “They are showing great foresight in being one of the first energy companies to appreciate and support our sustainable strategy and its impact on our collective future,” Buono said.

newcleo claims to have worked in partnership with top level research institutions, including ENEA (Italy’s national agency for new technologies, energy, and sustainable economic development), Politecnico di Milano, and Politecnico di Torino, and said it is holding constructive conversations with high-ranking government representatives in the UK and France to explore the best options and locations to develop its projects. newcleo was recognized by Deloitte-London as the firm’s “Rising Star” in the 2022 UK Technology Fast 50 awards. Duncan Down, a transaction services partner with Deloitte, said, “Winning the Rising Star award in the Deloitte UK Technology Fast 50 reflects hard work and innovation in the world of technology. The success of newcleo is rooted in its relentless drive to grow in competitive conditions.”

The company envisions its two SMRs filling different roles in the power system. The 30-MWe model “can swiftly meet the commercial demand for small electric generating units, such as for islands, remote communities, or to power large vessels (shipping propulsion).” Meanwhile, the 200-MWe unit “can be an economically competitive solution for central station power plants,” it says.

newcleo’s fast reactor technology is the necessary step in the nuclear industry to enable multiple recycling of already extracted uranium and a massive reduction in nuclear waste. In addition, the use of lead opens the possibility to safer and cheaper reactor operating,” Buono said.

Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).

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