Dutch government allocates funding for nuclear programme

27 April 2023

In its draft Climate Fund for 2024, the Dutch government has budgeted funds totalling EUR320 million (USD352 million) for the development of nuclear energy. The funds will be used for the preparation of the operational extension of the existing Borssele nuclear power plant, the construction of two new large reactors, the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) and for nuclear skills development in the Netherlands.

The existing Borssele plant (Image: ANVS)

In December 2021, the Netherlands' new coalition government placed nuclear power at the heart of its climate and energy policy. Based on preliminary plans, two new reactors will be completed around 2035 and each will have a capacity of 1000-1650 MWe. The two reactors would provide 9-13% of the Netherlands' electricity production in 2035. The cabinet announced in December 2022 that it currently sees Borssele as the most suitable location for the construction of the new reactors.

In a 26 April letter informing the House of Representatives about taking additional climate measures, Minister for Climate and Energy Policy Rob Jetten said: "The cabinet is sharpening the ambition for the electricity sector: the aim is to have CO2-free electricity production, which is affordable and reliable, in the Netherlands as early as 2035."

He said the construction of new nuclear power plants around 2035 "will play an important role in the CO2-free electricity system. If two additional power stations are operational around that time, the share of nuclear energy will grow to more than 10% of the electricity mix. We are also accelerating the development of SMRs that are close to the market in their design phase."

The draft climate budget includes EUR10 million over the period 2023-2025 for extending the operation of the Borssele plant. The funds - which are subject to the approval of the European Commission - are intended for additional studies regarding aging, shareholder structure and business economic feasibility of the extension. The 485 MWe (net) pressurised water reactor currently provides about 3% of the Netherlands' electricity. The plant has been in operation since 1973 and is scheduled to close in 2033.

A further EUR117 million has been budgeted for additional studies on the construction of two new nuclear power plants. "These are specifically about financing models, the tender process, feasibility studies of vendors, a participation plan, a social impact report on new construction, a programme management organisation of the Special Purpose Vehicle which will arrange the tendering, construction and operation of the nuclear power plants to be built," the ministry said.

Speaking at the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2023 conference which took place earlier this month in The Hague, EPZ Fuel Cycle Manager Tom Keij, said: "We will continue to operate our nuclear power plants for more than 60 years and we have two more new ones. It's not sufficient to close the gap between [the Netherlands'] electricity consumption and the needed production capacity in 2050. But at least it's a start."

In addition, EUR65 million has been budgeted for building the country's "knowledge infrastructure". The resources are for education and research, "so that the Dutch nuclear knowledge and research infrastructure can be strengthened".

The government has also allocated funds of EUR62 million "in the form of a working budget for the province of Zeeland and the municipality of Borssele for the ambitions around the extension of Borssele's operating life and the new construction process".

Funding for SMRs

Support for the development of SMRs also receives funds of EUR65 million in the draft budget. "This completes the transition phase from design to realisation, accelerated by establishing a practical link between Dutch manufacturing industry and the developers of SMRs. This applies to SMRs based on conventional nuclear concepts that are close to the transition to realisation." It added, "The goal is to build knowledge in the production chain, control and supervision. The experience gained is also relevant for the construction of two new nuclear power plants."

In August 2022, the UK's Rolls-Royce SMR signed an exclusive agreement with ULC-Energy to collaborate on the deployment of Rolls-Royce SMR power plants in the Netherlands. ULC-Energy - established in 2021 and based in Amsterdam - aims to accelerate decarbonisation in the Netherlands by developing nuclear energy projects that efficiently integrate with residential and industrial energy networks in the country.

The formal planning phase is to start this year, and ULC's timeline sees site selection and contract negotiations taking place in 2024, with a formal licensing application the following year and construction of a first SMR unit beginning in 2027 with a start-up date in the 2030s.

The Dutch regulator must make a final decision on a licence within six months of receiving an application, and ULC is already undertaking pre-licensing work as well as starting EPC negotiations with Rolls-Royce. "Right now we're very much aligned in our messaging," ULC-Energy Executive Director Bas Suijs said at WNFC 2023. "At some point, we're going to be sitting on the opposite side of the table because we have to negotiate with them a contract for a reactor."

Decarbonising the Dutch economy by 2050 will be a "huge challenge", Suijs said. Many of the industries that make up the Netherlands' industrial clusters rely heavily on fossil fuel - predominantly natural gas. "And that has to change," he said. "Not just because of the energy crisis that we're facing, but we're running out of gas. And that, we've known for the last decade."

Production from the Groningen gas field - one of the largest in the world - is to cease in October due to a rising number of earthquakes and this accelerates the need for the development of a scalable, clean baseload solution to support the electrification and hydrogen that will be necessary to achieve industrial decarbonisation, Suijs said. Added to this, Dutch regional grids are struggling to cope with a significant increase in renewable supply, with several regions currently unable to connect new businesses to the grid, is making a "perfect storm", he added.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News