In Quotes: Nuward's Renaud Crassous on SMR plans

15 May 2023

In an interview for the World Nuclear News podcast, the President and CEO of Nuward, Renaud Crassous, explained EDF's decision to set up a wholly-owned subsidiary to drive forward development of its Nuward small modular reactor, and how it aims to be "Europe's SMR". He also discusses the broader prospects for SMRs and new nuclear.

Crassous says the aim is for first concrete in France in 2030 (Image: Nuward) Here is an edited transcript of parts of the World Nuclear News podcast, which you can also listen to via the embedded player below (the interview starts 10 minutes into the episode) or on any podcast players.

About the Nuward SMR

Nuward as a product is a 340 MWe plant with third generation technology. The plant is built with two 170 MWe reactors. It is a full integrated pressurised water reactor (PWR) - we think it's really complementary to the big plants and it's also expected from many clients in the world. What is very interesting with SMRs is that among the clients, or the potential clients, that we have, we do not have only classic utilities that are interested in nuclear, but also industrial players or utilities that had never been involved with nuclear before, so it's widening the scope of civil nuclear in the energy transition.




What is the rationale for EDF to create the Nuward subsidiary company?

The aim is to combine the agility of a small company dedicated to Nuward's development of this product and the fact that we have gathered on this project all the big companies that have deep skills and a large experience on various PWR reactors. So we tried to combine those two things, agility and autonomy, while also keeping very close contact and tight cooperation with all these big actors in the nuclear sector. A main objective is speed because clients, or potential clients, all expect rapid delivery and we also have competitors that are racing against climate change as we do, and we all have as a target 2030. So to reach that we must go much faster than we have had to in the past, and this new company is fully focused on the fact that we need to deliver this product very quickly.

What is the timeline for first concrete for Nuward SMR?

The Nuward project was launched in 2019 and the constant timeline has been to focus on 2030 as the best compromise between the expectation of the potential market and our ability to grow quickly to deliver this new product.

What about the international regulatory cooperation in the joint early design review

We absolutely need some common principles and some common rules so that we can reduce the work required to adapt a design between countries or neighbouring countries, so we decided to make a step in that direction, with the help of the French regulator, who has the lead on this, with the joint early review. The regulators (French, Czech and Finnish) discuss among themselves our design, which is very important, but that is really the first step. They share the information, they share how they converge or how they diverge about one or two specifications on the safety case, etc. And the step after is that they begin to envisage how they could converge towards a common specification or common expectation. I would not talk about 'harmonisation' because harmonisation is really a difficult task and probably a long, long trip for regulators. I would talk probably more about 'equivalences'. That is to say that one regulator could say, 'OK, I accept the way that you have licensed this part of the design or this part of the safety case and it is not the way I would have done it, but I accept that it is relevant so I can base my assessment on that'.

Do you expect it to speed up approvals in the future?

It is not the first expectation. The first expectation is that we gather some very meaningful assessments or pre-assessments in order to be sure that our design is more international and more ready to be exported in various countries. This is the first benefit we expect from this joint early review, and you're right, the core benefit is also that it's a win-win with benefits for regulators because they begin to know more deeply what is in the Nuward design and if they are going to be able to pre-license or to license it in the future. I believe that equivalence is possible in the next decade, but sovereignty, or I would say autonomy of the various regulators, in the way they want to license, will remain. So I believe much more in equivalence than in harmonisation even if we are already organised between countries by the big principles, the IAEA principles, or things like that.

How differently should people think about SMRs compared with traditional reactors?

The first point is that we have different clients between big plants and small modular reactors and we are more largely complementary than competitors I would say. The second thing is that we must distinguish the third generation SMRs that are going to be ready around 2030 and the advanced modular reactors (AMRs), based on Gen IV technologies that are numerous but all face some technical challenges to be solved. I'm convinced that, considering the large amount of money and the large amount of projects currently ongoing, they are going to achieve breakthroughs in these technology difficulties. But in terms of licensing, fuel-cycle licensing, they will need more time to be on the market. So let's think about SMRs, big plants, existing big plants and AMRs as complementary solutions that could extend the possibilities of using nuclear in the energy transition toward carbon neutrality. 

Will the SMR market be more commercially-focused?

This is clearly a difficult question. Energy is always a matter of sovereignty, economic security or geopolitical links between countries. We will still have these issues of public debates, of siting, of licensing, of how it is integrated in the landscape, for example, or in neighbourhoods. And so it's always a matter of national politics or local acceptability and discussion with the public, and I do not think that SMRs really change that. And that obviously will be a challenge for large deployment of SMRs - we vendors need to have a long pipeline of projects to be competitive. The challenge of the two or three decades ahead of us is to find a way to respect all of that - the acceptability issue, the debate with population, licensing, siting, etc, but deploying faster those technologies to help fight climate change.

How will that work with Nuward?

We are trying to involve different countries both in the design, in the joint early review, and also in our international advisory boards, so that several countries, especially European countries, are well aware of what we are currently designing and what Nuward can do. For example, they know very well that we can co-generate power and heat so that we can supply some industrial needs while producing electricity and and it will help to have early clients that will have interest before the first-of-a-kind is online. We do not have time, I would say, to wait for the operational dates of the first-of-a-kind to discuss with potential clients new projects. We also have this question of will we use Nuward in France - I would love to have a series of Nuwards in France as a complementary way of decarbonising besides the big plants, but it is not decided yet at any level of France ... [it would be] good for the project, for the climate, and demonstrate that we believe strongly in this technology in the country.

Nuward is often called Europe's SMR rather than specifically a French one?

Nuward is becoming European because first we have an increasing number of partnerships with different companies outside of France, especially in Europe, and because our first market will be Europe and we know better the regulations and the laws in place in Europe. We are also in a race to hire people and to have talents helping to develop the project. And so we rely on the European labour markets to do that, not only on the French labour market and so it's really an important thing for that to become a European SMR, built in Europe, designed in Europe with various European countries and companies involved.

How do you think the nuclear energy sector will look in 2060?

I love this question because of its long-term perspective but it is also a difficult question because I see many enablers to be tackled so that nuclear can play the right role in the decarbonisation trajectory. I think that the World Energy Outlook is projecting something like 820 or 830 gigawatts of nuclear in the net-zero scenario. It is achievable, I mean technically in terms of investments. But it is really difficult to achieve with no change in regulation, no change in harmonisation of safety rules. So I would say that there is probably in 2060, a large variety of technologies on the markets, both Gen III and Gen IV technologies together so that we have brought a long-term solution to used fuel off the Gen III with the Gen IV. That would be very good news and I hope we are on the road to contribute as a major lever for decarbonisation. Probably the main challenge is about skills and the amount of competencies to deliver all these projects. We have to be to to attract many people from other sectors, to hire young people in large quantities. And so it's a new era, I think, for nuclear.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News