Polish-US nuclear cooperation expands to USNC microreactors

31 March 2023

Grupa Azoty Police, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation and the West Pomeranian University of Technology have signed an agreement to build a nuclear energy research facility based on Ultra Safe Nuclear's Micro-Modular Reactor (MMR) technology. Meanwhile, Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe, Westinghouse and Bechtel expect to soon sign a contract for the design of Poland's first large-scale reactor.

The signing of the agreement between Grupa Azoty Police, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and the West Pomeranian University of Technology (Image: Grupa Azoty)

Polish chemicals producer Grupa Azoty Police, the USA's Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC) and the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin agreed on 29 March to develop and construct a research facility based on USNC's MMR at Police, a town in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, in northwestern Poland. Over the next six months, the parties will prepare a comprehensive research programme and will jointly develop a plan for the construction, operation and maintenance of the MMR.

The first stage of the collaborative project will consist of the construction of a 30 MWt MMR to serve as a training, research and test facility. It will be connected to the existing energy infrastructure of Grupa Azoty Police, providing a unique opportunity to study, test, optimise and integrate the MMR as a zero-carbon generation source into an industrial plant.

The collaboration will ultimately lead to the development of a plan for full-scale use of nuclear energy to power chemical processes and to generate steam and hydrogen at Grupa Azoty Police's plant.

"The Grupa Azoty Group's strategy for 2021-2030, with its flagship Green Azoty project, targets new renewable capacities totalling nearly 380 MW across the group by 2030," noted Tomasz Hinc, CEO and President of the Management Board of Grupa Azoty. "In our strategic plan, we have also communicated entry into the segments of wind power and small nuclear sources, including MMRs, which will provide us with additional megawatts of zero-carbon energy.

"The tripartite agreement signed today at the Szczecin Province Office is paving the way for the Grupa Azoty Group to successfully deploy the 4th Generation MMR technology at our sites by the end of the period covered by our current strategy, that is by 2030. Seeking to make the fastest possible transition towards climate neutrality, clean energy and diversified energy sources, we want to agree on the detailed framework of our cooperation within the next six months."

"Deploying our high-temperature nuclear batteries with Grupa Azoty and the West Pomeranian University of Technology opens the path for decarbonisation and the development of modern nuclear infrastructure and workforce in Poland and exemplifies US support of Poland's national energy independence," said USNC CEO and founder Francesco Venneri. "Together with our partner Hyundai Engineering Corporation, we fully support Grupa Azoty's plans to reduce CO2 emissions and we are glad to offer the West Pomeranian University the possibility of research in the area of our high-temperature nuclear batteries."

USNC's MMR is a 15 MW thermal, 5 MW electrical high-temperature gas-cooled reactor, drawing on operational experience from reactors developed by China, Germany, Japan and the USA. It consists of two plants: the nuclear plant that generates heat, and the adjacent power plant that converts heat into electricity or provides process heat for industrial applications. The USNC system is designed to be simple, with minimal operation and maintenance requirements, and no on-site fuel storage, handling or processing. The MMR uses TRISO fuel in prismatic graphite blocks and has a sealed transportable core.

The MMR is at an advanced licensing stage at the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's Chalk River Laboratories campus in Ontario. The project is a collaboration between USNC and Ontario Power Generation through the jointly owned Global First Power Limited Partnership.

The project at Police joins the growing list of global training, test, and research MMR projects at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the USA, McMaster University in Canada and Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland.

Plans for large-scale plant progresses

Poland's Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe (PEJ) and the USA's Westinghouse Electric Company and Bechtel Corporation have held talks about enhancing cooperation in the project for the first nuclear power plant in Poland.

The talks were attended by the acting President of PEJ Łukasz Młynarkiewicz, President of Energy Systems at Westinghouse David Durham, Vice President and CEO of Bechtel Craig Albert and John Howanitz, President of the Nuclear Energy, Safety and Environment segment at Bechtel.

"In the near future, it is planned to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between PEJ, Westinghouse and Bechtel, which will allow to formalise the selected model of cooperation in the form of a consortium," PEJ said. "Such a model of cooperation, preferred by Polskie Elektrownie Jądrowe from the beginning, will be applied already at the stage of the next contract, planned later this year, i.e. the contract for engineering services, covering the first stage of work on the detailed technical design of the power plant in Pomerania.

"Signing the contract with the Westinghouse-Bechtel consortium will allow us to use the unique competences and experience gained during the construction of two AP 1000 reactors in the USA, which is now being finalised."

In September 2021, it was announced that six large pressurised water reactors with a combined installed capacity of 6-9 GWe could be built by 2040 as part of Poland's plan to reduce its reliance on coal. According to the adopted schedule, the construction of the first nuclear power plant will start in 2026, with the first reactor, with a capacity of 1-1.6 GWe, being commissioned in 2033. Subsequent units will be implemented every 2-3 years.

In November 2022, the Polish government selected Westinghouse for the country's first nuclear power plant. In February this year, PEJ and Westinghouse signed a contract commencing joint activities that will lead to the preparation of the design of the first nuclear power plant in Poland.

Meanwhile, Poland's ZE PAK, Polska Grupa Energetyczna and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power have signed a letter of intent to cooperate on a nuclear power plant project in Patnow, in central Poland, assessing the viability of building South Korean APR1400 reactors on the site.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News