Government officials in the Netherlands have earmarked more than $350 million to fund further development of nuclear energy in the country, including extending the operating license of the 485-MW Borssele nuclear power plant. The Borssele station (Figure 1) at present is the Netherlands only nuclear power facility. Officials in late April released a draft of the “Climate Fund for 2024” that included money for the Borssele extension, along with two new large-scale reactors and a development plan for small modular reactors (SMRs). The draft also said millions of dollars were being set aside to help develop a nuclear power workforce in the Netherlands.
1. The 485-MW Borssele nuclear power station is the Netherlands’ sole operating nuclear power plant. Dutch officials want to extend the lifecycle of the facility, which came online in 1973, with funding included in the country’s latest budget for climate initiatives. Courtesy: EPZ
The Netherlands is looking for new sources of power to replace its heavy reliance on natural gas. The Groningen field in the northeastern corner of the country for years has supplied the Netherlands with a cheap and ready supply of gas, but the government has announced production at the site will end in October of this year.
Renewable energy already is experiencing rapid growth, with about 40% of the country’s electricity consumption from renewables in 2022, according to government data. Officials said renewable energy production grew 20% last year compared to 2021, with much of the increase coming from new installations of solar power. Renewable energy, and other zero-emission energy sources, have been a focus in the country since officials in 2019 adopted a national climate policy. The Netherlands has targets to reduce its carbon emissions by 49% by 2030, and by 95% by 2050.
Nuclear power also is being touted as a clean energy solution. A delegation from the Nuclear Energy Agency, led by Director-General William Magwood IV, was in the Netherlands in April to meet with government officials and discuss how the country can use advanced nuclear power technology and develop more industrial infrastructure for nuclear. “The nuclear energy sector in the Netherlands is in transition,” said Magwood, who met with several officials including members of the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection. “We had a productive discussion about the new wave of nuclear technology developments that have the potential to reinvent the sector and how regulators can be best prepared for their introduction. We also discussed the importance of having a well-trained and diverse workforce in the nuclear safety regulatory body and within the overall nuclear sector.”
The country’s draft climate budget includes several million dollars to be allocated to extend operations at Borssele, including $68 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,” according to officials. The pressurized water reactor at Borssele today provides about 3% of the Netherlands’ electricity. The plant came online in 1973 and at present is scheduled to close in 2033.
The coalition government in the Netherlands in December 2021 said nuclear power should have a prominent role in the country’s energy and climate policies. Preliminary plans call for at least two new reactors, with capacity of at least 1 GW and perhaps as much as 1.65 GW, to be built by 2035. Officials said the new reactors, which likely would be sited at Borssele, could provide as much as 13% of the country’s electricity.
Minister for Climate and Energy Policy Rob Jetten, in a letter to lawmakers about new measures the country should take regarding climate, 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.” Jetten, who also met with Magwood last month, said construction of new reactors “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 budget plan includes more than $128 million for additional studies focused on the construction of two new reactors. Jetten’s agency, in referencing that money, said, “These are specifically about financing models, the tender process, feasibility studies of vendors, a participation plan, a social impact report on new construction, a program management organization of the Special Purpose Vehicle, which will arrange the tendering, construction, and operation of the nuclear power plants to be built.”
Tom Keij, fuel cycle manager for EPZ, a Dutch utility, in comments at the World Nuclear Fuel Cycle 2023 conference in The Hague in early April, 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.” Government officials said about $71 million has been budgeted for what they called the Netherlands’ “knowledge infrastructure” around nuclear power, focused on education and research “so that the Dutch nuclear knowledge and research infrastructure can be strengthened.”
The draft budget provides more support for development of SMRs, with about $72 million to bring more interest from nuclear power investors. The climate plan said the money “completes the transition phase from design to realization, 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 realization … 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.”
Amsterdam-based ULC-Energy in August of last year signed an agreement with the UK’s Rolls-Royce SMR for collaboration on SMR deployment in the Netherlands. ULC-Energy, which began operations in 2021, has said it wants to support decarbonization in the Netherlands by developing nuclear power projects that could integrate with electricity networks serving both the industrial and residential sectors. ULC-Energy has said it expects to select a project site next year. The group has said it wants to file a formal license application in 2025, with an eye toward starting construction of an SMR in 2027. ULC-Energy envisions commercial operation of an SMR at some point in the next decade.
Bas Suijs, speaking at the recent fuel cycle conference, said the group is in the process of pre-licensing work and is starting negotiations on an engineering, procurement, and construction contract with Rolls-Royce. “Right now, we’re very much aligned in our messaging,” Suijs said. “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.”
Suijs said nuclear power needs to be a larger part of the Netherlands’ energy mix if the country hopes to meet its goal of decarbonization by 2050. The country at present relies heavily on natural gas; government data shows more than 90% of the country’s households are heated with gas. Much of that gas has come from the huge reservoir under the province of Groningen, but officials made a decision a few years ago to close the field due to geological issues, including earthquakes and sinking ground.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).