IAEA: Estonia’s preparation for deciding on nuclear energy is comprehensive

An expert group of the International Atomic Energy Agency found during an eight-day mission in Estonia, which ended on 30 October, that Estonia’s preparation for deciding on the implementation of nuclear energy has been thorough.

“Estonia has thought through all the aspects accompanying the introduction of nuclear energy with sufficient depth in order to support the country’s transition to climate-friendly energy production,” Eric Mathet, a senior nuclear engineer at the IAEA’s nuclear infrastructure division and head of the mission, said. 

“Over the course of the week spent in Tallinn, we were convinced that Estonian specialists are competent, highly motivated and committed to the development of the nuclear energy programme.”

Of the things analysed by the nuclear energy working group, experts highlighted the strategy for the development of human resources. It was also noted that the initial study of nuclear plant locations also included the establishment of a geological disposal site for used nuclear fuel. According to Mathet, this adds confidence that it is possible to deal with this waste in Estonia.

Confidence that Estonia is on the right track

Antti Tooming, a deputy secretary general at the climate ministry and the head of the nuclear energy working group, said the experts’ conclusions will be included in the final report to be submitted to the government.

“The feedback from the IAEA experts gave us confidence that we are on the right track with our preparations. We also received valuable information for the possible next step. This, of course, if Estonia decides to use nuclear energy,” Tooming added.

A rendering of GE Hitachi BWRX-300, a small modular reactor possibly used in Estonia. Image by GE Hitachi.

Experts noted that the final report, due by the end of 2023, must also include clear timelines for further large-scale activities. In the event that the Estonian parliament decides to support the introduction of nuclear energy next year, the IAEA will organise a follow-up mission to review the implementation of the proposals and recommendations presented during this evaluation in the next phase of the introduction of nuclear energy.

IAEA expert missions allow member states to hold discussions with international experts on the experiences and best practices of different countries in order to prepare a more well-thought-out action plan for the development of national nuclear energy infrastructure.

A single private energy company pushing the nuclear agenda

Fermi Energia, an Estonian private energy company, was established in 2019 with an aim to deploy a small modular nuclear reactor in Estonia. The company has since actively lobbied both the country’s government and the general public in favour of the nuclear power plant.

The most promising locations for siting an SMR plant are the coastal regions of North-East Estonia, according to Fermi Energia.

Fermi considered three manufacturers for the nuclear plant – GE Hitachi (US), Rolls-Royce (UK) and NuScale (US). In February 2023, the company said it had selected GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 as the most suitable reactor and announced that “the planning, design and construction of the Estonian nuclear power plant can be gradually started”, despite the fact that the country’s parliament has not yet given the green light for the project. GE Hitachi has said its first BWRX-300 “could be complete by late 2028”.

Estonia has never had a nuclear power station before, but the country is looking for alternative ways to generate energy.

An analysis carried out under the leadership of the Estonian climate ministry suggests that the annual amount of fuel used per reactor at the potential nuclear power plant in Estonia would be 12 metric tons, and if the nuclear plant is built for 60 years, a total of 720 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel per reactor would be generated during this period.

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