Finnish firm launches SMR district heating project

VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland has today announced the launch of a project to develop a small modular reactor for district heating. Most of the country’s district heating is currently produced by burning coal, natural gas, wood fuels and peat, but it aims to phase out its use of coal in energy production by 2029.

VTT noted that decarbonising the district heat production system is “one of the most significant climate challenges faced by many cities”. The objective of the project is to create a new Finnish industrial sector around the technology that would be capable of manufacturing most of the components needed for the plant, the company said. Designing the district heating reactor will require expertise from a wide range of Finnish organisations, it added.

“The schedule is challenging, and the low-cost alternatives are few,” said Ville Tulkki, research team leader at VTT. “To reach the target, new innovations and the introduction of new technologies are required. Nuclear district heating could provide major emission reductions.”

VTT – which has about 200 researchers working with nuclear energy and related applications – said it will rely on in-house calculation tools and use its multidisciplinary competence to develop the SMR. “For example, in the modelling of the reactor core, we are able to apply high-fidelity numerical simulation methods that have become feasible by the advances in high-performance parallel computing,” said Jaakko Leppänen, research professor for reactor safety at VTT.

Over the past five years, VTT has been involved in projects examining the opportunities and deployment of SMRs. At the European level, it is coordinating the ELSMOR (European Licensing of Small Modular Reactors) project, launched last year. It is also leading one of the work packages of the European Research and Innovation project McSAFE, launched in September 2017. That project is developing the next generation calculation tools for the modelling of SMR physics.

The Ecomodernist Society and Energy for Humanity published a report in September 2017 that evaluated completely decarbonising the Helsinki metropolitan area energy sector through the use of advanced nuclear reactors.

The model used in the Helsinki case study anticipates future annual energy use in district heating at 8 TWh, electricity at 12 TWh and 4 TWh of hydrogen for transportation fuels. Although several advanced SMRs are in development and coming to market by 2030 that could meet the specifications, the study selected models to consider: the HTR-PM pebble-bed reactor currently being constructed in China and Terrestrial Energy’s Integral Molten Salt Reactor.