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Minister: Riigikogu to debate nuclear power in Estonia this year

Minister of Climate Kristen Michal receives the INR report from Aline des Cloizeaux (second from left).
Minister of Climate Kristen Michal receives the INR report from Aline des Cloizeaux (second from left). Source: IAEA

Debate on Estonia's potential route towards the use of nuclear power and the building of a nuclear power station will be ongoing at the Riigikogu this year, Minister of Climate Kristen Michal (Reform) says. The government last week received a report on its progress in this area from the main international nuclear agency.

Minister Michal said: "The feedback we received from the International Atomic Energy Agency experts during the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission is highly valued, and supports the nuclear energy debate scheduled to take place at the Riigikogu in 2024."

"This debate aims to determine whether our country is ready to initiate preparations for establishing an enabling regulatory environment for the deployment of nuclear energy, with the goal of achieving our 2050 climate targets and ensuring the security of electricity supply," the minister went on, via a press release.

Michal made his remarks in the context of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) handing over to Estonia the final report of a peer review mission, one which assessed the country's development of the infrastructure needed for a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power program.

The IAEA's Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission ran October 23 to 30, at the invite of the government.

Aline des Cloizeaux, director of the IAEA's Division of Nuclear Power, delivered the report to Minister Michal last Tuesday, January 16, saying: "The INIR mission concluded that the Government of Estonia is well organized in its preparations towards taking a decision on whether to launch a nuclear power program in order to support the country's just transition towards net zero carbon emissions."

"Embarking on nuclear power is the sovereign decision of any country. The IAEA can provide the support but the major responsibility for moving the program forward is with the country," des Cloizeaux added, as reported by the IAEA.

She said that: "The development of Estonia's own human resources, skills and competence is an important factor for the sustainability of a nuclear power program."

The IAEA says Estonia has been looking at nuclear power in order to diversify by 2035, the year the planned phase-out of domestic oil shale energy generation is due, and ahead of reaching the EU goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are seen as a sufficiently flexible and affordable route to go down.

The IAEA says its methodology guides countries in understanding the commitments and obligations associated with developing the necessary environment for a nuclear power program, including building a physical plant.

The INIR mission team made several recommendations and suggestions to assist Estonia in making further progress in its nuclear infrastructure development, including completing relevant plans and policies and considering further developing the legal and regulatory framework to support program's next phase, formulating a national position on the issue, human resource development and radioactive waste management.

This follows the final report from the domestic nuclear energy working group, which will serve as the basis for the government's decision on whether to proceed with a nuclear power program, the IAEA says.

The national working group on nuclear energy recommends the construction of a nuclear power plant in Estonia, as the introduction of nuclear energy would contribute to Estonia's climate objectives, security of supply and stability of the energy system.

Several key sites in northern and western Estonia have been identified as potential locations for an SMR.

The IAEA says it will partner with Estonia to develop an Integrated Work Plan on nuclear power development, should the domestic government decide to go ahead with the long-term project (getting a nuclear power station up-and-running would take around a decade – ed.).

INIR missions enable IAEA member state representatives to have in-depth discussions with international experts about conditions and best international practices in the development of a nuclear power program, the IAEA says.

The IAEA publishes an INIR mission report on its website 90 days after its delivery to the member state, unless that state requests in writing that this not be done.

Estonia currently lacks a nuclear power station. During the Soviet era, two nuclear reactors were in use at a highly secretive, land-based nuclear submarine training facility in the port city of Paldiski.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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