Croatia is opposing a nuclear reactor project in Slovenia that would deposit some nuclear waste near their border. Germany is objecting to a planned Polish reactor that the German Green party said would most likely contaminate Germany in the event of an accident.
The ability of small nuclear reactors to produce energy quickly or cheaply enough to matter for countries is also unclear, said Mark Hibbs, a senior fellow and a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Hibbs, who is based in Germany, noted that 10 such reactors might be required to do the same job as one large modern nuclear power station.
Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace in Britain, said: “It doesn’t solve the problems for society; it solves the problems for the nuclear industry.” He added, “They want to come up with a new concept that does not have the bad image of large nuclear.”
Those pushing for a nuclear revival say such concerns are overblown.
In France, President Macron this month announced he would reboot the nation’s atomic program to “live up to” France’s commitments to slash carbon emissions. A recent government-commissioned report concluded France probably can’t achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 with only renewable energy.
His government is expected to authorize state-owned Électricité de France to build six new pressurized reactors, and spend billions to help EDF produce small modular nuclear reactors by 2030. The work would be a lifeline for EDF, which is over 40 billion euros ($45 billion) in debt after contending with nuclear plant construction delays and cost overruns.
In Eastern Europe, the rush is already underway.
Poland, Romania and Ukraine, long reliant on coal-burning power plants, are among those signing contracts with American and European companies for small-reactor technology. Poland alone plans to build large nuclear reactors and at least half a dozen small ones at coal sites to produce power and create jobs.
“The ability to bring new electric power generation in a shorter time frame and with a lower total project cost is a primary driver,” said John Kotek, vice president for policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry group in Washington.