Centre of competence in nuclear technology poised for launch

27 January 2022

power lines in the sky

The planned Centre is one of several initiatives aimed at bringing about a sustainable energy supply in the future.

Uppsala University is to host a new centre of competence in nuclear technology. Its purpose is to support development of a knowledge-based strategy for introducing small modular reactors in Sweden. Preparations are now in full swing.

Professor Ane Håkansson of Uppsala University’s
Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

The new competence centre, ANItA (“Academic-Industrial Nuclear Technology Initiative to Achieve a Future Sustainable Energy Supply”) will assemble much of Sweden’s industrial and academic nuclear expertise. Its coordinator is Professor Ane Håkansson of Uppsala University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

“We’re planning to get started as soon as possible. In the autumn, we worked proactively, and drafted a consortium agreement among all the parties that’s now more or less ready to sign. After it’s signed, we’ll have the formal structure in place, and then the Vice-Chancellor will appoint a board and a director,” Håkansson says.

Led from Uppsala

The Centre will be located at, and led from, the University and the participants will be academics in various subject areas. For the applied nuclear physicists, research on fuel materials and nuclear material control is planned. Materials technologists are to study structural materials, while industrial technologists will investigate how to implement project establishment and introduction efficiently. People at the Department of Law are also involved, Håkansson says.

“They’re going to take a closer look at how Sweden’s current legislation on nuclear power needs amending to enable expansion of nuclear power, and at the legislative implications of doing so.”

The work will focus on development of small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be mass-produced at factories. The new technology has several advantages, according to Håkansson.

“Licensing of these reactors can be done by type instead of on an individual basis. That will make implementation times extremely short, putting tremendous pressure on prices. What’s more, the reactors are designed to be essentially autonomous. Since they’re so small, the laws of nature can be used in such a way that if anything begins to go wrong in the reactor, it shuts itself down.”

Near built-up areas

Today, however, making the most of the new technology is difficult, given the rule that reactors can be built only on existing sites. Håkansson says one advantage of SMRs is that, owing to both their size and their superior safety, they can be located close to population centres.

“It would enable district heating systems to be installed in urban areas, and large company facilities could have their own reactors for producing heat or hydrogen. That isn’t allowed under current legislation, so it’s the big obstacle to get over.”

When do you think this can become a reality?
“There are concepts on the verge of being commercialised – in the US, for instance. Our ambition is get the ball rolling here in Sweden before the end of this decade.”

Investing in sustainable energy supply

He notes that nuclear power is making a strong comeback in Sweden, and welcomes the fact that some of the public funding for sustainable energy is going to a centre of competence in nuclear technology.

“It’s interesting that the government is supporting what’s been a backwater activity for decades. You can see it as reflecting the realisation that nuclear power is completely essential if we’re going to be able to cope with climate change while maintaining prosperity. And that’s a realisation that’s beginning to permeate the system. Getting this project is a real feather in Uppsala University’s cap.”

Centre of competence in sustainable energy systems

ANItA (the “Academic-Industrial Nuclear Technology Initiative to Achieve a Future Sustainable Energy Supply”) is part of the Swedish Energy Agency’s investment in the competence centre, for the period 2022–2026, in the area of sustainable energy systems. The new Centre is being cofounded by academia, businesses and the public sector.
Main applicant: Uppsala University.
Co-applicant higher education institutions and research institutes: Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Total budget: SEK 81,490,000.
Coordinator: Ane Håkansson