Slovenia to sign memorandum on civilian nuclear cooperation with US

Ljubljana – Slovenia is to sign a memorandum of understanding on strategic civilian nuclear cooperation with the US. The document expresses the desire of both countries for deeper bilateral strategic ties, which would improve energy security, increase prosperity and strengthen political and economic ties, the Slovenian government has said.

Announcing the memorandum in a press release on Saturday, the government said that it would be signed on behalf of Slovenia by Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec, who would accompany Foreign Minister Anže Logar on his visit to the US on Monday.

The Infrastructure Ministry has noted that Slovenia and the US had been cooperating well and intensively in the field of energy for years.

The countries share the opinion that civilian nuclear cooperation is an important part of the general bilateral strategic relationship and may serve as a catalyst for additional cooperation in other matters of national importance, including national security and energy security, it added.

The press release says that the “US-Slovenian civilian nuclear cooperation may play a key role in facilitating security of energy supply of Slovenia and NATO and in meeting their energy needs and goals on clean energy, while providing significant auxiliary benefits for the energy security of the US and European allies.”

The signing of the document represents an important step and upgrade of what are otherwise traditionally good relations between the countries, including in the field of energy, it adds.

The existing reactor at Slovenia’s Krško Nuclear Plant (NEK) was built by the US company Westinghouse. Slovenia plans to build a second reactor in the near future.

Vrtovec told the STA that the memorandum was not a basis for a concrete deal in the selection of technology for a possible new reactor at NEK.

It might meanwhile serve as a catalyst for additional cooperation in the transfer of knowledge, experience and good practice in the maintenance and operation of nuclear facilities in Slovenia and at the EU level, he added.

The minister, who will be accompanied by State Secretary Blaž Košorok, said that the cooperation might also play a key role in achieving decarbonisation objectives.

Leon Cizelj of the reactor engineering department of the Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS) sees the signing of the memorandum as an agreement in principle and exchange of information.

In a statement for the STA, he welcomed such talks and assessed that it would be wise to also hold them with other countries that might supply technology for a new reactor, including Russia, China, South Korea and France.

The US is able to offer a lot, he said, singling out Westinghouse when it comes to classic nuclear power plants. “The Americans are designers, developers, they deal with engineering, while the equipment is mostly produced in China.”

The US is also able to offer small modular reactors, but these are still being developed. “The closest to entering the market is A modular reactor by the company NuScale, whose full capacity is … close to that of today’s NEK,” Cizelj said.

As for France, he said that the current climate in the EU was not very enthusiastic about nuclear power plants, “which the French very much feel at home”, while the possibility that South Koreans would sell its technology was very small.

According to Cizelj, Slovenia could wait for modular reactors, as the choice will certainly be extensive. “We could also try a reactor prototype, which we could get much cheaper,” he said, adding that this was only his speculation.

Slovenia has yet to take a decision whether to build a new reactor at NEK, with the latest plans saying that this would be done by 2027 at the latest. The Ministry of Infrastructure says that Slovenia is and will remain a nuclear country.

The life span of the current reactor ends in 2023, and the planned 20-year extension of the operating permit requires an environmental impact assessment and environmental permit.