By Brian Wheeler, Editor
For nearly six decades, nuclear power in Russia has helped carry out multiple tasks. The operation of nuclear power plants provides energy security for the country and the government-approved nuclear energy development program is a testament to the priority of its development at the state level, said Daria Ozerova, spokesperson for Rosatom, the Russian state atomic energy corporation.
Russia’s first nuclear power plant, the 5 MWe Obninsk reactor, entered operations in 1954. According to the World Nuclear Association, the Obninsk reactor was the first nuclear reactor in the world to produce electricity. But between the 1986 Chernobyl accident and the mid-90s, Russia only saw one nuclear power station started, the four-unit Balakovo plant, according to WNA.
|Fuel loading takes place at the Kalinin plant in October 2011. Photo courtesy of Rosenergoatom and World Nuclear News.|
The crash of the Soviet Union also led to a stoppage in nuclear developments. By the late-90s and early-2000s, Russia again began building nuclear plants as well as exporting technology to foreign countries.
The Russian nuclear industry is based on the construction of water-moderated reactors, such as VVER technology, which are now considered among the safest in Russia. Water-moderated reactors in Russia have more than a thousand years of trouble-free operation. Research and development is still a key factor in Russia for reactor development and the VVER technology remains a priority. The next generation reactor of the VVER model is the VVER-1200, the most modern design with this type of reactor which includes the latest systems and passive and active defense, including a melt trap.
|The four-unit Balakovo plant was the first plant commissioned after the Chernobyl accident. Photo courtesy of Rosenergoatom.|
Today, there are 10 operating nuclear power plants in Russia with 33 generating units that have an installed capacity of 24.2 GW, which produces about 16 percent of all electricity produced in the country. The Russian government has also voiced public support to increase the share of nuclear power generation to 25 percent in the next decade.
In November 2011, the newest nuclear power plant in Russia, the Kalinin plant, reached criticality. The 950 MWe V-320 model VVER-1000 reactor reached 50 percent of nominal power in December. When commissioned and 100 percent power is achieved, which is planned for April 2012, the plant is expected to generate roughly 70 percent of the energy needs for the Tver region north of Moscow. Construction of Kalinin Unit 4 began in 1986, but construction ceased in 1991 when the plant was only 20 percent complete. In 2007, construction commenced. The commission of this new unit, according to the Russian government, will help bridge a gap of electricity shortage in a industrially developed region of Russia and confirms that Rosatom has shifted to a series of construction on new units. Valery Limarenko, director of Nizhny Novgorod Engineering Co.-Atomenergoproekt (NIAEP) and head of the Kalinin Unit 4 construction project during the first fuel loading of Kalinin 4 in late-2011, said Kalinin 4 has had a clouded history.
|A look inside the Balakovo control room. Photo courtesy of Rosenergoatom.|
“Though the project was approved a quarter of century ago, active construction work started only in 2007. Since that time, for four odd years we have been going to the most important stage, the first criticality,” Limarenko said. “We have been building, erecting, installing, adjusting, checking, testing. We have worked hard and honestly to fulfill the governmental task.”
In November, Rosenergoatom was granted a license for construction of Unit 1 at the planned two-unit Baltic nuclear plant in the Kaliningrad region. The designer of the plant is JSC SPbAEP, the same engineering firm that completed the Russian-built Tianwan plant in China.
The Baltic plant will be equipped with two VVER-1200-type reactors that will generate 1,194 MW each. Expected to generate power for at least 50 years, Rosatom and project partners Rosenergoatom, JSC SPbAEP and JSC NBD said the plant can become a real source of energy not only for Russia, but for Poland, Sweden and Germany as well. If the project stays on the projected schedule, Unit 1 will be complete in 2016, while Unit 2 will begin generating power in 2018. “Rosatom has always expressed readiness to provide the necessary information on the Baltic nuclear power plant at the first request from foreign colleagues, and in the future we are ready to give additional explanations,” said Sergey Boyarkin, program director of the Capital Projects Office of Rosatom, in a statement.
|Plans are in place to add a 1,200 MW reactor near the four-unit Kola plant pictured here. Photo courtesy of Rosenergoatom.|
The uniqueness of the Baltic plant, according to Ozerova, is that it will be the first plant in Russia to be constructed with a private investor.
Floating Reactor Development
The nuclear reactor in Russia is developing in two main areas; the improvement of existing reactor technologies and the development of new projects that meet the current needs of the economy.
“It is a unique combination of advanced technology projects and reference to their use that allows Rosatom to receive new orders for the construction of nuclear power plants worldwide,” said Ozerova.
Russia is also in the midst of a research program to develop floating nuclear power plants. The first floating reactor is expected to meet the needs of the eastern Russian naval base, Velyuchinsk Kamchatka. Currently, the naval base gets its power from a coal-fired station, which Rosatom said is expensive in the region. Rosatom said the floating nuclear plant will drop the cost of electricity and will have the ability, when at full load, to produce power for 12 years of continuous operation.
“After that, the ship returns to the home port, is fueled with fresh nuclear fuel and is ready to once again produce heat and electricity,” said Ozerova.
The Russian government expects the floating reactors to last approximately 36 years. Construction of the first floating power reactor began in 2007. In 2008, the project was transferred to the Baltyskiy Shipyard in St. Petersburg.
In 2010, the Akademik Lomonosov became the first floating nuclear power unit to be launched. The floating power unit is a flush-decked, non-powered vessel with two KLT-40S icebreaker-type reactor facilities. Each of the reactors have an installed capacity of 35 MW.
“The floating nuclear power plant offers an economic alternative to onshore power plants in remote areas with costly power transmission and fossil fuel deliveries,” said Ozerova.
During the ceremony to launch the 144 meter long and of 30 meter wide vessel, Sergey Kirienko, director general of Rosatom, said he expected small nuclear power plants that would not rely on well-developed grid facilities to take over up to 20 percent of the nuclear power plant construction market. Kirienko also said the industry is ready to start production of floating nuclear heat and power plants in a number of modifications with reactors ranging from 10 MW to 300 MW.
Plans are in place to begin pilot production of floating nuclear power plants by 2013.
Russia is one of the world leaders in the exportation of indigenous technology and construction of nuclear power plants abroad. In 2010, Rosatom had contracts signed to deliver 12 units to foreign entities. By the end of 2011, the organization had signed contracts to build 21 new units. Russia is building, or has completed construction, in Belarus, Vietnam, India, China, Turkey, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Armenia and Iran.
The 21 units planned for construction will be Generation III+ reactors that include active and passive safety systems, double reactor containment, passive heat removal, core melt traps and other systems. Rosatom said these new units fully meet post-Fukushima standards. Rosatom wants two decades to build up to 80 new reactors of Russian design, of which only 30 units accounted for domestic market.
In Iran, Atomstroyexport, the Russian Federation’s nuclear power equipment and service company, and its contractors completed the Bushehr plant in late-2011. The construction of Bushehr was started by German engineers and lasted more than 30 years. Atomstroyexport fully integrated all Russian equipment with the use of about 12,000 tons of German equipment. The Bushehr plant connected to the grid in Sept. 2011 with the plant producing 60 MW of power. In December, the plant reached 50 percent power.
The Middle East continues to be a region of considerable interest for Russian nuclear development. Many Middle Eastern nations such as the UAE and Jordan are just entering the path of nuclear power development.
|An artist rendering of the planned Baltic plant in the northeast section of the Kaliningrad region. Courtesy of Rosenergoatom|
Rosatom also offers their partners a plant implementation principle known as “Build-Own-Operate.” This process allows Rosatom to build the plant, provide financing and operate the facility throughout its lifecycle. The customer guarantees the purchasing of the power generated from the plant at a “mutually beneficial price.” Local construction companies are involved in the projects to provide economic development to the region. In 2010, construction for the first plant under this principle began in Turkey. The four-unit Akkuyu plant, when complete, will generate up to 35 trillion KWh of electricity per year.
In India, construction of two VVER units at the Kudankulam plant was also completed in 2011, although final commissioning checks have yet to be completed. While the start-up date has yet to be determined by the Nuclear Power Corp. of India Limited, protests from citizens in India have taken center stage as residents worry that an incident similar to what happened at Fukushima could take place in India.
Seeking to calm the people of India, in January Technical Director of Nuclear Power Corp. Of India Limited, S. A. Bhardwa, told local media, “to my mind as being a nuclear technologist, this is the safest nuclear power plant of the world.”
Still, the Kudankulam project and others, such as the highly-protested Jaitapur project, continue to meet opposition. In January of this year, the start-up of the reactors at Kudankulam was delayed six months due to the ongoing protests and doubts of the safety of nuclear power.
“Kudankulam is the only solution to the existing power crisis. The government and other concerned people must accept this reality and evolve an action plan facilitating early commissioning of the plant,” Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president M. Krishnan told The Times of India.
To help Vietnam build its first nuclear plant, Russia agreed in November to lend the Southeast Asian country up to $9 billion. Vietnam plans to build 13 stations with a total capacity of 16,000 MW. Construction of the first plant, the 2,000 MW Ninh Thuan 1 reactor, is scheduled to begin in 2014. Rosatom will also help fund the feasibility study for the project, according to Bloomberg.
Russia is not a stranger to nuclear energy accidents. In 1986, the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine near the Russian border was, at the time, the world’s worst nuclear power accident.
A flawed Soviet reactor design along with mistakes made by the plant’s operators led to an explosion and fires that released at least 5 percent of the reactor core into the atmosphere. The Chernobyl Unit 4 reactor was destroyed due to the explosion and 30 people died, 28 of which died from radiation poisoning. Still today, 200 tons of radioactive material remains on site at Chernobyl, contained in a large concrete shelter.
On March 11, 2011, the world looked on as the earthquake and following tsunami destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. The events at the Japanese nuclear power plant opened a new wave of “radiophobia” that arose after the Chernobyl accident. Rosatom, though, started a policy of openness a few years before the Fukushima accident, building a dialogue that has played a positive role for nuclear energy in Russia.
“Today, there are no serious actions against the use of nuclear energy and the development of new technologies in this field,” said Ozerova. After the events at the Fukushima plant, Russia, like many nations, conducted tests to reassure to the Russian citizens the safety of nuclear energy. Russian nuclear plants were tested for multiple threats, including earthquakes, floods, power loss, loss of the final heat extraction, terrorism and severe accident management. The tests, according to Ozerova, were satisfactory and confirmed the reliability and security of Russian nuclear power plants.
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