Rosatom gets regulator license to build land-based small modular reactors

Rosatom gets regulator license to build land-based small modular reactors

The Russian nuclear regulator, the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor), has granted a license to Rusatom Overseas allowing the company to build nuclear installations at nuclear power plants, Rusatom’s parent company the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom announced earlier this week. 

A Rosatom statement said that the license was obtained within the framework of the land-based small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear plant construction project with a RITM-200N reactor to be implemented in Yakutia, Russia. 

“We have reached another milestone within our work on the SMR project in Yakutia by receiving the Rostekhnadzor license. It is an important step on our way to successful implementation of this project which completion is scheduled for 2028,’ said Rusatom Overseas Vice President Oleg Sirazetdinov said in a statement.  

The SMR project in Yakutia is based on Rosatom referenced technology with RITM-200 reactors whose design has incorporated the many years of experience in operating small reactors at the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. Currently, six RITM-200 reactors are installed at the state-of-the-art icebreakers Arktika, Sibir, and Ural. Two reactors of the  Arktika successfully passed dockside and sea trials, and on October 21, 2020, Arktika went into service.  The statement said that another four RITM-200 reactors will be installed at the icebreakers that are currently under construction. 

On December 23, 2020, the Rosatom and the government of the Yakutia Republic signed an agreement on construction of the land-based SMR nuclear power plant (NPP) in northeast Russia.  

“Under the agreement the Republic of Yakutia confirms the offtake of up to 50 MW of SMR electricity and also confirms its readiness to assist in SMR NPP siting. For now, most of the engineering survey on site has been completed with the Environmental Impact Assessment and site license justification materials developed. On June 22, 2021, public hearings were held in Yakutia. The SMR NPP construction is due to begin in 2024”, the statement added. 

In this connection, speaking at a recent webinar organised by the New Delhi-based India Energy Forum, Sunil Ganju, who is Member of the Nuclear Controls and Planning Wing in India’s Department of Atomic Energy, said that the driving forces for introducing SMRs are the possibility of their “incremental deployment” in a context where “incremental demand can be closely matched with moderate financial commitment, especially for countries with smaller electricity grids”. The much lesser cost of setting up SMRs, as compared to large NPPs, provides a major rationale for opting for small modular reactors. 

Elaborating on the current driving forces for SMRs, Ganju said these include their wider applicability in non-power applications like for district heating and industrial operations, besides the SMR’s higher safety quotient, as compared to large reactors, involving their passive and inherent safety features. “The lower core power density of SMRs and the large volume of water in the reactor power vessel delays all accident progression”, Ganju said. 

In his intervention at the webinar, Rusatom Overseas’ SMR Project Division Head, Svyatoslav Pikh said that Russia has a depth of experience in SMR projects since Soviet times, especially in its Far East and Polar regions, and is currently elaborating new SMR designs. “The world’s first Floating Nuclear Power Plant (FNPP), Akademik Lomonosov, is powered by an SMR and a site has been approved for setting up Russia’s first land based small reactor”, Pikh said. 

The latest Russian SMR design – the RITM-200 – is the result of 400 reactor-years’ worth of combined experience operating small reactors on ships in country’s fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Rosatom has already manufactured six reactors of the RITM series and installed these on three new icebreakers, while a total of 20 reactors have been fabricated for powering such icebreakers, according to Pikh. 

The RITM-200 is an integrated generation III+ pressurised water reactor (PWR) designed to produce 55 MW electricity. The design is an improvement on the previous generation KLT-40S reactor that powers the FNPP Akademik Lomonosov, which can supply electricity to a town of more than 50,000 people and has already supplied to the Arctic city of Pevek, Pikh said. “The RITM series SMRs incorporate all the best features of the time proven PWR technology. It measures 45 percent less in dimension and 35 percent less in mass compared to the KLT-40S reactor”, he added. The RITM-200 has a compact integrated layout placing equipment within the steam generator casing, halving system weight compared to earlier designs and an improved ability to operate in rolling seas. 

Pikh also elaborated on Rosatom’s land-based pilot SMR project involving the RITM 200, the design for which is in progress. In November 2020, Rosatom announced plans to place a land-based RITM-200 SMR in the isolated Ust-Kuyga town in Yakutia. The reactor will replace current coal and oil-based electricity and heat generation at half the price. According to Rosatom, the construction of the SMR power plant will nearly halve the costs of electric power compared to the current prices in Ust-Yansky district in Far Eastern Russia. “The SMR project based on RITM-200 reactors features compact design, modularity, short construction period and high safety standards with the service life exceeding 60 years. The SMR construction in Yakutia will be completed by 2028”, a Rosatom statement said. 

Describing the factors behind the success of SMRs, French state-run nuclear operator EDF’s Head of Technologies and Strategy, Sandro Baldi, said these include their modular design that helps to lower both cost and gestation periods, thereby, easing financing as well as international market access, and their “standardisation and series effect.” “The simplification will offset the scale effect of moving from large to a series of small reactors”, Baldi said, making a presentation of its “Nuward” small modular reactor that was unveiled at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) general conference in 2019 by EDF and its project partners – the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), Naval Group and TechnicAtome. The partners aim to complete the basic design of the Nuward – with a capacity of 300-400 MW – between 2022 and 2025, while construction of a demonstration Nuward SMR is scheduled for 2030.  

China poised to unveil world’s first prototype molten salt reactor

China poised to unveil world’s first prototype molten salt reactor

China is poised to unveil the design for a commercial molten salt reactor (MSR) that uses thorium as fuel, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. A 2 MW prototype reactor is expected to be completed this month, with the first tests slated for September 2021, which will pave the way for building the first commercial 100 MW MSR scheduled for construction by 2030.

The molten salt nuclear reactor does not require water, which means these will be able to operate in desert areas, and China’s first commercial MSR will be located in the desert city of Wuwei. China plans to build more such small reactors across its remote desert regions and plains in the western part of the country.

The Thorium Molten Salt Reactor (TMSR) project, started in 2011, has been underway in Wuwei city in China’s Gansu province in the northwest. The new reactor is a part of the nation’s drive to make China carbon-neutral by 2060, according to the team at the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics that developed the prototype.

Professor Yan Rui of the Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, wrote in a paper published last month in the Chinese journal Nuclear Techniques that “a molten salt reactor has the advantage of being multipurpose, small in size and highly flexible. In recent years, the potential of small-scale molten salt reactors has caught international attention.”

“Small-scale reactors have significant advantages in terms of efficiency, flexibility and economy, They can play a key role in the future transition to clean energy. It is expected that small-scale reactors will be widely deployed in the next few years”, Yan said.

The molten-salt nuclear reactor runs on liquid thorium rather than uranium, and is, expected to be safer than traditional reactors because the molten salt cools and solidifies quickly when exposed to the air, insulating the thorium. Thus, any potential leak from MSRs would spill much less radiation into the atmosphere than traditional reactors, in case of an accident.

Besides, thorium is much cheaper and more abundantly available as compared to uranium. Nearly all mined thorium is thorium-232, the isotope used in nuclear reactions. Instead, only 0.72 percent of total mined uranium is the fissile uranium-235 used in traditional nuclear reactors. Moreover, the main byproducts of a thorium nuclear reaction are uranium-233, which can be recycled in other reactions.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), China leads global MSR research, that includes work in this area by countries such as France, India, Japan, Norway, and the US.

In fact, India’s three-stage nuclear power production program has been conceived with the ultimate objective of utilising the country’s vast reserves of thorium-232. India has the world’s third largest reserves of thorium. The first stage envisages the use of pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) to produce energy from natural uranium. Besides energy, PHWRs also produce fissile plutonium (Pu-239). The second stage involves using the indigenous fast breeder reactor (FBR) technology fuelled by Pu-239 to produce energy, as well as more Pu-239. By the end of the second stage of the cycle, the reactor would have produced, or “bred” more fissile material than it would have consumed.

While India has successfully completed the first stage of its nuclear programme, the second stage is taking much longer than expected, causing significant time delay and cost overruns. The FBR being developed in Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu state will use a mixed oxide of Pu-239 – derived from reprocessed spent fuel from the thermal PHWRs – and uranium-238 as fuel to generate energy. This nuclear reaction will also produce more Pu-239 by converting both U-238 in the fuel mix, as well as a blanket of depleted uranium surrounding the core, into plutonium. This plutonium will then be processed and used as nuclear fuel in a chain of commercial FBRs in the second stage of the nuclear programme.

The final stage of the cycle would involve the use of Pu-239 recovered from the second stage, in combination with thorium-232, to produce energy and uranium (U)-233 using “thermal breeders”. This production of U-233 from thorium-232 would complete the cycle, while the U-233 would then be used as fuel for the remaining part of the fuel cycle.

Construction begins on Unit 4 of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant

Construction begins on Unit 4 of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant

Construction work has started on the fourth unit of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant (NPP) at Akkuyu, according to Akkuyu Nuclear, which is a subsidiary of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom. The preparatory work includes excavations for the reactor building, turbine hall, the auxiliary reactor building and other main facilities. 

Akkuyu Nuclear said the excavation work at the site in Turkey’s Mersin province, is being undertaken in accordance with the Limited Work Permit issued by the Turkish Nuclear Regulatory Authority in June this year. The excavations cover an area of 655 square metres, and to a maximum depth of almost 12.5 metres. Almost 600,000 cubic metres of soil in total will be removed and soil strengthening works carried out, the company said.  

“This year, we expect to receive the construction license for Unit 4 and begin full-scale construction works on the unit early next year. By the end of the year, the construction of the concrete blinding of the reactor and turbine buildings foundation slabs will begin, and afterwards the reinforcement of the slabs will be made”, Akkuyu Nuclear first deputy CEO Sergei Butckikh said. “Simultaneous construction of four power units of the NPP will require high concentration of resources, but we are fully prepared for this”, he added.  

Earlier this year, Rosatom had announced the start of construction on the third unit of the Akkuyu NPP. A ceremony to mark the launch of construction of Unit 3 was held at the site in March. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined the ceremony via videoconference, while Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev and Akkuyu Nuclear CEO Anastasia Zoteeva were present at the Akkuyu NPP site. 

A Rosatom statement said that with the start of construction of Unit 3, building and installation works are now being carried out simultaneously at the construction sites of all four Akkuyu NPP power units, making it the world’s largest nuclear construction site with four power units being built simultaneously  

“The concreting of the foundation slab of Akkuyu NPP Unit 1 was completed in March 2019. Up to this date, the core catcher, dry protection, the cantilever truss, and support and thrust trusses have been installed in the unit’s reactor building. The work continues on concreting the walls of the internal structures of the containment, construction of structural contour walls and internal walls, pre-assembly and preparation for installation of the third tier of the inner containment shell”, Rosatom had said. 

“The concreting of the foundation slab of Akkuyu NPP Unit 2 began on April 8, 2020, and was completed in early June 2020. Construction of the circular reactor building walls followed at the unit. Concrete pouring of the annular floor was carried out, the core catcher was installed in the design position, and the first tier of the internal containment shell was erected. Installation of the support truss in the design position is the next milestone planned for this year within the framework of the power unit construction”, the statement added.   

According to Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez, “construction and commissioning of the plant will provide 10 percent of Turkey’s electricity needs. It is also an important contribution to the preservation of our ecology: nuclear power plants are a source of environmentally friendly and uninterrupted electricity. The project is a driver for the development of industry, economy, employment, and also contributes to the development of many related industries.” 

Meanwhile, World Nuclear News reports that the Dutch geotechnical survey company Fugro has completed a six-month offshore site survey in Sinop peninsula on Turkey’s Black Sea coast for a second nuclear power plant in the country. 

Fugro said it had carried out a series of geological, geotechnical and geohazard surveys, including cone penetration testing and sampling, and continuous rock coring from water depths of 20-50 metres, on behalf of Turkish utility EUAS International. According to the company, the survey results have been analysed by teams in Turkey and in the US.

IAEA’s nuclear energy events in lead up to Pre-COP26 meet on climate change

IAEA’s nuclear energy events in lead up to Pre-COP26 meet on climate change

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced that it will organise three webinars in connection with the pre-Conference of Parties (COP)26 climate change meeting to be held in Italy next month. The scheduled Pre-COP26 will be the final ministerial meeting before the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26) takes place over October- November this year in Glasgow in the UK.

A release by the global nuclear watchdog said “the IAEA webinars will highlight nuclear power’s vital role in decarbonizing energy production as well as the importance of engaging and empowering young people in the transition to net-zero energy systems.”

The three webinars are part of the All4Climate initiative launched by the COP26 co-host Italy in collaboration with the World Bank, Italy’s Lombardy region, and the city of Milan.

“All4Climate seeks to foster dialogue on the challenges presented by the climate crisis and to help deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius”, the IAEA said.

“Given that it provides almost a third of the world’s low-carbon electricity, nuclear power needs to be at the table where energy solutions to the climate crisis are discussed,” said IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. Mikhail Chudakov. “We are very pleased that our events have been included in the official All4Climate calendar. It reflects the continuous work by the IAEA on this important topic, and the events themselves will provide timely input to global discussions about energy and climate change ahead of COP26 in November”, he added.

This year’s Pre-COP26, to be held in Milan between September 30- October 2, will host ministers and delegations from more than 40 countries, representatives of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat and other stakeholders in the fight against climate change and the transition to sustainable development.

As part of the All4Climate initiative, the IAEA’s first webinar on September 2 is on the theme of “Youth Engagement on the Road to Decarbonization”, in which young professionals will exchange perspectives on the role of nuclear power and other clean energy sources in the fight against climate change.

The next virtual event, on September 20, will feature the five finalists of the IAEA Net Zero Challenge, which is a competition of policy recommendations by young professionals for an accelerated transition to net zero emissions. The finalists will present their recommendations and a committee will select the winner of the Challenge, who will be offered an opportunity to attend COP26 in Glasgow.

The third and final webinar on September 28 will be on “Empowering Youth: Attracting the Next Generation of Nuclear Professionals”. “Students, young professionals and senior leaders will use this event to inspire young people to pursue careers in nuclear science and technology, underscoring the unique role that young generations have in mitigating climate change and achieving sustainable development”, the IAEA said.

According to the IAEA, as preparation for COP26, the agency plans to organize several events on the role of nuclear technology in fighting and adapting to climate change.

“At COP26, I will personally reiterate the message that without the substantial contribution of nuclear power to the global energy mix, we will not achieve our climate goals. Nuclear must have a seat at the table when the world’s future energy and climate policies are being discussed”, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi had said in his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors in June this year.

At the recently held IAEA 28th General Conference on fusion energy research, the overwhelming consensus among participants was that nuclear fusion can become a promising option to replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary energy source and could have an important role to play in addressing climate change. Given that the potential of nuclear fusion to generate electricity at a commercial scale is still some distance away, participants at this virtually organised IAEA event deliberated on the complexity and challenges of controlling thermonuclear fusion for energy production.

Late last year, the IAEA published a report on small modular reactors (SMRs) as a guide that can help countries identify suitable nuclear reactor designs in their search for reliable and affordable energy sources towards cutting down carbon emissions, and for meeting the goals agreed upon at the UN’s 2015 Paris Conference of Parties (CoP21) on tackling the urgent issue of climate change.

The IAEA report titled “Advances in Small Modular Reactor Technology Developments” provides the latest data and information on SMRs around the world, including detailed descriptions of 72 reactors under development or construction in 18 countries. Expanding on an earlier IAEA report on SMRs, this booklet provides annexes on waste management and disposal, as well as a section on very small SMRs called microreactors.

Rosatom launches exhibition on travel featuring designers, photographers

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom in collaboration with Russia’s State Tretyakov Gallery and the Moscow Design Museum launched an exhibition in Moscow earlier this month titled “Collection of Impressions. Photographers and designers on travelling”, featuring industrial, graphic, book, furniture and light design items, as well as textiles, ceramics and photographs.

According to a statement, the exposition displays 11 art installations of modern Russian designers and architects as well as photographs of the Rosatom engineering division ASE’s International Photo Awards 2020 runners-up from India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Hungary, Finland, Turkey, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Russia.

“The exhibition features travel, which is the thing we all miss so much amid the pandemic. Its itinerary passes through emotions and recollections, sights and sounds, stories to remind how travel is rejuvenating and what it inspires for”, a Rosatom statement said.

The exposition, designed by the prominent graphic artist Igor Gurovich, presents the works of leading Russian designers and architects: Andrey Bartenev, Denis Simachev, Yaroslav Rassadin, Katya Bochavar, Svetlana Tegin, Sergey Smirnov, Victoria Andreyanova, ARCHPOLE and many others.

‘Viktor Osadchev’s music guides through the exposition, transporting the audience across the halls and taking it to imaginary trip from one continent to the other”, the statement added.

“I think many of us love to travel more than anything else. The exhibition gives us a chance to visit various countries. This is an exciting combination of photographs with modern design, style, fashion and ceramics items. All this transforms into travel across space, into an extremely important message for all of us: do our best to preserve the beautiful planet we all live on”, the State Tretyakov Gallery’s Director General Zelfira Tregulova said.

According to the ASE Senior Vice President (Corporate Functions) Nikolay Podorov, “we have participated in a great and important event, it is an incredible experience for us. We have dedicated this exposition to all countries we are collaborating with. Countries that value the nuclear industry development. At the exhibition, you will see wonderful pictures taken by photographers and travel enthusiasts. These photographs reflect the work of Russian nuclear scientists”.

The audio guide to the exhibition has been recorded by Tim Ilyasov, fashion researcher, journalist and lecturer at the British Higher School of Art and Design, The exhibition will run until September 26, 2021, at the New Tretyakov Gallery site in the Moscow Design Museum.

The ASE International Photo Awards is an international contest for press photographers held by Rosatom’s engineering division. The contest is aimed at sharing knowledge about everyday life, cultural heritage and national identity of the countries where the engineering division operates. The contest was first held in 2019.

Northern Transit Corridor to be developed between Asia and Europe

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based port operator DP World announced last week that it has tied up with Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom to develop the Northern Transit Corridor as a viable and sustainable route between Asia and Europe.

A DP World statement said that under the terms of the agreement, signed in St Petersburg, Russia, by DP World Chairman and CEO Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and Rosatom Director General (DG) Aleksey Likhachev, the two companies will establish a joint venture which will invest in, build and operate transport and logistics capacity along the Northern Transit Corridor.

The Northern Transit Corridor “cuts up to 19 days from the journey time between South East Asia and Northwestern Europe. One third of the world’s trade flows between the two continents and saving shipping time will significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Critically, the width and draft of vessels are not an issue along the Northern Transit Corridor. The alternative new route is not congested, shorter, more efficient and faster ”, the statement said.

“A record 33 million tons was carried along the Northern Transit Corridor in 2020, with President Vladimir Putin targeting 80 million tons by 2024. To open the route to sustainable commerce, a comprehensive development program will be performed, including the development of ports and transport links along Russia’s north coast to sustain economic activity”, it added.

According to DP World, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant challenges in the supply chain, with many cargo owners struggling to find containers to move their goods, while “diversification and disruption” of traditional routes and methods are required to sustain growth and build back confidence.

“As the leading provider of worldwide, smart, end-to-end supply chain logistics, DP World supports Russia’s efforts to diversify trade flows between Asia and Europe. The Northern Transit Corridor holds out the prospect of shorter transit times between East and West. DP World has already committed to invest $2 billion with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and we will continue to work with our partners in Russia to find solutions that allow the Northern Transit Corridor to develop sustainably”, DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem said in a statement.

According to Rosatom DG Aleksey Likhachev, “building of sustainable transport infrastructure in the Arctic opens up new opportunities in developing the Eurasian transit which can be achieved in an optimal timeframe and help reduce the environmental footprint through shorter route distances and the advanced low-carbon energy solutions applied.”

This agreement marks an important step in the development of a strategic partnership between Rosatom and DP World, Likhachev said.

India crosses its nuclear power generation target for the April-June quarter of 2021

India has achieved its target of nuclear power generation for the first quarter (April-June) of the current financial year 2021-22, the nation’s Parliament was informed earlier this week. In fact, the actual generation during the period at 11,256 million units (MUs) exceeded the target of 10164 MUs during April-June 2021.

Informing the Indian Parliament of this achievement, the Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh also told the Upper House in a written reply that the overall target of atomic energy generation for 2021-22 is 41821 MUs.

In response to a separate question in the Lok Sabha, or the Lower House of Parliament, the Minister said that construction work is underway to build 10 more nuclear reactors in the country that would provide an additional power capacity of 8,000 MW.

“The government has accorded administrative approval and financial sanction for construction of 10 indigenous 700 MW Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) to be set up in fleet mode. On progressive completion of the projects under construction and accorded sanction, the nuclear capacity is expected to reach 22,480 MW by 2031. More nuclear power plants are also planned in future” Singh said in a written reply.

The country currently has 22 nuclear reactors in operation with a total capacity of 6,780 MW, and one more unit – Kakrapar Atomic Power Project (KAPP)-III of 700 MW capacity located in Gujarat state – was synchronised with the grid on January 10, 2021.

KAPP Unit 3, which became India’s first fully indigenously built pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) of 700 MW capacity, is operated by the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). This is the highest capacity achieved by an indigenously designed and fabricated reactor and had attained its first criticality, or controlled self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction, in July last year.

Singh had informed Parliament earlier this year that the government has granted administrative approval and financial sanction for construction of 12 more nuclear power reactors, of which 10 are for indigenously built 700 MW (PHWRs) to be set up in the fleet mode, as well as for 2 Light Water Reactors (LWRs) to be set up in cooperation with the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.

The fleet mode of construction of the 10 PHWRs, to be built indigenously at a total estimated cost of $16.3 billion, ensures standardisation, lower costs and speed up the setting up of nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the country. The 10 planned reactors are units 5 and 6 at the Kaiga in Karnataka state, units 1 and 2 at Chutka in Madhya Pradesh, 4 units at Mahi Banswara in Rajasthan and units 1 and 2 at Gorakhpur in Haryana. In his reply, Singh also indicated that while the two units at Chutka proposed to be completed by 2031, would use natural uranium as fuel, the units 5 and 6 of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu, where Rosatom is the equipment supplier and technical consultant and which is expected to be constructed by 2026-27, would use enriched uranium as nuclear fuel.

Currently, 8 reactors are under construction in the country with a combined capacity of 6,200 MW. On completion of these under construction, NPCIL’s capacity will reach 12,980 MW by 2025. India’s current nuclear power capacity is expected to increase to 22,480 MW by 2031 on the completion of these proposed projects. Two Russian-made VVER units of 1,000 MW capacity each are currently operating at the Kudankulam NPP, where 4 more VVER-1000 units are under construction. As per an intergovernmental agreement, Rosatom will also help construct 6 more units in India at another location.

Questions being studied by the Rhisotope project for rhino protection

Questions being studied by the Rhisotope project for rhino protection

Demonstrating the use of nuclear technology for wildlife conservation, an international project was launched recently in South Africa that aims to drastically reduce the scourge of rhinoceros poaching by introducing radioisotopes into the horn of rhinos. Adopting a multi-faceted approach to rhino poaching reduction, the aim of the  Rhisotope project, formally launched on May 13, 2021, is to create an effective means to significantly reduce the number of rhinos being poached and killed for their horns. 

The Rhisotope project will investigate introducing harmless quantities of radioactive isotopes into the horn of a rhino with the aim of decreasing the demand for rhino horn in the international market, as well as making it more detectable when crossing country borders. It is an initiative involving South Africa’s Witwatersrand University, Rosatom, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto), the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) and Colorado State University in the US, together with global scientists, researchers, rhino owners and the renowned veterinary surgeon and rhino expert William Fowlds. 

According to the Rhisotope project “traditional anti-poaching methods are still not enough and even though trade in rhino horn is illegal and banned internationally, there are many countries that drive the illicit sale of horn, countries like Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Croatia and North Korea to name a few”.  

At a webinar organised last month, Professor James Larkin, Director, Radiation and Health Physics Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, along with Rosatom Central and Southern Africa CEO Ryan Collyer, elaborated on the Rhisotope project, which has four related components of demand reduction and horn devaluation, community upliftment and investment, education, as well as rhino research and data. 

Larkin elaborated on the rationale for inserting a measured quantity radioisotopes into the horn of a rhinoceros as being to reduce the attractiveness of the horn to the end user so that any treated horns that are taken will become that much easier to detect at additional points in the rhino horn value chain.  

The upliftment of communities in poaching regions by appropriate engagement involves installation of aquaponic units with appropriate training to improve the nutritional status, particularly of children in the region, and building educational programmes around these units. 

The Rhino Education project aims to facilitate a greater understanding of the world’s five remaining species of rhino, encourage a deeper exploration of human and environmental challenges which threaten their survival, and actively contribute towards wildlife conservation. The project plans to roll out a ‘Digi-pal’ system in the near future for children to communicate with each other globally on conservation. 

The fourth component of the project – rhino research and data involves  using the website to create a dedicated portal for storage and distribution of rhino related information and data that is made available to all interested parties. 

On the basic premise of the project, Larkin said that radioactive rhino horn increases the probability of poachers getting apprehended. The consequences of being caught in possession of illicit radioactivity are significantly greater than for illegal possession of rhino horn. Radiation technology and its implementation globally has expanded greatly owing to nuclear and radiological security concerns. The illicit possession of radioactive material in South Africa, for instance, is considered a “Crime against the State”.  

The key question that the project seeks to answer involves its justification in terms of optimising on results and the radioactive dose limits. The research, thus, involves assessment of the movement of the dose compounds through rhino horn, as well as identification of appropriate radioisotopes to be administered. Of primary concern is whether or not there is any movement of compounds from the horn back into the rhino across the growth plate from the point of view of a safety concern from rhino owners that the animals will not be internally contaminated by any radioisotopes and thereby put these animals at additional risk. 

According to Larkin, dose assessment is a vital aspect of the whole project as it will then allow the team to “justify, optimise, and set dose limits for the exposure of these animals, necessary for the safety and regulation of this process.”  

“In many ways this will be the hardest aspect of the work as there are going to be numerous criteria that will need to be considered, including that the chosen radioisotopes be readily available and their cost”, Larkin said. “What will the cost of the radioisotopes be? These animals have a commercial value and a significant protection cost. Will the use of radioisotopes significantly reduce the protection costs? A balance between the potential harm to the animal versus detection of the isotope after a number of years needs to be struck from the viewpoint of regulatory approval”, he added.   

The questions the scientists seek to answer are that given a rhino can live for up to 40 years and their horn grows 4 – 7 cm a year, how will this effect the choice of isotope, and on how many times does one treat an animal bearing in mind the risks, as well as costs associated with darting a rhino. 

There is a significant cost to protecting rhino. For example, on a game farm in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region a team of six US veterans costs $18,000 per month, currently paid for by charitable donations.

Work in full swing in assembling ITER’s giant superconducting magnets

Russia starts construction of BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor

Japanese energy major Toshiba announced last month that it has completed the manufacture of the first of four toroidal field coils it is supplying to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), or the world’s largest nuclear fusion project, currently being assembled at Cadarache in France.  

The ITER machine, the assembly of which began in July last year, is designed to replicate the fusion power of the sun to enable generation of clean unlimited energy, and the first ultra-hot plasma is expected to be generated in late 2025. The world’s largest science project is intended to demonstrate that fusion power can be generated on a commercial scale. 

Toroidal field coils are giant superconducting magnets that will generate the magnetic cage to contain the ITER fusion reactor’s plasma. Nine of ITER’s 18 toroidal field coils are being manufactured in Europe, while the other nine are being made in Japan. Toshiba, which is fabricating four toroidal field coils, together with six coil cases, has now completed making the first coil, which is 16.5 metres (m) in height, 9 m in width and weighs around 300 tonnes. 

“Toshiba ESS will continue to contribute to ITER, which will initiate plasma experiments in 2025, by supplying toroidal field coils and cases, which require highly precise processing technology to produce”, Toshiba director and senior vice president at the company’s Power Systems Division, Shinya Fujitsuka, said in a statement.  

ITER is a partnership composed of the European Union, the UK, Switzerland, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the US. Each partner contributes in-kind hardware to support their share of project construction while sharing all of the science and technology. 

Meanwhile, the first of six superconducting magnet modules for the ITER central solenoid left the General Atomics facility in the US last month for the ITER site in France, according to an ITER (also signifies “The Way” in Latin) statement. 

The central solenoid is at the heart of the ITER “tokamak” (derived from the Russian words for toroidal magnetic confinement). The tokamak, which will produce thermonuclear fusion power, relies on the magnet to propel and shape its plasma stream. It initiates plasma current, as well as drives and shapes the plasma during operation. 

Earlier this year, ITER also announced that the sixth poloidal field coil (PF6) was inserted into the fusion machine’s tokamak pit on April 21. It marked the start of the assembly of ITER’s magnet system. The PF6 coil, which was manufactured by the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, weighs 350 tonnes and has an external diameter of around 11.2 meters, making it the heaviest of ITER’s superconducting magnets. The PF6 lies at the lowest surface level of the six circular magnets surrounding ITER’s vacuum chamber and the first one to be inserted in the tokamak pit. 

Creating the magnetic fields in a tokamak requires three different groups of magnets. External coils around the ring of the tokamak produce the toroidal magnetic field, confining the plasma inside the vessel, while the poloidal coils that orbit the tokamak control the position and shape of the plasma. Instead, the central solenoid in the center of the tokamak uses a pulse of energy to generate a powerful toroidal current in the plasma that flows around the torus. The movement of ions with this current, in turn, creates a second poloidal magnetic field that improves the confinement of the plasma, as well as generating heat for fusion. 

The terms toroidal and poloidal refer to directions relative to a torus of reference. The poloidal direction follows a small circular ring around the surface, while the toroidal direction follows a large circular ring around the torus, encircling the central void. 

Instead, ITER’s smallest poloidal field magnet —PF1— has successfully undergone vacuum pressure resin impregnation at the Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard in St. Petersburg in Russia, according to the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom. 

A Rosatom statement earlier this year said that the 200-tonne poloidal field coil 1 (PF1) is one of six poloidal field coils designed for plasma confinement in the ITER machine. Nine metres in diameter, the magnet is a complex system whose building blocks — 8 double pancakes wound from niobium-titanium cable-in-conduit conductor — have been stacked and joined electrically with over 6 kms of superconductor being used during winding of the PF1. 

ITER’s realising of a self-heating plasma is expected to generate 10 times more heat than is put in. Fusion provides clean, reliable energy without carbon emissions, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of an accident with meltdown. The fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium, while it is abundant enough to supply the world for millions of years. A football-sized amount of this fuel is equivalent to around 10,000 tons of coal. 

Construction starts on Unit 5 of India’s Kudankulam nuclear plant

Construction starts on Unit 5 of India’s Kudankulam nuclear plant

The first concrete was poured into the foundation plate of the reactor building for the fifth unit of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in India’s Tamil Nadu state being built by the state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) with the assistance of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, who are the equipment suppliers and technical consultants for the KNPP consisting of six units.

A Rosatom statement said that the concrete pouring undertaken on June 29, 2021, marked the official commencement of the third phase of construction of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project consisting of KNPP units 5 and 6. A ceremony to mark the occasion was held via videoconference in view of the restrictions prevailing on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase 2 of the KNPP construction involving units 3 and 4, to be equipped with VVER-1000 reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each, are currently at an advanced stage.

“First concrete pouring (for unit 5) was preceded by continuous preliminary work: concrete bedding for foundations of the reactor building, auxiliary reactor building with the Main Control Room, turbine building and power supply building for normal operation, emergency power supply and safety control systems”, Rosatom said.

“For many years the Kudankulam NPP construction project has been a symbol of close cooperation between Russia and India. However, we do not want to stop at what had already been achieved. Rosatom has all the most advanced nuclear power technologies. Together with our Indian colleagues we are ready to launch the serial construction of the state-of-the-art Generation III+ Russian-designed nuclear power units at a new site in India. It is stipulated by the existing agreements,” Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said at the ceremony.

The KNPP units 1 and 2, equipped with the Russian-made VVER-1000 type reactors of 1,000 MW capacity each, have been connected to the grid in 2013 and 2016, respectively. As per an intergovernmental agreement, Rosatom will also help construct 6 more units in India at another location.

According to Rosatom, its subsidiary enterprises are already manufacturing equipment required for the first priority installation, the equipment for the reactor facilities and turbine hall for the KNPP unit 5. “Even today, on the construction horizon of up to two years, construction is provided with the detailed design documentation”, the statement said.

“After signing the General Framework Agreement (GFA) on April 10, 2014, on construction of units 3, 4, the negotiations with the Indian party began regarding construction of Kudankulam NPP units 5, 6, upon the results of which the agreement was reached that these units would be constructed in compliance with the same design as it was stipulated for units 3, 4. On June 1, 2017, the Credit Protocol to the Intergovernmental Agreement of December 5, 2008 and the GFA for Kudankulam NPP units 5, 6 were signed”, it added.

Rosatom announced last month that its machine building division, Atomenergomash, has started manufacturing the set of bends for the main circulation pump being fabricated for KNPP units 5 and 6. It will manufacture eight bends of the main circulation pump for two units of the plant.

Rosatom also said that the new Kudankulam NPP units meet the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety requirements. The VVER-1000 reactors are equipped with state-of-the-art safety features, and the company described the main circulation pump as “a first class safety item”. It circulates the coolant at a nuclear power plant from the reactor to the steam generator, and vice versa, through the pipes of the main circulation pipeline.

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