EU nuclear safety regulator approves preliminary report on Belarus NPP

BARC working out cost of research reactor for medical isotopes

The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG) has approved the preliminary report on the peer review of the new Belarusian nuclear power plant (NPP) in Astravets, the European Union announced on Thursday. Adopted by consensus on 3 March 3, 2021, this report follows a mission by ENSREG technical experts to the site carried out on February, 9-10, according to the announcement posted on the EU website.

Unit 1 of Belarus’ first nuclear power plant, being built with the assistance of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, reached nominal capacity for the first time in January 2021, that is, started operating at 100 percent capacity during the pilot operation. The unit started its pilot operation on December 22, 2020.

“The preliminary report reviews the measures implemented by Belarus with regard to seven issues and related recommendations from the 2018 ENSREG stress test report, which were identified as a priority by the peer review team”, the EU said. “The preliminary report concludes that, based on the information made available and the site visit, progress has been made in implementing all recommendations related to the seven priority issues”, it added.

According to the EU, the adoption of this report brings to a close the first phase of the ongoing peer review. The second phase will cover all the other recommendations and will include another ENSREG experts’ visit to the nuclear power plant as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic situation has improved.

“The final report of the peer review will be completed and published based on an analysis of the progress on remaining recommendations.The EU methodology for stress tests was developed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. Belarus is participating in the process on a voluntary basis”, the EU said.

“The Commission will continue to engage with Belarus to ensure that the highest level of safety is guaranteed in the process of commissioning the nuclear power plant. The safety of nuclear installations in the EU and in neighbouring countries is a top priority of the European Commission and of the EU’s national nuclear safety authorities”, it added.

The Belarus NPP became the first VVER-1200 project successfully completed outside Russia. Currently, three reactors of this type are successfully operating in Russia – two at the Novovoronezh NPP and one at the Leningrad NPP. The fourth such reactor – unit 6 of the Leningrad NPP – reached 100 percent capacity on January 3, 2021. The unit’s state-of-the art Generation III+ VVER-1200 reactor is already operating in 3 power units in Russia and is a backbone of the Rosatom export order book consisting of 36 units across 12 markets, including Finland, Hungary, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Bangladesh.

According to the Belarusian NPP Project Manager, Vitaly Polyanin, “start of the operation at 100 percent capacity is the main event of the pilot operation stage at any nuclear power unit. Once the compliance of the actual operation parameters of the systems and equipment with the design requirements is verified, the unit will start commercial operation”.
According to Rosatom, the safety system of the twin-unit plant in Belarus has been “fully endorsed” by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which concluded that the design parameters account for site-specific external hazards, such as earthquakes, floods and extreme weather, as well as human-induced events, and that measures have been taken to address challenges related to external events in light of lessons from the Fukushima accident caused by the tsunami that hit the coast of Japan in 2011.

The IAEA has already conducted seven of the missions to the Belarus plant that it recommends for countries building their first NPP. In 2017-2018, Belarus voluntarily agreed to conduct the European Union nuclear safety stress tests, and had the results reviewed by the EU nuclear safety body, ENSREG, which had given the tests an “overall positive” mark.

The Belarus NPP, located in Ostrovets in the country’s Grodno region, comprises two VVER-1200 reactors with a total capacity of 2,400 MW. According to Rosatom, once fully completed, the plant is expected to supply about 18 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of low-carbon electricity to the Belarus national grid every year.

Meanwhile, Rosatom has become one of the five top most environmentally responsible Russian companies, according to the US business magazine Forbes. This is the first rating of environmental responsibility compiled by the magazine.
In a statement earlier this week, Rosatom said its activities seek improvement of the quality of living in accordance with the global agenda of sustainable development. “The most important aspect of sustainable development is the principle ‘Do no significant harm’, which means minimisation of contamination and adverse impact to ecosystems, reduction of consumption volume of water resources as well as the possibility of application of closed production cycle”, the company said.

“To implement requirements of sustainable development, Rosatom has adopted the Uniform Sectoral Policy in the Field of Sustainable Development. The important condition of Rosatom’s long-term strategy is the contribution to achievement of 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals”, the statement added.

In October 2020, Rosatom joined the UN Global Compact and signed the corresponding letter of adherence. In December 2020, the company become a member of the association “National Network of Global Compact”. As per Rosatom’s Annual Report for 2019, the company spent Rubles 23.55 billion on environmental protection activities.

Indian government alert on scams involving products making false claims of radioactive properties

Indian government alert on scams involving products making false claims of radioactive properties

The Indian government has been periodically cautioning against scamsters in the country selling fake equipment that they claim contains radioactive material with the aim of cheating gullible people out of large sums of money, the Minister for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh said earlier this month.

In response to a question raised by a member of the Lower House of Parliament, the Minister said in a written reply that the government was aware that its Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) receives frequent alerts about fraudsters selling such fake material, which, in cases where they have been seized, have been found to be totally “devoid of radioactivity.”

“The government is aware that certain fraudsters are selling material with dubious names like ‘anti-radiation pack’ and ‘Rice-puller’, etc. having radioactivity and certified by BARC (Bhabha Atomic Research Centre)/DAE. Crisis Management Group DAE, and BARC keep getting alerts/intimation very frequently regarding fraudulent transactions involving certain material labelled as ‘Rice-puller’, ‘Anti-radiation pack’, etc.”, Singh said.

“The information about fraudsters selling such material with dubious names of ‘Anti-radiation pack’, and ‘Rice-puller’, etc., claiming to be certified by BARC/DAE is addressed in all the public awareness programmes conducted by DAE, and participants are requested to bring to the notice of law enforcement agencies of such incidences. This information is also provided to the participants of the various training programmes conducted for security and response agencies on ‘response to radiation emergencies'”, he said.

According to the Minister, fraudsters trap innocent businessmen and others and convince them that the material they are selling is radioactive and has magical powers to increase profits greatly. “The fraudsters show manipulated documents purported to be from BARC/DAE etc. to convince clients about the authenticity of the material and cheat innocent people. Many a time, the victims approach the local police who send the material to BARC to check for radioactivity, and in all cases the material has been found to be devoid of radioactivity”, Singh added.

Rice pullers can be described as any antique metal object such as coins, vessels, tumblers, or jewellery with a magical potential of pulling rice grains. Rice pullers are made of copper alloys or the element iridium. These type of metals have a natural electric or magnetic properties which make them highly valuable. Properties of rice pulling are commonly found in objects made of copper and iridium. These metals are very rarely found, thus, making them greatly sought after. Rice pullers have been mostly found in rural and remote areas, and generally buried under the earth.

Owing to their natural electric or magnetic power, rice pullers are used in satellites, rockets, as well as for research purposes by military organisations. Their exceptional properties have, however, also provoked keen interest among scammers in the Indian subcontinent. As numerous instances testify, rice pullers have been used to perpetrate frauds by making use of some illusionist tricks. A common modus operandi employed by fraudsters involves selling rice pulling metals by tempting the potential buyer with the prospect of a lucrative market for this so called “magical” item, designed to sell it off at a price much higher than its original cost.

In recent years, numerous instances of what is popularly known as the “rice pulling scam” have come to light, particularly in the south Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. The police have arrested a number of people in this connection, and have also unearthed fake websites used to lure gullible people.

According to law enforcement officials in Tamil Nadu, a particular fake website contained technical details on the material’s applications, including the use of names like radium, thorium, and iridium, among others, to fool prospective buyers about the nonexistent radioactive property. This “rice pulling” material was projected as worth millions of rupees in the global market in order to sell it for a few hundred thousand rupees. Designed to make a convincing sales pitch, some such sites showed people wearing radiation protective clothing while handling the so called radioactive material.

In a case that came to light in the IT hub Bengaluru a couple of years back, the fraudsters said the equipment could be sold to the US space agency NASA and other organisations for a higher profit, but that they required to rent suits and other tools from defence research and development organisations to test the equipment, and solicited money from prospective buyers for this purpose.

Plant launched in Russia to produce fuel for China’s CFR-600 fast neutron reactor

Plant launched in Russia to produce fuel for China's CFR-600 fast neutron reactor

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom’s fuel arm TVEL has launched a production site for fabricating fuel for China’s flagship fast neutron reactor project, the CFR-600. A TVEL announcement earlier this week said that the fuel fabricating unit is being constructed by the company’s subsidiary enterprise, the Elemash machine building plant.

The new production site was established under the contract between TVEL and the Chinese company CNLY, a subsidiary of CNNC Corporation, for supply of uranium fuel for the CFR-600 reactor, including start-up loading, as well as refueling for the first seven years of the power unit operation. The start of the CFR-600 fuel supplies to China is scheduled for 2023, the statement said.

“The enterprise has modernised the whole shop floor for fast reactors, which involved development and installation of unique equipment. The ‘dummy’ fuel bundles for CFR-600 are already manufactured for testing”, TVEL said.

“The Russian nuclear industry has a unique forty-year long experience in fast reactors operation and production of fuel for such installations. The fuel division of Rosatom fully accomplishes its obligations within the Russian-Chinese cooperation in development of fast reactor technologies. These are unique projects when foreign design fuel is produced in Russia”, TVEL President Natalia Nikipelova said in a statement.

“Since 2010, the first Chinese fast breeder reactor CEFR has been operating on fuel manufactured at Elemash plant, and to provide the supply of the CFR-600 fuel, a team of the Elemash and TVEL specialists has successfully completed a complex high-tech project to modernize the fabrication facility”, she added.

According to TVEL, the new equipment will be used to produce fuel for both the Chinese CFR-600 and CEFR fast reactors, as well as for the Russian BN-600 reactor of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant (NPP). The CFR-600 fuel contract was signed in compliance of the intergovernmental agreement between the Russia and China on the joint construction and operation of the demonstration fast reactor in China.

“It is a part of a large-scale program of bilateral cooperation in nuclear industry for the decades ahead. The agreement covers construction of innovative power units of Russian design (generation III +) with VVER-1200 reactors at two sites in China – Tianwan NPP and Xudabao NPP. The package of intergovernmental documents and framework contracts for these projects was signed in 2018 during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing and meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping”, the statement said.

“In addition to manufacturing enriched uranium fuel, TVEL also actively develops and implements technologies for fabrication of uranium-plutonium fuel for fast reactors from secondary products of nuclear fuel cycle”, it added.

TVEL has developed a fuel rod design based on nitride uranium-plutonium (MNUP) fuel for Russia’s BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor that is being constructed, Rosatom announced earlier this month. In a statement, Rosatom said that the fuel rod project being undertaken by TVEL’s research facility, the Bochvar Institute, will be applied for commercial manufacturing of nitride fuel to be launched as part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex that is under construction in the Seversk, Tomsk, region of Russia.

The Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex is underway as part of the strategic “Proryv” (“Breakthrough”) project. It will include three linked facilities, making up a closed nuclear fuel cycle at one site — the fuel fabrication/re-fabrication unit (FRU), the 300 MW nuclear power plant with the fast neutron BREST-OD-300 reactor, and the unit for spent fuel reprocessing. In addition to the 300 MW BREST-OD power unit, the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex in Seversk will include the on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle embracing the unit for refabrication of mixed nitride uranium-plutonium fuel, as well as the unit for irradiated fuel reprocessing. The “Breakthrough” project is aimed at development of the new technological platform of the nuclear power industry capable of solving the current issues of handling and storage of spent nuclear fuel and waste.

Rosatom announced last year that the 789 MW BN-800 fast neutron reactor powering the fourth unit of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant (NPP) in Russia will be completely switched to uranium-plutonium MOX fuel in 2022. This BN-800 reactor of 789 MW capacity is currently fuelled by a “hybrid core” consisting of a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. World Nuclear News reported that the transition to MOX fuel assemblies will start in the first half of 2021. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor is designed to use the MOX fuel as one of the stages on to the development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The capacity of the Beloyarsk Unit 4 exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MW BN-600 Beloyarsk Unit 3.

Unit 3 construction begins of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant

India's first indigenously built 700 MW reactor connected to grid

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has announced the start of construction earlier this month on the third unit of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant (NPP) at Akkuyu. A Rosatom statement said that a ceremony to mark the launch of construction of Unit 3 was held at the site of the Akkuyu NPP. 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 JSC CEO Anastasia Zoteeva were present at the Akkuyu NPP site.

The 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. “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 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”, it added.

According to Rosatom, the construction license application for the Akkuyu NPP Unit 4 was submitted to the Turkish nuclear regulator NDK on May 12, 2020. Preparations are underway for the construction of a foundation pit for the unit.

Speaking at the event to launch construction of Akkuyu unit 3 earlier this month, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said that construction work was progressing rapidly. “Just three years after the Akkuyu NPP construction began, we are starting full-scale construction work on the third power unit. The project is proceeding at an unprecedented speed. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Turkish government and local officials for their comprehensive support of the project. The NPP will be one of the cornerstones for the country’s energy security”, he said.

“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”, said Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez.

Rosatom said that the construction license for unit 3 was issued by the Turkish nuclear regulator on November 13, 2020. “Concrete is being poured onto the reinforced base of the power unit. The foundation is divided into 16 work zones, so-called sections. Concrete will be poured to a height of 2.6 meters; the average volume of each section will be 1,100 cubic meters. The total amount of concrete mixture poured into the foundation slab as part of the concrete pouring works will be 17,000 cubic meters”, the statement said.

“Specialists are present on site to control the concrete pouring process, including experts from the concrete batching plant laboratory, representatives of AKKUYU NUCLEAR JSC, main construction contractor TİTAN 2 IC IÇTAŞ INŞAAT ANONIM ŞİRKETI Joint Venture, as well as employees of the independent construction supervision organization Assystem EOS, a French engineering company”, it added.

Nitride fuel developed for Russia’s BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor

Nitride fuel developed for Russia's BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom’s fuel arm TVEL has developed a fuel rod design based on nitride uranium-plutonium (MNUP) fuel for the BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor, Rosatom announced last week. In a statement, Rosatom said that the fuel rod project being undertaken by TVEL’s research facility, the Bochvar Institute, will be applied for commercial manufacturing of nitride fuel to be launched as part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex that is under construction in the Seversk, Tomsk, region of Russia.

The Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex is underway as part of the strategic “Proryv” (“Breakthrough”) project. It will include three linked facilities, making up a closed nuclear fuel cycle at one site — the fuel fabrication/re-fabrication unit (FRU), the 300 MW nuclear power plant with the fast neutron BREST-OD-300 reactor, and the unit for spent fuel reprocessing.

“At the same time, Rosatom’s Nuclear Fuel Division continues development of the second-generation fuel rods for the BREST-OD-300 with a higher burnout level, which will be used when the MNUP fabrication will shift to the re-fabrication stage (meaning that irradiated fuel of the first load after irradiation and reprocessing will be used for fresh fuel fabrication)”, the statement said.

“Pilot fuel assemblies with nitride fuel have been irradiated in the BN-600 reactor at the Beloyarsk NPP since 2014. Though the sufficient validated fuel burnout for the BREST initial load is 6 percent, in the course of the testing we have already achieved the 9 percent level. These results give us the grounds for the fuel rod endurance tests with 9-10 percent burnout”, said Mikhail Skupov, Deputy Director General of the Bochvar Institute.

According to the TVEL Vice President (Research, Development and Quality) Alexander Ugryumov, “the research results related to nitride fuel for the BREST reactor will significantly accelerate fuel development for the nitride core version of the next generation BN-1200M fast reactor. In 2022, experimental fuel assemblies with fuel rods of BN-1200M type are scheduled to be loaded in the BN-600 for endurance tests”.

Rosatom announced last year that the 789 MW BN-800 fast neutron reactor powering the fourth unit of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant (NPP) in Russia will be completely switched to uranium-plutonium MOX fuel in 2022. This BN-800 reactor of 789 MW capacity is currently fuelled by a “hybrid core” consisting of a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. World Nuclear News reported that the transition to MOX fuel assemblies will start in the first half of 2021. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor is designed to use the MOX fuel as one of the stages on to the development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The capacity of the Beloyarsk Unit 4 exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MW BN-600 Beloyarsk Unit 3.

The “Breakthrough” project targets creation of a new technology platform for the industry with the closed nuclear fuel cycle, as well as tackling the issues of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. One of the project components is the construction of a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor facility with an on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle.

Rosatom has said that unlike NPPs with light-water VVER reactors, where refueling is performed at the ‘cooled’ reactor, the BREST-OD-300 project provides that these operations will be carried out at the temperature of the liquid-lead coolant of the primary circuit over 400° C. Before loading into the core, the fuel assemblies will be heated up in a special chamber and then placed into the core filled with a melt of lead coolant”.

In addition to the 300 MW BREST-OD power unit, the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex in Seversk will include the on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle embracing the unit for refabrication of mixed nitride uranium-plutonium fuel, as well as the unit for irradiated fuel reprocessing.

According to TVEL, the production of equipment for the reactor facility at Seversk, being constructed by its subsidiary Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC), is supposed to take between three to five years, while installation of the main equipment is expected to be completed in 2025. The “Breakthrough” project is aimed at development of the new technological platform of the nuclear power industry capable of solving the current issues of handling and storage of spent nuclear fuel and waste.

Lessons from Fukushima that help to make for safe nuclear energy

Lessons from Fukushima that help to make for safe nuclear energy

The tenth anniversary of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant (NPP) in Japan on March 11, 2011, caused by a tsunami triggered by an earthquake, provides the occasion to consider the lessons learnt from the disaster for nuclear energy – the only source of low carbon, reliable base load power to satisfy the world’s exponentially growing demand for electricity and heating. The post-Fukushima lessons learnt are of specific relevance for India, given that the country’s first 1,000 MW light water reactors (LWRs) at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu attained criticality in 2013, but only after local people had laid an eight-month siege to the plant, expressing serious concern over the safety of the reactors in the wake of the Fukushima incident.

Following the accident at the Fukushima, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) convened a Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in June 2011, which helped develop the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety that was endorsed by member states of the UN nuclear body in September 2011. The Action Plan detailed a work programme to strengthen the global nuclear safety framework in response to the Fukushima accident.

According to the IAEA, since the adoption of the Action Plan, significant progress has been made in several key areas, including assessments of the safety vulnerabilities of nuclear power plants, the strengthening of the IAEA’s safety peer review services, revision of the IAEA safety standards, improvements in emergency preparedness and response capabilities, capacity building in nuclear and radiation safety, as well as strengthening of safety culture, intensifying of communication and information sharing with and among national authorities, international cooperation, as well as strengthening of relevant international legal frameworks.

As part of their work under the Action Plan, operating countries introduced measures to enhance nuclear safety, including those taken in response to the results from nuclear power plants’ vulnerability assessments. The Action Plan also called on the IAEA, member states and international organizations to review and strengthen the international emergency preparedness and response framework. Countries responded to the accident with immediate measures, which included carrying out ‘stress tests’ to reassess the design of nuclear power plants with respect to site specific natural hazards, installing additional backup sources of electrical power and water supplies, and strengthening the protection of plants against extreme external events.

“Although most of the work under the Action Plan has concluded, there are still some longer-term activities that will be completed in the years to come”, the IAEA said in a recent announcement. As part of the Action Plan, the IAEA has held nine international experts’ meetings that analysed key technical aspects of the Fukushima accident. The agency has also conducted over 15 international experts’ missions to Japan and published reports on these missions reports to create a solid knowledge base for the future and continue strengthening nuclear safety worldwide.

In 2015, the IAEA published The Fukushima Daiichi Accident report which provides an authoritative assessment on the causes and consequences of the accident, as well as lessons learnt. The report is the result of an extensive collaboration that involved some 180 experts from 42 IAEA member states, as well as international organisations.

The report calls for a systemic approach to safety that addresses the entire system by considering the dynamic interactions within and among three types of factors – human or individual, technical, and organisational. The systemic approach to safety works by addressing this complex system of interactions as a whole. According to the report “a better communication strategy is needed to convey the justification for such measures and actions to all stakeholders, including the public.” The report also concluded that in spite of the magnitude of the Fukushima disaster in which three nuclear cores melted, no radiation-induced health effects were observed among workers or members of the public that could be attributed to the accident. This is in line with the conclusions that the independent United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR).

“The report considers human, organizational and technical factors and aims to provide an understanding of what happened, and why, so that the necessary lessons learned can be acted upon by governments, regulators and nuclear power plant operators throughout the world,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in his foreword to the report.
“There can be no grounds for complacency about nuclear safety in any country. Although nuclear safety remains the responsibility of each individual country, nuclear accidents can transcend national borders. The Fukushima Daiichi accident underlined the vital importance of effective international cooperation. The IAEA is where most of that cooperation takes place. Our Member States adopted the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear Safety a few months after the accident and have been implementing its far reaching provisions to improve global nuclear safety”, he added.

An expert review of relevant standards following Fukushima, including the IAEA safety standard on design safety, revealed that a higher level of safety could be incorporated into existing nuclear power plants by adhering to more demanding requirements for protection against external natural hazards and by enhancing the independence of safety levels so that, even if one layer fails, another layer is undamaged and stops an accident from occuring. The “defence in depth” concept, which ensures that the various levels of defence in a plant act as independently as possible, was also strengthened. For instance, in the case of a tsunami, back-up safety systems should be located at an elevation sufficiently high to be protected from flooding and ensure their operability when systems designed for normal operation have failed.

Safety assessments, or “stress tests”, implemented in the European Union (EU) following the Fukushima accident focused on the assessment of natural disaters like earthquakes and flooding, and on the behaviour of power plants in such cases. With the objective of strengtheing the robustness of nuclear reactors to extreme natural events the margins of the safety of reactors were analysed and possible improvements were identified. The implementation of those stress tests by member states has resulted in many design and operation enhancements in the EU.

For instance, the French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) started an assessment of the country’s 56 nuclear power reactors as well as the 2 EPR reactors under construction. The ASN then prescribed the implementation of both fixed and mobile equipment that could potentially prevent a large release, including high-resistance diesel generators and pumps able to function during events such as major earthquakes or flooding. The availability of alternative sources of water for cooling was also prescribed under the same conditions. In addition, the ASN required a back-up plan including rapid action force groups that can be on site within 24 hours with light equipment, and within three days with heavy equipment.

In a review carried out post-Fukushima, the Indian operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) identified safety enhancements for the country’s pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs). Safety enhancements such as additional emergency power sources, enhanced onsite water inventories, external water injection arrangements, containment venting provision, seismic trip, mobile pumps and on-site emergency support Centre, among others, have been implemented.

At the Russian-aided Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) in India, the first two units of 1,000 MW each have already been commissioned, while 4 more units of similar capacity are being constructed with the assistance of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, who have said that all NPPs being developed by Russia, including KNPP, meet all post-Fukushima safety standards and would be able to withstand external events like an earthquake or tsunami.

According to Rosatom, certain technological parameters have been enhanced at the KNPP to increase its safety standards following the Fukushima disaster, and this nuclear plant in the south India is a Generation 3 plus NPP with enhanced safety features, which take into account the Fukushima accident. The VVER-1000 reactors at Kudankulam have been modified with several enhanced safety features, which bring these on par with the IAEA’s Generation 3 category of reactors.

The newly incorporated safety features in KNPP include four safety trains instead of three, passive heat removal system, higher redundancy for safety system, double containment, additional shutdown systems like quick boron and emergency boron injection systems, core catcher in the event of fuel meltdown, passive and hydrogen recombiners inside the containment chamber, among others. The “probabilistic risk assessment” (PRA) study for KNPP conducted by NPCIL has calculated that the probability of serious core damage accident at Kudankulam is one in one million reactor years and it is one of the safest reactors currently operating in the world.

Factors that augur well for small modular reactors

Policy mindset moving away from large-scale in favour of small modular reactors

India’s geology poses a limitation on acquiring a large number of sites for setting up high capacity nuclear power plants (NPPs), which makes the case for installing small modular reactors (SMRs) in the country, notwithstanding the fact that Indian policymakers opted for large reactors in the initial phase of development to benefit from the economies of scale, according to a leading expert.

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.

Chancellor of the Homi Bhabha National Institute and former AEC Chairman, Srikumar Banerjee, said that there are currently two basic designs worldwide for SMRs, which are mostly of the Light Water Reactor (LWR) variety. These are the “Block”-type SMRs where the major components such as the steam generator, pressuriser and the water pumps are welded directly on to the reactor, and the “Integral’-type in which these components are all placed inside a single reactor pressure vessel (RPV) and weighs around 400-500 tonnes. According to Banerjee, the compact character of such small reactors allows mass production at a factory and easy transportation, instead of having to erect large reactors at a land site which involves much more civil engineering activity, a much longer gestation period, as well as huge costs and capital investment.

“The capital investment on every single SMR unit will be much cheaper than large capacity reactors. These SMRs can be set up at locations of thermal power plants being retired which take up a lot of space. SMRs can also come up in places which use off-grid power, especially in remote areas. Moreover, SMRs are useful in areas that depend on solar power, because they can provide the base load continuous power required on cloudy days” Banerjee said. In line with India’s target to reduce carbon emissions, it is estimated that most of its coal-fired thermal power plants would be retired by 2050.

Describing the origins of the small reactor nomenclature, Ganju said that while those of up to 300 MW capacity were referred to as “small”, others of up to 700 MW were called “medium”-type, and both categories together were known as Small and Medium Power Reactors (SMPRs). Noting the limitations of the current commercially proven nuclear technology such as the need to acquire large land sites, large project costs and delays, and safety issues, Ganju said that SMRs in the Indian scenario “are driven by and definitely congruent with India’s 3-stage nuclear programme, while SMRs of molten salt categories can use our vast thorium resources. The 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR – being developed at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu) can also be classified as a small reactor.”

At the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) at Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), where work started in the early seventies and the first unit went on stream in 1983, everything has been built by India. The MAPS is India’s first fully indigenously constructed nuclear power station, with two units each generating 220 MW of electricity. The complex also houses the indigenously built prototype FBR – Bhavini – under construction, which will add 500 MW of electrical power to the national grid, and is likely to be operationalised in October 2022. By the early 1980s, India was able to design and build its own reactors and had achieved a high degree of self-reliance. The country subsequently designed and built pressurised heavy water reactors (PHWRs) at other locations, scaling up from 230 MW to 500 MW, and now up to 700 MW, the first one of which has been made functional in Kakrapar Unit 3. In July 2020, India achieved criticality with its first indigenously built 700 MW PHWR for the Kakrapar unit 3 in Gujarat state.

Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom arm 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 simplication 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 Nuward – with a capacity of 300-400 MW – has been jointly developed using France’s experience in PWRs. The partners aim to complete the basic design of the Nuward between 2022 and 2025, while construction of a demonstration Nuward SMR is scheduled for 2030. According to Baldi, EDF have already started discussions with US major Westinghouse to explore potential cooperation on SMR development.

Indian Parliament takes stock of country’s civilian nuclear power capacity

As the Indian Parliament began its first session in 2021, it was time for stock taking, including of the nuclear sector. Replying to a question by a member, the Minister for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh told the Lower House that 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 also informed Parliament 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 speeding 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.

India has also decided to enhance its domestic industrial capabilities in Light Water Reactors (LWRs), which it lacks at present. In this connection, the former NPCIL Chairman S.K. Jain told Nuclear Asia that from India’s perspective, nuclear cooperation with Russia would significantly help increase Indian manufacturing content and would be a boost for domestic industry. India has fully developed its indigenous capability with PHWRs, as witnessed in achieving criticality with the second 700 MW unit at the Kakrapar NPP. In the wake of India’s nuclear development programme, Indian industry has also successfully acquired capabilities to develop major reactor components, sub-systems, and assemblies.

Singh also informed Parliament that 534 hectares of land has been acquired for the 4 700 PHWRs proposed to be set at Gorakhpur in Haryana in two phases. The first two units are expected to commence operations in 2026–27, while Gorakhpur units 3 and 4 are expected start operating in 2027-28.

Regarding the manpower requirement at the planned Gorakhpur NPP, the Minister in his written reply said “the employment potential during construction will follow a bell curve with about 8,000 persons at the peak. On becoming operational, each of the twin unit station is expected to generate employment (direct and indirect) for about 2,000 persons. In addition, large employment potential is generated with the contractors/ vendors and from business opportunities that emerge consequent to the increase in economic activity at the site.”

On the issue of nuclear waste generated in solid, liquid and gaseous forms during the operation of the four units proposed at Gorakhpur, Singh said that, like other operating NPPs in the country, these “will be of low and intermediate radioactivity level, which will be managed at the site in the dedicated waste management facilities. The wastes will be appropriately treated, concentrated and subject to volume reduction.”

“The concentrates will be immobilized in inert materials like cement, bitumen, polymers etc. and stored inspecially constructed structures located at the site under monitoring. The radioactivity level of the stored wastes reduces with time and by the end of the plant life, falls to a very low level. The treated liquids and gases will be diluted and discharged under monitoring, ensuring that the discharges are well within the limits set by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB)”, Singh added.

India’s much delayed fast breeder reactor costs exceed budget, likely completion in October 2022

India's much delayed fast breeder reactor costs exceed budget, likely completion in October 2022

The expenditure till date on India’s much delayed first pressurised fast breeder reactor (PFBR), being set up at the Madras Atomic Power Station at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu state, has already exceeded the budgeted estimate by over Rs 500 crore (around $69 million), according to the country’s Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh.

Responding to a question in the Lower House of Parliament earlier this week, Singh said that against a budgeted estimate of Rs 5,315 crore ($730 million) for the indigeneously built prototype PFBR, named “Bhavini”, a sum of Rs 5,850 crore (over $800 million) has already been spent, since 2003 till the end of last year, on setting up the PFBR, the completion of construction of which has been delayed for long.

Regarding the date for completion of the PFBR project, Singh informed Parliament in a written reply that PFBR Bhavini, which will add 500 MW of electrical power to the national grid, is likely to be commissioned in October 2022, reiterating what he had told the Upper House during the previous session of the Indian Parliament last year.

In his written reply submitted in September 2020, the Minister had said that technical issues had resulted in a prolonged delay in commissioning of the PFBR. “In the last three years, while commissioning activities of the various systems, structures and equipment of the PFBR are progressing, a large number of technical challenges as well as design inadequacies (owing to the first-of-a-kind status of the PFBR) are being encountered at each stage, thereby resulting in delay in commissioning. These issues are being attended in close coordination with the designers and the experts within Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),” Singh said.

The PFBR is a key element of India’s nuclear power programme that was conceived in the late 1960s as a closed fuel cycle to be achieved in three stages. The spent fuel generated from one stage would be reprocessed and used in the next stage of the cycle to produce power. Thus, the closed fuel cycle was designed to “breed” fuel and to minimize generation of nuclear waste. This three-stage nuclear power production program in India had 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 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 PFBR in Kalpakkam 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.

Westinghouse Electric in talks to build 6 nuclear reactors in India

Westinghouse Electric in talks to build 6 nuclear reactors in India

The Indian government is currently engaged in techno-commercial discussions with the US-based Westinghouse Electric Company to finalise a project proposal for setting up six nuclear power reactors with a capacity of 1208 MW each at Kovvada in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This information was conveyed earlier this week to India’s Parliament in a written reply by the Atomic Energy Minister Jitendra Singh.

“On finalization of proposal it will be put to the government of India for accord of administrative approval and financial sanction. Subsequent activities will be scheduled after accord of project sanction,” Singh said in response in a query posed by a member of the Lower House. The Minister also said that the cost estimates and timelines for the construction are yet to be worked out and would emerge on conclusion of discussions with the company and finalisation of the project proposal.

Regarding the progress of land acquisition for the project at Kovvada in the Srikakulam district of the southern state, Singh said: “Of the 2079.79 acres of land being acquired for setting up the project, mutation of 2061.1 acres of land in the name of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) has been completed by the state authorities. Work is in progress for the balance land.”

Elaborating on the process of land acquisition, which has historically been a controversial issue in India, the Minister said that as per the country’s Right to Fair Compensation And Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation And Resettlement Act, 2013, a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) was carried out and a public hearing was held for all the affected villages, including people from the local community.”The concerns (local community) have mainly been on account of issues related to rehabilitation, apprehensions about safety of the plant and loss of traditional means of livelihood,” Singh said.

Given the need to spread public awareness on an ongoing basis on the benefits of nuclear power and dispel misconceptions about this clean source of energy that can meet the grid’s base load requirements, the Minister said that the operator NPCIL is engaged in a large public outreach programme having a multi-pronged approach “to spread awareness about nuclear power, address the apprehensions of the people to allay their concerns in a simple, understandable and credible manner.”

Previous parent company, Toshiba of Japan, sold off Westinghouse Electric after it suffered major losses on account of nuclear reactor construction projects, while the latter was acquired in 2018 by Canadian firm Brookfield Business Partners, which is the majority owner of Westinghouse.

In response to another query by a member of the Lower House, Singh said that the government has given “in-principle” approval for 5 new sites for locating nuclear power plants (NPPs) in the future. These sites were, however, not named in the Minister’s reply.

Singh also informed Parliament 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 Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) of 700 MW capacity each, as well as for 2 Light Water Reactors (LWRs) to be set up in cooperation with the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.

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 in Tamil Nadu state, 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.

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