Russian nuclear industry in its 75th year: Towards the closed fuel cycle future


The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry which has always been a pioneer in the peaceful use of atomic energy. To encapsulate the history of this three quarters of a century one could say that, thanks to the Russian industry, nuclear units have appeared in many other countries, and today the country’s state atomic energy agency Rosatom is the leader in terms of the size of its foreign portfolio. Rosatom currently has 36 ongoing nuclear power projects (NPPs) worldwide and three units with the latest Generation 3+ reactors; it has the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet, the most powerful fast neutron reactor, and contributes to digitalisation as well as nuclear medicine.

Moreover, signalling a major breakthrough for the fututre development of nuclear technology, Rosatom announced last month that it has started installation of equipment at the “The ‘Proryv’, or ‘the Breakthrough’, project which targets creation of the new technology platform for 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 the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex with a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor facility to provide an on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle.

According to Vladimir Shaloumov, the head of nuclear safety and reliability at Rosatom’s Beloyarsk NPP, a closed nuclear fuel cycle will allow the creation of “twin-component nuclear energy with simultaneous operation of fast and thermal neutron reactors which will expand the fuel base of nuclear energy many times over, involving the uranium-238 isotope, ensuring the reuse of used nuclear fuel and minimising radioactive waste”.

The Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex, under construction in the Tomsk region of Siberia, will include three linked facilities, making up a closed nuclear fuel cycle at one site — the fuel fabrication/re-fabrication unit (FRU), a 300 MW nuclear power plant with the fast neutron BREST-OD-300 reactor, and the unit for spent fuel reprocessing.

There is no other such equipment anywhere else in the world, and, thus, no typical approach for construction of such facilities. This project is unique completely, from the drawings to the installation schemes, said Alexander Gusev, deputy director general of the Siberian Chemical Plant and in-charge of the ‘Proryv’ project.

According to Gusev, owing to the unique technical solutions involved, installation of the main equipment is pre-worked out in digital mode using 4D modelling in order to minimize any possible mismatches and optimise the sequence of works.

Rosatom strategy is aimed at building-up the dual-component nuclear power system with both thermal neutron and fast neutron reactors, and closing nuclear fuel cycle, which would solve a number of highly important tasks. First, exponentially boost the feedstock for nuclear power plants. Second, enable to recycle spent nuclear fuel instead of storage. And third, once again involve into nuclear fuel cycle and utilize the accumulated ground stocks of depleted uranium hexafluoride.

Citing Rosatom officials, World Nuclear News reported last month that closing the nuclear fuel cycle has hit another milestine with fourth unit of the Beloyarsk NPP in Russia will be completely switched to uranium-plutonium MOX fuel in 2022. The BN-800 reactor is designed to use the MOX fuel as one of the stages on to the development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The 789 MW BN-800 fast neutron reactor 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. The transition to MOX fuel assemblies will start in the first half of 2021, the report said. The capacity of the Beloyarsk Unit 4 exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MW BN-600 Beloyarsk 3.

Meanwhile, Rosatom has recently announced that the Mining and Chemical Combine in the Krasnoyarsk region in East Siberia has manufactured the first full reload batch of fresh uranium-plutonium MOX fuel for the BN-800 fast reactor, operated at the Beloyarsk NPP located in the Urals, and that the consignment is ready for shipment. Rosatom subsidiary TVEL Fuel Company will supply the fresh MOX fuel for Beloyarsk, providing the shipments till the end of 2020. The refueling at BN-800 is scheduled for January, 2021. The shift to the full load of BN-800 core with MOX fuel is scheduled for early 2022.

Distinct from the traditional nuclear fuel with enriched uranium, MOX fuel pellets are a mix of nuclear fuel cycle derivatives, such as oxide of plutonium bred in commercial reactors, and oxide of depleted uranium which comes from defluorination of depleted uranium hexafluoride (UF6) — the so-called secondary tailings of uranium enrichment facilities.

In a major initiative to spread public awareness about the benefits of nuclear energy,  Rosatom’s engineering division ASE has announced has announced a photo competition – ASE International Photo Awards 2020. The purpose of the competition is to draw attention to the life, cultural wealth and national identity of the countries of ASE’s business operations, as well as to demonstrate the fruits  of the benign coexistence people, nature and nuclear energy.

The competition has opened for professional photographers, as well as amateur photographers, over 18 years, from countries of the ASE territory of operations, such as: India, Bangladesh, Egypt, China, the Republic of Belarus, Hungary, Finland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Uzbekistan, and Russia.

According to the announcement, the “photo entries should correspond to the competition nominations and be descriptive of one of the ASE operation countries.” The competition includes the following categories:

1. “Atom is here”: photos are applying should reflect good neighborhood relations of nature and society with nuclear energy, its safety and environmental friendliness. Photos may capture NPPs, either completed or being constructed;

2 “My country”: nomination implies photos reflecting cultural diversity and national identity, expressed through life, clothing, traditions of the country or region;

3 “Freeze frame shot”: photos are applying as untold stories depicting heartbeat of life, a narrative that leaves viewer to unfold the story with his imagination. Photos may capture people, animals, architecture, nature and their interaction with each other;

4 “Dialogue with nature”: nomination entails photos showing diversity and splendor of the world around, its fragility, uniqueness and beauty. Photos may capture animals in their natural habitat, natural phenomena and landscapes, everything that makes us stop for a moment and wonder what a beautiful planet we live in;

5 “We are what we eat”: nomination is about photographs reflecting national cuisine distinctives, traditions of cooking, as well as ritual of eating.

The winners will be awarded with memorable prizes and an unforgettable trip to Russia. The best works will be included in the final catalogue and will be presented at photo exhibitions planned to be held in the ASE organizations.

Applicants are eligible to submit before September 17, 2020. The works are accepted by e-mail sent to