Unit 1 of the first nuclear power plant (NPP) in Belarus has started commercial operations following the formal handing over of the unit to the Belarusian authorities by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, according to an official statement last week.
Rosatom’s engineering division, ASE Group, is the designer and general contractor of the NPP project, that will eventually consist of two reactor units of 1,200 MW capacity each owned and operated by Belarus. The statement said the first unit was transferred in accordance with the terms stipulated in the contract for the construction of Belarus NPP and the legislation of the Belarus Republic. As per the contract, the general contractor assumes responsibility for the power unit’s operability for the duration of the warranty period, it added.
“The first power unit equipped with the latest generation III+ technology to be built by Rosatom outside of Russia has been put into commercial operation. This is the result of extensive work carried out by a team of highly qualified specialists from the two countries and a testament to the reliability and efficiency of Russian nuclear technologies and our common success”, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev said in a statement.
The physical start-up of unit 1 of Belarusian NPP began on August 7, 2020, and the unit was connected to the grid on November 3, 2020, entering pilot operation on December 22, 2020. The unit reached nominal capacity for the first time in January 2021, that is, started operating at 100 percent capacity during the pilot operation. “On June 2, 2021, the Collegium of Belarus’s Ministry of Emergency Situations issued a permit for the power units’ commercial operation”, Rosatom said.
For its first NPP, Belarus has chosen the Russian designed state-of-the-art VVER-1200 reactor which has a number of advantages when compared to the previous generation VVER-1000 reactor, including a unique combination of active and passive safety systems that make equipped NPPs maximally resistant to external and internal influences. VVER-1200 power units are equipped with a “core catcher” – a device designed to contain and cool the melt of the reactor core in the event of a hypothetical accident – as well as other passive safety systems capable of operating without the participation of personnel in the event of a complete power outage. “In addition, the generation III+ design has increased the reactor’s capacity by 20 percent, reduced the number of maintenance personnel, and doubled the unit’s lifespan from 30 to 60 years, with the possibility of a twenty-year extension”, the statement 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 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 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 European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (ENSREG), which had given the tests an “overall positive” mark. In March this year, the ENSREG approved the preliminary report on the peer review of the Belarusian plant.
According to Rosatom, once fully completed, the twin unit 2,400 MW Belarus NPP, located in Ostrovets in the country’s Grodno region, is expected to supply about 18 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of low-carbon electricity to the country’s national grid every year.