Key milestones reached in installation of world’s first lead-cooled fast neutron reactor

71

The steel reactor base plate, weighing 165 tonnes, has been installed in the 300 MW BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor being constructed at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk, Russia, according to an announcement by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom.  

A Rosatom statement earlier this month also said that the lower tier of the reactor vessel’s containment structure has been loaded into the reactor shaft.   

“The containment structure is the outer part of the reactor vessel. It provides retention of heat-insulating concrete, forming an additional localizing barrier of protection, which surrounds the boundary of the coolant circuit,” the statement said. 

A 300 MW nuclear power plant (NPP) powered by the lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast reactor based on the principles of “natural safety”, is the key element of the Pilot demonstration energy complex (PDEC) under construction on the site of the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk, an enterprise of Rosatom’s fuel arm TVEL, it added.  

The PDEC is 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, the 300 MW nuclear power plant with the fast neutron BREST-OD-300 reactor, and the unit for spent fuel reprocessing.   

According to TVEL, the “Breakthrough” project is aimed at development of a new technological platform for the nuclear power industry capable of solving the current issues of handling and storage of spent nuclear fuel and waste.  

The advantage of fast reactors is their ability to efficiently use the fuel cycle’s secondary byproducts, particularly plutonium, for energy production. At the same time, fast reactors can produce more potential fuel than they consume.  

The BREST-OD-300 reactor will provide itself with its main energy component – plutonium-239 – reproducing it from the isotope uranium-238, which is available in a relative abundance of more than 99 percent. The introduction of such technologies will exponentially increase the efficiency of natural uranium, the statement said.  

“We have started installation of the world’s first lead-cooled fast reactor, the fourth-generation reactor BREST-OD-300. Unlike traditional light-water VVER thermal reactors, BREST has an integral layout. Its vessel is not an all-metal structure like the VVER, but a metal-concrete structure with metal cavities to accommodate the primary circuit equipment, Vadim Lemekhov, Chief Designer of the BREST-OD-300 reactor unit, said in a statement.   

Additionally, the design of the BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled reactor is based on the principles of “natural safety”. The features of the reactor made it possible to discard the molten core catcher and a large volume of support systems, Rosatom said. Besides, according to the statement, the integral design and physics of the BREST-OD reactor facility enable preventing accidents that require evacuation of the population.  

According to Rosatom, existing plans call for developing a dual-component nuclear power industry, which operates both thermal and fast-neutron reactors in parallel, and creates conditions for using byproducts, such as depleted uranium and materials generated during irradiated fuel reprocessing, in the nuclear fuel cycle. This would enable recycling of spent nuclear fuel instead of storage.