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.