Rosatom gets regulator license to build land-based small modular reactors

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The Russian nuclear regulator, the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor), has granted a license to Rusatom Overseas allowing the company to build nuclear installations at nuclear power plants, Rusatom’s parent company the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom announced earlier this week. 

A Rosatom statement said that the license was obtained within the framework of the land-based small modular reactor (SMR) nuclear plant construction project with a RITM-200N reactor to be implemented in Yakutia, Russia. 

“We have reached another milestone within our work on the SMR project in Yakutia by receiving the Rostekhnadzor license. It is an important step on our way to successful implementation of this project which completion is scheduled for 2028,’ said Rusatom Overseas Vice President Oleg Sirazetdinov said in a statement.  

The SMR project in Yakutia is based on Rosatom referenced technology with RITM-200 reactors whose design has incorporated the many years of experience in operating small reactors at the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet. Currently, six RITM-200 reactors are installed at the state-of-the-art icebreakers Arktika, Sibir, and Ural. Two reactors of the  Arktika successfully passed dockside and sea trials, and on October 21, 2020, Arktika went into service.  The statement said that another four RITM-200 reactors will be installed at the icebreakers that are currently under construction. 

On December 23, 2020, the Rosatom and the government of the Yakutia Republic signed an agreement on construction of the land-based SMR nuclear power plant (NPP) in northeast Russia.  

“Under the agreement the Republic of Yakutia confirms the offtake of up to 50 MW of SMR electricity and also confirms its readiness to assist in SMR NPP siting. For now, most of the engineering survey on site has been completed with the Environmental Impact Assessment and site license justification materials developed. On June 22, 2021, public hearings were held in Yakutia. The SMR NPP construction is due to begin in 2024”, the statement added. 

In this connection, 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. 

In his intervention at the webinar, 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 simplification 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 partners aim to complete the basic design of the Nuward – with a capacity of 300-400 MW – between 2022 and 2025, while construction of a demonstration Nuward SMR is scheduled for 2030.  

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