Rosatom South Asia organizes webinar on status and future of nuclear technology


To commemorate Russia’s Day of the Nuclear Industry Worker during the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, the company’s Mumbai-based South Asia office in collaboration with the Russian Center of Science and Culture in Mumbai and the NuclearAsia digital platform, organised an online event with lectures from professors of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), which is one of the most recognised technical universities in Russia.

At this webinar on the status and perspectives on the future development of the nuclear industry, the Deputy head of the Nuclear Physics and Engineering Department in the Obninsk Institute for Nuclear Power Engineering of MEPhl Alexander Nakhabov made his presentation on modern nuclear technology, while Professor Alla A. Oudalova provided her perspective on the non energetic applications of nuclear in the fields of medicine, industry and food production.

Outlining the global sources of energy, Dr. Nakhabov said that while oil accounts for more than 33 percent of energy production, coal-based thermal power provides 27 percent, gas 24.2 percent, hydro power 6.4 percent, renewables like wind and solar provide 5 percent, while nuclear power is the source for only 4.3 percent of global energy output.

Pointing out that while in Russia the share of fuel and energy complex in the gross domestic product (GDP) amounts to 30 percent, and it accounts for 70 percent of Russia’s exports, the country’s ranks third in the World by its 10 percent contribution to global energy production. Russia, however, ranks first in global energy exports with a share of 20 percent. It globally ranks second in the production of oil with 12.7 percent, second in gas production with 17 percent, and fourth in electricity, producing 4.1 percent of world output.

Tracing the history of nuclear reactor development in Russia, Dr. Nakhabov started with the fifties from the first nuclear power plant (NPP) at Obninsk, (decommissioned and now a museum), to the building and upgrading of the Generations 1 and 2 light-water reactors (LWR) and pressurized water reactors (PWR) between 1970-1990, and the creation, in the late 1990s, of the third generation VVER-1000 (Vodo-Vodyanoi Energetichesky Reaktor, meaning water-cooled, water moderated power reactor) of the kind also installed by Rosatom at India’s Kudankulam NPP in Tamil Nadu. The new millenium witnessed the development of the Generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors, which are to be installed, among elsewhere, at Bangladesh’s first NPP at Rooppur, expected to be commissioned in 2023, and in other countries. According to the IAEA approach, the VVER-1200 reactors can be classified as Generation 3+ on the basis of their properties of internal self protection mechanisms, passive safety features and safety barriers.

Future development in the next decade envisages the commissioning of Generation 4 reactors and the closed fuel cycle, work on which has already begun. The principal Generation 4 aspect of the design relates to the development of a sustainable closed fuel cycle for the reactor. As of date, no Generation 4 projects have advanced beyond the design stage. Russia has set up an innovative power unit with a fast breeder reactor – BN-800 – that is currently testing the closed fuel cycle. The closed nuclear fuel cycle will allow the creation of “twin-component” nuclear energy with the 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, so as to ensure the reuse of spent nuclear fuel and minimising radioactive waste.

While India has successfully completed the first stage of its nuclear programme featuring PWRs, the second stage is taking much longer than expected, causing significant time delay and cost overruns. The prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) in Kalpakkam will use a mixed oxide of plutonium (Pu-239) – derived from reprocessed spent fuel from the thermal PWRs – and uranium-238 as fuel to generate energy. This nuclear reaction will also produce more Pu-239 by converting both U-238 in the fuel mix, as well as a blanket of depleted uranium surrounding the core, into plutonium. This plutonium will then be processed and used as nuclear fuel in a chain of commercial FBRs in the second stage of the nuclear programme.

Dr. Nakhabov also said that, besides the closed fuel cycle, the future of nuclear power, envisages building nuclear space engines, hydrogen production, as well as thermonuclear fusion, the experiment on which has already begun with the assembly underway of the multi-nation ITER project in France with participation of both Russia and India, among other countries. 

He also presented a comparative analysis of electricity generation costs in Russia, showing nuclear power costs slightly more than thermal and hydro and much less than that generated from solar and wind. On the global comparative cost of electricity in developed world at US cents per kilowatt hour (KWh), he said that it ranged for from over 21 in Italy to 10 in the US and 9 in Russia. 

Following Dr. Nakhabov, Professor Oudalova described the application of nuclear technology in the fields of medicine, industry and food production. In healthcare, nuclear technology is applied mainly in cancer and other diseases diagnostics (PET/CT scanning) and treatment by means of radiological therapy and radiopharmaceuticals, radiation sterilization of disposal medical products, for producing pharmaceuticals and hygiene products, among others.

In the chemical and industrial spheres, nuclear is applied in the production of modified polymers and composite materials which are in wide demand nowadays. It is also used for non-destructive testing through industrial radiography as well as providing security at goods transportation and protection against global threats.

In agriculture and biotechnology, nuclear is used to increase crop yields after radiation treatment of planting material, grain disinsection, as well as for microbiological decontamination of food products and animal feed. Other areas of nuclear technology use include products irradiation for long term storage, preserving archive documents and museum artefacts, isotope labeling and crimes investigations.

Providing examples of nuclear medicine diagnostics, she mentioned radiography, computed tomography, radionuclide diagnostics and positron emission tomography (PET). On radiological treatment, Prof. Oudalova mentioned the Leksell Gamma Knife and proton therapy, which is the application of external radiation using photons or high energy proton beams to treat cancer, as well as radionuclide therapy as a tool of internal irradiation of targeted locations.

As for industrial applications, nuclear technology is used for development of new materials such as radiation modified polymers necessary for production of electric cables, automobile tyres, thermo-shrinkable films and foamed polyethelene. A variety of amazing devices and gauges utilizing extraordinary properties of ionizing radiation are applied in such industries as construction, nuclear engineering, chemicals production, gas and oil transportation and processing, etc

In the field of pest control, not only radiation disinfection is applied, but much more sophisticated tool has been known since 1960’s – the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). SIT involving radiation sterilization of selected species of insects is well recognized both in the developing and old world, and has been appraised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World health Organization (WHO) as one of the most effective and environmentally friendly technologies for pest control.

Overall, the webinar, attended by students and others interested in nuclear technologies applications, has explained in simple words the uses and the degree that nuclear-based technologies have entered the lives of all people around the world, making it a safer and a cleaner place.