Russia starts construction of BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor

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Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom subsidiary, the TVEL Fuel Company, has started construction of a 300 MW nuclear power unit equipped with the BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor being constructed at the Siberian Chemical Combine in Seversk, Russia, TVEL has announced.

“The reactor will run on mixed uranium-plutonium nitride fuel (MNUP fuel), specially developed for this facility (it is considered to be the optimal solution for fast reactors)”, a statement said earlier this week. In March this year, TVEL said it had developed a fuel rod design based on nitride uranium-plutonium (MNUP) fuel that will power the BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor.

In February 2021, TVEL signed the contracts for the manufacture and supply of the main equipment of the power unit with the BREST-OD-300 reactor. Rosatom’s fuel arm said that, “for the first time in history, a nuclear power plant (NPP) powered by a fast reactor will be built alongside closed nuclear fuel cycle servicing enterprises on one site” at the Siberian Chemical Combine.

Both the fuel fabrication and the reactor units form part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex being built at the Siberian Chemical Plant by TVEL. The installation of equipment at this fuel fabrication-cum-refabrication unit called the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex (PDEC), which is a major landmark in the development of nuclear technology, started in June last year.

The PDEC is underway as part of the strategic “Proryv” (‘Breakthrough’ in Russian) 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.

According to Rosatom, the “Breakthrough” project targets creation of a new technology platform for the industry with the closed nuclear fuel cycle, as well as tackling the issues of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste. One of the project components is the construction of a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor facility with an on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle.

Rosatom says its “Nuclear Fuel Division continues development of the second-generation fuel rods for the BREST-OD-300 with a higher burnout level, which will be used when the MNUP fabrication will shift to the re-fabrication stage (meaning that irradiated fuel of the first load after irradiation and reprocessing will be used for fresh fuel fabrication)”.

According to TVEL, “after reprocessing, the irradiated fuel from the reactor will be sent for refabrication (i.e. reproduction into fresh fuel), thereby giving this system the means to gradually become practically autonomous and independent of external resources supplies”.

“The nuclear power industry’s resource base will practically become inexhaustible thanks to the infinite reprocessing of nuclear fuel. At the same time, future generations will be spared the problem of accumulating spent nuclear fuel,” Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachov said in a statement.

TVEL President Natalia Nikipelova said the Breakthrough project concerns not only the development of innovative reactors, but also the introduction of a new generation of nuclear fuel cycle technologies. Production of dense nitride MNUP fuel will ensure the efficient operation of a lead-cooled fast reactor and consist entirely of recycled nuclear materials such as plutonium and depleted uranium. “Taken together, they will make the nuclear power of the future in fact renewable with a practically waste-free production chain,” she added.

TVEL says “most of the technical solutions for the BREST-OD-300 reactor installation itself and its main equipment are innovative and have never been applied at any nuclear facility so far. The equipment of the reactor must ensure operations during the entire service life at high temperatures, high fluxes of ionizing radiation, in the flows of heavy liquid-metal coolant. The structural materials must have high corrosion and radiation resistance, as well as high temperature resistance to ensure reliability”.

Rosatom has said that unlike NPPs with light-water VVER reactors, where refueling is performed at the ‘cooled’ reactor, the BREST-OD-300 project provides that these operations will be carried out at the temperature of the liquid-lead coolant of the primary circuit over 400° C. Before loading into the core, the fuel assemblies will be heated up in a special chamber and then placed into the core filled with a melt of lead coolant.

As per the planned timeline, the BREST-OD-300 reactor should start operating in 2026. A fuel production facility will be built by 2023 and the construction of an irradiated fuel reprocessing module is scheduled to start by 2024.

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. The advantage of fast reactors is their ability to efficiently use the fuel cycle’s secondary byproducts, (plutonium, in particular) for energy production, TVEL said. The BREST-OD-300 reactor will provide itself with its main energy component – plutonium-239 – reproducing it from the isotope uranium-238, which has a relative abundance of more than 99 percent, it added.

Rosatom announced last year that the 789 MW BN-800 fast neutron reactor powering the fourth unit of the Beloyarsk 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. 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.

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