Work begins on nuclear fuel fabrication-cum-refabrication 'Project Breakthrough'

Signalling a major breakthrough in the development of nuclear technology, Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has announced that it has started the installation of equipment at its under construction fuel fabrication-cum-refabrication unit under construction in the Tomsk region of Siberia.

This fuel fabrication unit forms part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex being built at the Siberian Chemical Plant by the Rosatom subsidiary TVEL Fuel Company.

“The Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex is underway within 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,” a Rosatom statement said.

“The ‘Proryv’, or ‘the Breakthrough’, project targets creation of the new technology platform for the industry with 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 the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex with a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor facility with an on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle,” it said.

The installation of equipment at the FRU will last for about a year and a half. The site of the future 300 MW nuclear power plant (NPP), powered by the BREST-OD-300 reactor, is currently being prepared for the start of construction works, the statement added.

There is no other such equipment anywhere else in the world, and, thus, no typical approach for construction of such facilities. This project is unique completely, from the drawings to the installation schemes, said Alexander Gusev, deputy director general of Siberian Chemical Plant in charge of the ‘Proryv’ project.

According to Gusev, due to the unique technical solutions involved, installation of the main equipment is pre-worked out in digital mode using 4D modelling in order to minimize any possible mismatches and optimise the sequence of works.

Citing Rosatom officials, World Nuclear News has reported that closing nuclear fuel cycle hits another milestine with fourth unit of the Beloyarsk NPP in Russia will be completely switched to uranium-plutonium MOX fuel in 2022.

The 789 MWe BN-800 fast neutron reactor 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 transition to MOX fuel assemblies will start in the first half of 2021, the report said.

Citing Vladimir Shaloumov, the head of nuclear safety and reliability at the Beloyarsk NPP, the report said that the MOX fuel is currently being produced by the Mining and Chemical Combine in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region and comprise uranium dioxide and plutonium dioxide in the form of pellets to be used as fuel.

The BN-800 reactor is designed to use the MOX fuel as one of the stages on to the development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle.

According to the Rosatom official, a closed nuclear fuel cycle will allow the creation of “twin-component nuclear energy with 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, ensuring ensuring the reuse of used nuclear fuel and minimising radioactive waste”.

The capacity of the Beloyarsk Unit 4 exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MWe BN-600 Beloyarsk 3.