Technological advances have made nuclear power a very safe option: Expert

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According to a Russian expert, continuous advances in nuclear technology have made nuclear power among the safest and most reliable sources of energy for the present, as well as the future.

Addressing a group of journalists from India and Bangladesh at an online event on advanced safety features of the Generation III+ VVER-1200 reactors organised earlier this week by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, Professor Dmitry Samokhin, head of the department of Nuclear Physics and Engineering at Moscow’s National Research Nuclear University (МЕРhI) said the key to ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants (NPPs) is the continuous advancement and modernisation of nuclear technology.

Elaborating on why nuclear power plants are considered safe, Samokhin listed the three fundamental safety features of the advanced VVER (vodo-vodyanoi energetichesky reaktor or water-water power reactor), that is this series of Russian-made pressurised water reactors (PWRs), including radioactive materials holding, reactor core cooling and monitoring control of reactivity, as critical areas for ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants. PWRs are the most common reactors in use, accounting for 65 percent of the entire NPP fleet, Samokhin said. Noting that of the nuclear industry’s operating time of nearly 18,000 reactor years as on October 2018, 10,000 years were accounted for by the VVER-type pressurised water reactors.

The safety principles underlying the VVER-1200 are a result of the experience accumulated over 75 years of the Russian nuclear industry, Samokhin said. Outlining the preventive and emergency safety strategies for nuclear power plants, he said it was necessary to have modern localising safety systems at NPPs to prevent or limit the spread of radioactive substances and materials released in the event of any crisis.

Outlining the specific safety systems of the state-of-the art VVER-1200, he said that its main feature is a unique combination of active and passive safety systems that provide maximum resilience to external and internal impacts, including tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and air crashes. Another unique feature of Rosatom’s VVER project is the “melt trap”, or core catcher – a special device designed to localise the molten reactor materials in the event of an accident with the core melting and penetration of the reactor vessel. The system of passive heat removal from steam generators is designed to manage and prevent melting of the core during situations like a total station blackout or complete loss of feedwater, and to mitigate the consequences of a coolant leak from the primary circuit.

The expert also spoke about the role of Russia in developing nuclear energy around the world and that each plant design undergoes stress tests related to withstanding natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, among others, also taking into account the geographical features and history of the location proposed for the NPP. He outlined the containment capabilities of the VVER-1200, where the reactor building wall consists of two layers with the space between these permitting the natural circulation of heat exchangers for emergency cooling, in case required. Besides, Samokhin emphasised on enhancing the safety culture in the construction and operation of nuclear plants.

Responding to questions from Bangladeshi mediapersons on any possible adverse environmental impact from the operation of Bangladesh’s first NPP being built at Rooppur and expected to become operational in 2023, the professor said that the proposed VVER-1200 reactors to be supplied by Rosatom solely emit harmless clear steam into the surrounding atmosphere. At the end of the webinar, the Rosatom South Asia office announced that as part of their constant efforts to increase public awareness on nuclear technology, as well as to dispel misconceptions about the safety of atomic energy, a training progrmme for journalists would be organised in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka once restrictions on account of COVID-19 are eased.

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