Russia’s first VVER-440 reactor shuts for decommissioning

novovoronezh-npp The Novovoronezh Nuclear Power Plant. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Russia has put its oldest VVER-440 reactor into decommissioning, and the project is hoped to become a blueprint for taking nearly 30 such reactors out of service abroad, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom said.

The unit, which is the No 3 reactor at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant south of Moscow, is said by Rosatom to have produced 118.7 terawatt hours of electricity since it entered service in 1971.

That’s more than half of the combined annual production of all Russia’s nuclear power plants combined, said the company. The reactor ran for 45 years.

Since this first VVER-440 went into service, Russia built 29 of them in Armenia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine. These reactors are expected to be decommissioned after 2030, and Rosatom believes it has a $23 billion market for reactor dismantlement abroad.

vver-440 A VVER-440 reactor. (Photo: nucleartourist. com)

Russia built six of the VVER-440 reactors at home – two at the Novovoronezh plant and four at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant.

Novovoronezh’s No 3 reactor had been running on a 15-year engineering runtime extension, and had undergone upgrades between 1999 and 2002 prior to that.

The plant’s No 4 reactor is licensed to run until next year. But it is widely expected to receive an engineering runtime extension so that it runs for a total of 60 years.

Such extensions are the rule for all of Russia’s other VVER-440 reactors, and the No 3 reactor at Novvoronezh was the first such reactor that was granted a runtime extension, said Rosatom.

Since then, all four at the Kola Nuclear Power plant have controversially operated on life span extensions of 15 to 25 years.

In November, Vasily Omelchuk, the director of the Kola Nuclear Power Plant, said he would seek additional extensions for all the VVER-440s there to run a total of 60 years, just like the No 4 reactor at Voronezh.

That would mean that the Kola Plant’s reactor No 1 would run until 2033 instead of 2018; reactor No 2 would run until 2034 instead of 2019; reactor No 3 would run until 2041 instead of 2036, and reactor No 4 would operate until 2044 instead of 2039.

The No 1,2 3, and 4 reactor began operation in 1973, 1974, 1981 and 1984.

Bellona Executive Director Nils Bøhmer at the time expressed concern over whether Russia’s nuclear regulator, Rostekhnadzor, would be able to assure that the extended runtimes would be safely handled.

“We are skeptical of the process of prolonging run times for aging reactors,” said Bøhmer. “We have not seen any independent safety review of this idea and we are afraid Russian nuclear regulators don’t have the power to demand the safety upgrades that would be necessary for running the reactors to 60 years.”

Kola’s No 4 reactor is additionally running on a license to operate at 107 percent capacity, even though the Murmansk region has energy surpluses and there’s no clear benefit to boosting the output.

The No 3 reactor at Kola is soon expected to receive a license to run at 107 percent of its capacity as well.

Safety isn’t at issue only at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant. At Novovoronezh in November, a power generator failure brought the new VVER model, the 1200, off the power grid in a mishap that Rosenergoatom, Russia’s nuclear utility, kept under wraps for almost a week.

Like the VVER-440 before it, the VVER-1200, also called the AES-2006, has been aggressively promoted to foreign customers. The generator failure was an embarrassment in the new model, and likely led to the half-hearted cover up.

Aleksei Likhachev, Rosatom’s new head, has touted the VVER-1200 as the company’s proudest export.

The latest VVER design is currently under construction in Belarus. Finland, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Hungary all have orders pending for the reactor.

Charles Digges

charles@bellona.no