Kola NPP: Safety remains a problem

Igor Kudrik
1997-07-31 12:00

Second phase of Norwegian aid to Kola

Safety remains a problem

After long term negotiations, customs authorities in Murmansk County on
July 1 finally permitted across-the-border delivery of Norwegian equipment for
the Kola nuclear power plant. Initially, the free of charge equipment was taxed
with 40% of its value. In spite of this issue being solved, the custom fees will
continue to be a problem as long as there is no formal agreement between Norway
and Russia. Nevertheless, the technical assistance programme to the Kola nuclear
power plant, initiated in 1992 by the Norwegian government, is entering its second

Worried by the inherent threat from the ageing Kola nuclear power plant (KNPP),
located 250 km from the Norwegian border, the Norwegian government initiated an
assistance programme with a 20 million NOK budget in 1992. Last year an additional 44
million NOK was allocated to enter the second phase of the safety upgrade plan.

By the beginning of 1996 a number of planned measures had been completed as part
of the first phase:

  • A mobile emergency diesel generator was delivered and prepared to service the two
    oldest reactors

  • Telecommunications equipment was installed
  • A document handling computer system was introduced
  • Monitoring equipment for water quality in the reactors’ cooling systems was

  • The rotating components of the reactor installations were outfitted with sensors to
    diagnose possible malfunctions

  • TV-equipment to monitor the fuel handling operations were installed in the water

The second phase of the KNPP safety upgrade programme is to be completed in
1997/98 and will include further computerisation of the plant, extension of the
telecommunications system to cover all indoor areas, installation of a Safety Parameter
Display System, delivery of ultrasonic inspection and radiation protection equipment,
drawing of a general plan for how to upgrade the fire protection, and delivery of general
mechanical equipment.

According to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA), the KNPP
has suffered less malfunctions since the new equipment was installed. At the same time,
the NRPA claims that the goal of the undertaken measures were to upgrade the safety at
the nuclear power plant only, with no intention to prolong the life-span of the plant.

The Kola Nuclear Power Plant operates on four VVER-440 reactors commissioned
in 1973, 1974, 1981 and 1984 respectively. Current plans presume the construction of a
KNPP-2, equipped with three VVER-640 reactors. Originally planned to be put into
operation in 2003, commissioning of the KNPP-2 was postponed till 2005 in the
beginning of this April, due to a lack of funding. Thus, the decommissioning of the two
oldest VVER-440 reactors at KNPP, planned for the years 2003 and 2004, will most
likely be postponed as well.

The KNPP has suffered from the general slow-down of spent fuel shipments in
Russia. The cooling water ponds for the four VVER-440 reactors are filled to their
capacity, containing some 2500 spent fuel assemblies. Even the emergency water ponds
are filled with regular fuel, thus disallowing removal of a reactor core in case of an

Neither the echonomical situation, nor the social condition among the plant’s
employees, is any better than for the rest of the Russian nuclear complex. Today, KNPP
salary debts amount to some 8 million USD, while energy consumers’ debts to the plant
are more than 200 million USD. The Russian government has promised salary pay-back
“real soon now”, but implementation of the promise remains to be seen. Meanwhile,
human errors prevail on the list of causes to the numerous little accidents.

All in all, it looks like the Western countries, including Norway, who have been very
active contributors to improvements at Russian nuclear power plants, will have to start
thinking about new donations after the year 2000 – when several new nuclear power
plants are to be put into operation. Meanwhile, due to the strong position of the nuclear
lobby, Russian research on alternative energy sources and energy efficiency measures is
suppressed and receives little or no funding.

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Igor Kudrik