Kola nuke plant to prolong reactor operating times and boost power output

Participants in a site visit to the Kola Nuclear Power Plant, (Photo: Anna Kireeva/Bellona)
Participants in a site visit to the Kola Nuclear Power Plant, (Photo: Anna Kireeva/Bellona)

Publish date: November 11, 2015

Written by: Anna Kireeva

Translated by: Charles Digges

MURMANSK – Despite its surplus of unneeded energy, the Kola Nuclear Power Plant plans to extend the operational lifespans of first two reactors and boost output on its third to 107 percent nominal capacity.

MURMANSK – Despite its surplus of unneeded energy, the Kola Nuclear Power Plant plans to extend the operational lifespans of first two reactors and boost output on its third to 107 percent nominal capacity.

A public discussion on the power boost will be held in autumn 2016

Last week, the Murmansk Duma’s Committee for Ecology and Environmental Defense and the Murmansk Regional Public Council on the Use of Atomic Energy conducted a site visit to the Kola Nuclear Plant.

Plant officials were at pains to appear open to dialogue both during the plant tour and following discussions.

“We are demonstration openness, we are ready to show the plant, talk about it and its work, discuss problems and answer all possible questions,” plant director Vasily Omelchuk told visitors.

KolaNPP Inside the Kola Nuclear Plant. (Photo: Anna Kireeva/Bellona)

Extend reactor run times or build a new plant?

Omelchuk noted the Kola plant has been in service for 43 years, and that each of its reactors were working on extended operational lifespans, which originally began at 30 years.

Operations for reactors No 1 and 2 were extended to 2018 and 2019, respectively. The plant drew up an investment project for operational extensions for a total of 60 years, meaning an additional 15 years for each reactor.

The Kola Nuclear Plant’s No 3 reactor in 2011 received an operational extension of 10 years. Its No 4 reactor was extended in 2014 for 25 years as well, setting its new closure date for 2039.

According to Omelchuk, the near future won’t see any new energy sources – such as hydroelectric plant or the controversial second Kola Nuclear Power plant or even renewable energy source – built in the Murmansk Region.

“[Russian state nuclear corporation] Rosatom is prepared to build substitute energy sources – the Kola Nuclear Power Plant 2 – as soon as demand appears for this power,” said Omelchuk. He further noted that the lack of demand leaves some 500 megawatts of power produced by the Kola Nuclear Plant unused.

Omelchuk cited forecasts that energy demands in the Murmansk Region are only expected to grow by 0.1 to 0.2 percent per year.

He said that because of unpredictability in future energy demand, Rosenergoatom, Russia’s nuclear power utility had decided against building new plants, opting instead to extend existing reactors’ operational lifespans.

As such, said Omelchuk, “we are prepared to work every reactor until the 60 year mark.”

Raising Reactor 4’s output to 107 percent

A decision to run the Kola Nuclear Plant’s No 4 reactor at 107 percent capacity was made in 2012. Igor Marakulin, the plant’s chief safety engineer, said the reactor was run at 104 to 107 percent capacity for 94 days since then.

“During that time, we noted no intensified effects on the environmental in comparison to earlier periods,” he said.

Now the plant expects permission to run reactor No 3 at the same extended power levels. Why this has to be done at a time when no one needs the extra energy was explained by Omelchuk, who said “the more energy, the larger the coefficient of useful activity and energy efficiency.”

Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s executive director and nuclear physicist didn’t but the argument for extending operational run times or torquing the reactors up above nominal capacity.

“To both extend the lifetime to 60 years and to run the reactors on 107 percent of their capacity is a risky game,” said Bøhmer. “Both prolonging lifespans and increasing capacity makes the margin of error margin smaller. When this also is done with little or no independent expert evaluation, you further push the margin to an undesired level of risk,” he said, adding  “Additionally, there is no need for the extra energy produced at Kola Nuclear Power Plant, so there is no rationale behind these projects.”

Including Reactor No 4 at the Kola plant, six of Russia’s 31 reactors are operating above nominal capacity. All four of the Balakovo nuclear station’s reactors are churning away at 104 percent, and one reactor at the Rostov plant is operating at 107 percent.

Marakulin noted that modernizing upgrades had to be performed on Kola’s No 3 reactor to secure permission to run it beyond 100 percent. Dynamic experiments, corrections to its engineering and operation blueprints and expert analysis from Russia’s nuclear regulator, Rostekhnadzor, were also required.

The trial period for running the reactor at 107 percent began a month ago and will continue until March 7, 2016. The reactor will then undergo planned maintenance. After this, an environmental impact assessment will be worked up and presented for public hearings. These hearing are preliminarily scheduled for October 2016.

“We’ve taken into account previous public hearing, so the materials for discussion will be made available on the internet,” said Marakulin. He added that he was sure that the plant could safely at operate the reactor at above nominal levels for its entire extended service period.

Vitaly Servetnik, project coordinator for the Kola Ecological Center, said it was odd that the Kola plant would be conduction experiments at running above nominal levels on reactors whose operational periods had been extended.

“At 107 percent nominal power, a reactors margin of safety drops,” he told Bellona. “It’s understandable that the industry wants to raise its economic indicators, but the real question is how essential this is to people and the [Murmansk] region.”