Russia’s Bilibino nuclear station shutting down reactors to make way for floating nuclear plant

Bilibino_Nuclear_Power_Plant The Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant in the Chukotka Region. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Russia’s Bilibino nuclear power plant will to close its No 1 reactor in two year, with its remaining three to follow by 2021, the country’s extreme Northeast reportedly to make way for power production from the country’s first floating nuclear plant, the nuclear station reported.

The three-year delay in shutting down the final three reacors ironically necessitated getting permits to run them beyond their original 40-year designed lifespan, nuclear.ru said, even though they’ve long been written off for the scrape heap.

Whatever power shortages result from the reactor shutdown are supposed to be supplemented by the arrival of Russia’s first floating plant, the Akademik Lomonosov, which is tentatively scheduled for this year, when it will put into Chukotka’s port of Pevek.

pevek1-320x213 Pevek, in Chukotka, the destination of the Akademik Lomonsov. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Many at state nuclear corporation Rosatom, however have said privately the Akademik Lomonosov’s arrival date of 2016 is aspirational and caution it will arrive closer to 2019.

Before it does, advanced infrastructure development for the far-flung Northeastern Arctic region will have to be completed to the tune of $78.5 million.

Though Andrei Zolotkov, a nuclear adviser to Bellona, said the cost of the infrastructure upgrades in Chukotka was not a new surprise expense, the floating nuclear power plant project has been controversial and protracted since the beginning due to its ever-growing $750 million budget.

“The hydro-technical and shore equipment for the floating plant was foreseen in the original designs,” Zolotkov said. “It’s a part of the project which wasn’t among the first steps and in various ports the costs would change, so this construction is specific to the area.”

Infrastructure builds cause further delays for floating plant

But even if the Akademic Lomonsov is delivered to Pevek this year, tenders for the infrastructure upgrades that will make it a usable power source in the region were only submitted until February, with construction to last until 2019.

moving akademic lomonosov The Akademik Lomonosov puts in for further construction at the Baltic Shipyard. (Photo: Baltiisky Zavod).

Whatever deadlines the new floating nuclear power plant’s arrival in Chukotka might experience, Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s executive director remained vehemently opposed to the project as a whole, and called for a switch to renewables, which are ready now.

“Neither running Bilibino nuclear plant nor installing the floating nuclear plant is a good idea,” said Bøhmer. “Instead of spending millions of rubles on the floating plant, Russia should spend its resources to develop more environmentally friendly power sources, for example combining renewable energy with the storage of energy in batteries.”

But Russia has already announced plans to continue building floating nuclear plants – and is expecting a new one by 2030.

Sergei Zavyalov, deputy director of construction for floating nuclear plants at Russia’s nuclear utility Rosenergoatom told RIA Novosti last summer that the newer line of floating plants is expected to be smaller than the Akademic Lomonsov, and are already being developed.

The Akademik Lomonsov’s arduous history

The Akademik Lomonosov has been plagued since the beginning of construction in 2006 by upwardly spiraling costs – which in May of last year had reached $750 million – and even a change of shipyard.

Its construction initially began at Sevmash in Northwest Russia, but in 2009 was moved to the Baltic Shipyard amid whispers that money was being siphoned off the project to complete Sevmash’s defense contracts.

In St. Petersburg, the floating nuclear plant’s fate became ensnared in bankruptcy proceedings against the Baltic Shipyard. Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation bought up the shipyard in May 2011, and the build continued.

akademik_lomonosov_baltic_shipyard Installation of the Akademik Lomonosov's nuclear reactors. Credit: Baltic Shipyard

Unnamed Rosatom sources told the Russian daily Kommersant that the rocky history of trying to get the Akademik Lomonsov on the water is a result of the vessel being “experimental.”

Kommersant’s sources at Rosatom told the paper to realistically expect the Akademik Lomonosov’s plug-in to the grid at Pevek as late as 2021.

Closure plans for the Bilibino plant

The closure of Bilibino’s reactors – the only ones in the world working in conditions of permafrost – dovetails with a $155,191 feasibility study announced by Rosatom to power down a number of reactors for decommissioning.

According to the Nuclear.ru news portal, the feasibly study reached cost projections for decommissioning the Novovoronezh plant’s No 3 reactor, the Beloyarsk plant’s No 1 and 2 reactors, the first two units at the Leningrad nuclear station, and all four reactors at the Bilibino plant, and should account for how the their spent nuclear fuel will be dealt with.

winter in bilibino Winter in Bilibino. (Photo: AlGaman/panoramio.com

The Bilibino station operates four graphite moderated EGP-6 type reactors, which are characterized as scaled-down versions of the Chernobyl-type RBMK reactors, and are the only four such reactors in operation in Russia.

Dismantlement of the Bilibino No 1, was initially scheduled to begin in 2014, according to Atominfo.ru portal. But a number of competing plans involving transport of its spent fuel had to be weighed. The winning scheme involved carting away the spent fuel by sea.

The total decommissioning and dismantlement cost for the first reactor is expected to weigh in at 7 to 8 billion rubles, or $120.9 million, less than half of the $325 million the US routinely projects for dismantlement of its own reactors.

 

Charles Digges

charles@bellona.no