Bellona nuclear digest, October 2023

Illustration from IAEA photo by Bellona.
Illustration from IAEA photo by Bellona.

Publish date: November 29, 2023

Written by: Bellona

After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Bellona ceased its activity in the aggressor country. On 18 April 2023, the Russian general prosecutor’s office declared Bellona to be an undesirable organization.

However, we continue to monitor events in the field of nuclear and radiation safety relating to Russia and Ukraine, which we believe are of interest to foreign readers. We analyze the situation in order to assess the degree of Russia’s international influence on other countries and the risks connected with this. We present you with a survey of these events for October 2023.

Follow the links to read the last three digests for September, August and July. Subscribe to our mailing list to make sure you don’t miss the next digest. Download a PDF of October’s digest here.

In this issue:

1. Zaporizhzhia NPP. Event timeline for October 2023
2. Explosions in the regions of the Khmelnitsky and Kursk NPPs
3. Russia withdraws ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty

The annual report by the Euratom Supply Agency showed a decrease in uranium deliveries from Russia in 2022. But the EU remains dependent on Russian deliveries
5. Alternative route for uranium deliveries from Kazakhstan bypassing Russia gains popularity
6. New centrifugal enrichment plant for uranium opens in US

7. Budget financing for construction of icebreakers reduces, while they increase in price
8. Fresh nuclear fuel delivered to Academic Lomonosov FNHPP in Pevek for the first time
9. First batch of nuclear fuel delivered to the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh
10. Loading new Russian fuel at the Dukovany NPP in the Czech Republic may complicate the transition to American fuel in future.
11. Rosatom signs new agreements on cooperation with developing countries
12. Unit 2 of the Belarusian NPP put into industrial operation

Nuclear risks and the war in Ukraine

Zaporizhzhia NPP. Event timeline for October 2023 ↑

On 30 September, unit 4 of the Zaporizhzhia NPP was switched from cold shutdown mode to hot shutdown mode to provide the plant with steam (which is required for processing liquid radioactive waste and for other safety-related functions).

Unit 6, which since 13 August had been temporarily functioning in hot shutdown mode during repair work on unit 4, was switched to cold shutdown mode on 3 October. During subsequent maintenance activities, small leaks from the first cooling circuit into the second in two of the four steam generators were found and repaired. Maintenance activities on the safety system are continuing.

On 16 October, unit 5 was switched from cold to hot shutdown mode, and will produce warm water for central heating, including for Enerhodar. Eight of nine mobile diesel boilers installed at the ZNPP in December 2022 have also begun to be used (capacity from 1 to 6.5 MW, in total generating around 34 MW of heat). IAEA experts reported that in Enerhodar itself, 57 such boilers had been installed, and two high-capacity boilers operate at the Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant.

We may recall that in the last heating season at the ZNPP two units also functioned in hot shutdown mode from November 2022, units 5 and 6. Unit 6 was switched back to cold shutdown on 21 April 2023, and unit 5 on 28 July.

In October at the ZNPP site, an operation was carried out to close the reactor vessel of unit 3, which was first reported in IAEA publications 189 and 190. Evidently this involves installing and sealing the reactor head. The reactor vessel remained open after technical maintenance in 2022, in to use it in order, if necessary, as a source of borated water for other units. IAEA experts reported that there are now sufficient supplies of this water at the plant, and on 3 November confirmed that after completion of pressure tests, unit 3 will remain in cold shutdown mode.

Thus, in late October units 1, 2, 3 and 6 were in cold shutdown mode, and units 4 and 5 were in hot shutdown mode.

On 5 October, in an interview with Rossiya-24 television, Rosatom general director Aleksey Likhachev noted that there were no plans to put the ZNPP into operation in the near future, but that “next year as the situation develops we will investigate options, and look for possibilities to reclassify this facility as operational”. In late October the ZNPP informed the IAEA team that it did not plan to put any of the six units into operation. And in August this year, the ZNPP director Yury Chernichuk appointed by Rosatom said in an interview that “plans for any operations with fuel [without which putting the units into operation is impossible, as they require fresh fuel – note by Bellona] of any units will be realized here only after peace comes to this territory”.

On 28 June, the Ukraine State Nuclear Regulatory Board passed decree No. 338 amending the license for operating units 3-6 of the ZNPP. According to these amendments, units 4, 5 and 6 are now only permitted for operation in “cold shutdown” mode. Unit 3 in the mode of “shutdown for repairs” and “cold shutdown”. Units 1 and 2 may only be operated in “cold shutdown” mode, according to earlier amendments.

On 3 October, the latest rotation of IAEA experts at the ZNPP took place. For the entire month, the new team continued to request access to the turbine halls of all six units on the same day, in order to confirm that no materials and equipment were present there that violated the five principles for protecting the ZNPP. But over the course of the month, they only received access on 18 October to all floors of the turbine hall of unit 3, and on the same day only partial access to the turbine hall of unit 4; partial access for inspecting the turbine hall of the reactor of unit 1 on 23 October; and partial access to the turbine hall of unit 2 on 27 October. During walkdowns of the territory, the turbine hall of unit 6 was also examined.

The IAEA mission also expected to gain access to the rooftops of the reactor buildings of units 1, 2, 5 and 6. In previous months, despite numerous requests, access was only granted on 3 August to the rooftops of the reactor buildings of units 3 and 4. In October, the IAEA team was only able to inspect the roof of the reactor building of unit 2 on 11 October, from where a section of rooftops of the reactor buildings of unit 1 and 3 were visible. During inspections, no mines or explosives were detected. The request for access to the roofs of the reactor buildings of units 1, 5 and 6 was not granted in October, nor was a request for access to all six turbine halls on the same day.

Walkdowns of buildings and territory of the plant was carried out, including: the main controls rooms of units 1, 3, 4 and 6, the reactor buildings of units 1 and 3, the emergency diesel generators of units 3, 4 and 6, as well as the site perimeter. The team reported that no mines or explosives were observed during these walkdowns. In the second half of the month, experts visited the cooling pond, isolation gates, cooling towers, the outlet channel of the plant, as well as the outlet channel of the nearby Zaporizhzhia TPP. No mines or explosives were observed.

IAEA ZNPP Experts from the IAEA mission at the ZNPP (March 2023). Credit: Fredrik Dahl / IAEA

Also in October, IAEA experts were informed that at the ZNPP the process of purchasing consumables and spare parts had been adapted to Russian legislation, and that deliveries are being carried out from Russia, and cover around 90% of the plant’s needs. But the IAEA assesses that the supply chain logistics remain challenging. Ukraine requests the IAEA to note that difficulties with logistics, the lack of quality control of spare parts with unknown characteristics by the legitimate operator of the plant, Energoatom, and also the lack of a sufficient number of licensed personnel at the ZNPP with the necessary qualifications, may have unpredictable consequences.

As in previous months, experts from the IAEA mission at the ZNPP report that almost every day they hear explosions and machine gun fire, and on 10 October there were four explosions that were closer than usual to the site. Russia reports that on 10 October a drone attack damaged the city water intake pumping station, two districts suffered a power cut, and the water supply was stopped. On 18 October, the power supply to Enerhodar was cut off for two hours, for unknown reasons.

On 10 October, IAEA director general Rafael Grossi said in an interview with The Guardian that Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky had assured him that Ukraine would not directly bomb or shell the ZNPP during a counterattack, although “all other options are being discussed” to return the plant to Ukrainian control.

Explosions in the regions of the Khmelnitsky and Kursk NPPs ↑

On the night of 25 October Russia attacked Ukraine with 11 drones. IAEA mission experts at the Khmelnitsky NPP heard two powerful explosions, and were later informed that two drones had been shot down at a distance of around 5 and 20 km from the plant, and that they did not impact the plant operation and its connection to the electricity grid. Nevertheless, the shockwaves damaged the windows of several buildings on the plant territory, including the passage to the reactor buildings, an integrated auxiliary building, a special equipment building, the training center, and other facilities. Additionally, power was temporarily cut off to two of the 11 radiation control stations outside the site in the region of the town of Slavuta. The neighboring town of Netishyn also suffered damage.

The Khmelnitsky NPP has two VVER-1000 reactors, one of which has been in scheduled shutdown since early August, and the other is functioning.

Russia announced that on 26 October the Kursk NPP was attacked by three Ukrainian drones, one of which exploded by the spent nuclear fuel storage facility, damaging its walls, and the other two hit a complex of administrative buildings without detonating. According to reports from Rosenerogatom this incident did not affect the plant operation.

Russia withdraws ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty ↑

In less than a month, the issue of withdrawing from the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was raised in Russia and fully resolved legally. On 5 October, at a meeting of the “Valdai” discussion club, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that unlike the USA, Russia had ratified the Treaty on the complete ban of testing nuclear weapons in 2000, “but theoretically could withdraw this ratification”, and “mirror the actions of the United States”. The following day, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin reported that the State Duma council would discuss withdrawing ratification of the treaty at the next session, and on 18 October, the State Duma passed a law to this effect. On 25 October the law was approved by the Federation Council and signed by Putin on 2 November.

According to the statement by Russian officials, Russia remains a country that has signed the CTBT, and intends to observe its own moratorium on nuclear tests, while withdrawing the ratification is designed to restore parity with the USA.

As part of realization of the CTBT, Russia takes part in the creation and functioning of the International Monitoring System, the Russian segment of which should be completed this year. However, at the moment, equipment is still being tested at the last monitoring station; according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, completion of the Russian segment of the system is expected by the end of 2023.

The bill on withdrawing ratification of the Treaty was passed against the backdrop of increased activity at the Novaya Zemlya testing ground, which was created by the USSR during the cold war to test nuclear weapons. The Russian law N 72-FZ of 27 May 2000 “On ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty”, which has now been amended by the withdrawal of ratification, contains a provision on the need to maintain basic potential for possible resumption of nuclear testing if Russia withdraws from the CTBT, to maintain the testing ground on Novaya Zemlya in readiness for full testing, and adapt it for works on nuclear charges and ammunition, which are not prohibited by the Treaty.

As for Rosatom’s role in the realization of the CTBT, under Russian government decree N 537 of 25 August 2005 it is responsible, among other things, for analyzing technical information concerning issues of creating and improving nuclear weapons abroad under nuclear test ban conditions, and also for the personnel and scientific provision of inspections on sites, which will become possible if the Treaty enters into force.

We should also recall that on 28 February 2023 a law was signed on suspending implementation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the US. Furthermore, at the Valdai forum Putin announced successful testing of the intercontinental ballistic missile “Burevestnik” with a nuclear warhead, and said that in the near future Russia would move to the mass production of the Sarmat strategic missile system and place it on alert.

Commentary by Bellona on the section “Nuclear Risks and the War in Ukraine”: As we assumed earlier, the Russian management of the ZNPP has shifted two units of the plant to hot shutdown mode as the cold season approaches, as it did last year. As well as increasing radioactive and nuclear risks at the plant, this shows that over a year, no additional alternative sources of steam and heat have appeared at the plant besides those that already existed last winter, and that this situation generally suits Russia, which perhaps intentionally maintains it.

It is important to note that regular leaks of steam generators at some units may have led to a growth in formation of liquid radioactive waste at the plant, for which additional sources of heat and steam are required to treat (for their evaporation and reduction in volume). This situation may repeat in future and lead both to a deterioration of primary coolant equipment, and to the risk of radioactive waste being emitted into the environment.

Operations to close and seal the reactor at unit 3 may be explained by two reasons. Either issues with leaks of steam generators at units used in hot shutdown mode have been solved, and an additional supply of borated water is not required for feeding leaks. Or unit 3 is being prepared for possible operation in hot shutdown mode if there are malfunctions at units 4 and 5 this winter.

Taking into account the current situation and recent statements by other Russian officials, the dubious statement by the head of Rosatom on making the ZNPP operational in 2024 may reflect the continuing intention by Russia to put ZNPP units into operation, and also Rosatom management’s hope for a swift end to the hazardous situation at the ZNPP and the war as a whole.

Despite the increasing number of inspections of the plant territory by IAEA inspectors and the lack of mines and explosives in places of inspection, from IAEA reports it follows that far from all of their requests are satisfied by the Russian side in a timely fashion and in full. Furthermore, Bellona believes that the lack of explosives found does not mean that there are no explosives at the plant. The presence of the IAEA at all Ukrainian NPPs is important not just to raise awareness in the international community about the situation at these plants, but as a kind of guarantee that the warring countries will not actively use weapons against these plants. At the same time, the explosions near the Khmelnitsky and Kursk NPPs show that the situation may become unpredictable, as the actions of the military from both sides are impossible to control strictly. In a wartime situation, these actions may not only be intentional, but also accidental.

In Bellona’s assessment, the decision to withdraw ratification of the nuclear test ban treaty is a demonstration of the political and military capabilities, and even the goals of the Russian leadership. With this decision, Putin warns that he will not stop at continuing nuclear testing, or even at using a certain type of nuclear weapon in certain conditions. This may also be shown by statements from several politicians close to the Russian president.

International nuclear news and its connection with Russia

The annual report by the Euratom Supply Agency showed a decrease in uranium deliveries from Russia in 2022. But the EU remains dependent on Russian deliveries ↑

Euratom Supply Agency (ESA) has published its annual report surveying the supply and demand of nuclear fuel in EU countries in 2022. It states that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seriously disrupted the global system of deliveries of all energy sources, and endangered the safety of deliveries of nuclear materials and services to the EU, and that in this connection the EU has passed a decision on the gradual reduction and curtailment of its dependence on Russia, including for nuclear fuel supplies.

According to the ESA report for 2022, 27% less nuclear fuel was delivered to European NPPs than last year. At the same time, for the first time in 8 years, more material was purchased than was loaded into reactors: 10,990 tons of uranium against 11,720 tons. The level of supplies at the level of the EU did not increase over the past year, but there were several companies which purchased a larger amount of nuclear materials as part of measures to ensure the safety of deliveries.

91% of deliveries of natural uranium were accounted for by four countries – Kazakhstan (26.82%), Niger (25.38%), Canada (21.99%) and Russia (16.89%, including natural uranium contained in enriched uranium production). In comparison with last year, the Russian share in deliveries dropped by 16.05%.

As for suppliers of conversion services, 37.34% of EU requirements were fulfilled by the French company Orano Conversion (Philippe COSTE facility), followed by Rosatom (22.35%), the Canadian Cameco (21.16%) and the US ConverDyn (16.30%). The total volume of conversion contracts shows a growth of conversion services from Orano (a growth of 10%) and ConverDyn (a growth of 5%), and also a drop of 25% from Rosatom and 20% for Cameco year by year. A third of the total volume of conversion services was provided under contracts “bundled” with other services (fuel enrichment and manufacture), and for the majority of these “bundled” contracts, conversion is carried out by Russia.

62% (6.7 million SWU) of the total volume of uranium enrichment deliveries is provided within the EU (Orano-GBII and Urenco), while 30% (3.2 million SWU) was purchased in Russia (Tenex and TVEL), a proportion which has practically not changed in comparison with 2021.

We may recall that this year Urenco announced its plans to expand enrichment facilities, as did Orano, whose board of directors approved investments on 19 October.

Standing separately in the statistics for 2022 are the countries that are most dependent on Russia, with VVER reactors of Russian design – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia. Russia at present is the only supplier of fuel for them, and they depend 60% on Russian services for uranium conversion and enrichment (in other EU countries this dependence also exists, but at a lower level, 25%). Last year European companies operating VVER reactors increased their fuel supplies so that they would be sufficient until an alternative fuel emerges and receives a license. This led to a growth of deliveries in services from Russia for these companies compared with last year, by 30% for conversion, and by 22% for enrichment.

As for supplies of natural uranium equivalent (including uranium at various stages of the fuel cycle: natural uranium, uranium in the process of conversion, enrichment or manufacture, stored at EU facilities or other companies), in 2022 this came to around 36 million tons. This quantity is sufficient to provide European NPPs with fuel on average for three years. With a broad range of needs at different facilities, all companies have sufficient supplies for at least one fuel load.

We should note that Russia’s turnover on this market in the EU is around 1 billion Euros per year, and for Rosatom this is just 10% of foreign turnover in total and not more than a third of foreign turnover in the fuel cycle.

Alternative route for uranium deliveries from Kazakhstan bypassing Russia gains popularity ↑

Kazatomprom has published its report on operational activity for the 3rd quarter of 2023. It examines the issue of reducing transport risks for the company which are potentially linked with sanctions against Russia, and the transportation of production through Russian territory. The report states that at present there are no glitches or problems connected with insurance and logistics in deliveries. At the same time, Kazatomprom notes that risks will be reduced by using the Trans-Caspian international transport route (TITR). The company stressed that as of the end of the first half year of 2023, 58% of uranium deliveries from Kazakhstan to western countries were made by the TITR. It is expected that for 2023 as a whole the share of uranium deliveries by Kazatomprom to western countries by the TITR will be up to 71%.

In December 2022, Kazatomprom announced the first delivery by the TITR of natural uranium to Canada mined by the Inkai joint enterprise with the Canadian company Cameco. However, this delivery and the next one in the first quarter of 2023 faced delays caused by legal difficulties with documentation in transit via third-party countries.

In April 2023 a batch of natural uranium concentrates for the company Societatea Natională “Nuclearelectrica” S.A. (SNN) in Romania was delivered by this route.

According to the report for the 2nd quarter of 2023, Kazatomprom has already received permission for the transit of 3,500 tons of uranium, and has submitted an application to increase this quota, in order to ensure potential delivery of the entire volume of the production of Kazatomprom and its partners in joint enterprises by the TITR route.

New centrifugal enrichment plant for uranium opens in US ↑

On 11 October the American company Centrus Energy announced the launch of operations for uranium enrichment at its plant in Piketon, Ohio. This is the first new uranium enrichment plant since 1954 built in the USA by an American company using American technology. The only centrifugal plant previously working in the USA, in New Mexico, is owned by the European company Urenco.

A special feature of the Centrus plant is that it will produce high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) – uranium with enrichment from 5% to 20%. Unlike low-enriched uranium (enrichment up to 5%) widely used in the majority of NPPs worldwide, HALEU is required for producing nuclear fuel for most new generation reactors currently in the development stage

The demonstration cascade of 16 centrifuges launched at the plant can produce around 900 kg of HALEU per year. It was built as part of a three-year contract with the US government signed in 2019. Centrus expects to expand production significantly with sufficient financing, increasing the number of centrifuges to 120 in 3.5 years, which will allow it to produce around 6,000 kg of HALEU per year. With the necessary support, Centrus could add a second HALEU cascade in six months, and subsequent cascades every two months after this.

Until now the only major producer of HALEU on a commercial basis was located in Russia (Tekhsnabexport, part of Rosatom). Centrus is the only licensed producer of HALEU that is an alternative to the Russian producer. The French company Orano states that it could start production of HALEU in five to eight years, but will apply for a license only after it gains clients with long-term contracts. The European company for uranium enrichment Urenco announces that it is examining the possibility of creating sites for manufacturing HALEU in the US and the UK, but has yet to apply for licenses.

We should note that in October the US presidential administration requested USD 2.2. billion from Congress to expand facilities for uranium enrichment (both low-enriched uranium and HALEU).

Commentary by Bellona on this section:

All the events connected with deliveries and transportation of uranium and nuclear fuel, and also the creation of new facilities for enrichment and conversion outside of Russia, have recently been examined from the standpoint of reducing the influence of Rosatom and Russia as a whole on world nuclear policy and economy. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the international community has come to realize that the Russian nuclear sector is a political and economic instrument which the present Russian regime attempts to use for solving its tasks and realizing its goals. Bellona experts believe that the tendency for the partial ousting of Rosatom from the international nuclear market will continue, but the rate of this process will primarily depend on international events and tendencies. At the same time, we believe that Rosatom with its economic, scientific and political potential will remain on the nuclear market, especially in developing and authoritarian countries. In developed countries, there is enough potential to develop and replace production in those segments of the nuclear market where Rosatom’s position is now strong, in order to gradually reduce dependence on Russian supplies or get rid of them completely.

Events in the Russian nuclear industry and in Rosatom projects abroad

Budget financing for construction of icebreakers reduces, while they increase in price ↑

On 21 October, Russia’s budget plan for 2024-2026 was passed in the first reading. According to Kommersant, financing construction of new nuclear icebreakers may drop by almost 10 billion rubles over three years. In particular, funds allocated for building the chief icebreaker “Leader” (capacity of 120 MW) will be reduced by 5.24 billion, for the third and fourth series icebreakers of the Arctic type (capacity 60 MW) by 0.56 billion, for the fifth LK-60 by 2.36 billion, and for the sixth by 1.36 billion. Financing construction of multifunctional nuclear service vessel is also scheduled to be reduced by 0.91 billion rubles.

In the development plan for the Northern Sea route until 2035, approved in August 2022, the volume of budget financing for Leader was 99 billion rubles, and for the third and fourth icebreaker 16.5 billion in total. The cost of the nuclear service vessel is 24.8 billion rubles, the fifth icebreaker 56.6 billion, and the sixth 61.3 billion.

It should also be recalled that in February 2023, plans for construction of icebreakers set out in the Strategy for developing the Russian Arctic were already changed: the number of planned nuclear icebreakers of the Leader design was reduced from three to one, and instead of five icebreakers of the 22220 design, it was decided to build seven. Thus, the required budget for the Leaders should drop by almost 200 billion, and for building the additional fifth and sixth icebreakers it should increase by 117.9 billion.

According to information from a Kommersant source, the cost of the fifth and sixth LK-60 may increase by at least twice of the state contract price. The total cost of building Leader may grow to 70 billion rubles, and the schedule for putting the vessel into operation at the “Zvezda” shipyard may be postponed by two years (according to plan it was to be completed in 2027.

According to the Kommersant source, who is familiar with the discussion of financing construction of icebreakers at the Ministry for Industry and Trade, Rosatom faces the task of minimizing the budget financing of construction and attracting extrabudgetary funds. Perhaps it will be necessary to raise the cost of services for icebreaker maintenance on the Northern Sea Route.

The head of Atomflot Leonid Irlitsa said that the tariffs for icebreaker support had not changed since 2014, and now the issue on reviewing the traffic is being decided.

lider icebreaker A model of the Leader icebreaker of the 10510 design. Credit: Iceberg design bureau

Commentary by Bellona:

Over the course of the war, since 2022, we have observed a drop in financial indicators in the construction plan for the nuclear icebreaker fleet. The reduction of budget financing of this construction of around 10 billion rubles may prove to be far from the largest financial change in the program. The cancellation of the construction of the two “Leader” icebreakers and their replacement with two less powerful icebreakers of 22220 design in the Strategy of developing the Russian Arctic, according to the prices established in the document will lead to a reduction of around 80 billion rubles in the cost of the program. However, given the increase in expenses, even these changes may increase the cost of the project by 140 billion.

This price rise and the delay in the construction schedule, caused in part by the war in Ukraine, may lead to abandoning realization of part of the program in future, or to looking for alternative extrabudgetary sources for financing the project. This may also mean reviewing tariffs for support on the Northern Sea Route. However, this may also threaten the realization of Rosatom’s major plans to increase transport of cargo on this route.

Fresh nuclear fuel delivered to Academic Lomonosov FNHPP in Pevek for the first time ↑

TVEL has delivered nuclear fuel for the reactor unit 1 of the floating nuclear heat and power plant (FNHPP) on the basis of the floating power unit Academic Lomonosov in Pevek, Chukotka autonomous district. This is the first reloading of fuel in the history of the NPP, and is planned to be carried out before the end of this year.

The FNHPP has two reactors of the “icebreaker” KLT-40S type with a capacity of up to 35 MW. In these reactors, nuclear fuel is not replaced in the same way as in standard land-based nuclear power units of high capacity (partial replacement of fuel once every 12-18 months), but once every several years with complete unloading of the entire reactor core and complete loading of fresh fuel. At the same time, the plant is not shut down entirely, and the reactors are reloaded in turn. As of early November 2023, the old core had already been unloaded, and the spent fuel was placed in holding tanks filled with water in a special storage facility at the FNHPP, which will be moved to storage vessels after three years.

The power facilities of the floating power unit Academic Lomonosov were first connected to the power grid in December 2019, and put into industrial operation in May 2020. Delivery and loading of nuclear fuel into the second reactor are planned for 2024. Spent fuel will be loaded into a storage facility on board the FNHPP. According to the plant project, this fuel will be removed 10-12 years later after the plant begins operation, during overhauls when it will be moored for dock repairs at a special service base, probably the Atomflot base in Murmansk.

The Norwegian publication High North News reported on 16 October that delivery of nuclear fuel to the FNHPP would be carried out by the SMP Arkhangelsk vessel, which has a long history of safety violations and deficiencies detected in inspections over the past decade.

Rosatom does not rule out stationing another floating power unit in Pevek. At present, four modernized floating power units are being constructed with the RITM-200 reactor for providing power to the Baimsky mining corporation in the Bilibin region of the Chukotka autonomous district. According to information from Kommersant, at present Rosatom is working on delivery of an additional modernized floating power unit in Pevek. “This issue is at a very early stage, we cannot give technical and economic parameters at present, and the decision to carry out the project has not been passed,” a Rosatom representative commented.

lomonosov The Academic Lomonosov FHNPP and the vessel SPM Arkhangelsk, delivering fuel. Credit: High North newspaper

Commentary by Bellona: Russia’s growing plans to build small NPPs in the Arctic will inevitably lead to an increase in transportation of nuclear materials on the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The first delivery of fresh nuclear fuel in history for floating NPPs was carried out in a situation of Russia’s growing political, technological and economic isolation in response to its attack on Ukraine.

All of this has already led to an increase in Russia’s use of a shadow fleet for the export of oil, which may also be transported more actively by the Northern Sea Route to Asia. The reduction in environmental requirements and safety standards, along with Russia’s desire to increase economic activity in the Arctic, raise risks of shipping accidents on the NSR as a whole, and of transportation of nuclear materials in particular.

First batch of nuclear fuel delivered to the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh ↑

On 5 October, a ceremony was held on the construction site of the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh, to mark the delivery of the first batch of nuclear fuel of 24 fuel assemblies. In total 163 assemblies are required to be loaded into the core of the VVER-1200 reactor, so there will be at least six more of these deliveries before the unit can be put into operation next year.

Taking part in the ceremony online, which celebrated the first nuclear power station in Bangladesh obtaining the status of a nuclear facility, were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and IAEA director general Rafael Grossi. The Rosatom general director Aleksey Likhachev was present on the site.

rooppur npp Delivery of fuel to the Rooppur NPP under construction. Credit: Atom Media

Construction of the plant has already faced delays and difficulties because of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and war-related sanctions. In December last year, because of US sanctions against Moscow, Bangladesh refused entry to a Russian vessel carrying equipment for the NPP. Delays and difficulties also arose in managing the Russian loan issued for building the plant after Russia was cut off from the SWIFT system and restrictions on accounts in dollars.

Additionally, on 4 September the Bangladesh publication The Business Standard reported that sources in both the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) and the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh (PGCB) had announced that even if the power station itself is ready by July next year, it is unclear whether the required infrastructure for electricity transmission will be ready by this time. It is expected that realization of the project for construction of the power line will take around two years, which will only make it possible to prepare the transmission infrastructure by 2025.

Commentary by Bellona: Delivery of the first nuclear fuel to the plant site shows that the Rooppur NPP project is being realized and will be completed in the near future, despite sanction pressure on Russia. At the same time, this is already the second delivery of the first batch of fuel to Rosatom construction sites abroad this year. In April, a similar ceremony was held at the Akkuyu NPP in Turkey, where fuel was delivered for the first unit of the plant.

In both ceremonies, IAEA director general Rafael Grossi took part, in person or online. Such important stages of realization of nuclear projects by Rosatom allow the corporation to interact additionally with the IAEA, demonstrating its important role in the world nuclear sector, and supporting its image as a major actor on the world nuclear market, despite its tarnished reputation from its involvement in the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP in Ukraine.

From all appearances, next year equally important stages of the physical launch and connection to the grid of the first units of NPPs in Turkey and Bangladesh will take place, which will add these countries to list of nations operating NPPs of Russian design, and should be an important event in boosting Rosatom’s image.

Loading new Russian fuel at the Dukovany NPP in the Czech Republic may complicate the transition to American fuel in future ↑

On 13 October, planned shutdown of unit four of the Dukovany NPP in the Czech Republic began, connected with replacement of part of the fuel and scheduled maintenance. For the first time, fuel assemblies of the PK3+ modification will be used, manufactured by TVEL, the fuel division of Rosatom. Technicians will extract all 349 fuel assemblies from the reactor. After service maintenance is completed and all inspections have been carried out, part of the used fuel and 78 fresh fuel assemblies will be returned to the reactor. The unit shutdown will continue until the end of this year.

The contract to deliver the new modification of fuel was signed in July 2019, and its development drew on the experience of operating the prototype of this fuel at unit 4 of the Kola NPP in the Murmansk Oblast, where it has been used since 2010. In April 2022, it was reported that a plane that received special permission to fly in EU airspace, closed for Russian planes since 24 February 2022, had delivered nuclear fuel for the two NPPs in the Czech Republic, Temelin and Dukovany. According to a representative of the energy company Ladislav Kříž, this was the third and last flight with this cargo. At that time the Temelin NPP had fuel for more than two years, and the Dukovany NPP for three years.

From 2024, the Dukovany NPP plans to receive fuel for VVER-440 units from the Westinghouse company, with which ČEZ signed a contract in March 2023. Also, besides diversification of fuel suppliers, ČEZ plans to increase fuel supplies to last up to five years.

dukovany npp Fresh fuel at the Dukovany NPP. (Photo: ČEZ Group)

Commentary by Bellona:

The new PK3+ fuel modification has so far only been used in Russia and in Hungary, and before the war began its delivery to Finland was planned. Thus, alternative fuel for VVER-440 reactors from Westinghouse, deliveries of which should start next year to the Dukovany NPP, has never been used before in joint operation with the new PK3+ Russian fuel modification.

We already discussed problems of this nature in the previous digest, concerning the difficulty of the joint use of new fuel modifications for the VVER-1000 reactor in Bulgaria. Therefore, loading the new fuel modification may complicate the transition of the Dukovany NPP to alternative fuel, and require additional tests and licensing procedures to justify the safety of this transition.

Rosatom signs new agreements on cooperation with developing countries ↑

The forum “Russian Energy Week” was held in Moscow on 11-13 October. At the forum, Rosatom and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the assessment and development of Myanmar’s nuclear infrastructure. It is planned to determine the current requirements for developing nuclear infrastructure, and form a plan of priority areas of work required for realizing the project to build a small capacity nuclear plant in the country. On 6 February, Russia and Myanmar signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Also at the forum, Memorandums of Understanding on cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy were signed on 13 October between Rosatom and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Quarries of Burkina Faso, and also between Rosatom and the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources of the Republic of Mali. In July, Rosatom already signed several similar agreements at the “Russia-Africa – 2023” forum in St. Petersburg.

Commentary by Bellona:

Rosatom continues to take an active interest in new markets in Asian and African countries. These agreements only reflect the earliest stages of discussing projects, which may take a considerable time before they develop to the level of signed contracts, and their prospects raise major questions. It should be noted that during the war Rosatom has not signed a single new contract to build an NPP abroad.

Unit 2 of the Belarusian NPP put into industrial operation ↑

On 24 October, the Belarusian Emergency Situations Ministry made an amendment to the license of the Belarusian NPP, permitting industrial operation of unit 2 of the NPP. On 1 November a document was signed to put this unit into industrial operation. According to information from the Belarusian Energy Ministry, since the unit was connected to the grid in May this year it has generated over 2.1 billion kWh of electricity, and two units of the plant will annually generate around 18 billion kWh, which is equivalent to around 40% of the country’s domestic electricity needs.

On 31 October, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, as well as reporting the completion of construction of the Belarussian NPP, announced that Belarus wished to receive compensation from the Russian side for the delay in the schedule for putting the plant into operation. He said that Belarus had been offered reduced prices on nuclear fuel, “at a friendly rate”, and also a guaranteed term of five years for the core components.

Rosatom replied that the main stages of building the Belarussian NPP took place during the difficult period of the pandemic and a tense foreign policy situation with growing sanction risks, that the project had been realized in a country which was developing large-scale nuclear power for the first time, and that the task had never been set to speed up the construction process to the detriment of safety requirements. It is also reported that the project had last been discussed on 16 October at a meeting between Rosatom head Aleksey Likhachev and Belarusian Prime Minister Roman Golochenko, and that “at present there are no unresolved issues”.

Kommersant writes that this is not the first time that Lukashenko has demanded compensation from Russia for what he considers to be the too lengthy construction period of the NPP. In 2016 Rosatom replaced the reactor vessel, as the vessel designed for the first unit was dropped on the ground during loading. After this incident Lukashenko demanded for the conditions of the Russian loan to be improved. The loan period was extended to the end of 2022, and the start of principal repayment was postponed to April 2023. But in 2023 the loan conditions were changed again, the term for using the loan was extended for 2023, and the start of principal repayment was postponed by a year, to 1 April 2024.

It is also noted that the Belarusian NPP was not put into operation according to the planned schedule. Unit 1 was put into industrial operation on 10 June 2021, around seven years and seven months since the first concrete was poured. It was planned to put Unit 2 into operation in the autumn of 2021, but it was not connected to the grid until 13 May 2023, i.e. around nine years since construction began.

Commentary by Bellona:

The construction of the Belarusian NPP continues to be a matter of concern for neighboring countries, primarily the Baltic states. This is the first NPP with VVER-1200 reactors built outside Russia, so the facility is naturally of interest to both nuclear experts and the public, which is worried that this new “untested” facility may bring unpleasant surprises. Bellona expects and hopes that there will be no hazardous nuclear and radioactive incidents at this facility.

However, issues are yet to be fully regulated concerning the creation of a safe system for treating radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, training personnel, and there are also problems of public control in the authoritarian state that Belarus is today.

As for cash compensations that Lukashenko mentions, this talk is rather intended for the domestic audience, and is part of Lukashenko’s political game, as a way to show his independence. However, Lukashenko’s regime depends entirely on Russia. Lukashenko is the last person to whom Putin will pay any compensations, as everyone, including Lukashenko himself, understands that without Putin, there would be no Lukashenko.