Zaporozhje Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine is to licence a storage site for spent nuclear fuel shortly and quit shipping it to Russia – an operation that is too expensive for the shrunken economy of the former Soviet Republic.
Ukraine operates five nuclear power plants with 14 reactor units, including 11VVER-1000 type reactors. Spent fuel from VVER-1000 is shipped to Krasnoyarsk County in Russia, where storage for this type of fuel is located at the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine in the closed city of Zheleznogorsk.
Last year’s rate increase
Ukrainian officials say that each VVER-1000 reactor has 50-55 fuel assemblies replaced each year – one third of a VVER-1000 reactor core. Annual shipments of spent nuclear fuel to Russia cost Ukraine around $100 million a year. The price tag for these services went up in 1998 when Krasnoyarsk County Governor, Aleksandr Lebed, said his county would not accept spent fuel from Ukraine for "small money", so the rate was increased from $285 to $330 per kilogram.
The Ukrainian state-owned nuclear operator, Energoatom, sent in $57 million worth of spent nuclear fuel to Russia in 1998. At that point the company owed its Russian contractors $13 million but still planned to ship $105 million of the nuclear cargo in 1999.
Ukraine to complete dry storage
Being unable to pay in time for shipping spent fuel to Russia and dissatisfied with the rate increase, Ukraine intensified construction of a spent fuel dry storage site at Zaporozhje Nuclear Power Plant located in south-eastern Ukraine, which has six VVER-1000 reactors in operation. Contracted by the U.S. Department of Energy, American Duke Engineering & Services transferred to Zaporozhje NPP technology and equipment to build spent fuel containers.
"To build a storage site would cost us $15 million, while shipment of spent fuel to Russia costs around $40 million for our plant each year," Nataliya Markova, the spokeswoman at Zaporozhje NPP, told Bellona Web.
Markova also said that the licence for the storage site and containers would be granted in November this year. The plant has already made two containers that can hold 24 fuel assemblies each. Altogether 380 containers will be built to store fuel for 50 years.
The containers are made of concrete, have size 3 meters in diameter, and are filled with helium to cool spent fuel. Ukrainian Energoatom believes that should the containers scheme function well at Zaporozhje NPP, other nuclear plants can start using them.
Krasnoyarsk Combine losing customers
The Ukraine is one of the few customers of the Krasnoyarsk Combine that has built VVER-1000 spent fuel storage facility in order to reprocess it further at RT-2 plant. The latter was never to be completed due to the lack of funds. Kozloduy NPP in Bulgaria is another customer and operates two VVER-1000s. Russia operates seven VVER-1000 reactors, but the plants have failed to make regular payments to the Krasnoyarsk Combine while in an economic netherworld.
Once Ukraine adopts the storage option, Krasnoyarsk Combine would have to rely upon the project, promoted by the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy, to import foreign spent fuel to Russia from rich countries for storage and reprocessing. The bill regarding amendment of the Russia legislation in favour of spent fuel imports has already been submitted to the Russian government and been widely discussed in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament. But so far, trains laden with Ukrainian spent fuel will continue to head for Krasnoyarsk, at least for some time.