Prolonged life for RBMK reactors

Publish date: July 29, 1997

Written by: Igor Kudrik

--Our strategy is to make RBMK reactors operate for 40 years, not 30, said Yury Garusov, a chief-engineer at Leningrad nuclear power plant, to Sosnovy Bor newspaper Vestnik LAES.

According to Garusov, Russia has already spent 600 million USD to keep RBMKs operative for 10 years past their original operational limits, and will have to spend another 600 million. European taxpayers provided Russia with 38 million USD of the above-mentioned sum through the TACIS program.

Meanwhile, Russia still lacks a strategy for how to cope with the spent fuel from these reactors. RBMK-1000 fuel is not subject to reprocessing, so large stocks of spent fuel are accumulating in the nuclear power plants’ onsite storage facilities. Currently, there are some 7500 tons of RBMK-1000 fuel with a total activity of 1.25 million Curie stored at Leningrad, Kursk and Smolensk nuclear power plants. The annual generation of RBMK-1000 spent fuel is some 750 tons. Simple calculations show that the on-site storage facilities will be filled to capacity by year 2005. In case no solution has been found by then, the plants will have to shut down.

At Leningrad nuclear power plant, which operates four RBMK-1000 reactors, engineers are working on expanding the capacity of the available storage facility by reducing the distance between the fuel assemblies – i.e. packing them closer together. Currently there are 21,900 spent fuel assemblies stored at Leningrad npp, in a facility initially designed to hold 17,500 assemblies as a maximum. Nevertheless, the capacity of this storage facility is to be expanded even further.