Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant

Fact sheet 60

First published 1999-12-28

Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant is situated by the river Volga, 900 kilometres south of Moscow. Balakovo was planned to be the biggest nuclear power plant in the world with a total of 24 reactors. But, today only four reactors are in operation. Even though the VVER-1000 reactors are the latest Russian pressurised-water reactors in operation, they still don’t meet western safety demands.

Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant is providing electrical power to the areas surrounding the city Saratov, in central Russia, together with Kazhakstan and north-Kaukasus. The power plant is the newest in Russia, the first reactor was put in operation in 1985. The power plant is owned and operated by Rosenergatom, a subdivision of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom).

The power plant has four VVER-1000 reactors in operation. These are third generation, Russian pressurised-water reactors. This kind of reactors is also in operation at the two Russian power plants, Kalinin (2) and Novovoronets (1). In addition, there are two operational VVER-1000 reactors in Bulgaria, and twelve in Ukraine.

The reactor-core is 3.5 meters tall, and has a diameter of 3.16 meters. Each reactor has 163 fuel-assemblies, which each consists of 312 fuel-pins, with an enrichment of 3.3 to 4.4% 235U. Each reactor is connected to a turbine. The first reactor at Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant was put in operation in December 1985, reactor no. two was put in operation in October 1987, no. three in December 1988 and the fourth, in 1993.

The construction of the fifth reactor commenced in 1987, and the sixth in 1988. After a peoples poll, in 1993, it was on the other hand decided not to finish the construction work. 73% of the population voted against putting these reactors into operation. Former plans of building 24 reactors at Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant were abandoned after the Chernobyl-accident in 1986.

Incidents and safety problems
Despite the fact that Balokovo Nuclear Power Plant is the newest in Russia, there has still been a string of minor incidents with the reactors. The most grave happened in March 1992 when a cable in an electric generator caught fire. The repair work took several months. Of 215 incidents, in the period from 1992- 1993, 103 were considered as safety threats to the power plant. In 1994 the State Nuclear Inspection, Gosatomnadzor, reported of 24 incidents at the power plant. As a consequence, they instructed the power plant to only run the reactors on 90% effect. The cause of this was that the fuel-assemblies were damaged if the reactors operated on 100% effect. It was also reported of problems with the control-rods in the reactors.

After that the steam-generators for reactor no.1 and 3 became renewed in 1998, it was discovered that the radiation was much higher than the allowed. In 1989, there was a leakage of radioactive-water from reactor no.1 out into the power plants cooling-water reservoir.

Environmentalists in the region claims that the power plant is contaminating the regions subsoil-water. Due to lack of cooling-water, only three out of the four reactors can be operational at the same time.

Safety improvements
Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant has received grants from the German Ministry of Environment, for safety improvements. Training of the operators in simulators of pressurised-water reactors, amongst others. Tacis has supported the power plant with 6.6 million ECU, which has been used, among other things, to purchase new control systems. American funds have also been used for establishment of a training centre for the reactor operators.

Western nuclear companies that co-operate with Balakovo are Siemens, Nukem, EdF and Cogema. In addition, Balakovo co-operates with the power plant Biblis (Germany), Paluel 3 (France) and San Onofre (USA).