Second breeder reactor to be built at Beloyarsk NPP

Publish date: February 14, 2001

Written by: Vladislav Nikifоrov

The Russian nuclear ministry and governor of Sverdlovsk region agree to resume construction of a new fast-breeder reactor at Beloyarsk NPP.

The governor of Sverdlovsk region, Edward Rossel, held a meeting concerning construction of a new breeder reactor at Beloyarsk NPP. Earlier, the governor met the Russian nuclear minister, Evgeny Adamov, who promised $20 million to resume the construction, which was frozen after the Chernobyl disaster. The total cost of the project is $1.2 billion. The construction work is scheduled to continue until 2009.

It was mentioned at the meeting that the project documentation for reactor no.4 has passed all the necessary expertise and checks. Reactor of BN-800 type can generate heat energy by burning power- and weapon-grade plutonium.

Beloyarsk NPP director, Oleg Sarayev, said that the new reactor is environmentally safe and capable to burn the weapon-grade plutonium. The huge investment is also good for the region economy, Sarayev added.

Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in Sverdlovsk county currently has only one operational nuclear installation of BN-600 type, the only breeder reactor in Russia. The two other reactors at Beloyarsk Power Plant were put in operation in 1964 and 1967, respectively. They were shut down in 1983 and 1990. These were of the AMB-100 and AMB-200 type, which are an earlier version of RBMK graphite-moderated reactors. No decision has been taken on how to handle the spent fuel from these reactors. While all the fuel was taken out of the first reactor installation, the AMB-100, a few fuel assemblies still remain inside the second reactor. The onsite storage facility holds 4,990 fuel assemblies now. A part of the cladding is no longer tight, leading to contamination of the cooling water. Radioactivity in the water increased during the last three years by a factor of 1.6. Although the first reactor installation at Beloyarsk was taken out of operation back in 1983, the decommissioning is still not completed.

In recent years Beloyarsk NPP reactor suffered a number of incidents. The last one was on January 30th 2001, when a malfunction in the 5th generator led to a capacity reduction for 33%. On January 29th 1993, the safety area around the plant was expanded from 8km till 30km. The same area exists around Chernobyl NPP.

From 1964 till 1979 the first reactor suffered numerous crackings in the fuel assemblies on the 1st reactor units. In 1977 the half of the fuel assemblies was melted down on the second reactor. On December 31st 1978, after the fire broke out on reactor no.2 the control cable was burned, and reactor was left without control. In August 1992, abnormally high concentrations of Ci-137 and Co-60 were found near Beloyarsk NPP. On June 6th 1994, the second reactor suffered a leak of non-radioactive sodium from the second circuit what resulted in serious fire. Even the fire brigade could not stop it. The fire stopped itself after all the sodium was burned down.

The construction of the new and bigger fast-breeder reactor, the BN-800 type, began back in 1987. The work was stopped in 1988 after vigorous protests from the people living in the region. In 1992, President Yeltsin ordered the construction resumed, but due to lack of finances, very little has been done.

The comeback of the fast-breeder project echoes the extensive plan of the Russian Ministry for Nuclear Energy to burn both power and weapon-grade plutonium in commercial reactors. France has been striving after fast-breeder reactor technology the past decades but had to abandon the project in the 90-s.