Shut-down at Kola NPP

Publish date: May 20, 2003

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Reactor unit no. 1 at Kola Nuclear Power Plant had emergency shut down last Sunday — one month prior to the operational time limit expiry.

Kola Nuclear Power Plant first generation reactor VVER-440 had an emergency shutdown after allegedly unexpected frequency shift in the grid on May 18th, Rosenergoatom, state operator of Russian nuclear power plants, reported in a presser. The rector remained off-line the next day suggesting that the incident might have been severer than reported. Officials from Kola NPP claimed, however, that the radiation levels around the plant were within background levels.

Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities said in an interview with Bellona Web that the incident happened when one of the first reactor unit turbines automatically shut down and the second failed to start up, causing automatic shutdown of the reactor itself.

Kola NPP is located in the south-western part of the Kola Peninsula, 100 kilometres from the Finland’s boarder and around 400 kilometres from the Norwegian boarder. The plant operates four VVER-440 reactors. The first two units, commissioned in 1973 and in 1974, belong to the first generation VVER-440/230 reactor type and are considered to be the most dangerous reactor type operating in Russia. Back in 1989, Russian Nuclear Regulatory, or GAN, required reducing of Kola ‘s two first reactors’ output down to 50-70% till the expiry of their operational time limit. It was never done, however.

The unit no.1 operational time limit expires this summer, whereas the time limit of unit no. 2 runs out in 2004. The two first reactor units will continue to operate for another 10 to 15 years after a number of safety upgrades and lifetime extension works have been carried out on them.

Since 1992 and till 2000, the west had spent $31.56m on upgrade programmes for Kola NPP, including nine million USD earmarked by Norway, and the support projects are still going on.

The upgrade coming from the western countries was intended to provide the safe operation of the reactors till their expiry term, but the support ended in reactors’ life extension instead.

Reactor units no. 3 and no. 4 at Kola NPP are on-line, whereas reactor unit no. 2 is shutdown for three-month repairs. Kola NPP has regularly only three reactor units on-line, but it never results in electricity supply shortage at the Kola Peninsula. 70% of electricity from Kola NPP goes to mining plants, which have had no growth during the past decade.