70% of nuke plants upgrade spending just to ensure compliance

Publish date: November 30, 2005

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Russian nuclear power plants operator admits that some 70% of spending during modernisation for extending a reactor's life went on bringing the reactor into line with current safety norms and rules.

Last week’s seminar on “The Future of Nuclear Energy” in Murmansk brought together civil society organisations, Russian state nuclear power plants operator, or Rosenergoatom, and representatives of the Kola nuclear power plant.

Civil society organisations taking part in the meeting – Bellona, Ekozashchita!, Nature and Youth, and Gaia – took the position that extending the working life of dangerous reactors is a dangerous practice. The Kola NPP’s reactor blocks nos. 1 and 2 were meant to be taken out of service in 2003 and 2004, having come to the end of their 30-year working life. Work on extending their service lives was carried out without the state environmental expert assessment mandated by law. Documents on the illegal extension were sent by the Murmansk Region Prosecutor’s Office to the Prosecutor General Office in Moscow at the beginning of November.

“If the General Prosecutor decides that the extension was carried out illegally, we will not contest the decision,” Arkady Khessin of Rostekhnadzor, the body that granted permission for the extension to the Kola NPP, said at the seminar.

According to the Rosenergoatom report, some $201m was spent on extending the working life of reactors at Russian NPPs in 2003, $193m in 2004, with some $208m and $261m earmarked for 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Kola NPP and Rosenergoatom representatives admitted that some 70% of spending during modernisation for extending the reactor’s life went on bringing the reactor into line with current norms and rules.

“Before the modernisation we didn’t meet these rules, and kept records of malfunctions,” said Vladimir Volsky, head of the technical support service at the Kola NPP.

Scientists from the Russian Energy Technology Scientific Research Institute (VNIPIET) had previously also talked about similar expenditure to bring RMBK-type reactors at the Leningrad NPP into line with current norms during modernisation and life time extension of reactors.

Rosenergoatom representatives said that technical help under international programs made up 15.3% of total spending on the modernisation of the Kola NPP. This sum takes into account only long-term assets on the balance sheet – for example, consulting services of Western experts paid with Western money are not included. Of these funds, 4% came from Norway, 2.8% from the U.S., 1.3% from Sweden, and 0.3% from Finland.

In the middle of the 1990s, Russia signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as part of the Nuclear Safety Account programme that fixed the country’s obligations regarding decommissioning of first-generation reactors. However, after the financial resources under this programme were received, the Russian authorities refused to fulfil the agreement. In 1991-1995, spending on the TACIS nuclear safety programme ran to about half a billion dollars.

The decision to extend the reactors’ working lives compared two groups of expenditures: “Extending the working life of the NPP reactor block”, and “Constructing replacement generating power + decommissioning the NPP reactor block.”

The comparison ignored the fact that after the extension the blocks would still have to be decommissioned, which would require new expenditure.

One factor in favour of the extension, according to Rosenergoatom, was the “conservatism of the accepted basic calculation of the 30-year service life of working NPPs.”

“The projected service life of the reactors being extended today was fixed at the same time as the Chernobyl NPP was being planned,” Bellona representatives said. “As we know, the Chernobyl NPP blew up: therefore, we cannot consider the assessments made then to be either to harsh or too conservative.”

At the seminar, Rosenergoatom’s Andrei Noskov outlined one option for the Kola NPP after closure for the first time. The suggested solution is a “brown lawn”, i.e., a burial ground on the site of the plant where the Kola NPP’s equipment will be buried under layers of clay for at least 300 years after it is closed.

“Unfortunately, the closure of the dangerous reactors at the Kola NPP is actually being hampered by a lack of political will,” said Vitaly Servetnik, who runs the anti-nuclear programme of Nature and Youth. “Therefore, the nuclear scientists are not getting ready for the closure, and therefore wind energy is not developing in the region.”