Exploring Altternatives To A New Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant

The Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.
Viktor Teryoshkin/Bellona

Publish date: March 7, 2006

Written by: Vera Ponomareva

ST. PETERSBURG—As the engineered life-spans of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant’s (LNPP) reactors near their ends in 2018, nuclear authorities in Russia have announced their intentions to build a new LNPP-2, despite ecologists’ objections that building the second nuclear power plant is unnecessary to meet Russia’s energy needs.

Instead, ecologists suggest that modernising St. Petersburg’s thermo-electrical plants will be one and a half times cheaper than building a new nuclear plant on the site of the LNPP.

The LNPP—located 70 kilometres west of St. Petersburg—uses four fatally flawed RBMK-1000 reactors, the type that exploded in Chernobyl in 1986. The engineered life span for the LNPP’s first reactor block expired in 2003, but it was not taken out of service. After modernisations—and without any environmental impact study—the reactor’s term of service was extended. Now, the LNPP is gearing up to extend the engineered life span of its second block.

Extending the terms of use of the aged reactors at the LNPP is not an isolated case. In 2001 through 2005, the engineered life spans of reactor blocks No. 3 and 4 at the Novovoronezh NPP—which are VVER-440 reactors—and the Kola NPP’s No. 1 and 2 reactor blocks, also VVER-440s, were extended. Furthermore, extending their terms of service costs 20 percent of what it costs to build a new reactor block. All of these reactors are still in service, pumping out radioactive waste, despite the fact that Russia already has significant problems with storing spent nuclear fuel (SNF).

The Murmansk Regional Prosecutor has said that the licenses to extend the service terms of the Kola NPP reactors are illegal. As the Murmansk Regional Prosecutors’ Office told Bellona Web earlier this year, “an investigation on the adherence to legislation on environmental impact studies is planned” for the Russian technical oversight body Rostekhnadzor, and for the Russian nature oversight body, Rosprirodnadzor.

After extensions
Given that the service term for the LNPP’s No. 1 reactor block will expire in 2018, followed by block No. 2 in 2020, nuclear authorities intend to build a new replacement plant with two VVER-1500 reactors. This radical decision—despite the mounting problems of storing radioactive waste and SNF—was taken without any public consultation.

Meanwhile, in the opinion of environmentalists, building a new NPP is not the only solution to the problem of dwindling energy supplies. The LNPP can be replaced with other energy sources that will cost many times less. According to Igor Babanin, Greenpeace’s St. Petersburg co-ordinator, “the simplest and most primitive solution is to substitute the power of the LNPP with windmills, but no one has considered that.”

The first step in eschewing nuclear energy, said Babanin, could be the modernisation of existing thermo-electrical plants that operate on natural gas to improve their effectiveness.

“As a result of modernising, thermo-electrical plants could produce one and a half times more energy by consuming the same amount of raw material. This would allow for the substitution of at least one reactor block at the LNPP,” said Babanin in an interview with Bellona Web.

Oleg Bodrov, chairman of Sosnovy Bor’s Green World environmental group said in an interview with Bellona Web that: “To decide this issue, it is necessary to work out a new energy strategy.” Sosnovy Bor, on the Gulf of Finland, is home to the LNPP. According to Bodrov, improving the effectiveness of already existing gas-run thermo-electrical plants and adopting the energy saving technology is the first priority in developing a new energy strategy.

At the end of last year, energy giant Rosenergoatom—which runs Russia’ civilian nuclear power plants—announced its intentions to built a plant to replace the power of the LNPP. According to Rosenergoatom’s announcement, the first reactor block at LNPP-2 will go on line in about 2013, followed by the second in 2016. Each block will cost some 44 billion ($146 m). By 2025, it is planned to have four new reactors operating at LNPP-2.

Altogether, Rosatom head Sergei Kirienko plans to build 40 new reactors in Russia over the next 25 years at a cost of $60 billion.

Such grandiose plans raise sceptical eyebrows, if only because Rosenergoatom has only managed to build three new reactors in the last 15 years—the No. 4 block at the Balakovo NPP completed in 1994, the No.1 block at the Rostov NPP in 2001, and the No. 3 block at the Kalinin NPP in 2005.

According to Greenpeace estimates, Rosenergoatom can introduce only 1 gigawatt every three years into new energy production.

St. Petersburg’s thermo-electrical stations
The majority of St. Petersburg’s thermo-electrical plants were built at the beginning of the last century. Many of them are operating on hopelessly outdated equipment.

The old stations still produce energy on steam turbine installations. The coefficient of useful activity of these turbines amounts to 25 to 39 percent, while contemporary technology, based on the steam-gas cycle can raise this coefficient to 58 percent and, in this manner, get one and a half times more energy.

bodytextimage_pic1.jpg Photo: Vera Ponomareva/Bellona

The first energy block of the Northwest Thermo-Electrical Plant, with a 450 megawatt output, is now on line. However, 90 percent of the electricity that it produces goes to Finland. The remaining 10 percent goes into the Russian grid. In December 2006, the second block of the plant is slated to go on line and will produce energy for the domestic market.

The Northwest Thermo-Electrical Plant does not currently produce heat. The construction of heating mainlines connecting boilers in the Primorsky section of St. Petersburg to the plant are to be completed by autumn 2006. The plant’s combined energy blocks will produce some 700 giga-calories per hour.

According to Cimini, the plant could replace several boilers in the Primorsky section of the city.

“Instead of spending money on modernising boilers, it is far cheaper to take heat from us. But the decision about which boilers will remain, and which are kept in reserve, is up to the state run Thermo-Electrical Company.

Comparative construction expenditures
Building a contemporary gas-steam thermal electrical installation is significantly cheaper than building a reactor block. According to Cimini the second block at the Northwest Thermo-Electrical Plant will cost 10 billion roubles ($330m). The capital investments in the construction of the steam-gas turbine at the Tyumen Thermo-Electrical Plant was $515 per kilowatt, versus the $950 per kilowatt that nuclear officials estimate for the construction of a nuclear power block. The price difference is actually even greater, as prices listed on paper are usually significantly reduced.

This was proven by a St. Petersburg University study presented in September 2005 at a Rosatom conference. One eye-catching example in the report was that the construction of the No. 3 reactor block at the Kalinin NPP cost $1.1 billion instead of the $400m estimate.

“Unfortunately, there are no other examples, and the insistence with which “Rosenergoatom” continues to defend the rate of average specific expenditures at $850 per kilowatt looks, to say the least, strange,” the report said. To recoup the expenses on such expensive construction is, in principle, impossible, the report said.

A gas economy?
Nuclear officials promise that by 2030 Russia can save 150 billion cubic meters of gas a year thanks to nuclear energy. However, Greenpeace’s Babanin said these calculations are incorrect: The calculations are based on the notion the coefficient of useful activity from gas-powered stations will remain at 26 to 39 percent, and do not account for the additional profit from heat that thermo-electric plants will earn.

Greenhouse gas emissions and radioactive waste
One of the arguments for the development of Russia’s nuclear industry is the absence of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Gas powered thermo-electrical plants produce carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.

“In comparison to traditional thermo-electrical plants, ours is very contemporary and we have the fewest number of issues regarding the environment,” Cimini said. According to Cimini, CO 2 emissions from the Northwest Thermo-Electrical Plant are 20 to 30 percent less than those emitted by plants using only steam powered turbines.

The Northwest Thermo-Electrical Plant emits 700 tonnes of nitrogen oxide per year, which is well under the established maximum of 5,000 tonnes per year. It also emits 100 tonnes of CO 2 —fully 2,400 tonnes less the allowable limit. Emissions measurements are carried out by a specially licensed laboratory that passes its data on to government agencies.

“It is understood that nuclear power plants don’t have emissions of this nature in general,” said Cimini.

Indeed, the LNPP does not produce such a quantity of atmospheric emissions. However, the fact that using nuclear fuel creates highly dangerous radioactive waste that will remain so for tens of thousands of years cannot be discounted. The half life of plutonium, for instance, is 24,000 years, and its radioactivity reaches safe levels only after 10 to 15 of these half life cycles. Problems of storing radioactive waste in the near term, to say nothing of long term permanent storage, have yet to be solved.

Aside from this, the decommissioning of nuclear power plants encompasses many social, financial and technological problems, and Rosenergoatom has only recently started to salt away money to deal with these issues.

According to a 1997 government decree, Rosenergoatom is required to set aside 1.3 percent of the money it makes producing nuclear energy for nuclear power plant decommissioning. However, a 2003 Audit Chamber report indicated the company had not earmarked any money for this purpose.

Beginning in 2002, money began to appear in the decommissioning fund, but according to Rostekhnadzor head Andrei Malyshev, funding is not piling up in this account and is being spent for work on already decommissioned reactors.