Murmansk region pushing to extend old Kola NPP reactors – or build new nuclear plant


Publish date: April 17, 2013

Written by: Charles Digges

The Murmansk Region is again pressing the question of again extending the operational life spans of two of the oldest reactors at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant or building the so-called Kola NPP -2 with Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

Murmansk Regional Governor Marina Kovtun said earlier this week on a trip to Polyarnye Zory, the hometown of the aged plant that, “We addressed Rosatom and the Russian Government to support the second line of the Kola nuclear power plant construction,” as quoted by the Barents Observer news portal.

Her remarks were a renewed call by Kola NPP director Vasily Omelchuk, who asked the Murmansk Regional Duma  in December to either speed an appeal to Rosatom for Kola NPP- 2’s construction or resolve the question of extending the engineered lifespan the Kola NPP’s reactor Nos 1 and 2.

Local fears are that the region will face an energy deficit by 2018 if neither of the measures are implemented.

As of January, it became legally possible to rule on whether the reactors’ operation could be extended.

The dilemma is that reactor Nos 1 and 2 will reach the end of their current lifespan extensions by 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Both reactors were built in the early 1970s and reactor No 1 was to be shut down in 2003 followed by reactor No 2 in 2004, making them aged, accident-prone nuclear hazards on Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

But building a new plant would cost billions of dollars. Yet Omelchuk said in December that, “Rosatom is ready to build the new station today, but the state corporation needs an order – and that we do not yet have.”

Omelchuck was equally confident that the conditions with the old reactors and at the Kola NPP in general were up to snuff for their operational lifespans to again be extended.

“As the manager of the Kola NPP, I am certain that we have the appropriate conditions to extend the lifespans of reactors 1 and 2,” he said in his address to the Murmansk regional Duma in December, adding, “but this doesn’t depend only on me.”

On Monday, the official portal (in Russian) of the Murmansk Regional Government posted a statement saying it was time for Moscow to decide whether to build the new plant or extend the operational lifespans of the two old reactors, the Barents Observer noted.

“The Kola NPPs number one and two reactors should immediately be taken out of service because the international community has indicated they are not up to standard for continued use,” said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s nuclear physicist and general manager.

“Russia needs to use its judgment about whether it needs new nuclear power on the Kola Peninsula,” he said. “The need for electricity in the area has been dropping in the region, and that could be behind the government’s reluctance to build the second Kola plant.”

New NPP on Rosatom’s to-do list

Rosatom does, in fact, have construction plans for a Kola NPP 2, which are outlined in the so-called “Roadmap for NPPs of Russia,” and which was developed by Rosatom, not Russia’s regions. 

Many regions are seeing the construction of nuclear power plants as compensation for those that are being taken out of service. For example, construction on new plants underway in the Leningrad Region where St. Petersburg is located, and the Voronezh Region south of Moscow. The same is expected in the Kursk region.

Yet, December saw Kola NPP authorities appealing to the regional parliament for their help in supporting the construction of a new NPP for which all of the agreements have apparently been rubber-stamped.  

The ongoing delay suggests there has bee some serious rethinking of the Murmansk Region’s economy not only by Rosatom, but at other federal levels as well.

Extending the reactors’ operational lifespans

Aside from the unadvisable technical difficulties of extending the operations of Kola NPP’s Nos 1 and two reactors are considerations of public opposition to the practice in the post-Fukushima era.

Omelchuk seemed to acknowledge this in December, saying, “There is a very real possibility we will not be able to extend the use of Kola NPP’s No 1 and No 2 reactors.“

From a technical perspective, the old reactors at the Kola NPP lack a hermetic chamber protecting the environment from a release of radiation into the atmosphere during an accident – a deficiency suffered by all currently operating Russian reactors.

The Kola NPP is also not built to withstand impact from an aircraft of more than five tons – or any Boeing flying out of Murmansk.

Does building a Kola NPP-2 make sense?

Omelchuk said in December that a site has already been selected for the construction of the Kola NPP – 2, and that it is located next to the current plant, and that in principle, everything is set for construction of the new plant. Only the willingness of the region is required.

However, he noted that only Rosatom seems to be willing to build anything. But Rosatom is currently building 1250 megawatt nuclear power stations.

Building such a plant on the Kola Peninsula is senseless because the local energy system can only withstand power units of up to 800 megawatts.