The AtomEco conference late last month highlighted a number of issues facing the Russian nuclear industry, from nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel handling, which was discussed at length by Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin, to citing permanent repositories for spent nuclear fuel.
Nikitin said the AtomEco conference was a sign that relations between Rosatom and environmental organizations were undergoing a change for the better, thanks to management system “that is enacting a policy of contact with the public on many levels.”
“Now, we have a rather advanced dialogue with Rosatom structures,” Nikitin said.
Drastic reduction in planned nuclear power plants
Among the more surprising developments was Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyeko’s announcement to the some 1,000 participants gathered from 18 different nations at the international conference that the state nuclear corporation would be abandoning its zealous 2008 “roadmap” to construct some 35 new nuclear power reactors.
Instead, Kiriyenko told the delegates that a new roadmap had been developed for 2013 to 2024 that involved building only 18 new nuclear reactors, none of them floating.
Nikitin cited Kiriyenko as saying that there simply was no need in Russia’s energy mix for such a nuclear punch.
Nuclear power is no better than other resources we have available to Russia today, Nikitin paraphrased Kiriyenko as telling the gathering. He said Kiriyeko added that nuclear power must occupy its position among other energy resources that are available in Russia.
According to Nikitin, the drastic climb-down from the once-flagship domestic nuclear build-out program was based largely on economic weakness for carrying it out.
Many of Russia’s domestic nuclear plans have been flagging in recent years, and Rosatom’s clinging to them has at times been confusing to observers.
The past few years have also seen Rosatom actively seeking contracts abroad in a bid to become a major nuclear power plant exporter.
What stops the new roadmap leaves out
But the new road map also leaves much unaccounted for.
One major item, noted by Bellona general director and nuclear physicist Nils Bøhmer, was that the plan made no accounting for what would happen to the oldest reactors at the Kola Nuclear Power plant, located near Murmansk not far from the Northern borders of Norway and Finland.
The 2008 roadmap had slated reactors No 1 and 2 at the Kola plant for closure, the first by 2018 and the second by 2019, replacing them with new reactors at a Kola Nuclear Power Plant 2.
Unit Nos 1 and 2 at the present Kola plant are already running on extended engineering life spans.
“This is a disturbing situation,” said Bøhmer. “These reactors should have been shut down a long time ago.”
Both reactors reached their expiration dates in 2003 and 2004, respectively, yet both were granted 15-year lifespan extensions by the Russian government. They where scheduled to be shut down in the 2008 roadmap in 2018 and 2019.
The 2013 roadmap presented by Kiriyenko at the conference not only doesn’t account for the shut down of these aged reactors – it doesn’t account for the shut down of any reactors at all.
Bøhmer said the age of the reactors at the Kola Nuclear Power Plant makes them more vulnerable to overheating and fires, something that could lead to radioactive emissions effecting the Murmansk Region as well as Norway and Finland.
Old Kola reactors must be shut down
The 2008 roadmap also included the building of a Kola Nuclear Power Plant 2 that would have put four new nuclear reactors on the grid to replace the aged units at Kola Nuclear Power Plant 1, which Bøhmer said would have offered a safer alternative.
But any plans for a Kola 2 nuclear plant are missing from the new 2013 Rosatom roadmap. A possible explanation for that could be that Rosatom may be hoping to extend the engineering life spans of Kola 1’s old units, a cheap, relatively opaque process that would require little in the way of public approval – but would raise the likelihood of accidents at the reactors.
Last fall, the question of building a new Kola 2 nuclear power plant or extending the engineering lifespans of the Kola unit Nos 1 and 2 came to a boil in the Murmansk Regional government, as Regional Governer Marina Kovtun and Kola nuclear Power Plant director Vasily Omelchuk pressured the Murmansk parliament to press Moscow to chose one or the other option. Kovtun fears the region will run into energy deficits in 2018 if a decision is not made.
The absence of the Kola 2 plant, and shutdown plans for Kola 1’s first two units, in Rosatom’s 2008 roadmap suggests the region has recieved its answer.
The new roadmap envisions three new reactors coming online in 2014, one at the Rostov Nuclear Power Plant, one at the Beloyarsk plant and another at the Novovoronezh number 2 plant.
The next year is scheduled to see yet another come online at Novovornezh 2, and another at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant 2.
The roadmap envisions a second reactor coming online at Leningrad in 2016, and addition units coming onto the grid in 2017 again at the Rostov plant and one at the controversial Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
A second reactor is slated for power-up at the Baltic plant in 2018, 2019 will see the first reactor at the new Nizhny Novgorod Nuclear Power Plant, and 2020 is expected to bring another two reactors onto the grid, one at Leningrad 2 and another at the second Kursk Nuclear Power Plant, the Kursk 2.
The new plan roughly corresponds to the old until 2021 bills a fourth reactor for Leningrad 2, and the second at Nizhny Novgorod. The roadmap also includes plans for yet another reactor at a plant simply specified as “new.” The second reactor for this nebulous new nuclear power plant is slated to come online in 2023, where Kursk 2 will receive two new reactors in 2022 and 2024.
According to Nikitin, the new plant has not been sited, but is evidently included Rosatom’s budget.
Bøhmer would have preferred to see the money for the new nuclear build-out invested in Russia’s nascent efforts toward wind and other renewable energies.
This year’s AtomEco conference was entitled “Constructive Discussions of the Zero-Damage Strategy.”
The conference included a business program consisting of 10 sectional meetings. Other key participants included the Nuclear Energy Agency of Organization for European Economic Cooperation and Development, the Swiss Agency for Radiation Safety, representatives from the US engineering giant Bechtel, and the British engineering company AMEC.