Powering Russia

15 June 2017



Despite a slowdown in electricity growth, Russia is proceeding with life extension of its existing units as well as construction of advanced designs. By Judith Perera


Rosenergoatom, part of Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, ranks second in the world in terms of installed nuclear capacity, with 35 nuclear reactors in operation at 10 sites. Total installed capacity is 27.9GWe, which is about 11.5% of all generating capacity in the national power grid. Nuclear plants generate more than 18% of Russian electricity. In the European part of Russia, nuclear’s share is around 24% and in the North West it is around 36%.

The plants are of several different designs. They include 18 VVER pressurised water reactors, 15 channel reactors and two fast neutron reactors.

Of the VVERs, all based on original designs by the OKB Gidropress design bureau, 12 are current generation VVER-1000 reactors (mostly V-320 design). One is a new-generation VVER-1200 V-392 (at Novovoronezh II) the world’s first Generation III+ reactor, which was put into operation in February 2017. There are six smaller VVER-440s of various designs – two with V-213s, two with the earlier V-230s (all at Kola), and the oldest, which has a V-179 reactor (at Novovoronezh).

The channel reactors comprise 11 units at three sites with 1000MWe RBMK light-water-cooled graphite-moderated reactors, and four small graphite-moderated EGP-6 boiling water reactors (at Bilibino). The 12MWe EPG-6s were built in the 1970s for cogeneration and are due to be decommissioned by 2022.

There are also two sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors in operation – a BN-600 and a BN-800, both at Beloyarsk.

Four plants are under construction and due to begin operation within the next few years. All four are VVERs, three of which are the new VVER-1200s (a V-392M version at Novovoronezh II and two V-491s at Leningrad II).

In addition, a 70MW nuclear floating plant with two KLT-40 reactors is now undergoing tests ahead of commissioning in 2019. It is being built to replace the Bilibino EGP-6 reactors and provide power supply to the customers of Chukotka Region. Another VVER-1200 had begun construction at the new Baltic site in Kaliningrad, but in 2013 construction was suspended after the Baltic states announced plans to separate their power systems from the Unified Energy System of Russia. Rosatom is now considering whether to build a smaller reactor at the site. The VVER-1200 manufactured for the Baltic site will now be used at unit 2 of the plant under construction in Belarus.

A further number of units are firmly planned for operation by the 2030s. Two of these will be VVER-1200 V-491 reactors (units 3 and 4 at Leningrad-II), but rest will have the new VVER-TOI (typical optimised, with enhanced information) reactor – an improved version of the VVER-1200. One is expected to be a new smaller VVER- 600/V-498, now being considered for Kola-II. A BN-1200 fast neutron reactor, a larger and improved version of the BN-800, is planned for the Beloyarsk site. In addition a small lead-bismuth-cooled SVBR-100 is planned for construction in Dimitrovgrad. A prototype lead-cooled Brest-300 reactor is planned for a site in Seversk as part of the Proryv (Breakthrough) project, which will also include facilities for fuel fabrication of uranium-plutonium (nitride) fuel for fast neutron reactors and fuel recycling to demonstrate the closed fuel cycle.

Some of these planned reactors are to replace those currently operating but approaching the end of their working life. These include Kola – to be replaced by Kola-II – and all the plants with RBMK reactors – Kursk, Smolensk and Leningrad, which will be replaced by Kursk II, Smolensk II and Leningrad II. VVER-TOI reactors are planned for construction at Kursk II and Smolensk II.

Life extension

Nuclear power plant life extension involves large-scale modernisation and replacement of the equipment, which improves plant characteristics and increases the safety, reliability and efficiency of electric power production.

In 2014 a state programme was approved to meet international standards in support of life extensions at Russia’s existing reactors. Most reactors were originally licensed for 30 years from first power.

Since 2000, work has been carried out to extend the lifetimes of 25 power units with a total installed capacity of 17.2GW: Beloyarsk 3, Novovoronezh 3-5, Kola 1-4, Kalinin 1&2, Balakovo 1, Kursk 1-4, Leningrad 1-4, Smolensk 1&2, and Bilibino 1-4.

Most VVER-1000 units are expected to have 30-year licence extensions. In 2015, Balakovo 1 was licensed to operate for 60 years. A programme to extend the lives at Balakovo 2-4, Kalinin 2 and Smolensk 3 is being carried out from 2017 to 2023, and training is now underway for this project.

The VVER-440 units at Kola and Novovonezh are all undergoing, or preparing for, life extension. Russia has announced its plans to extend the operational life of Kola 1&2 and Novovonezh 4 to 60 years, until the mid-2030s and mid-2040s.

Following the Chernobyl accident, all RBMKs underwent significant design modifications and extensive refurbishment, including replacement of fuel channels. The project was primarily targeted the improving of the neutronics of the core and increasing the safety characteristics of the reactor. Work on the extension of RBMK’s operational lifetime began in the early 2000s, and in 2003 Leningrad 1 received permission to continue operation until 2018. As of April 2017, ten out of 11 RBMK units have received 15-year operating licence extensions.

In addition to life extension, most reactors were uprated. In May 2015, nuclear utility Rosenergoatom (part of Rosatom) said it had completed uprating all VVER-1000 reactors to 104% of rated power. Rosenergoatom has been investigating further uprates of VVER-1000 units to 107-110% of their original capacity, and it plans to increase the capacity at Balakovo through equipment modernisation and the use of advanced fuel. Two power units with VVER-440 reactors (Kola 3&4) are able to operate at a power level of 107%, following modernisation work. Uprates for RBMKs are not being considered.

Further improvements in efficiency have been achieved through changes to the fuel cycle. The transition from a 12-month to 18-month fuel cycle has significantly increased power generation at the units with VVER-1000 reactors.

Rosenergoatom says improvements to nuclear projects includes the development and use of new materials and technologies. The emphasis will be on improved safety, using passive or natural safety solutions, as well as on greater efficiency and cost effectiveness. The long-term aim is to close the nuclear fuel cycle using VVER-TOI and BN-1200 units. This will involve further development of fast reactor and VVER technology as well as of innovative designs such as floating plants.

Today, the Russian nuclear industry is one of the most advanced in the world. In early 2017, Rosatom director general Alexey Likhachev told weekly company newsletter Strana Rosatom:

“Within 10 years [Rosatom has] gone from a consortium of disparate enterprises – very often disadvantaged, deeply unprofitable, losing staff and skills – to a vertically integrated corporation with a single strategy, a common logic for development as well as solid production and financial indicators. We are much stronger than before. But we understand that the decisive reason for this success was a large-scale programme of state support – a programme for the revival of the nuclear industry...”

He added: “In 2014, Rosatom set three long-term strategic goals for 2030: to increase its share in international markets; to reduce the cost and schedule of production; and to create new products for the Russian and international markets”.

Since 2011, Rosatom has managed to reduce the cost of electricity production at Russian plants by 36%. But Likhachev said that the industry needs to look to competitors of nuclear energy. “In 2015, world investments in renewable energy were about 13 times higher than in nuclear energy.” He said Rosatom needs to develop serial production for its nuclear projects.

“We need to build quietly, confidently, quickly and technologically, in a conveyor-belt way.” He stressed: “We have everything we need for this: the highest qualified personnel, the production facilities and the technology. The only things missing are the speed and ability to adapt quickly to change.” 

VVER-1200 and VVER-TOI

The AES-2006 plant design, with VVER-1200, was an evolutionary development based on the VVER-1000, but with enhanced safety. It combines additional passive safety systems with traditional active systems. It provides protection against earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and aircraft crash. Examples of the enhancements are the double containment; a core-melt trap under the reactor vessel; and a passive residual heat removal system.

The main engineering for VVER reactors has been qualified by the experience of operating these installations, now totalling about 1400 reactor-years including about 500 reactor-years of VVER-1000 operation.

The VVER-1200 (V-491) was developed by Atomenergoproekt (St Petersburg) and the VVER-1200 (V-392M) was developed by Atomenergoproekt (Moscow) and OKB Gidropress (Podolsk), under the scientific supervision of the Russian Research Centre Kurchatov Institute (Moscow) in line with the Russian Regulatory Documents and the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Utilities Requirements. The design was developed using the ISO 9001:2000 Quality Assurance International Standard.

Construction of two VVER-1200s (V-491) is under way at the Leningrad-II site and construction of two slightly different VVER-1200s (V-392M) has been completed at Novovoronezh-II. The differences between these two versions relate to:

  • The system of passive heat removal from the containment, and the system of passive heat removal via steam generators [V-491];
  • A passive core flooding system [V-392M];
  • Active systems for high pressure emergency injection system and for low pressure emergency injection [V-491];
  • Systems to cope with beyond design basis accidents;
  • Predicted core damage frequencies;
  • Differences in the I&C system, the feedwater system, and in the layout of the main control room; and
  • Plant layout changes.

These differences result from the involvement of two historically independent design organisations – Atomenergoproekt (St Petersburg) for the V-491 design, which is based mainly on active safety systems, and Atomenergoproekt (Moscow) for the V-392M, which uses a large number of passive safety systems. Both meet Russian and international requirements and standards. Today both organisations are part of the ASE group of companies, which forms Rosatom’s engineering division, following the mergers of ASE EC (formerly Atomenergoproekt Nizhny Novgorod), Atomstroyexport (Moscow), Atomenergoproekt (Moscow) and Atomproekt (St Petersburg).

Currently the VVER-TOI design is Russia’s newest project. It is a further evolution of Moscow Atomenergoproekt’s version of the AES- 2006 power plant with the V-392M reactor. Development involved OKB Gidropress (chief designer), the Kurchatov Institute (scientific supervisor), All-Russian Scientific and Research Institute for Nuclear Power Plant Operation (VNIIAES – architect-engineer), and NIAEP- ASE (as developer of turbine building and a block desalination unit). The supplier of the turbine installation is a joint venture of Alstom- Atomenergomash.

The VVER-TOI (typical optimised, with enhanced information) is the basic design for serial construction and is intended to increase the competitiveness of the Russian technology on the international market. The aim is to reduce costs for the design, construction, operation, servicing and decommissioning of units with VVER reactors, and to offer enhanced safety. With lower construction and operating costs, and 40-month construction time, the aim of the design was to try and save 20% of the cost.

VVER-TOI will be the basis for a future Russian plant, which will be the basis for new projects in Russia and worldwide. The project was initiated in 2009 and the completed design was presented to the customer, Rosenergoatom, at the end of 2012. It was submitted to regulator Rostechnadzor in 2013 for licensing, with a view to subsequent international certification, in accordance with international requirements, as the standard future export model.

The VVER-TOI has an upgraded reactor pressure vessel (RPV) with four welds rather than six, and will use a new steel which significantly reduces radiation embrittlement, making possible a service life of more than 60 years with 70GWd/t fuel burn-up and 18 to 24-month fuel cycle. It is expected to require only 130-135 tonnes of natural uranium (tU) per gigawatt year, compared with the current 190tU. It will use a larger low-speed turbine-generator. Power has been increased to 3312MWt (1255MWe), and it has an improved core design (still with 163 fuel assemblies) to increase cooling reliability.

Passive safety means the plant has at least a 72-hour grace period requiring no operator intervention after shutdown.  

Russia Reactors under construction in Russia
Russia Akademik Lomonosov, the floating NPP is due to start up in 2019
Russia Reactors planned in Russia
Russia Floating plants


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