Russia Atomic energy minister Yevgeny Adamov has defended the Russian nuclear industry’s safety record. Speaking at a press briefing at the Russian Embassy in London during a visit to the UK in September, he stressed the extent to which safety has improved since the Chernobyl disaster, and in particular since 1992 when Russia began to receive international support to upgrade RBMK reactors.
According to Adamov, substantial funds have been spent upgrading plants; he said Leningrad alone has received over $500 million between 1989 and 1998. There are currently 305 upgrading projects underway worth $331 million and since 1994 Russia has received 11 technical visits from the IAEA and WANO. As a result of these efforts Russian plants are now safer than many in the West, Adamov argues, with scrams per 7000 hours of activity lower than the WANO average and on a par with Germany.
MINATOM is now working on plans for the development of the Russian nuclear industry over the next 20 years.
“We have a large nuclear infrastructure developed for defence purposes,” he said. “Now we want to use it for our economy. If we phase out nuclear it will just pose more problems for our economy with the expenses of decommissioning and clean-up.” Adamov said that Russia is also hoping to export nuclear electricity as Western markets deregulate.
“We can’t compete with Europe in the export of cars or with Japan in TVs, but we can work in the fuel market,” he said. “Electricity is a commodity and nobody has to worry about its quality. We are going to do everything we can to break into Western markets.” Speaking at the Uranium Institute symposium which Adamov attended during the same visit, he argued that if nuclear power is to develop, a fast reactor programme must be established.
“We will enter the next century with two different options,” he said. “We can maintain the level of nuclear power which we have today. Or we can investigate a different model of development.” If the current uranium based nuclear industry is maintained well into the 21st century there is a danger of running out of uranium reserves and ultimately the industry could be phased out. However there is now 50 years of fast breeder experience and quick development and demonstration of fast reactors is possible. Adamov is confident a fast-breeder programme would meet power industry requirements in terms of cost, safety, radwaste management and non-proliferation. Despite Russia’s advanced position in fast-breeder technology, its development would require an international effort. Adamov proposed two projects which Russia has already started at a national level. The first involves research and development of closed fuel cycle technology with disposal of radioactive wastes such that their radioactivity is no greater than that of the extracted uranium. The second would focus on development and construction of a demonstration power plant with a fast reactor and a pilot fuel cycle facility based on ‘natural safety’.
Russia is currently working on fast reactors which use lead rather than sodium as a coolant as well as studying the corrosion of nitride fuel. Design work is in progress for both a 300 MWe and a 1200 MWe fast reactor and a site has been selected for a demonstration facility.