A new system is being used to load fuel into the VVER-1200 reactor core at unit 1 of Russia's Novovoronezh NPP Phase II (NNPP-II) as part of its first criticality programme. The first fuel assembly was loaded and on 25 March, a plant statement said. The new procedure was approved by the plant's chief engineer and coordinated with the start-up scientific supervisor (NRC Kurchatov Institute), the general designer of the reactor (OKB Gidropress), and Atomtekhenergo.
To ensure additional safety, fuel assembly dummies were loaded into the core and neutron flux monitoring instrumentation was installed. Plant manager Vladimir Polozov said: "We loaded nuclear fuel into the core, which is partly filled with fuel assembly dummies, for the first time." This loading pattern "is radically different from those which were used at pilot power units before".
At the first stage, fresh fuel comprises about one third of all loaded fuel assemblies and the rest are fuel assembly dummies. Then, the fuel will be loaded one at a time into the remaining cells in accordance with the operating schedule.
On 22 March the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Nuclear Supervision (Rostekhnadzor) issued an operating licence for the unit. This followed a target inspection by Rostekhnadzor, as well as post-audit verification. NNPP-II unit 1 is scheduled for commercial operation before the end of the year. Construction of the unit began in June 2008. It is the lead project for new generation 3+ Russian NPPs with improved technical and economic performance. The new design provides additional protection from earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and aircraft impact. According to the new safety standards, the reactor hall (containment) has reinforced dual containment; a core melt trap is installed under the reactor pressure vessel; and the unit is equipped with a passive residual heat removal system. The VVER-1200 complies with all local and international safety requirements.