Profile: Seversk Chemical Combine

A plant conversion

3 December 2012

TVEL says that a corruption scandal marks the end of the past for the Siberian Chemical Combine. By Will Dalrymple

Vladimir Korotkevich, the general director of the Siberian Chemical Combine, a subsidiary of Russian nuclear conglomerate Rosatom’s fuel subsidiary TVEL, was arrested on suspicion of corruption on 22 June. During a search of his apartment, police found RUR 80 million (about $2.7 million) according to TVEL. Charged with bribery, he and his deputy [of finance Yuriy Kungurov] entered a plea of not guilty and refused to make a statement. In August, Korotkevich’s incarceration was extended until November.

Yuri Olenin, the president of TVEL, told NEI magazine more about the case: “Before the trial begins, I cannot say for certain what actually happened. But given the preliminary results of the investigation, there is no connection to any uranium conversion or enrichment, materials or technology in the facility, and nothing connected to nuclear fuel.

“The issue concerns supplies of coal to the plant’s power station. The coal power plant is outside the core business of the facility; it is part of the facility’s infrastructure. It is very old, from the 1950s, and the costs of coal purchase for the plant comprise 80% of the cost of electricity. The coal used is of different types, kinds and conditions in terms of humidity, quality, and comes from different sources. These very differences offer the possibility for abuses.” (In other words, Korotkevich and cronies helped a supplier win a fuel contract in return for bribes, and turned a blind eye to late deliveries and poor quality, according to a June article in Russian newspaper Kommersant.)

Olenin continued: “Our task is to move to liquefied natural gas or natural gas to fuel the plant by automated systems, and to simplify fuel purchasing. This needs investments, and we are taking on this task. Unfortunately in addition to the top managers of SCC, one of the managers of the fuel supply company seems to have been implicated, but nevertheless we will continue fighting corruption to make it more total and systematic.”

Olenin says that the summer scandal was just the latest battle in a much longer war: “Since 2009, we have been engaged in a systematic struggle against corruption,” he said, which he called a ‘huge threat’ for the business.

“It is especially dangerous when restructuring is performed. The managers should devote efforts to compensate for negative developments that occur during reforms and in this case they were occupied with completely different activities,” he said. Corruption “damages the image of the company, and it is an international company, it damages the ethical and cultural norms in the company, to say nothing of the economic damage.”

“Unfortunately in the fuel purchasing system (especially relating to coal) there are still opportunities for breaches of the system, but we continue our efforts and continue to discover these activities and to make the punishment inescapable, as well as make this idea clear to any member of the personnel; this is our permanent ideology.”

Rosatom whistleblower poster
Rosatom whistleblower poster

According to Viktor Branatov, director of the Rosatom’s asset protection department, official investigations related to fraud and malpractice conducted 2009 across the whole of Rosatom have called 208 top managers of the nuclear industry to account; 68 have been fired. An electronic whistleblowing hotline has been set up to receive complaints and expedite a rapid response to them; informants are offered payment and legal protection.

Olenin also said that TVEL had a more pragmatic plan to reduce the risk of corruption at SCC. “One proven means in the struggle against corruption is increasing salaries. The average salary in Seversk is about RUR 50,000 ($1600), which is more than twice the average salary in the Tomsk region. We are aiming to increase the average salary at SCC, as well as other TVEL enterprises, to RUR 70,000 (more than $2300).

As regards the SCC operation, Korotkevich has officially retired. After his arrest, chief engineer Anatoly Kozyrev stepped in to act as the director general of the plant. On 25 July, a new director general of the plant was appointed: Sergey Tochilin, a 28-year veteran of the plant, and latterly deputy governor on high-value (nuclear) projects in the regional government of Tomsk.

Sergey Tochilin, SCC director-general
Sergey Tochilin, SCC director-general

Olenin has been at pains to emphasise that the case has not involved, or affected, the uranium production at the plant. The plant’s current operations remain unaffected, Olenin says, as do its future prospects. In fact, TVEL has big plans for the central Siberian facility in Seversk, which employs about 6500 people. The site used to produce military-grade plutonium, but ceased in 2008.

The current capacity of the three facilities involved in converting uranium into compounds that can be enriched, Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Combine (Irkutsk region), Chepetsk Mechanical Plant (Glasov), and SCC is between 10,000-12,000 tU/year, according to Olenin. These existing facilities are ageing, and today’s uranium material transport logistics is inefficient.

TVEL enterprises receive uranium concentrate from sister conglomerate (under Rosatom) ARMZ Holding and undergoes processing (conversion into uranium hexafluoride). Afterwards uranium hexafluoride is transported for enrichment to four TVEL plants, including Angarsk and SCC. Gaseous enriched uranium hexafluoride is transported to two fabrication plants for conversion from hexafluoride (gas) into uranium dioxide powder, from which pellets are produced.

TVEL is planning to concentrate deconversion operations (UF6-UO2) entirely at SCC by building a new facility, scheduled to be operational by 2016, with a capacity up to 20,000 tU/year. The estimated cost of the project is more than RUR 7.3 billion ($233 million). As of February 2012, feasibility and preliminary front-end engineering and design work had started.

“We are concentrating all the conversion production in one facility to produce powder, and Seversk was chosen to manufacture powder and pellets using its fabrication facilities and to reduce costs by concentrating costs of manufacturing and transportation in one place,” Olenin said. (However, TVEL will not centralize enrichment to the same degree.)

Olenin also said that the new conversion facility would be a modular construction on a compact site, elements of which would be deployed only with sufficient demand. “We do not have a guaranteed demand for all of this capacity, nor do we have a purchase contract for all of it,” Olenin said. Once the new facility comes online, it will substitute an old facility.

Also, TVEL is planning for the new plant to generate less waste than the existing one. “We are not going to generate new radiological and chemical pollution heritage…we are aiming to have kilograms of solid waste, not tonnes of liquid wastes.” This approach is not only good for future generations of Siberians; it is also good for TVEL, since Russia’s new ‘polluter pays’ radioactive waste law may force TVEL to pay for disposal. The company has a special emphasis on the environmental aspects of its activities.

Head of Rosatom Sergey Kirienko (left) and new regional governor Sergey Zhvachkin
Head of Rosatom Sergey Kirienko (left) and new regional governor Sergey Zhvachkin at a September 2012 press conference (in Seversk) announcing plans for the SCC facility

In addition to enhanced conversion, SCC has been chosen as the site for development of a demonstration BREST-300 fast reactor, a nitride-type uranium-plutonium fuelled, lead-cooled double-circuit design with supercritical steam turbines developed by NIKIET. The site will not only host the reactor, but also fuel cycle facilities, including fuel development, dry spent fuel processing (without separation of plutonium). The intention is to create a closed fuel cycle, with transmutation and burning of actinides in the reactor, transmutation of long-lived fission products, waste product actinide rectification, and containment and burial of wastes. Structural material development is under way, and the first fuel pins are planned to be produced and submitted to operational testing at NIIAR by the end of 2012. Olenin said that this project would involve an investment of RUR 65-80 billion ($2-2.5 billion) until 2020; the project will finish approximately in 2022.

“Since these two initiatives are high-tech, we need much research and development to be conducted. A new R&D centre will be established in Seversk to support these activities, and we’re aiming to make the centre international, and involve employing researchers from abroad and sharing the results with the participants,” Olenin said.

Operations at the decommissioning centre
Operations at the decommissioning centre

Another project at Seversk includes a LWGR (RBMK, or Chernobyl-type) experimental and demonstration decommissioning centre. In September 2010 the Experimental and Demonstrational Center for decommissioning of carbon-uranium reactors was established. The pilot project was entombment of the 100 MWe-class EI-2 reactor, one of the five plutonium production reactors shut down in the mid-1990s. The decommissioning plan changed with the Russian Federal Law On Treatment of Radioactive Wastes (first promulgated as a bill in 2008) which shifts away from entombment and toward establishment of a specific radioactive waste conservation site. The EI-2 reactor was most suited for this, since certain works have been carried on it since 2000. Since 2009 these works have entered active stage. In 2011 a decommissioning project was developed that is presently undergoing expert examination. In 2012 a tender for EI-2 decommissioning was initiated.

“Why Seversk?” asked Olenin. “In Tomsk region we have a new governor [Sergey Zhvachkin, who started in 2012] and a director of the facility; both of them are highly professional…This small city has more than 200 science PhDs and candidates; we cannot but use this potential.” He also said that the facility will give back to the community: “We will create a new workplace in the region. We will increase tax revenues gained from the facility for the region. Corporate social responsibility is not just a phrase but a firm stance of the company.”

Author Info:

This article first appeared in the November 2012 issue of Nuclear Engineering International magazine.

Head of Rosatom Sergey Kirienko (left) and new regional governor Sergey Zhvachkin Head of Rosatom Sergey Kirienko (left) and new regional governor Sergey Zhvachkin
Operations at the decommissioning centre Operations at the decommissioning centre
Rosatom whistleblower poster Rosatom whistleblower poster
Sergey Tochilin, SCC director-general Sergey Tochilin, SCC director-general

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