Russia: keeping the SMR dream afloat

3 October 2018

Judith Perera gives an insight into Russia’s plans for small modular reactor (SMR) development.

IN MID-MAY RUSSIA FORMALLY launched a floating nuclear power plant, Akademik Lomonosov, at a ceremony in Murmansk. On 2 October Baltijskiy Zavod finished loading the reactor with nuclear fuel and it is expected to achieve first criticality in October/November. It will then head to its final mooring at Pevek, Chukotka, in the Arctic northeast for formal commissioning in 2019. Shortly afterwards, Rusatom Overseas (part of state nuclear corporation, Rosatom) signed an agreement with the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) to conduct a joint feasibility study for a Russian-designed SMR construction project in Jordan.

“I see a great future for small reactors,” Anton Moskvin, vice president of Rusatom Overseas responsible for marketing and business development, tells NEI. As well as having the same advantages as large nuclear plants – carbon-free electricity production and a stable baseload supply – SMRs minimise the risks related to nuclear fuel supply, while offering the same socioeconomic advantages as large nuclear facilities, he says. 

Russia believes that designing SMRs in parallel with larger nuclear plants can extend the advantages of nuclear power to small energy systems and areas with less developed grid infrastructures. “This gives a wider range of countries and regions access to the advantages of nuclear power,” Moskvin says. “For example, nuclear power is not widely used in Africa and parts of Asia, mainly because of the limits placed on nuclear development by their energy systems.”

Newcomer countries often express an interest in small-scale nuclear power reactors, to reduce the impact of capital costs and to provide distributed generation. It is argued that SMR development can: help to supply power to remote areas; add more carbon-free generation to the energy mix; reduce cost and construction time; provide industry with baseload power; and replace retiring plant.

For Moskvin, the key competitive advantages of SMRs are its possibilities for off-grid deployment and its load- following capability. “With a stable baseload output over 60 years and low operational costs, SMRs are a perfect fit for isolated and remote areas with limited or no access to the power grid,” he says.

SMR technology also offers simple design, short construction time, cost predictability, modularity and flexible siting. “For all these reasons, SMRs have a great future, which is why Rosatom is developing them,” Moskvin says.

SMR development in Russia

Moskvin claims for Rosatom an impressive record of small reactor technology development for the icebreaker fleet and more than 400 reactor-years of operation.

“Rosatom is prepared to offer a flexible, tailor-made SMR solution, which can be fitted to a partner’s most specific needs,” he adds, including designs for onshore or offshore deployment.

Once it begins operation in 2019, Akademik Lomonosov will give Russia the first modern example of small, commercial nuclear electricity supply. Based on the success of the floating unit, Rosatom has already launched a new project to design an optimised floating power unit. Based on the Akademik Lomonosov, this uses a newer type of reactor technology, the RITM-series SMR.

“The next-generation in terms of the safety systems and capacity, and has a longer refuelling cycle designed for 6-10 years of uninterrupted operation,” says Moskvin. Currently in the project design phase, it will be available either towed or self-propelled.

Rosatom is also developing a small inland plant based on RITM-series SMR. Russia already has experience producing these reactors. “To date six RITM-series reactors have been manufactured and four of them are already installed on icebreakers,” Moskvin notes. But building a land-based nuclear facility is more complicated. Nuclear power plant development is more than defining a site for construction; there are many tasks related to development of the regulatory environment, which Moskvin says is one of the “major challenges” in developing the SMR concept internationally.

Rusatom Overseas is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Russian regulator to develop the regulatory system for SMRs “as soon as possible”. And while it is too early to start talking about a commissioning date for the next floating plant, or a land-based SMR, Moskvin feels it is important to have a reference for the reactor technology.

Export ambitions

Russia is developing small reactors mainly for export. “Russia’s energy system is more suited to large nuclear plants,” says Moskvin. Floating plants could be of interest to nations facing power and water supply to isolated territories, seasonal power shortages and underdeveloped power systems.

“Floating plants are capable of supplying electricity, heat or desalinated water to both coastal and offshore consumers,” says Moskvin. “This makes them a feasible option for power supply to coastal towns and ports, islands and archipelagos, mining plants, as well as offshore installations, such as drilling rigs, offshore oil recovery installations, etc.”

Russia will integrate the first floating plant into the Russian electricity network, but Moskvin sees greater opportunities in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where countries are facing challenges related to the supply of fossil fuels and grid development.

In general, it is still early days for small modular reactors. “We are only at the beginning but the future is bright,” concludes Moskvin.

In addition to Rosatom, Russia’s N.A Dollezhal Research & Development Institute of Power Engineering (Nikiet) has a number of SMR designs (see box).  

The interview was recorded by NEI’s contributing editor Judith Perera as part of ATOMEXPO-2018 International Forum 

Russia is developing a new generation of floating nuclear plant using the RITM reactor
Akademik Lomonosov, the first floating nuclear plant, is due to be commissioned in 2019

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