Ukraine’s fuel priorities8 August 2018
Vladimir Bronnikov, consultant on the expert council to the president of nuclear utility Energoatom, speaks to NEI about the challenges facing Ukraine.
Can you describe your current role in Ukraine’s nuclear development?
I am a consultant on the expert council to the president of nuclear utility Energoatom and also head of the Nuclear Veterans Organisation of Ukraine. I was director of Zaporozhye when it was constructed and began operation, and now I represent the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) at the plant. Zaporozhye is the biggest nuclear plant in Europe, with six 1000MWe units.
What is the main task of this expert council?
The main task of the expert council is to clarify for the government the importance of nuclear energy and related requirements and responsibilities. Through mass media and by directly addressing the president of Energoatom and the government, we bring to their attention the problems facing nuclear energy in Ukraine. The government and the president listen to us because they recognise our expertise.
How do you see the government’s role in this?
The main task of the current leadership of the state is to ensure that the present nuclear establishment should not leave problems to be solved by the next generation. We need to take decisions now on how to handle used fuel and radioactive waste. We have proposed to the government that we should co-operate with other countries to solve these problems. This could be with French companies for the reprocessing of used fuel, or by restoring co-operation with Russia, in view of the fact that Russia has fast reactors.
It is necessary to take a decision soon. Our reactors have been operating for more than 30 years and have already reached the end of their design lives. We need to decide what will be the basis of new units in Ukraine and the type of future reactors. We have convinced the government that Ukrainian industry should be involved in any future nuclear programmes.
How is Ukraine dealing with used fuel storage?
Zaporozhye has storage for used fuel which is still functional for another 40 years. It was constructed in the past during the USSR. The other three nuclear plants have similar storage constructed using the technology of US-based Holtec International in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. We believe that, by 2020, this new store will begin accepting fuel from the other three nuclear power plants [Khmelnitsky, Rovno and South Ukraine].
For the time being we are sending the fuel to Krasnoyarsk or Mayak in Russia. We are facing very complicated negotiations with Rosatom about return of the reprocessed fuel and residual high-level waste, in line with international agreements. That is why Ukraine must begin immediately to develop a system for used fuel management. We are asking that this issue should be raised, and a decision made, which will take into account public acceptance.
Why are you considering reprocessing in France?
We are already using both Russian and Westinghouse fuel but Russia categorically refuses to accept Westinghouse fuel for reprocessing. France is ready to consider this [option]. As yet we haven’t formulated our approach to this problem because most of the reprocessed fuel is currently being stored in Russia. If we decide to co-operate with Russia, then Russian technology will be used. France is experienced in the production of mox fuel, but only makes it for other types of reactors. So France is not prepared to make fuel for our VVER reactors. We need to find an optimal solution and we are ready to work with the government on this issue.
But why do you need reprocessing if you have storage?
Storage results in a very large volume of waste material. But also there is not enough uranium available in Ukraine, so in order to meet our needs in terms of fuel we need to undertake reprocessing. Otherwise we need to buy uranium-235 on the market which is expensive. So these are all the issues which need to be considered by the government – it is a state problem not a company (Energoatom) problem.
What progress is being made with the Westinghouse fuel?
We do not have any problems with Westinghouse fuel now. It is mixed in one core with Russian fuel. However, we do have problems with guarantees, because when two different fuels are present in one core, neither vendor is prepared to give guarantees. This is a transition period, but according to European Union recommendations we need to have two suppliers — and most probably these recommendations will soon become requirements. To meet these recommendations, Westinghouse also buys Russian fuel to supply its customers. It is a commercial arrangement — at least 20% must be from a different supplier. Energoatom defines which units will use which fuel. A gradual process is now underway to reassemble the cores according to this requirement. It takes up to five years to transfer one reactor to a new type of fuel.
So to meet this requirement, Ukraine will have to continue to buy some Russian nuclear fuel?
Ukraine intends to have 60% of fuel from Russia and 40% from Westinghouse. It is difficult to say how this will be fulfilled but that is the intention. Currently there is around 10% of Westinghouse fuel is operating in Ukrainian reactors.