The European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group (Ensreg) has approved the preliminary report on the peer review team (PRT) of experts on the Belarus National Action Plan of the new Belarusian nuclear power plant (BelNPP) on 3 March. The approval came after European experts visited the NPP in Astravets on 9-10 February, according to a statement by Ensreg Chairperson Marta Žiaková. “Ensreg welcomes the approval of the preliminary report as an important contribution to the Ensreg community’s wider efforts to advance nuclear safety in the EU and the EU’s neighbouring countries,” she said.

The purpose of the peer review was to evaluate the content and status of implementation of the Belarus National Action Plan (NAcP) published by Belarus regulator Gosatomnadzor in August 2019 following the Ensreg stress tests report of July 2018. The NAcP, aimed at converting recommendations in Belarus’s stress test national report and the Ensreg stress test peer review report into concrete actions to enhance safety, together with a timeline for implementation. Belarus updated the NAcP in January 2020.

The preliminary report concluded that the NAcP has addressed all the peer review team’s recommendations related to the priority issues and that progress has been made in addressing all recommendations related to the seven priority issues. Žiaková noted “the excellent cooperation from the Belarusian side and in particular, from the Belarusian regulator Gosatomnadzor, which since last year is an observer in Ensreg”.

In its report, the PRT noted that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not possible to carry out the peer review as originally planned in December 2020 because of limitations on travelling and organising face-to-face meetings. Therefore, the peer review had to be divided into two phases. A hybrid fact-finding mission with online expert meetings and a site visit focusing on the implementation status of high priority issues was conducted in January and February 2021. The full fact-finding mission to Belarus is expected to happen in 2021, depending on the situation with the pandemic. The goal of the fact-finding mission is to discuss the status of all recommendations, particularly those not addressed in the preliminary report, and to evaluate and verify their implementation status. The final report on the peer review on the NAcP will be issued at the end of the second phase.

The preliminary report said the site visit in February was well prepared and organised. “The peer review team had access to the requested documents and plant locations via walk downs. In addition, site visit programme enabled further discussions between the PRT experts and GAN/BelNPP experts.” The site visit “verified the information provided earlier and demonstrated progress with the implementation of the recommendations related to the high priority issues”.

The PRT identified seven high priority issues which were considered both important for safety and implementable in the short term. Its conclusions were as that progress had been made in addressing all recommendations:

  • For natural hazards, the high priority issue concerned the evaluation of the adequacy of design basis earthquake (DBE) and verifying that this and the underlying probabilistic seismic hazard assessment (PSHA) are basis for evaluating seismic margins to cope with the seismic design extension condition. “Based on the available information this … has been adequately addressed provided that GAN endorses an updated DBE based on the review and assessment of the available PSHAs”. In the second phase, the PRT will continue evaluating seismic margins and how potential earthquake-induced indirect effects (e.g. consequent fire, internal flooding and potential spatial interactions, housing of mobile means) are addressed.
  • For loss of safety systems, the two high priority issues relate to enhancing the water supply to the passive heat-removal systems with additional redundant pumping, and enhancing the reliability the of power supply. “Based on the available information both high priority issues have been adequately addressed provided that the availability of the mobile equipment can be ensured in all conditions.”
  • For severe accident management the four high priority issues related to: the development, validation and implementation of emergency operating procedure and safety accident management; the reliability of depressurisation of the primary system to prevent high pressure core melt scenarios; potential improvements to the habitability of main and emergency control rooms; and capabilities to prevent and mitigate severe accidents under open reactor conditions. “Based on the available information, all four high priority issues have been adequately addressed, although the PRT encourages that possibilities for further safety enhancements be sought”.

In addition to the seven priority issues, the PRT evaluated the comprehensiveness of the Belarusian NAcP against PRT recommendations and other sources of relevant information and concluded that the NAcP had addressed all PRT recommendations related to the high priority issues.

Meanwhile, Elena Zhigalko, head of GAN's legal support sector announced on 3 March that Belarus is preparing a draft law on the regulation of safety in the use of nuclear energy.

“13 years have passed since the adoption of the law On the Use of Atomic Energy,” she said. “Since then, it has not been conceptually corrected. In 2011, point changes were made, but implementation of the project for the construction of the NPP and the upcoming stage of its operation accelerated the process of correcting this document….This draft law will take into account recommendations and proposals made by IAEA missions as far as possible.” The law will be submitted to parliament in March 2022.

Zhigalko added that Belarus is also preparing a new draft law on licensing. In the meantime a draft decree has been prepared and, submitted to the Presidential Administration and is under consideration. “This decree will approve the regulation on licensing activities in the field of atomic energy and ionising radiation sources.”

Belarus NPP will consist of two Russian supplied VVER-1200 power units. The general contractor is Atomstroyexport (part of Rosatom). The plant was issued a permit for pilot industrial operation of unit 1 in December. It is expected that the unit 1 will be put into commercial operation in 2021 and unit 2 in 2022.