Argentina seeks life extension for Atucha 1 as repairs continue at Atucha 2

31 January 2023

Argentina’s nuclear utility, Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NA-SA), has launched a financial trust to support sustainable investment in two nuclear power projects. The investment made in the new NA-SA IV Public Infrastructure Solidarity Financial Trust will be used to extend the operating life of unit 1 of the Atucha NPP for 20 years. This is seen as especially important as unit 2 is closed for complex repairs. The finance will also fund construction of a second used fuel dry storage facility at the site. The first dry storage was completed in August 2022.

The trust fund was opened by NA-SA together with Nación Bursátil, as well as Banco de la Provincia de Buenos Ares and Macro Securities. The financial companies will conduct placements for retail investors, who will be able to invest Argentine pesos from the minimum amount of the equivalent of $100 and receive a return of 2% a year.

NA-SA said the trust was set up for a total of $600m through six tenders. This will cover both projects, which are estimated top cost $463m for the unit 1 licence renewal and $137m for the storage facility. NA-SA said $30m was raised in the first round of the tender.

The funds will be held separately from NA-SA finances. The yield of the trust will be secured by the sale of electricity in accordance with a remuneration agreement between NA-SA and Cammesa, a wholesale market management company. Cammesa is responsible for electricity generated at NA-SA’s three nuclear power units - two at Atucha NPP and one unit of Embalse NPP.

“This funding will enable us to move forward with the development of strategic nuclear energy projects for the country that have a positive impact on national industrial growth and Argentina's contribution to combating climate change,” said NA-SA President José Luis Antunes.

This is the fourth time has used a trust to raise funds. On the three previous occasions the finance was used for completion Atucha unit 2 and the life extension of the Embalse plant.

Atucha 2 has been closed for repair since October when a vibration was detected inside the reactor and caused one of four supports to fall to the bottom of the reactor. It is expected to be out of service until at least July or August and probably longer. Sources from the Undersecretariat for Electric Power told TN that a special machine is being manufactured to try to retrieve and replace the broken component. The repairs are estimated to cost $2-4m.

NA-SA experts say the damage does not represent a threat to the safety of the plant, but compromises it in terms of electrical and financial generation. The damaged 10cm-long component is in an inaccessible part of the reactor and a mechanical arm is being developed to help to remove the component. However, the tool will need approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (ARN) and then must be tested in a laboratory that replicates the internal characteristics of the affected reactor.

NA-SA noted in November: “We know what to do and how to do it. We have already made a diagnosis of the situation and, beyond having the procedures and tools provided by the design of the plant for this type of repair, we are working on the use of state-of-the-art engineering methods for the implementation of robotic tools and technologies that allow optimisation of repair times, in order to return to service as soon as possible.”

Argentina’s three nuclear units – all pressurised heavy water reactors – provide 9% of the country's electricity generation. Atucha I, which began construction in June 1968, was the first NPP in Argentina and Latin America. Currently, it has a gross power of 362 MWe. The pressurised heavy water reactor uses heavy water as coolant and moderator, and 0.85% slightly enriched uranium as fuel. All of its security systems have been updated and comply with local and international requirements.

Image: An interior view of Atucha II, Argentina's third nuclear power plant 

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