Belarus NPP looks at used fuel management options

4 February 2019

The cost of used nuclear fuel management at the Belarus nuclear plant is estimated at $2.5-3.5 billion, according to responses to the environmental report on the strategic environmental assessment of the plant’s draft management strategy, Belta reported on 30 January.

"Estimated total costs considered in the environmental report using existing technologies and taking into account world practice, are estimated at $ 2.5-3.5 billion for the entire NPP operation period (up to 100 years)," the statement read. Three options for the treatment of used fuel are being considered. Two options involve sending irradiated fuel assemblies for reprocessing to Russia (including long-term storage in the Russian Federation or Belarus, followed by return and disposal of high-level waste in Belarus) and the other involved storage in Belarus without transfer to Russia.  

The first 48 used fuel assemblies will be unloaded from the reactor after approximately one year and four months after the physical start-up of unit 1 taking into account the commissioning stages. Over 60 years of operation the plant is expected to produce about 5300 used fuel assemblies with a total mass of approximately 2500 tonnes of heavy metal (from two units). As to storage in Belarus, Belta said as yet no site selection has taken place.

An intergovernmental agreement with Russia on the reprocessing of used fuel is planned to be concluded no later than 2020, Belta reported. The agreement will come after the used fuel management strategy has been approved.  

Reprocessing of used nuclear fuel in Russia was part of the intergovernmental agreement signed in 2011 on the construction of the plant. The agreement stipulates that nuclear fuel bought from Russian organisations and used in the Belarus nuclear plant is to be returned to Russia for processing under conditions determined by the parties in a separate intergovernmental agreement. The use of fuel from other suppliers is a possibility, Belta said.  

The $11 billion Belarusian NPP, with two VVER-1200 reactors, is being built with Russian assistance and financial support near Ostrovets (Grodno region). Ostrovets 1 is scheduled to be commissioned in 2019 and Ostrovets 2 in 2020.

On 25 January, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko demanded that the head of the National Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Gusakov, should speed up development of electric cars, because, with the imminent commissioning of the NPP, "there will be a huge surplus of electric energy”, more than enough to cover domestic needs. The head of the National Academy of Sciences Vladimir Gusakov said Belarusian scientists are already working on a whole line of electric vehicles as well as a Belarusian-made battery based on graphene which is being tested as part of an electric vehicle. The possibility of Belarus being able to export power from the nuclear plant being blocked.

The European Union (EU) on 23 January awarded a €323m ($370m) grant to the Baltic electricity synchronisation project, which is intended to connect Baltic power systems to the continental European network. An EU statement noted that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain synchronously connected to the central dispatch facility of Russia. Although the Baltic region is now connected to European partners through new electricity lines with Poland, Sweden and Finland, the electricity grid is still operated in a synchronous mode with the Russian and Belarusian systems. The EU project aims to end this connection. Lithuania has long been opposed to the Belarus nuclear plant and is especially keen to disconnect from the Russia/Belarus system.

Dalia Bankauskaite of the Centre for European Policy Analysis said: “Network synchronisation with Europe would block the transmission grids between Belarus and Russia, which cross the Baltic states. It also means that the electricity produced by the Belarusian nuclear station could not enter the Baltic and European electricity market.”

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