Energoatom’s Kotin shares his vision for Ukraine’s nuclear future

19 January 2022

In a wide-ranging interview with EnergoBusiness magazine on 10 January, to mark 25 years since the establishment of Ukrainian nuclear utility Energoatom, the director of Energoatom, Petr Kotin, said that this winter Ukraine will have all 15 of its nuclear units in operation for the first time since the 1980s.

Currently 14 units are in operation (Rovno 4 is closed for refuelling) but at the end of January it will be restarted “after which our production will reach 65-70% of the total balance”. 

Energoatom is the operator of four nuclear plants in Ukraine, which comprise 15 nuclear reactors. Thirteen are VVER-1000s and two are VVER-440s, and they have a total installed capacity of 13.8MWe. The VVER 1000s include six at Zaporozhye NPP, three at South-Ukraine, and two each at Rovno and Khmelnitsky. Rovno also has two older VVER-440s. There are also two partly built VVER-1000 units at Khmelnitsky (units 3&4).

Kotin said  a “significant event” took place in December when all six units at Zaporozhye operated at full capacity, delivering 6000MWe. This was possible he noted, “because we have expanded the open switchgear of ZNPP, and Ukrenergo has built a line from the powr plant to the Kakhovska substation. Prior to that the plant could operate at a capacity of only 5300MW. It now delivers at full capacity and is the largest station in Europe.”

He said: “We can continue to talk about technical achievements, but the most important thing for us is to retain highly qualified professional staff. Two years ago, there was a high risk of losing a significant number of engineers. During 2014-2019, more than a thousand workers left Ukraine to work at NPPs in Russia, Belarus, Turkey, China and other countries, most of them highly qualified personnel. The situation was extremely precarious: there was a threat of a shortage of licensed nuclear specialists in Ukraine, especially NPP operational personnel.” However, he added that the situation had improved in 2021 and  in the last two years, no specialists had gone abroad for better earnings because wages have been “significantly increased: in 2020 - by almost a quarter, in 2021 - by another 16%, and next year it will increase by at least 10%”.

In August 2021, Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a programme for the management of used nuclear fuel until 2025, ending the need to export it to Russia. A Centralised Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel (CSFSF) has been constructed by US-Holtec which will take used fuel from the Rovno, South-Ukraine and Khmelnitsky NPPs. Zaporozhe has its own dry storage facility.

Kotin confirmed that the CSFSF has been completed. “Cold tests will take place in the near future, we will complete the tests of reloading spent nuclear fuel (using mock-ups) on all units, obtain the necessary permits … and start immediately, he said. “The first export of spent nuclear fuel to the CSFSF is planned for March next year.” This will coincide with the scheduled repair and refuelling outage of the Rovno NPP. 

Speaking about the diversification of fuel supplies, he recalled that all fuel used to be supplied by Russia’s TVEL “ but diversification work began in 2000”. He added: “Westinghouse gradually produced hexagonal cartridges, fuel testing began in 2012, and Westinghouse fuel has been used in our units for about 10 years. Now seven VVER-1000 units are loaded with Westinghouse fuel. We have two more VVER-440 units and we have signed an agreement with Westinghouse for them, according to which the company will start supplying fuel for these units in 2025.” 

Kotin said Ukraine adhered to the principle of diversification, whereby the share of one supplier should not exceed 60%. He stressed Ukraine’s determination to maintain that principle while at the same time ending Russian supplies. “There are several options: to use another manufacturer or produce our own fuel,” he said, adding that  fuel manufacture was “a very complex and accurate technology”.  He noted: “It took us about seven years to master the manufacture of components for Russian fuel. We now manufacture shanks and fuel cartridge heads at our Atomenergomash plant. We hope to master the production of other fuel components in 4-5 years, but we will have to buy some elements, including enriched fuel. However, we will be able to assemble all the elements ourselves.” Currently Ukraine has a fuel   reserve for two and a half years, he said.

Turning to nuclear newbuild, Kotin said that although the unfinished units at Khmelnitsky had been untouched for 32 years, “I am sure that we will complete the 3rd power unit. From a construction point of view, it is almost ready. And the fourth will be another unit - built from near zero based on American AP1000 technology. 

He dismissed the possibility of any problems arising from the 32-year hiatus. “On the contrary: concrete only becomes stronger the longer it lasts. There are many suggestions that it is old concrete. Without knowing the state of affairs, some ‘experts’ make statements and mislead society. Of course, before deciding on the suitability of old structures, the relevant authorised organisations take samples, perform tests, prepare a serious analysis and conclusions.” He added: “Of course, there is a list of defects that need to be eliminated, because it has stood for 32 years in the open air, but this applies to metal structures.”

Khmelnitsky 3 was originally supposed to operate a VVER-1000 reactor, but its construction was stopped in 1990 at about 75% readiness. The foundation and most of the containment have been built, as has the heavy equipment stored on site. In November, Energoatom and Westinghouse announced plans to use the components and modules of the power unit with the AP1000 reactor system intended for the cancelled VC Summer project in the USA and stored there in the warehouse.

In the interview, Kotin was asked about the turbine island for Khmelnitsky 3. He said he had talked with Ukrainian manufacturer Turboatom as well as with Toshiba, General Electric, and South Korea’s Doosan. “There are pros and cons to this issue,” he said. “Turboatom is a Ukrainian company and it would be desirable to have our turbine, at the same time foreign manufacturers produce everything together - turbine, generator, excitation system. All this equipment is on one shaft. If you make all the equipment on one shaft from one manufacturer, then you can optimise the vibration state of the whole unit. Everything can be optimised for efficient operation. From Turboatom it is possible to take only a turbine, we do not have the necessary generators. It would be good to take the generator from a serious producer, for example Alstom, but it is necessary that it is compatible with the turbine.”

He added: “There is another problem with Turboatom. From the very beginning, a Russian turbine manufactured by Power Machines was planned at the Khmelnitsky 3. The foundation was put in place for such a (high-speed) turbine. Of course, we would like to use our manufacturer, but the existing foundation is not suitable for our (low-speed) turbine unit. In this case, there are two solutions: either we will find a high-speed turbine (such as General Electric and Doosan), or partially demolish the foundation and make a new base for the Turboatom turbine. We are now comparing these options.”

Kotin believes that, because of the available equipment [from Westinghouse’s Summer NPP], we can significantly reduce the cost of the project. It is necessary to conduct an audit, to understand whether it can be installed on the power unit, and then, using this equipment, it will be possible to complete and add what is lacking. That is, to conduct a gap analysis.” He added that this may be conducted by Westinghouse or EDF.

Asked about the issue of transporting large equipment for the AP1000 project from the USA, he replied: “Large equipment for the AP1000 is manufactured in South Korea, for example, the reactor vessel, steam generators and a number of other equipment are made by Doosan. A complete list of all equipment and its supply chain must be compiled.”

As to financing, he expects that to be provided by US Eximbank. “One unit costs about $5 billion. The final cost may vary, depending on the infrastructure.” With respect to financial guarantees he said “most likely there will be state guarantees, but the loan is planned for a long term (18 years) and it will be repaid after the power unit works”.

Kotin said Westinghouse would not be the general contractor but the technology supplier. “In the old terminology, it would be the ‘chief designer’. And the contractor will be a large, experienced Ukrainian construction and installation organisation, which will be able to win the competition. It can have many contractors, some will make concrete, others will carry out installation. All construction will be supervised and supervised by Westinghouse. Their engineers will look at and participate in the selection of the contractor, will assess his ability to perform the work….Westinghouse’s responsibility   is the reactor island, and ours is the turbine hall. Electrical equipment   will also be under the control of an American partner.”

Looking to the future, Kotin said there would eventually be a need to build more new units. “If we have the opportunity to extend the service life [of existing plants], then we should not rush to build new units, but if this is not possible - we must be ready. In addition, we want to build our own units, to restore what we once had, to implement a Ukrainian project. This can be done using Westinghouse AP1000 technology. How did the Chinese do it? They acquired a licence, AP1000 technology, from Westinghouse. According to the licence, they do not have the right to build units for export, but they mastered the technology, learned it, and continue to build it in China on their own. The first two AP1000 units they built with the Americans, the third and fourth they are building themselves. Based on this experience, they have created their own project - the CAP (China AP) 1400. They have increased its capacity and have gone beyond the Westinghouse licence and can sell that unit for export. Our idea is to follow a similar path.” 

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