Rosatom begins construction of lead-cooled BREST fast reactor

10 June 2021

The construction of a 300 MW nuclear power unit with an innovative lead coolant began on 8 June at the site of Russia’s Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC - part of Rosatom’s TVEL Fuel Company) in Seversk, Tomsk region. The event, marking pouring for first concrete, was attended by Tomsk regional governor Sergei Zhvachkin, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev, Kurchatov Institute President Mikhail Kovalchuk and other guests. Russian Academy of Sciences President Alexander Sergeev, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi and Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) Director General William Magwood sent video addresses.

The BREST-OD-300 fast reactor is part of the Pilot Demonstration Energy Complex (ODEK) being built at SCC as part of Rosatom’s strategic “Breakthrough,” (Proryv) project. Russia’s strategy entails establishing a two-component nuclear power industry with thermal and fast neutron reactors based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle. It envisages the widespread introduction of technologies for the recycling of nuclear materials, which would expand the nuclear industry’s raw material base many times over, and also solve the problem of accumulating used fuel and radwaste.

The reactor will run on mixed uranium-plutonium nitride (MNUP) fuel, specially developed for this facility. ODEK comprises three interconnected facilities - a nuclear fuel production plant (for fabrication and refabrication), the BREST-OD-300 power unit, and a facility for irradiated fuel reprocessing. The reactor will be supported by closed nuclear fuel cycle servicing enterprises on a single site. After reprocessing, the irradiated fuel from the reactor will be sent for refabrication as fresh fuel, making the system practically autonomous and independent of external supplies of resources. According to the planned timeline, the BREST-OD-300 reactor should begin operation in 2026. The fuel fabrication facility will be completed by 2023 and construction of the irradiated fuel reprocessing module is scheduled to start by 2024.

“The nuclear power industry’s resource base will practically become inexhaustible thanks to the infinite reprocessing of nuclear fuel. At the same time, the future generations will be spared the problem of accumulating used nuclear fuel,” said Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev. “The successful implementation of this project will allow our country to become the world’s first owner of a nuclear power technology which fully meets the principles of sustainable development in terms of environment, accessibility, reliability, and efficient use of resources. Today, we reaffirm our reputation as a leader in world progress in the nuclear technologies, that offers humanity unique solutions aimed at improving people’s lives.”

TVEL President Natalia Nikipelova said: “The implementation of the Breakthrough project embraces not just development of innovative reactors, but also introduction of the new generation technologies for the nuclear fuel cycle. Firstly, this includes production of dense nitride MNUP fuel, which will ensure the efficient operation of a lead-cooled fast reactor and consist entirely of recycled nuclear materials such as plutonium and depleted uranium. Secondly, this means more efficient and economically attractive radiochemical technologies for the processing of irradiated fuel and waste management. Taken together, they will make nuclear power of the future renewable with a practically waste-free production chain.”

The Scientific Director of Rosatom's NN Dollezhal Research & Development Institute of Power Engineering (NIKIET) and Scientific director of the Breakthrough project, Evgeny Adamov, who played a key role in the design of the BREST reactor, says the Breakthrough project is comparable to the USSR atomic weapons project in terms of its organisation. “The Coordination Council is headed by the General Director of State Nuclear Corporation Rosatom, Alexey Likhachev, and his first deputy, Alexander Lokshin, is the project curator. Responsibility Centres have been established at the main enterprises, uniting specialists working on the project. We have formed a clear roadmap of work: from full-scale scientific research, design and production of equipment to design, construction and commissioning of the ODEK facilities.”

Vyacheslav Pershukov, head of the Breakthrough Project and Special Representative for International and Scientific and Technical Projects at Rosatom, noted that the design of the BREST reactor incorporates natural safety technology. “The features of the reactor made it possible to abandon the melt trap and a large number of support systems, and also to reduce the safety class of the non-reactor equipment. The integral design and physics of the reactor facility make it possible to exclude accidents which would require evacuation of the population,” he said. “In the future, such installations should make nuclear power not only safer, but also more economically competitive in comparison with the most efficient types of thermal power generation, in particular, steam and gas technology.”

President of National Research Centre Kurchatov Institute, Mikhail Kovalchuk, noted that the BREST project elevated nuclear power to a new level. “Today we are launching a principally new nuclear energy project. The only evident, large-scale, technologically proven and carbon-free way of energy generation is nuclear power….It is carbon-free, it doesn’t burn oxygen and doesn’t emit anything in the atmosphere…. It has only one drawback: used nuclear fuel. Closing the nuclear fuel cycle and returning to nature what we took from it is one of several steps towards a comprehensive solution.”

Likhachev said Rosatom plans to start exporting fast reactors and fuel reprocessing modules in 2030-2040. BREST “is not just a scientific solution, but the prototype of a large industrial plant”, he noted. It would be scaled up to large industrial units with capacity is gigawatts. “Currently our bestseller is VVER-1200, but we proceed from the assumption that this success in international sales will be replaced by an industrial and economic complex, which will include VVER-1200 reactors, fast reactors and, most importantly, on-site fuel processing modules."

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