The floor slab of Russia’s MBIR research reactor installed

2 September 2021

Rosatom said on 31 August that a key event had taken place at the construction site of the MBIR Multipurpose Fast Breeder Research Reactor at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR) in Dimitrovgrad with the installation of a floor slab in the base of the reactor shaft. This was a particularly complex project involving use of a crane with a lifting capacity of 1200 tons. The slab was put in place in conditions which offered no visibility for the crane operator at a distance of 63 metres (boom reach) from the crane. However, the work was carried out without incident. The crane lifted the slab, moved it smoothly and lowered it into the prepared reactor shaft.

The 150MWt multipurpose sodium-cooled fast neutron MBIR research nuclear reactor is expected to provide the nuclear industry with a modern and technologically advanced research infrastructure for the coming 50 years. Its unique technical characteristics will make it possible to solve a wide range of research problems to support the development new competitive and safe NPPs, including fast reactors based on closing the nuclear fuel cycle. Research time needed at the new reactor will be several times less in comparison with the currently operating installations.

MBIR will use vibro-packed mixed-oxide fuel (VMOX), a Russian variant of mox fuel in which blended uranium-plutonium oxide powders and fresh uranium-oxide powder are loaded directly into the cladding tube of the fuel assembly instead of first being manufactured into pellets. NIIAR intends to set up on-site closed fuel cycle facilities for MBIR, using pyrochemical reprocessing it has developed at pilot scale. MBIR will be used for materials testing for Generation IV fast neutron reactors. It will be capable of testing lead, lead-bismuth and gas coolants MBIR will be the base for an international research centre, where international researchers will be able to carry out their experiments.

The installation of a floor slab in the base of the reactor shaft marks the start of a new stage in the construction project preparing the way for the installation work phase which is expected to begin in the fall of 2021 culminating eventually in installation of the reactor pressure vessel. Rosatom has scheduled the physical start-up of the facility for 2026, and the power plant for 2027- a year ahead of the original timeline. “We are keeping ahead of schedule,” said Rosatom, noting that installation of the slab was planned for October 2021 and the supply of components to the site and construction works is proceeding smoothly.

During September 2021, full-scale application of integrated remote monitoring tools at the MBIR project will begin including high-resolution satellite imagery, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery and laser scanning. Rosatom said progress was made possible through the creation of a construction consortium for the MBIR project, which united highly professional contractors for all major types of work, and included representatives of the insurance, banking and leasing sectors.

Rosatom Director General Alexei Likhachev also organised support from an All-Russian student construction team “Peaceful Atom-MBIR” at the site in Dimitrovgrad which ended with the installation of the floor slab. More than 200 students from 12 regions of Russia were involved. Under the leadership of the general contractor of the project and Rosatom’s strategic partner, Institute Orgenergostroy, young people in July and August were taught construction skills: they made concrete, ancillary, reinforcement, land, carpentry, carpentry and general construction work, and underwent engineering training.

“It is not the first year that Rosatom has been initiating student construction projects and has been actively attracting the younger generation to construction projects in the nuclear industry,” said Milan Bratukhin, commander of the Peaceful Atom MBIR Air Force. “All our guys went through a fairly strict selection process (academic success, personal qualities, qualifications and experience of participating in student construction projects at other sites)….We have gained a unique experience of working on a construction site of world importance and, I am sure, will carry the memories of this summer through many years. I think that for some of the guys, thanks to the excellent organisation, this construction site will become the first step on the ladder to an interesting construction career."

Rosatom is building the unique research facility MBIR as part of the comprehensive programme “Development of equipment, technologies and research in the field of atomic energy use in the Russian Federation”. To date, more than 1200 workers and engineering personnel have been mobilised at the NIIAR site, as well as more than 100  machines and other mechanisms.

In total, for the third quarter of 2021, concreting of the main structures is planned totalling 19,229 cubic metres. At the moment, all work is on schedule. Especially complex projects for the production of works have been developed and agreed upon. The construction and installation work on the drainage pumping station and the installation of six drainage tanks for sodium circuits have already been completed.

Other construction and installation work includes: the erection of monolithic reinforced concrete structures of the reactor block up to +13,000 metres; construction work on the construction of the Main Building (ventilation system blocks, engineering support system blocks, emergency heat removal system blocks, steam generator block); erection of monolithic reinforced concrete structures of the reactor shaft and preparation for the installation of the reactor shaft ceiling at an elevation of -4.65 metres; installation of monolithic reinforced concrete structures of the foundation slab of the Turbine block; work on the construction of a shelter for civil defence and emergency situations for 520 people; construction and installation work on the construction of a cooling tower, a chamber of drain gates and a closed channel for chilled water; work on the construction of a water treatment building, a fire-fighting pumping station, a process water supply pumping station, the diesel generator set of the autonomous power supply system and the diesel generator set of mobile electrified pumping stations; and a complex of construction and installation works for the erection of temporary buildings and structures.

Earlier in August, Konstantin Vergazov, General Director of Leader of the Consortium MCI MBIR told the journal Construction in the Nuclear Industry that the synergy of scientists and builders was the key to the success of the MBIR project. “The builders of nuclear facilities bring into existence what began as a scientific idea and experimental design,” he said. He recalled the post-WWII years it was the interaction of builders and scientists that made it possible to implement the domestic atomic project in record time. “And today, using the example of the construction of the MBIR reactor, we see that it is possible to implement a project from a thought, idea or task to the final result only within the framework of such interaction.”

He noted that all participants were united by a common goal - to build and commission a new, most advanced fast neutron research reactor for industrial and world science. “As a result, the possibility of accelerating the physical start-up of the MBIR reactor by at least a year has already become a reality.”

The MBIR project is important not only for Russia but for the nuclear industry worldwide, he stressed. “This is a unique innovative installation, which we are proud of and which has no analogues anywhere in the world. The success of the project is ensured by a team of professionals who determine the materials, design solutions and fuel that will be used in the construction of new generation reactors. Without an installation of this class, we will not be able to bring Generation 4 nuclear power to the appropriate safety level.” The unique characteristics of MBIR will accelerate and expand the research of materials for substantiating solutions for two-component nuclear power and closing the nuclear fuel cycle by an order of magnitude, he noted.

“In addition, the capabilities of the reactor are suitable for a wide range of work in the field of non-energy applications: medical research using boron-neutron capture therapy, the production of isotopes and doped silicon, research in the field of fundamental and applied physics. All these factors are becoming central to the striving of the modern world for sustainable development, green energy and decarbonisation of the economy….In this regard, the world is faced with the task of making nuclear generation 100% safe.”

Vergazov added: “We are in a hurry. Our research reactor BOR-60 will complete its operation in 2025. In addition, in the mid-2010s, work began in the United States on the design of its VTR fast research reactor. According to the latest announcements, construction of the VTR will begin in 2026, with construction and engineering undertaken by General Electric, and funding for the construction is provided by the US Department of Energy and Bill Gates's company. Obviously, with such cooperation between science and business, the completion of the construction can be expected in 2030-2032. Therefore, the announced dates for the physical launch of MBIR in 2027 and the energy launch in 2028 are a vital priority task: whoever is the first to prove his capabilities in the market of research services will win the competition.”

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