Rosatom and the Government of Russia’s Chukotka Autonomous Okrug signed an agreement at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to co-operate in deployment of a low-power NPP (ASMM) using a Shelf-M reactor plant. The agreement, signed by Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev and Chukotka Acting Governor Vladislav Kuznetsov, outlines the procedure for organising interaction for the construction of a ASMM to supply power the Sovinoye gold deposit and Chukotka settlements.

Construction of a ASMM with a Shelf-M reactor is a part of a federal project "New nuclear power industry, including small reactors for remote territories". This, in turn is part of a comprehensive programme "Development of engineering, technology & scientific research for the use of atomic energy in the Russian Federation".

The developer of the Shelf-M reactor plant and the general designer is NA Dollezhal Scientific Research & Design Institute of Power Engineering (Nikiet). Rusatom Overseas is responsible for managing the project. The service life of the station is 60 years and the reactor operates for about eight years on a single fuel load. The capacity of the reactor is 35 MWt or 10 MWe. It is planned to complete the technical designs of the reactor plant and the main process equipment by 2024 with the aim of launching operation of the ASMM in 2030.

The Sovinoye deposit, off the coast of the Chukchi Sea in the Iultinsky district, is part of the Chaun-Bilibino industrial zone. The deposit was discovered in the 1970s and is the centre of a gold-bearing cluster, where more than 30 placer and base gold deposits have been discovered. Following an auction in 2020, JSC Elkonsky MMC, which is part of the control loop of the Mining Division of Rosatom (Atomredmetzoloto), acquired a licence for geological study, exploration and production of gold at Sovinoye.

“ASMM projects are of great importance for the socio-economic development of remote and hard-to-reach regions of Russia with a decentralised energy supply,” said Likhachev. “They make it possible to remove infrastructure restrictions, give rise to new promising industrial projects, create new jobs and professions, thereby contributing to economic growth and improving people's lives…. Shelf-M is an expansion of the range of low-power reactors and our capabilities in the use of nuclear energy, an adaptation of technologies to the needs of customers.”

Vladislav Kuznetsov said Chukotka is the flagship for implementation of domestic projects for low-capacity NPPs on its territory. In 1974, the first unit of the Bilibino NPP with a capacity of 12 MWe began operation there and in 2020, the world's only floating NPP, Akademik Lomonosov, was put into operation in the city of Pevek. “This was a landmark event for our district and the entire global nuclear industry,” he noted. “The next step, which we intend to take jointly with Rosatom, is construction of a low-power ground-based NPP based on the Shelf-M reactor plant.”

Denis Kulikov, Nikiet’s Chief Designer of reactors for low power NPPs said Shelf-M is an integral-type pressurised water reactor. It is 11 metres long with a diameter of 8 metres and the plant overall weighs 370 tonnes. The module can be transported from site to site, for example, on a barge. The fuel will be uranium dioxide in a matrix of silumin (an alloy of aluminium and silicon). The channel-type core layout and fuel composition are similar to those used on nuclear icebreakers.

Rosatom working groups with the administrations of target northern regions have identified possible sites. Work is underway on preliminary design solutions for the NPP in relation to one of the sites. “The preliminary design of the reactor plant should be completed in the summer. Then we will start developing materials for technical projects of the main systems and equipment of the power unit,” Kulikov said.

Together with contractors, Nikiet is developing the concept of robotisation of the reactor plant. Personnel access to the containment of the reactor plant during operation impossible is, so many technological operations must be performed by robotic manipulators. It is planned to manufacture mock-ups of critical components of robotic systems and start testing them in a working environment.

“And the most interesting thing, in my opinion, is remote operator and dispatch control. We will not be able to implement this system in full at the lead NPP, where the operating personnel will work as usual. But after testing the system in a backup mode on the lead unit and confirming its reliability and safety, we hope to make procedural control remote in serial production.”

Shelf-M is capable of operating using natural circulation of the primary coolant at approximately 30% of maximum power level. “We cannot fully ensure circulation only due to natural processes, since the installation must be transported as an assembly, and the reactor must have reasonable overall characteristics from this point of view,” Kulikov explained. “But part of the safety systems are organised using natural circulation – both emergency cooling of the reactor and cooldown do not require power supply systems or pumps.”

The number of sites suitable for nuclear power sources with a unit capacity of up to 10 MWe suggests a large demand. Their role in the medium term will be the replacement of exhausted capacities, both nuclear and fossil fuel, and the creation of local generation centres for new industrial facilities in remote areas with no centralised energy supply.

Next year development of the technical design of the reactor plant and the main equipment of the power unit should be completed. In 2026, the main components and structural elements will undergo testing and in 2027 equipment will be supplied to the site. Physical start-up and commissioning of the lead ASMM with a Shelf-M is planned for 2030. Depending on pilot operation of lead station, construction of the second and subsequent power units could begin in 2032.

Image: The Shelf-M reactor concept (courtesy of Rosatom)