Russia’s government has set a goal to bring the share of nuclear power plants in the total energy balance to 25% by 2045, Strana Rosatom said on 27 May. A large-scale construction programme will be launched in parallel with the decommissioning of the RBMK reactors. Russia currently operates eight RBMK units – three each at Kursk and Smolensk NPPs and two at Leningrad NPP. Two units at Leningrad (1&2) were closed in 2018 and 2020 and one at Kursk (unit 1) in 2021. By 2027, Russia also plans to close units 3&4 at Leningrad and unit 2 at Kursk.

The chief engineers of nuclear utility Rosenergoatom recently met in Moscow to discuss NPP plans for 2022-2024. In 1992, when Rosenergoatom was founded, NPPs generated 120TWh and by 2022 this had increased to 222TWh. “Such an increase is due, of course, to the commissioning of new units at the Balakovo, Rostov, Kalinin, Beloyarsk, Novovoronezh and Leningrad NPPs and the floating NPP (FNPP) moored at Pevek,” explained Alexander Shutikov, First Deputy General Director of Rosenergoatom for NPP operation. “Another important component is that. in the late 1990s and early 2000s, work began to extend the life of first generation units.”

In 2007, Rosenergoatom launched a programme to increase generation to compensate for a possible shortage of electricity due to delays in the start-up of new units. The thermal power of VVERs was increased as well as the efficiency of the VVER and RBMK turbine units. VVER-1000s were transferred to an 18-month fuel cycle, and optimised preventive maintenance was introduced. As a result, an additional 3.5GW of capacity was effectively added.

In 2011–2012, RBMK units faced deformation of the graphite stack and curvature of technological channels due to radiation-thermal damage to graphite. To restore the resource characteristics, a technology was developed and tested Leningrad 1, which made it possible to re-include it in the network. Work continues on other RBMK units. 

Since then, two units with VVER-1200 reactors have begun operation at the Leningrad-II NPP. The service life of unit 4 at the ageing Bilibino NPP has been extended. Two units with VVER-TOI reactors are under construction at Kursk-II NPP. Work has also begun on the construction of units 3&4 at Leningrad-II, units 3&4 at Kursk-II and units 1&2 at Smolensk-II. In addition, Rosenergoatom has launched a nuclear-hydrogen R&D programme and the Kola NPP will become a base station for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis.

However, Shutikov warned that, looking forward to 2045 “we are facing serious challenges”. At the end of 2021, nuclear’s share in Russia’s total energy balance was 19.7% but the government has instructed that this should be increased to 25% by 2045. A general plan has been approved to 2035 listing specific sites and units.  This includes:

  • Kursk-II: units 1–4 (VVER-TOI reactors)
  • Leningrad-II: units 3&4 (VVER-1200 reactors)
  • Smolensk-II: units 1&2 (VVER-TOI reactors)
  • Baimsky GOK: four modernised FNPP units (RITM‑200 reactors)
  • Small NPP in Yakutia: unit 1 (RITM‑200 reactor)
  • ODEK in Seversk: BREST-OD-300 fast reactor
  • Kola-II: unit 1 with (VVER-S or VVER-600 reactor)
  • Beloyarsk NPP: unit 5 (BN-1200M fast reactor)

The main challenge is that by 2030 some 10 units may be closed down. These are non-replaceable capacities, and so efforts must be made to increase production efficiency. According to Shutikov, if the division does not improve the organisation of its operations, it will not be able to solve the technical problems. “Based on the results of work in 2020-2021, we have adopted an appropriate programme, which includes measures to improve the reliability of power units, strengthen the leadership of managers, develop an integrated management system, and improve discipline, qualifications and responsibility at all levels.”

The tasks until 2024 include the transfer of all VVER-1200 units to an 18-month fuel cycle. In order to increase the efficiency of electricity generation, nuclear scientists expect to switch to technical certification of equipment once every 10 years for units operating within their design life, instead of four years. Rosenergoatom is working on this task together with Gidropress. “Work will be organised at the site of Kola-II: the main task by the end of 2024 is to decide on the reactor plant (VVER-S or VVER-600). Preparations for the construction of the small unit in Yakutia with an RITM-200 will begin. An investment project for the production of hydrogen by electrolysis at Kola NPP will be launched,” Shutikov said. The first shipments of cobalt-60 will begin from the Smolensk and Kursk NPPs.

“In order for these plans to be implemented, it is extremely important for us to form new supply chains within the framework of import substitution, find analogues for some components, ensure the extension of equipment life, replace equipment with domestic equipment during modernisation, master the production of spare parts, tools and accessories,” Shukikov emphasised. Russian factories must switch to domestic ion-exchange resins and reagents, as well as domestic software,” he added.

As to foreign projects, revenue from these exceeds $1 billion. “This includes the construction of a NPP in Turkey and the commissioning of the Belarusian NPP, and the provision of services for foreign NPPs in Central and Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, etc. “Foreign activities are not limited to this: Rosenergoatom participates in the construction NPPs in Bangladesh, Egypt and Hungary, trains foreign operating and maintenance personnel, and supplies isotope products,” Shutikov noted. In the coming few years, Rosenergoatom will take part in the commissioning of unit 2 at the Belarusian NPP and unit 1 of the Rooppur NPP (Bangladesh), as well as the ongoing construction of the Akkuyu NPP (Turkey). Other tasks include supporting preventive maintenance at the Armenian and Belarusian NPPs, as well as at the Kudankulam (India), Kozloduy (Bulgaria) and Tianwan (China) NPPs in addition to training personnel for Akkuyu, Rooppur, Paks-II (Hungary) and El-Dabaa (Egypt).

Image: General plan for the construction of nuclear power plants in Russia until 2035 (Credit: Rosatom)