Fortum has signed an agreement with Westinghouse Electric Company for the design, licensing and supply of a new type of fuel for the Loviisa NPP in Finland. The new fuel type is based on British Nuclear Fuel Limited’s fuel that was supplied to the Loviisa plant from 2001 to 2007, and used in parallel with the fuel supplied by the Russian TVEL in the early 2000s. Taking the new fuel into use is a multi-year project requiring regulatory approvals.

“The new and parallel fuel supplier will diversify our fuel strategy, improve security of supply and ensure reliable electricity production at the Loviisa power plant also in the future,” said Sasu Valkamo, Vice President, Loviisa NPP. “We are proud to support Fortum’s operating fleet with fuel reload quantities, building on our successful collaboration delivering VVER-440 fuel for Loviisa from 2001 to 2007," says Tarik Choho, Westinghouse President of Nuclear Fuel.

Loviisa NPP comprises two Soviet designed VVER-440 units, which were commissioned in 1977 and 1980.

Russia’s TVEL began supplying fuel to Loviisa in 2007. Loviisa’s current fuel agreement with the TVEL is valid until the end of the current operating licences of the plants two units in 2027 and 2030. In spring 2022, Fortum applied for a new operating licence for both units until 2050, and announced that a tendering process will be arranged for fuel supply for the new operating licence period. Currently Westinghouse does not produce VVER-440 assemblies, although it is now supplying fuel for Soviet-designed VVER-1000 reactors in Ukraine.

In September, Westinghouse and Spain’s Enusa Industrias Avanzadas announced their intention to collaborate on VVER-440 fuel fabrication with the aim of delivering a Western alternative to Russian fuel in the European market where there are currently VVER-440s operating using fuel from TVEL. Westinghouse and ENUSA have partnered since 1974 under a Pressurised-Water Reactor (PWR) fuel technology transfer agreement in support of nuclear plants in Spain, Belgium, and France among others. 

Between 2001 and 2007, BNFL/Westinghouse delivered a total of 741 VVER-440 fuel assemblies to the Loviisa NPP in Finland which were manufactured by Enusa in Spain. The fuel assembly design – NOVA E-3 (fixed assembly) and NOVCA (follower) – was developed in 1996-98 in a programme involving BNFL (UK), IVO (Finland) and PAKS (Hungary). The programme included extensive testing and qualification of the new design. In June 1998, the manufacturing of five Lead Test Assemblies – four fixed and one follower assembly – in Springfields, UK, was completed and the fuel was delivered for insertion in Loviisa unit 2.

The NOVA E-3 and NOVCA designs were integrated into the Westinghouse fuel product portfolio, and all the intellectual property for the VVER-440 fuel was transferred from BNFL to Westinghouse in 2005-2006. However, after failing to extend the Loviisa fuel contract and failing to win any other VVER-440 delivery contracts, Westinghouse decided to withdraw from the market in 2008, and closed down the supply chain and design development of the VVER-440 design.

Then, in 2014 reactivation of the VVER-440 market was considered in view of the demand for increased security of energy supply in Europe. Westinghouse, in a consortium comprising nine organisations, applied for a Euratom funded programme for diversification of the VVER fuel market in Europe, and was granted €2 million in 2015 to run the ESSANUF programme.

The overall performance of the fuel delivered to Loviisa previously was good with regards to dimensional changes, oxidation and burn-up profiles. The inspections performed showed anticipated behaviour, with the exception of elevated levels of grid-to-rod-fretting in a couple of fuel assemblies towards end-of-life. The new design being developed within the ESSANUF project is taking the earlier operating experience from Loviisa into consideration, as well as the operating records of Westinghouse fuel from other types of plant and especially VVER-1000.

Image: Two lead test assemblies of the NOVA E-3 design (before fitting of shrouds and top nozzles) (courtesy of Westinghouse)