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Ukrainian NPP operation: concocted threats and real attainments

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31.07.2019

In view of misinformation about NNEGC Energoatom’s activity spread by so called experts in the media we have to report the following.

About spent nuclear fuel storage

A few years ago politicians opposing diversification of nuclear power started using a narrative about problems of Westinghouse spent fuel management, alleging that Russia would not accept Westinghouse fuel assemblies and Ukraine would turn into “a nuclear dumping site”. Therefore, we wish to remind that starting from 2020 and beyond neither Russian origin spent fuel nor the U.S.-Swedish manufactured one will not leave the territory of Ukraine, and both will be transported to the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) which is being built according to the U.S. Holtec technology in the exclusion zone of Chornobyl NPP. Dry storage of spent nuclear fuel is a widespread world practice.

It allows not only annual saving of almost USD 200 mio, which we pay for moving out of spent nuclear fuel, but also saving of the valuable energy resources for the country, i.e. Uranium, Plutonium, etc.  that can be used in future reactors of new type.     

Company’s Profit

As far as the unprofitability of SE NNEGC Energoatom is concerned, it can be noted that such messages are used by those, who live in the absolute information vacuum. Despite the fact that for the previous two years the tariffs were frozen and four times lower than those for the thermal power generation, the Company has been demonstrating stable profitability. Official statistics, the Company’s Management Report prove that in 2018, compared with 2017, SE NNEGC Energoatom increased its net profit by 21.2% or by UAH 809.4 mio up to UAH 4.632 billion. Thus, in 2018 total revenue of Energoatom grew by 8.2% or by UAH 3.54 billion up to UAH 46.696 billion, and total volume of expenditures increased by 7% or by UAH 2.74 billion up to UAH 42.06 billon. At the same time, 2018 year-end gross profit was UAH 9.35 billion that exceeds this value for 2017 by UAH 2.71 billion.

However, we would like to emphasize that NNEGC Energoatom pays annually about UAH 8 billion to the budgets of all levels. Last year, assignments to the budget amounted to UAH 8.6 billion.

Lifetime Extension of Operating NPPs

At the same information vacuum are the people who are brooding in the media about the need for shutting down nuclear power plants instead of implementation of their life extension measures. Let us remind you that for the time being lifetime of the 10 out of 15 NPP power units in operation in Ukraine has been extended.  All NPPs that hosted international missions of the IAEA and WANO were highly rated by the world-class experts in terms of their safety levels, in the first turn, at the power units, whose lifetime was extended. The matter is that comprehensive measures implemented to extend an operational license of NPP turns the nuclear power plants that were built in 1970s-1980s into the ultramodern energy capacities. 

NPP power unit lifetime extension is a common world practice.  According to the current data of the IAEA, 292 out of 449 nuclear power units in operation in the world have been operating for more than 30 years now, 5 nuclear power units being in operation more than 50 years.  For instance, 48 out of 58 nuclear power units operating in France have been operated for more than 30 years.  All seven nuclear power units in operation in Belgium were in operation for more than 30 years, and 2 Belgian power units stepped over the 40 years of operating time.  In the Czech Republic, 4 out of 6 VVER type power units have been operating for more than 30 years now. The oldest nuclear power unit in Switzerland is 50 years old and the other four have also been operated for more than 30 years.

An approach on extension of nuclear power units lifetime is technologically and economically reasonable, because lifetime extension cost is estimated at the level of USD 300 mio, while construction of a new nuclear power unit costs about USD 5-7 billion. Also, substantial growth of electricity prices and creation of new deficits in case of closing down of nuclear power units instead of lifetime extension should be considered. 

Fuel

One of the fundamental principles of the NPP safety is continuous safety enhancement. This principle has been fixed at the top international and national level. The process of Ukrainian NPP safety enhancement, upgrading of NPP systems and components is on-going. And nuclear fuel makes no exception. However, for nuclear fuel and NPP safety related systems upgrading some additional regulations are applied and the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine exerts control over such upgrading.     

Operation in one core of the fuel supplied by different vendors is the practice applied at NPPs worldwide. It is intended to encourage nuclear fuel vendors, by means of competition, to improve reliability of design of the fuel assembly and its components, to meet current safety requirements. Moreover, such approach makes it possible not to be dependent on a single supplier, i.e. to diversify fuel supplies. Indeed, in 2000, Ukraine, in the framework of implementation of a strategic task on diversification (lifting a monopoly) of nuclear fuel supply, executed the Intergovernmental Agreement with the U.S. A plan for licensing and introduction of the fuel of alternative supplier, namely, Westinghouse, was developed. As of today, the core of Unit #3 of South Ukraine NPP is loaded with Westinghouse fuel (RWFA) and is being prepared for putting RWFA in commercial operation. As at May 20, 2019, 582 RWFA (Robust Westinghouse Fuel Assemblies) have been operating in the cores of six power units, namely:

  • SUNPP Unit 2 (84 RWFA –  Cycle 30 has been completed);
  • SUNPP Unit 3 (163 RWFA – Cycle 28 has been completed); 
  • ZNPP Unit 1 (84 RWFA – Cycle 30 has been completed);
  • ZNPP Unit 3 (84 RWFA – Cycle 31 has been completed);
  • ZNPP Unit 4 (42 RWFA – Cycle 30 has been completed, scheduled outage is ongoing);
  • ZNPP Unit 5 (125 RWFA – Cycle 29).

The program of diversification of nuclear fuel supply sources is the most ambitious and meaningful project for the future of nuclear power not only in Ukraine, but in all the countries having VVER type reactors.  Availability of, at least, two fuel suppliers boosts energy security of any country, releasing it from dependence on monopolist. Competitive advantages of the Westinghouse fuel assemblies should be also considered. For instance, when a leaking Westinghouse fuel rod is found it can be replaced and the fuel assembly can be returned in operation, while the Russian fuel assemblies in such situation turn unfit for future operation. It is owing to the Westinghouse fuel and to implementation of a number of measures on Ukrainian NPP performance upgrading, the power of Ukrainian NPP power units can be uprated to 105-110%, which means additional kilowatts of the most affordable energy.    

Rhetoric on the threats resulting from non-Russian fuel operation conflicts with reality, is based on misinformation and is of speculative political nature. Meanwhile,  the nuclear fuel licensing process is public and reliable information is published regularly on the web-site of SE NNEGC Energoatom (http://www.energoatom.kiev.ua/ru/actvts-16/implementation-160 ).

Shutdowns of Power Units in Operation  

In 2012, WFAs with deflected spacing grids (skeleton components) were detected during refueling operations. One should note that fuel elements of WFAs remained leak-tight and no fission radioactive materials were released. Westinghouse in cooperation with Energoatom’ s and the Reactor Core Design Center’s experts developed the solutions for strengthening and modification of WFA structural components to eliminate structural deficiencies of fuel assemblies and to avoid any fuel damage during fuel handling. This modified assembly was given a name of “RWFA”. Westinghouse completed the bench testing of the modified RWFA, then subsequent testing results were submitted to SE NNEGC Energoatom.

Technical specifications for the strengthened design and substantiation of safe operation of RWFA were developed and submitted to the SNRIU for further consideration. A package of substantiating documents underwent an independent expert review based on which the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine granted a license for RWFA operation. In 2015, the first batch of such assemblies was loaded into the core of South Ukraine Unit # 3 during scheduled outage (a scheduled outage is held annually in the timeframe, scheduled in advance, to inspect equipment, repair and verify its technical condition, and also to conduct refueling operations).

No shutdown of power units of Ukrainian NPPs, which would be related to the use of Westinghouse fuel, has occurred over the whole period of its operation.