Russia postpones BN-1200 in order to improve fuel design

16 April 2015

Rosenergoatom has reportedly postponed construction of the BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant "indefinitely" on the need to improve fuel for the reactor and amid speculation about the cost-effectiveness of the project.

Russian nuclear engineering company OKBM Afrikantov is developing a BN-1200 reactor as a next step towards future reactor designs, commonly known as Generation IV.

The reactor had been scheduled to start commercial operation in 2025, depending on experience of operating the pilot Beloyarsk 4, a 789 MWe fast-neutron reactor of the BN-800 design. The BN-800, which achieved first criticality in June 2014, has not yet started commercial operation. The Beloyarsk nuclear power plant, which is in the Sverdlovsk region in central Russia, has two shut down reactors and one in commercial operation - the BN-600 Beloyarsk unit 3. The Beloyarsk 5 BN-1200 will use larger fuel elements than the BN-600 and BN-800 and have a simplified refuelling procedure. Maintenance work on Beloyarsk 3 is slated for completion on 26 May.

The Russian Nuclear Community reported on its website yesterday that a review of the decision to postpone the project might happen in 2020. Rosenergoatom director general Evgeny Romanov had said last July that Russia plans to start construction of three BN-1200 sodium-cooled fast neutron reactors before 2030. The first of these units would be located at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in Zarechny, in the Urals, he said.

Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Plant general director Mikhail Bakanov told the Fast Neutron nuclear industry newspaper recently that the decision to postpone the BN-1200 was "like a bloody nose", but priority had to be given to Beloyarsk 4. "Otherwise the toughest conclusion could be drawn that construction of fast reactor technology has been lost in Russia."

BNPP chief engineer Yuri Nosov was quoted as saying on that the BN-800 had been ready to start operations last year as planned, "but we are constantly thinking about what can be improved for its subsequent efficient operation. In particular, last year there was the need to improve the fuel, which is what we are working on now."

Rosenergoatom spokesman Andrey Timonov added: "For us, the BN-800 is not only the basis for development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. It is also a test case for technical solutions that will later be used for commercial production of the BN-1200. Among other things, the BN-800 must answer questions about the economic viability of potential fast reactors because at the moment 'fast' technology essentially loses this indicator [when compared with] commercial VVER units. However, we believe that if such a unit has more functions than to generate electricity, then it becomes economically attractive. That's what we have to find out." Timonov also said the company recognized that, from an economics point of view, the BN-800 is similar to the VVER-1000 reactor design, but that Rosenergoatom "does not intend to abandon" the BN-1200 project.

Amid speculation about the economic viability of the BN-1200 project, Vitaly Petrunin, deputy director of OKBM Afrikantov, reportedly told a conference in Nizhny Novgorod this week that there was hardly any difference in the cost of developing the BN-1200 and the VVER-Toi (typical optimised, with enhanced information) design based on V-392M. today quoted Petrunin as saying that OKBM Afrikantov is set to "defend" the BN-1200 project in a meeting of Rosatom's scientific and technical council to be held in the second quarter of this year.

Bakanov said last December that the BN-800 fast-neutron reactor was already providing operating and technological experience of value to the development of the planned BN-1200. Beloyarsk 4 is fuelled by a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns.

"BN-800 is the successor to the BN-350 and BN-600 reactor units," Bakanov said. "But the fact it has a large number of structural and technological improvements means it has trial status, like all the previous BNs. The priority of the BN-800 then is not so much the production of electricity," Bakanov said. "It's a commonly known fact that the economics of a trial design are inferior to a serial product, in this case a commercial VVER. The main objective of the BN-800 is [to provide] operating experience and technological solutions that will be applied to the BN-1200."

Atomenergoproekt announced the VVER-Toi design in 2010. This design has an upgraded pressure vessel, increased power to 3300 MWt and 1255-1300 MWe gross (nominally 1300), improved core design to increase cooling reliability, further development of passive safety with 72-hour grace period requiring no operator intervention after shutdown, lower construction and operating costs, and 40-month construction time. It will use a low-speed turbine-generator. The project was initiated in 2009 and the design was complete at the end of 2012.

Fundamental features of the BN-800 reactor include an active reactor protection system with a passive system that works automatically in the event of loss of sodium-cooling liquid pressure.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News