The third reactor at Leningrad nuclear power plant could operate until January 2025 after permission was granted by regulators. Plant operators stressed the extensive safety upgrades to the RBMK unit.
|Inside the control room of one of the Leningrad reactors
The 15-year licence extension for operator RosEnergoAtom comes after an upgrade program to bring equipment and security systems in line with the current requirements of regulator Rostechnadzor.
Units 1 and 2 at Leningrad have had the same treatment and now have licenses up to 2019 and 2022 respectively. Work is underway for the same kind of extension for unit 4. All were built between 1974 and 1981.
The reactors began life as the same RBMK design as was destroyed at Chernobyl in 1986. Significant design modifications were made to RBMKs in Russia and former Soviet states after that disaster, including replacement of fuel channels in the reactor core itself and an overall de-rating. This was not enough for the European Union, however, which required Lithuania to agree to early shutdowns of its two RBMKs at Ignalina. One shut in December 2004; the other will follow this month.
The director of the Leningrad power plant, Valery Lebedev, said that following the latest round of upgrades they are "practically new reactors, with new physical parameters and new security systems." They have also benefited from a boost in generation capacity of around 5%.
Lebedev continued that "We started the modernization at a time when the prospects of building new nuclear power plants in our country were not yet clear." The additional power from the upgrades "has provided temporary reserve" for the north-west of Russia.
At a nearby site known as Leningrad II there are two pressurized water reactors under construction with the first slated for commissioning in 2013. A drop in demand for power on the global recession has caused plans for the second to be revised and this could now be completed around 2016 - two years later than first thought. Eventually, six large reactors are planned for the site.