Russia establishes RBMK decommissioning technology centre

23 July 2020

Rosenergoatom, the operator subsidiary of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, is establishing a new experimental and demonstration engineering centre for the decommissioning of RBMK reactors. The new centre will be based at the Leningrad plant site in the Leningrad region of Russia, with a branch at the Beloyarsk plant in the Sverdlovsk region.

The Leningrad nuclear power plant (Image: Rosenergoatom)

The Soviet-designed RBMK (reaktor bolshoy moshchnosty kanalny, high-power channel reactor) is a water-cooled reactor with individual fuel channels and using graphite as its moderator. It is also known as the light water graphite reactor (LWGR). It was designed over 1964-66 and is very different from most other power reactor designs as it derived from a design principally for plutonium production and was intended and used in Russia for both plutonium and power production. Its precursors were an experimental 30 MWt (5 MWe) LWGR at Obninsk which started up in 1954, and two small prototype LWGR (AMB-100 and 200) units - Beloyarsk 1 and 2 - which ran from 1964 and 1968 respectively. There are currently 10 RBMK units operating in Russia.

"Recently, we have committed to constructing new power units, some of those in Leningrad," said Andrei Petrov, director general of Rosenergoatom. "They will replace the power units whose reactors are due to shut down in the next decade. All in all, by 2030, 18 units will be shut in Russia, most of those having RBMK facilities. The newly-established engineering centre will work on safe serial shutdown of the stopped channel-type reactor facility power units."

This will be the second pilot and demonstration engineering centre established by Rosenergoatom. The first one was established in 2013 and started operating at the Novovoronezh nuclear power plant, units 1 and 2 of which are VVER reactors.

The Leningrad plant was selected to host the main site of the new RBMK decommissioning centre at it features the first such units to be commissioned. Unit 1 began operating in 1973 and was shut down in December 2018. The three other RBMK units at the site are scheduled to shut down in the next five years. The centre will coordinate the shutdown of RBMK units at other Russian plants: at Kursk and Smolensk, followed by units at Beloyarsk and Bilibino.

Units 1 and 2 at the Beloyarsk plant were shut down in 1981 and 1990, respectively and are being prepared for decommissioning. "Our AMB-100 and AMB-200 reactors are, technically, the ancestors for the RBMK reactors. This is why we are going to take advantage of the uranium-graphite channel-type reactors shutdown technology that is being developed by the engineering centre at the Leningrad plant," said Ivan Sidorov, director of the Beloyarsk plant.

In order to facilitate the operation of the experimental and demonstration engineering centre, a roadmap of cooperation between the centre and the power plants has already been approved along with the schedule of actions. Shortly, recruitment of personnel on a competitive basis will begin, followed by training in new competencies to carry out decommissioning works.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News