Works begins on Romania's tritium removal facility

11 June 2024

Nuclearelectrica and Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) have held a ceremony to mark the start of work on what will become Europe's first tritium removal facility, at Romania's Cernavoda nuclear power plant.

(Image: Nuclearelectrica)

As a Candu pressurised heavy water reactor ages, tritium - an isotope of hydrogen - accumulates in its moderator and heat transport systems. Increased levels of tritium can significantly contribute to personnel dose rates and emissions levels in the environment. Tritium removal technology is designed to capture and process tritium so that it can be properly stored and recycled, thereby reducing environmental impact, personnel exposure levels and enhancing workplace safety.

The Cernavoda tritium removal facility - the world's third, and the first in Europe - will use technology developed by the Romanian National Research and Development Institute for Cryogenic and Isotopic Technologies, a scientific research and technological development unit under the coordination of the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Digitalisation.

The tritium removal facility will include several high-technology areas: liquid phase isotopic separation, cryogenic distillation and high-vacuum operation. The tritium extracted will be stored in secure and safe specialised containers ready for future uses - which could include fuel for future fusion reactors.

In June 2023 KHNP signed an engineering, procurement and construction contract worth KRW260 billion (USD200 million) with Nuclearelectrica for the new facility following a public procurement process. And in January 2024 Nuclearelectrica secured a loan agreement of EUR145 million (USD159 million) with the European Investment Bank towards the project, which has a completion timeline estimated to be 50 months.

Cosmin Ghiță, CEO of Nuclearelectrica, said: "We are pleased to implement an innovative Romanian technology together with KHNP, a leading nuclear expert, to achieve a safe and reliable project. The tritium removal facility demonstrates Nuclearelectrica’s commitment to safe operations and environmental protection. This project underlines Romania’s leading role in the nuclear industry and contributes to national energy security."

Jooho Whang, CEO of KHNP, said: "The groundbreaking ceremony ... is a very important milestone which signifies the execution of the project in earnest ... the facility will enhance environmental protection, while contributing to safe operation of the Cernavoda NPP and economic growth of the country as well. Going forward, I expect the nuclear industries between Romania and South Korea will have closer and stronger collaboration."

Cernavoda is the only nuclear power plant in Romania and consists of two 650 MWe Candu-6 reactors. Unit 1 went into commercial operation in 1996 and unit 2 in 2007. Nuclearelectrica plans to extend the operating life of unit 1 to 60 years. Tritium removal facilities are already in operation at Ontario Power Generation's Darlington plant and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power's Wolsong plant, both home to Candu reactors.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News