Russia prepares new used fuel storage program

26 August 2016

Russia has developed a program for management of used nuclear fuel covering the period "2016-2018 and up to 2020" to replace the previous one, which has expired.

The Russian Research Institute for Nuclear Power Plant Operation (VNIIAES) - a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear enterprise Rosatom - said yesterday the program reflects Rosatom's policy to reprocess used fuel from the country's reactors in an environmentally responsible way that enables the "sound treatment of fission products and the return to the nuclear fuel cycle of nuclear materials recovered".

The concept provides for transportation of used nuclear fuel from the sites of nuclear power plants to Mayak Production Association in Ozersk for reprocessing or to a centralized repository at Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) at Zheleznogorsk for storage and subsequent reprocessing.

A centralized 'dry' interim storage facility for used nuclear fuel from Russia's RBMK-1000 reactors has been in operation at the MCC site since February 2012. This initial stage of the facility is for storing 8129 tonnes of RBMK fuel from the three power plants in the country using that kind of reactor: Leningrad, Kursk and Smolensk. The used fuel from these plants is currently stored in on-site water-filled pools, but these are reaching full-capacity. Later, used VVER-1000 fuel from reactors at the Balakovo, Kalinin, Novovoronezh and Rostov plants will also be stored at the facility. Such fuel has already been sent to Zheleznogorsk for storage in water pools. The facility - measuring some 270 metres in length, 35 metres wide and 40 metres high - will ultimately hold 38,000 tonnes of used RBMK and VVER fuel.

VNIIAES said yesterday the program it has developed "aims to solve the main problems" in the management of used nuclear fuel from Russia's reactor units.

"A storage container system is being established for used fuel assemblies and fuel from RBMK nuclear power plants. This is under pilot operation at the Leningrad nuclear power plant, where the system of separating used nuclear fuel assemblies has been put into commercial operation. These processes are both in pilot operation at the Kursk nuclear power plant," it said. "Used nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants with VVERs is kept in cooling ponds and then also transported to the facility for reprocessing or storage. Similar measures are being taken in respect of fuel from the BN-600 reactor [of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant]."

MCC director general, Pyotr Gavrilov, said in September last year that fuel will be stored in the centralized 'dry' interim storage facility for up to 50 years, during which time substantial reprocessing capacity should be brought online. In the long-term, a geological repository for high-level radioactive waste is planned.

Dry nuclear fuel storage technology is said to have a number of advantages over 'wet' storage technology. Dry storage, for example, does not require storage pools and the casks in which the fuel is stored can withstand large impacts and temperature changes.

In yesterday's statement, VNIIAES did not give details of the volumes and timescales of the new program.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News