Paving way for future of nuclear power

Paving way for future of nuclear power

June 03, 2017
Novovoronezh units 6 and 7. — Courtesy photos
Novovoronezh units 6 and 7. — Courtesy photos

UNIT 6 of the Novovoronezh NPP in central Russia entered into operation in February 2017, becoming the first – and to date only – Gen 3+ reactor in commercial use.

[caption id="attachment_149440" align="alignright" width="300"]Novovoronezh unit. Novovoronezh unit.[/caption]

The unit features a VVER-1200 pressurized water reactor design developed by Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear power corporation. VVER stands for water-water power reactor – meaning that water is used both as a neutron moderator and as coolant. The-1200 prefix denotes a gross power output of 1,200 MWe, making VVER-1200 one of the world’s most powerful nuclear reactors.

VVER-1200’s enhanced features include its extended operational lifetime (60 years for the reactor unit)) and enhanced safety systems that comply with the most stringent international regulations introduced after the Fukushima NPP incident.

VVER-1200’s key innovation is the use of both conventional active safety systems and additional passive safety systems that neither require the intervention of nuclear power plant personnel nor power supply and act as an additional protection against any potential human error.

The unit is designed to withstand all sorts of catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and plane crashes. The project was stress-tested under more extreme conditions than those that existed during the Fukushima NPP incident, which included an imitation of every hypothetical scenario imaginable as a total loss of power for up to 72 hours.

Even in a worst-case scenario where a meltdown-type accident does occur, VVER-1200’s double containment and so-called core catcher will prevent a radioactive release into the atmosphere.

Unit 6 of the Novovoronezh NPP passed more than 20 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safety inspections and was recognized by the Agency’s experts as one of the safest nuclear reactor designs in history.

The unit also hosted six World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) inspections. WANO Chairman Jacques Regaldo, who visited the unit shortly after its commercial launch, in March 2017, acknowledged the importance of the world’s first Generation 3+ unit going live and praised the achievement.

More to come

The reactor design was developed specifically with a view to being suitable for a wide variety of geographic locations, landscape features and types of soil. This will come in handy, seeing as several VVER-1200 units are already under construction or planned in countries as diverse as Russia, Belorussia, Finland, Hungary, Egypt, Turkey and Bangladesh.

In the Middle East, the region’s first VVER-1200 reactors will be installed at Egypt’s El Dabaa NPP, which will feature four units of the type with a total gross power output of 4,800 MWe. The project, the final contracts for which are expected to be signed later in the year, has received praise and recognition from local and regional officials.

Secretary General of Egypt’s Energy and Environment Committee Alaa Salaam also spoke publicly in support of the project. “The El Dabaa NPP will give Egypt a clean energy source. The nuclear power reactors to be installed at the El Dabaa NPP do not emit gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect.”

Former IAEA Chief Inspector Yousri Abu Shadi assured the people of Egypt that the El Dabaa NPP design will feature ‘the most modern safety systems’ and is preferable to conventional thermal power stations. He also noted that the each VVER-1200 unit of NPP will generate $1bn per year for the country’s economy.

Nuclear generations: A brief history

Ever since the world’s first commercial nuclear power plant in Obninsk, central Russia, was connected to the grid in 1954, nuclear technology has been evolving continuously to make new reactors safer, more powerful and more efficient.

These developments have mostly happened in waves, resulting in several generations of nuclear reactors that are typically distinguished.

Generation I reactors were developed in 1950-60s and are virtually extinct today except for a few units still operational in the UK. Generation II reactors, whose heyday was in the 1970-1990s, are still largely running around the world after their design life was extended from 30-40 years to 50-60 years.

Generation III reactors, developed to incorporate improvements in fuel technology, thermal efficiency, safety systems and operational lifetime, first came online in the late 1990s and are still being constructed worldwide.

With Generation IV designs still on the drawing board, the next step in nuclear reactor technology from Generation III is Generation III+, developed to have enhanced safety systems, a longer operational lifetime and decreased both core damage and large release frequencies, among other features.

The development of a new nuclear reactor technology from initial research to commissioning and commercial use is a time- and effort-consuming process that normally takes years, if not decades. This means that the launch of a next-generation reactor design is always a major milestone in the global energy industry. The year 2017 saw just such a milestone when Unit 6 of the Novovoronezh NPP went online. — SG

June 03, 2017