Russia has ambitious plans for MOX fuel and its BN-1200 fast reactor

The BN-1200, the largest in a series of prototype fast reactors, is set to be included as a commercial plant sending power to the grid by 2030. The BN-1200 is part of a federal Rosatom program, the Proryv (Breakthrough) Project for large fast neutron reactors. Russia envisages about 11 GWe of such plants by 2030, possibly including South Urals NPP.

According to NEI Magazine, Vyacheslav Pershukov, deputy director general for innovation at Rosatom, said that the design of the reactor is at the stage where economic evaluations of its commercial potential are underway. Some of the numbers will come from the start-up of the smaller BN-800 in revenue service as Unit 4 at the Beloyarsk NPP.

However, while both reactors use liquid sodium for the primary cooling loop, the two reactors have significant differences in their design in addition to differences in fuel types and power ratings. See WNA’s profile for a complete review of Russia’s extensive fast reactor program and technical details of each fast reactor.

In terms of technology, two types of fuel are being considered for the BN-1200. The first is MOX fuel and the second is a nitride fuel. Pershukov told NEI that the use of both types of fuel “improves reactor characteristics,” but he did not elaborate. He added that construction of the BN-1200 is expected to begin by 2025.

Pershukov’s most interesting comments are his claims that the BN-1200 will be competitive with the Rosatom VVER light water reactor designs.

Russia claims progress with MOX fuel

While the US is mired in a political dispute over its MOX fuel plant now under construction in South Carolina, Pyotr Gavrilov, the director general of Russia’s Mining & Chemical Combine (MCC), told the WNA symposium in London on September 10 that the enterprise’s MOX fabrication facility will produce 400 fuel assemblies in 2017. The fuel will be used initially for the BN-800 fast reactor at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant.

The first fuel assemblies will be loaded into the BN-800 at the Beloyarsk NPP in the Sverdlovsk district. The reactor, which was the basis for additional fuel testing earlier this year, is expected to start commercial operations by the end of 2015. The re-work of the fuel design was also reported to be aimed at addressing the commercial viability of the reactor.

The MOX plant is located underground at MCC’s Zheleznogorsk site and is reported to be fully operational. Gavrilov told the WNA this is Russia’s first fuel production facility to incorporate surplus plutonium into the commercial nuclear fuel cycle. It is located in central Russia about 600 miles east of Tomsk, another “secret” nuclear city.

The plant is also being used for long-term interim storage of spent nuclear fuel from Russia’s domestic nuclear fleet, Consideration is being given to also storing spent fuel from Rosatom’s global customers as the firm retrogrades spent fuel back from their reactors. A long term goal is to develop a reprocessing facility at the site.

China to start reprocessing plant by 2030

The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and French state owned Areva expect to start construction of a long planned spent fuel reprocessing facility by 2020 and be completed by 2030. The initial agreement between the two firms to develop the plant was signed in 2007. The plant, which is expected to cost at least $15 billion, would be operated by Areva and would handle up to 800 tonnes of spent fuel a year.

According to a report by the Xinua News Agency quoting Yang Changli, vice general manager of CNNC, China’s PWR type light water reactors will produce 23,500 tonnes of spent fuel by 2030. The reprocessing plant will reduce the size of a high level waste repository needed for the material which is not reprocessed. The plant will also vitrify liquid high level waste.

Currently, China has 25 operational nuclear power plants that produce 23 GWe of power. The country has a target of 58 GWe of nuclear power plants which will create about 1000 tonnes a year of spent nuclear fuel.

Wu Wanguso, dean of the school of nuclear science and technology at Lanzhou University, cited in a Taiwan English language newspaper, is reported to have said that the processing of spent fuel is an urgent issue. If the country cannot do it, that problem of long-term storage becomes much bigger.

The ability to process spent fuel will also help China with its exports of the Hualong One 1000 MW PWR. China is expected to include fuel services in any deal, such as the one recently inked with Argentina. This means that China will take back spent fuel from reactors built in other countries.

Li Yingfa, cited in the same newspaper as being formerly affiliated with the Nuclear Power Institute of China, said that the country must be able to demonstrate to customers that it can take back the spent fuel.

China announced on September 24 that is has given preliminary approval for start of 31 inland nuclear power plants over the next five years.  These units will be added to the 23 in service and the 27 reactors that are under construction. Overall, China is expected to invest the equivalent of nearly $200 billion in 101 new reactors over the next 15 years.

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