Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom said on 14 January that it is not planning to cancel construction of the Brest-OD-300 lead-cooled fast reactor, which is part of the Proryv (Breakthrough) project but is deferring it to optimise the best use of scarce resources in view of the difficult economic situation currently facing Russia.

Rosatom clarified that it has adjusted the project, which is intended to demonstrate closing the nuclear fuel cycle, to reduce the capital costs of the federal target programme (FTP) "Nuclear Power Technologies of New Generation in 2010-2015 and until 2020".

"Adjusting the federal programme does not mean rejection of the Breakthrough project. Currently as part of the pilot demonstration power complex [PDPC or Russian acronym ODEK], the fuel fabrication/re-fabrication module is under construction. We are not stopping Brest but are optimising and synchronising construction of other objects [within the project]," Rosatom said.

Construction of Brest was scheduled to begin at the Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) in Seversk, which is hosting PDPC in 2017 for operation in 2020, Alexander Gusev, PDPC chief engineer said last year. Contracts to supply equipment for the reactor facility are at the tendering stage, but this may now be delayed. The PDPC includes facilities for fuel fabrication and fuel recycling, as well as the Brest reactor, and work on other facilities is continuing.

Construction of the fuel fabrication module for dense nitride fuel began in August 2014 and installation of the equipment is underway. It is scheduled for completion in 2018. The fuel processing unit is due to start up in 2022, subject to approval by regulator Rostechnadzor. The necessary personnel for the complex will be trained at the Seversk branch of National Research Nuclear University (NRNU), MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute) and at Tomsk Polytechnic University. Gusev said that the whole complex will comprise 44 buildings, including 35 support facilities  which will serve all three parts of the project.

Meanwhile, the chemical and metallurgical plant (CMP) at SCC will be shut down and decommissioned and staff “who have the relevant skills for  handling highly enriched uranium, plutonium, their recycled products and highly radioactive radwaste” will be transferred to the PDPC. CMP’s Centre of Competences will in future study and test technological solutions for fabrication and reprocessing of mixed nitride uranium-plutonium fuel for the fabrication/re-fabrication and fuel recycling modules of PDPC.

Rosatom noted that the first stage of optimisation had already been implemented and would reduce the cost of Brest. However, R&D is continuing in order to solve a number of scientific and technical issues, including completion of bench tests of steam generators, turbines, and reactor pressure vessels, which are non-standard.

In December 2016, Rosatom Deputy General Director for innovation management Vyacheslav Pershukov said Rosatom, together with the equipment manufacturers, “have found it possible to reduce the reactor project cost by RUB5bn ($80.5m) by slightly changing technical solutions”. He added that Rosatom intends to return to the original plan in which completion of the fabrication/re-fabrication unit was scheduled for 2020. Rosatom said in January that corresponding changes in the distribution of investment for the years 2016-2019 had been agreed with Ministry of Economic Development.

Gennady Sklyar, a member of the Energy Committee of the State Duma pointed out that Rosatom received public funds under the federal target programmes and so must comply with the decisions taken by public authorities. “In the current economic situation there is an obvious need to review some investment projects [and] allocate priority projects, whose construction should be completed. It is only logical that it was decided to complete those projects that are well advanced, which is why it was decided to postpone Brest."

“I stress that it is a postponement, it is about synchronising the timing of commissioning of facilities,” he said. “At the same time implementation of the other parts of the Breakthrough project to close the nuclear fuel cycle should continue such as the module for fuel fabrication at Seversk. It is important that under the Breakthrough project, work should continued on mixed uranium-plutonium nitride fuel, which  can be used in the BN-800.” He added: “Creating a technology from scratch is never easy, it is a pioneering process that is impossible to plan immediately, because it is impossible to calculate all the risks and  to choose the best and least expensive way to go from the beginning. But we must strive for this – and  Rosatom, in my opinion, demonstrates a responsible use of the federal budget.

Date: Wednesday, 18 January 2017
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