Thirty-five years on from the Chernobyl accident, Ukraine and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have highlighted their commitment to cooperation in nuclear power. Meanwhile Ukraine’s nuclear regulator has launched the start of operations at a new storage facility for used nuclear fuel at the Chernobyl site.  

Grossi speaking at the Chernobyl plant today (Image: IAEA)

On the first day of a two-day visit to Ukraine, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi yesterday discussed ongoing bilateral cooperation between the IAEA and Ukraine with the country's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials. Today, he visited the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Grossi told Zelenskyy that the IAEA will continue to support Ukraine in addressing decommissioning, radioactive waste and environmental remediation in and around Chernobyl, as well as in areas in the peaceful use of nuclear technology in general.

Sharing knowledge

The Ukrainian government is working on the development of the nuclear industry to ensure energy security and synchronisation of the national energy system with the energy system of the European Union, Zelenskyy told Grossi. "Today I can confidently say that Ukraine is determined to develop its nuclear energy," he said. In particular, Zelenskyy noted that Ukraine plans to switch to the use of advanced nuclear reactors, including small modular reactors.

The President thanked the IAEA and the international community for their attention to the Chernobyl issue since the first days of the accident, as well as for their support in overcoming its consequences. "This applies not only to the implementation of technical assistance projects, but also to the exchange of experience and knowledge. I'd like to note the special role of knowledge in nuclear energy. Today, our experts have unique experience in the field of nuclear safety and nuclear decommissioning. Ukraine is ready to share this knowledge with the IAEA so that such accidents never happen again."

Since 2005, Ukraine has received more than EUR9 million (USD11 million) in IAEA assistance. The agency has supported 77 fellows and 228 scientific visitors from Ukraine for trainings, while 47 Ukrainians have also served as lecturers in the technical cooperation programme.

In meetings with Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba, Grossi discussed safeguards, nuclear safety, human health and the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to COVID-19, the IAEA is providing Ukraine a PCR/diagnostic kit and two mobile medical diagnostic X-ray units. Grossi emphasised the value of ZODIAC, a major initiative to prevent future outbreaks of diseases that spread from animals to humans, and recognised Ukraine's National Scientific Institute for Experimental and Clinical Veterinary Medicine as a ZODIAC focal point.

Remembering the victims

The discussions took place on the margins of events commemorating the 35th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Grossi yesterday attended the opening ceremony of the multimedia exhibition Chernobyl. The Journey, alongside President Zelenskyy, at the National Expocenter of Ukraine.

"We solemnly remember those who died; we stand with those whose lives have been affected; and we recognise the recovery efforts led by the governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine," Grossi said. "The IAEA, together with other international organisations and nations, has worked tirelessly: offering emergency assistance; analysing the accident's human and environmental impact; helping to manage the contamination, nuclear waste and wreckage, and restoring livelihoods that depend on the health of farms, forests and water sources in the area. You can count on us also to keep expanding and updating the international channels of collaboration on nuclear safety for the benefit of all."

Grossi yesterday also gave a lecture to master's students at the National Technical University of Ukraine 'Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute'. In his talk, which covered nuclear safety and nuclear energy, Grossi emphasised the role of international cooperation. "The IAEA adopted this role as the international hub for nuclear cooperation. The international community is facing two major challenges where nuclear science, technology and application have a role to play - the pandemic and climate change."

Safe confinement

Today Grossi visited the Chernobyl plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident. During a speech in front of the New Safe Confinement covering the damaged unit 4, he said: "Behind us is a piece of history; history of Ukraine and, of course, to a big extent, of all humanity. But also it is a sign of how a big challenge, like this [the accident and its consequences], can be tackled and can be dealt in an appropriate way."

Tweeting from the plant, Grossi said: "The progress made here in Chernobyl on safety confinement and nuclear spent fuel storage is immense and proof that international cooperation is critical to addressing global crises. The IAEA is ready to continue working with Ukraine and international partners in the important work ahead."

Ukraine's 15 operational reactors produced 53.9% of the country's total electricity in 2019. Under Ukraine's Energy Strategy Through 2035, the country has committed to maintain the share of nuclear energy at half of total electricity production up to 2035.

On the request of Ukraine's government, the IAEA will conduct a review mission on the Safety Aspects of Long-Term Operation in August, followed by an Operational Safety Review Team mission next year.

Storage facility  

Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRIU) has issued an operating licence for the Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage Facility (ISF-2) at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, marking the end of the commissioning phase of the facility and the start of operations of the new plant.

President Zelenskyy signed a decree permitting the operation of the new plant, yesterday on the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident. The licence was presented by Hryhoriy Plachkov, head of the SNRIU, to Chernobyl NPP Acting Director General Valeriy Seyda.

"We are very glad that Ukraine is not alone on this path and enjoys the broad support of international partners. And today is a clear example of such support and effectiveness of our joint actions. Today, a new storage facility for spent nuclear fuel has been put into operation," Zelenskyy said. "This is a significant step for security in the Chernobyl zone, security in Ukraine, security in Europe and around the world. The step we are taking today with boundless gratitude and respect to all liquidators of the Chernobyl accident, as well as with boundless faith and readiness to work for the safe, ecological future of our children, our next generations."

Operations can now begin to transfer 21,000 used fuel assemblies from Chernobyl reactors 1, 2 and 3 from existing wet storage facilities to the new facility. The fuel will be processed, packaged in double-walled canisters and stored in concrete modules. The transfer of the fuel will take place over the next 10 years, with fuel loading operations monitored by the IAEA and the SNRIU.

The ISF-2 has been financed by the international community and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Described by the bank as the largest dry used fuel storage facility in the world, it cost EUR400 million and was financed with contributions from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UK and the USA.

Seyda (left) was presented with the licence by Hryhoriy Plachkov (right) in front of President Zhelenskyy (Image: President of Ukraine)

The dry storage project began in 1999, and was taken over from Framatome by Holtec International in 2011. The ISF-2 was completed in 2019. Hot commissioning began in September 2020, and the first canister of used fuel was placed in the facility in November.

Holtec International President and CEO Kris Singh said the company had "wrestled with [a] multitude of unexpected challenges" to bring the project to a successful conclusion. These included the development by the company of innovative technologies such as the double-walled canisters, which according to Holtec "renders any risk of leakage seven orders of magnitude more non-credible" than required by most regulatory regimes; the deployment of a forced gas dehydrator to extract moisture from the fuel; the use of extruded Metamic tubes to efficiently dissipate the residual heat from the used fuel; and the commissioning of the world's largest purpose-built hot cell.

The fuel, which is currently in wet storage, will be transferred to the ISF-2 over the next 10 years and will remain there for at least 100 years. Once all fuel has been transferred, the existing wet fuel storage facilities will be decommissioned, Holtec said. All fuel loading operations will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the SNRIU.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Wednesday, 28 April 2021
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