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Oleg Kryukov about managing the nuclear legacy

15.10.2015 08:51  |   RIA Novosti

Over the last years the Russian nuclear industry made a massive nationwide effort to manage the Soviet nuclear legacy. Oleg Kryukov, Rosatom Director for Public Policy on Radioactive Waste, Spent Nuclear Fuel and Nuclear Decommissioning, spoke to the RIA Novosti news agency about environmental safety technologies used in the national nuclear industry.

– The Nuclear and Radiation Safety 2015 Federal Target Program (NRS-1) comes to an end this year. However, it will be extended till 2030 as NRS-2. What brought the program to life? What is the major achievement of NRS-1 and what do you plan to achieve with NRS-2?

– It became clear in the early 2000s that we had to deal with the Soviet nuclear legacy, mostly with decades-long piles of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and radioactive waste (RAW), and that we could not postpone the solution anymore. We developed a federal target program to address nuclear and radiation safety and find a comprehensive solution to the existing problems. We are now proud to say that NRS-1 is nearing completion. The program has been a success and, most significantly, program targets have been overachieved by nearly 10%. A lot has been done as part of NRS – 28,500 spent fuel assemblies from power and research reactors were put into storage or reprocessed. About 800 fuel assemblies from nuclear submarines were also transported to long-term storage facilities. The Russian Far East is now totally free from spent nuclear fuel from submarines. We have rehabilitated 2.7 million square meters of radionuclide contaminated land, which is over a million of square meters more than planned. As for nuclear decommissioning, I would like to mention the first commercial uranium-graphite reactor EI-2 decommissioned in Seversk (a town near Tomsk, Russia). All the facilities that caused concern among experts are safe now. The program was supported by an extensive research effort involving more than 400 organizations, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Rosatom's experts. Quite literally, the program has covered almost the entire country. We have developed nearly 50 unique technologies for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management. Having acquired extensive expertise in legacy management, we are now prepared to NRS-2, which succeeds to the first program in solving industry problems.

– What are the key targets of NRS-2?

– I will name only a few. We will mothball seven commercial uranium-graphite reactors. Other plans are to rehabilitate 4.3 million square meters of land and launch the most complex facilities of the federal radioactive waste management infrastructure designed to ensure safe and efficient nuclear waste treatment in Russia.

– According to international experts, Russia is among a few nations possessing safe technologies of spent nuclear fuel management. In the first place, they point out unparalleled SNF storage and reprocessing facilities at the Mining and Chemical Plant (MCP) in Zheleznogorsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia). Does the MCP have a special role in the program?

– The MCP will have a new task – it should become a center for the management of spent nuclear fuel from power reactors. I am convinced, and there is every reason to believe, that the MCP will soon be a primary facility responsible for this task, mostly because it has long been used as a centralized storage site for spent nuclear fuel. We are migrating from wet storage of spent nuclear fuel in storage pools to dry storage when SNF containers are cooled by air.

– What are the advantages of dry storage?

– The dry storage technology is based on passive safety. It means that even if power sources are disconnected for whatever reason, safety storage conditions will be still met due to natural convection of cooling air. Wet storage needs much more maintenance. If anything causes water to disappear from the pool, the situation turns dangerous and might lead to an accident like the Fukushima disaster. Moreover, there is an economic factor in play as dry storage is five times cheaper than wet storage.

– You are talking about storage technologies. What do you have to say about reprocessing?

– The MCP is building a pilot center for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing. This will be an innovative facility that will have no effluents as all process water is recycled while radioactive waste is solidified. In terms of environmental safety, the new facility will outperform other reprocessing plants both in Russia and abroad.

– Do you have an idea of how much it will cost?

– Yes, we do. All costs have been estimated in advance. We know the new technology will be competitive and have attractive pricing. The first phase of the pilot reprocessing project is to be completed later this year. We will install hot cells designed to reprocess five tons of spent nuclear fuel from VVER-1000 reactors annually. The hot cells will also be used to fine-tune the reprocessing technology so that the second project phase designed to reprocess 250 tons of SNF each year relies on proven technology and costs. They will also serve as a test site for the development of minor actinide partitioning technologies to significantly reduce radiotoxicity of storage waste (minor actinides are highly radioactive elements accumulated in reactor fuel during operation).

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