28.09.2022 Author: Vladimir Danilov

Russia Shifts to a Zero-waste Nuclear Cycle in its NPPs


The global energy crisis, arguably the worst since 1973, is forcing adjustments in nuclear energy policy in the European Union and many other parts of the world. Washington’s policy of squeezing Russia out of the European energy market, decommissioning European NPPs and forcing a “green agenda,” for the express purpose of strangling its main economic rival, the EU, has completely failed.

Under these circumstances, a number of European countries have now turned to “reanimating” previously closed NPPs. Among such countries, France is probably the only one in the EU to have managed to preserve the future for its nuclear energy by withstanding the “green” attacks. However, due to corrosion, the timeline for restarting nuclear reactors has become longer and the works now conducted “require more time spent in the reactor section of the structures,” the French news agency RFI reported. In this context, contractors of the French energy corporation EDF, which is involved in the maintenance of nuclear reactors, are studying the possibility of increasing radiation dose standards so that employees can work longer inside the reactor, an activity that was not originally planned.

With more than a third of EU countries (10 out of 27) advocating the inclusion of nuclear power in the list of sectors that contribute to environmental harm reduction, many states are seriously considering building NPPs both within the EU and beyond. For example, Rosatom has begun large-scale excavation work at the site of two new units of the Soviet-designed Paks NPP in Hungary. It operates four units with VVER-440 reactors, which generate almost half of Hungary’s electricity. And with the planned commissioning of two new units, this share will double.

Kazakhstan decided to build an NPP on its territory, and to this end it studied the experience already accumulated in this area, in particular in Russia, France, Turkey, Hungary, Korea, and Kazakh experts visited an NPP in China. In general, there is a perception in Kazakhstan that this project should be implemented by an international pool of investors, which will take into account all the best technologies as much as possible. In particular, proposals from Rosatom, China’s CNNC, Korea’s KH&P, and France’s EDF are being considered.

The Russian State Corporation Rosatom and the Iraqi Agency for the Control of Radioactive Materials are working together to update the bilateral regulatory framework and sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy.

Many other countries have also become keenly interested in Russia’s capabilities and accumulated positive experience in building new NPPs. Russia and its relevant companies really do have something to show foreign customers and surprise them, especially with new technological solutions for the zero-waste nuclear cycle, already in use in Russia.

The interest shown by countries around the globe in building NPPs is justified, despite Washington’s attempts to steer the world in a completely different direction by pursuing its own self-serving goals, in particular to push its own energy and “green technology” into the European market.

It is well known that nuclear power is one of the most environmentally friendly industries in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, and the issue has been receiving particular attention recently against the backdrop of climate change around the world. After all, nuclear power plants emit only 12 g of CO2 per 1 kWh, whereas natural gas emits 490 g/kWh and coal emits 820 g/kWh!

At the moment, the world’s 440 nuclear power reactors produce around 10,500 tons of spent fuel per year. During energy production, nuclear power plants consume only about 5% of uranium and generate by-products such as plutonium, which, just like the remaining uranium, must be reprocessed.

However, the limited expansion of nuclear power plants is due to the fact that one of the main drawbacks of modern nuclear reactors is the large amount of spent nuclear fuel, whose storage poses high environmental risks and requires huge financial outlays. And the question of what to do with the spent nuclear fuel remains unresolved. Under these circumstances, many politicians prefer solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to nuclear power plants. Primarily because the used nuclear fuel remains radioactive and there is as yet no consensus in society or the authorities on what to do with it. Although everyone knows that spent nuclear fuel can be reused, in particular to produce huge amounts of zero-carbon energy, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There are different reasons for not reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. For example, in the US government’s position, the main obstacle to disposition is the fear of cost inefficiencies and the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. The 1977 decision by US President Jimmy Carter to ban the reprocessing of nuclear fuel is well known in this regard. Instead, it is buried deep underground.

A number of countries, notably France, the UK and Japan, have taken a different path, treating spent nuclear fuel as a valuable asset rather than just waste requiring disposal.

The unique zero-waste technology developed by Russia’s nuclear scientists to recycle nuclear waste into new fuel has been an unquestionable breakthrough in this area. Based on this technology, the Brest-300 reactor has already been developed, a unique, 4th-generation closed-circuit reactor, whose introduction will definitively remove the shortcomings of modern nuclear reactors and all concerns about the possibility of processing waste for military purposes. Thus, if only Russian nuclear waste accumulated over 60 years were processed into fuel for Brest-300 reactors, it would last for several hundred years. In addition, this new reactor boasts the highest level of safety, durability, exceptionally “peaceful” features, impeccable environmental friendliness and cost-effectiveness.

Beloyarsk NPP Unit 4, with this new reactor using fuel produced from waste generated by conventional reactors, was brought to 100% capacity for the first time ever on September 23 this year. The loading of this reactor started back in June 2022, after which, for the first time ever, its entire core was converted to new plutonium-uranium MOX fuel. The name MOX itself is derived from Mixed-Oxide and means that nuclear fuel is composed of oxides of fissile material. In this case, from plutonium dioxide derived from spent nuclear fuel and depleted uranium oxide produced as a by-product of uranium enrichment.

The use of such fuel and the reactors developed in Russia for it bring the Russian nuclear industry closer to a new technological platform based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle, which will increase the fuel base of nuclear power tenfold and minimize the waste produced in the process. It will also certainly be of interest to many countries around the world.

Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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