Construction of a centralized spent fuel storage facility (centralized SFSF) for three national nuclear power plants is currently underway in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The construction of a centralized storage facility was and remains important for Ukraine. There are two viewpoints in the expert environment: the majority of experts support construction of the centralized SFSF, but there are those who consider the construction of onsite storage facilities for Rivne, South-Ukraine and Khmelnitsky NPPs more advisable.
Conversation with Oleksandr Rybchuk, Director General of “Atomproektengineering” Company, helped Uatom.org editorial board to understand the situation and find out the reason why Ukraine has chosen exactly the construction of the centralized storage facility.
Oleksandr Rybchuk, Director General of “Atomproektengineering” company
– What advantages has the centralized SFSF in comparison with the onsite storage facilities?
– Options of the centralized storage facility and onsite storage facilities were compared at the stage of the feasibility study for construction of the centralized SFSF. The advantages of constructing a centralized storage facility are predominant. The main ones are safe storage of spent nuclear fuel and no need for dismantling of onsite storage facilities after NPP closure. The time will come when operating Ukrainian nuclear power plants will be decommissioned. The question arises: what should be done with the spent fuel storage facilities that remain there? Spent nuclear fuel must be transported somewhere. Thus, the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from the onsite storage facilities to another specified location is only a matter of time, and from an economic and safety viewpoint, it is not profitable.
– Spent fuel should be transported from NPP anyway. Foreign experts consider this the main drawback of the centralized storage facilities. How will be ensured transportation safety?
– Spent nuclear fuel is transported through the territory of Ukraine for almost 30 years since the establishment of nuclear power in Ukraine and Eastern European countries. Spent nuclear fuel is annually transported from the national nuclear power plants for storage and processing to the Russian Federation. There were no complaints related to transportation safety. There was also no reason to consider the transportation scheme hazardous.
Transportation of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants to the centralized SFSF will be more improved and will comply with the best international standards. At the same time, the requirements of the Ukrainian standards and regulations of safe transportation of radioactive materials are currently already as strict as the IAEA, US and EU standards.
– On the technological side, are there any differences between the centralized and onsite storage facilities? What is the difference pf the centralized SFSF in the Exclusion Zone from the operating storage facility at Zaporizhzhya NPP?
– The centralized storage facility in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone will be more improved than the storage facility on the site of the Zaporizhzhya NPP. The spent nuclear fuel storage systems of the centralized SFSF are designed for 100 years or even more. They use two-barrier spent fuel isolation from the environment (nowadays, all spent fuel storage facilities in other countries use single-barrier isolation solutions), namely, spent fuel will be in a gas (helium) environment that provides very high storage quality.
– Up to now, the spent nuclear fuel is transported from Ukraine for processing and temporary storage to the Russian Federation. In general, what are the advantages of constructing your own spent nuclear fuel storage facility?
– Today almost every country developing nuclear energy has already constructed and successfully operates spent nuclear fuel storage facilities. Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians have their own storage facilities; therefore, they stopped spent fuel transportation to Russia. The construction of the centralized SFSF for Ukraine is the energy security improvement in the state, first of all. In addition, it is a great opportunity to reduce costs in this area. Let me remind you that every year we spend about 150-200 million dollars for the transport of spent nuclear fuel for storage and processing to the Russian Federation.
Another important issue is further storage of high-level radioactive waste resulting from spent fuel reprocessing at NPPs with VVER-440 (RNPP power units No. 1 and 2) that may be returned to Ukraine by request of relevant Russian enterprises.
– Is storage of radioactive waste envisaged in the centralized SFSF?
– Will spent nuclear fuel from other countries be accepted for storage after commissioning of the centralized SFSF?
– No, spent nuclear fuel from other countries will not be accepted for storage to the centralized SFSF. The Energoatom Company is a company that strictly follows the law. The Law of Ukraine on the Siting, Design and Construction of the Centralized SFSF specifies that this storage facility is designed only for fuel storage from the national NPPs.
– Well, the national legislation prohibits now the import of radioactive waste for its storage or processing. There are also valid international conventions that, inter alia, envisage that each country that operates nuclear power plants shall store radioactive materials generated at nuclear power plants on its own territory. Is it possible to make amendments in appropriate legislation that will result in the transformation of the territory of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone into a storage facility for not only spent nuclear fuel generated in Ukraine but also fuel generated at foreign nuclear power plants?
– As far as I know, this topic is not discussed in the expert environment. There are no ideas or proposals in this area, including the ones from foreign nuclear power plants. In addition, such a scenario contradicts the concept of development of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.
As for me, in this context it is also important to consider the fact that spent nuclear fuel retains a significant energy resource for future generations. The majority of countries with developed nuclear energy prefer to store spent nuclear fuel on their territory and have their own storage facilities, thus there is no need for them to transport spent nuclear fuel for storage to Ukraine.
– For how many years the centralized spent nuclear fuel storage facility is designed? How many fuel assemblies can it include? Is this enough for all Ukrainian NPPs taking into account the process of lifetime extension?
– Under the project, the centralized SFSF will be filled within 50 years, at least 50 years later it will be operated in a passive mode (stored). Further, it is necessary to perform appropriate investigations to find out what to do with the storage facility in the future. Given that the process diagram of the centralized SFSF is designed for highest storage quality level, the lifetime of the centralized SFSF will be probably extended.
The centralized SFSF has a capacity that meets the requirements for nuclear fuel storage from three Ukrainian NPPs considering their probable lifetime extension.
– Is it worth to construct geological repository in Ukraine?
– As for spent nuclear fuel, by constructing the centralized SFSF, we solve the issue related to storage for a long period. As for radioactive waste, as far as I know, the issue is currently under consideration, and appropriate storage facilities are operated and constructed in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. Appropriate decisions will be probably made for radioactive waste disposal in geological formations according to the national strategy of radioactive waste management.
– What do you think about overcoming the radiophobia of society?
– I believe that radiophobia in Ukraine is too exaggerated; therefore it is necessary to perform systematic explanatory activity. We have much more serious problems to be solved. The national thermal energy releases millions of tons of sludge with an increased content of natural radionuclides. The negative impact on the public resulting from this is colossal. Chemical contamination, contamination of water bodies, large amount of debris, lack of clean water – that is what you should worry about first. The panic of radiation threat is instilled only to draw attention from real more urgent issues.
– Why the United States chose onsite spent nuclear fuel storage facilities?
–US nuclear power plants are mostly owned by private energy companies, the construction of a centralized storage facility was financially impossible for each of them separately. Therefore, each company solved the issue related to storage by constructing a small onsite storage facility.
In fact, today this is more a problem than an advantage for them. Several reactors have already been decommissioned, soon or late other nuclear power plants will be decommissioned. The issue of spent nuclear fuel management has not been solved yet. Logically, it should be transported to a centralized storage facility that is currently absent in the USA.
Unlike the US, our way is the most optimal because of the construction of the centralized SFSF, and we have a chance to avoid mistakes made by others. As far as I know, our experience is already applied in the project of a private centralized storage facility currently developed and licensed in the USA.
Uatom.org website editorial board