Focusing on Environmental Aspects of Nuclear Power

With Rosatom paying much attention to environmental safety, it is no coincidence that AtomEco, one of the nuclear industry’s major environmental forums, is organized in Russia. Over 1,000 delegates from 19 countries took part in this year’s forum themed Clean Energy for the Next Generation. You will find more details from the Forum in our report.

“Organizing the Forum in 2017, which is declared the Year of the Environment in Russia, highlights the importance of nuclear and radiation safety, environmental protection, mitigation of industrial impacts, and public acceptance of nuclear power. All these aspects are truly important, and common consent over them is a recipe for success of large-scale environmental projects and programs. This is proved by Russian and international experience,” says a statement by Sergei Kiriyenko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office and Chairman of Rosatom Supervisory Board.

Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General, praised the role of nuclear energy. “At present, the nuclear industry generates 11% of electric power worldwide. The share of nuclear power plants is expected to grow, but nuclear and renewables should not be opposed to each other but turned into a single operating system,” he said. It was also noted that nuclear energy was not an alternative to renewable sources of power. “We believe that they complement each other and will form a non-carbon energy mix of the future,” said Kirill Komarov, Rosatom’s First Deputy CEO for Corporate Development and International Business, commenting on the need to explain advantages of nuclear power. “If we consider life-cycle costs of power generation, we will see that nuclear energy is one of the most efficient sources of electricity,” Kirill Komarov said. He also mentioned the fact that consumers, regulatory authorities and state leaders “had to think about both economy and environment” when selecting a power generation facility to be built. “I think these aspects go hand in hand and form a basis for a carbon-free, green energy mix of the future where there is place for both nuclear and renewables,” Kirill Komarov concluded.

In his turn, Alexei Alyoshin, Head of the Russian technical regulator Rostechnadzor, called nuclear power “a green energy source indeed” meaning that it produced no greenhouse gases and caused no natural disasters on the planet. He also mentioned that nuclear power generation projects in Russia and other countries, broader research and nuclear legacy issues required continuous improvement of the regulatory framework for nuclear safety.

RUB 23bn spent on ecology

Rosatom pays special attention to environmental matters. Finding a solution to nuclear legacy problems and current industry tasks is a costly endeavor. In 2017, Rosatom plans to spend about 23 billion rubles on environmental initiatives. “Our environmental projects have received nearly 23 billion rubles in funding this year. These projects target both current industry tasks and [nuclear] legacy problems,” said Kirill Komarov, Rosatom’s First Deputy CEO for Corporate Development and International Business. One of the most outstanding environmental initiatives launched earlier this year was the removal of spent nuclear submarine fuel from Andreeva Bay in the Murmansk Region. In Kola Bay, the company is involved in a major project aimed at cleaning the sea bottom covered with sunken vessels and other objects affecting the environment. “And we are also engaged in a number of large-scale projects on the Kamchatka Peninsula, with a goal to dispose of decommissioned submarines and nuclear service vessels,” Komarov said.

Radioactive waste declines

Radioactive waste from Russian nuclear plants builds up at a twice lower rate than 25 years ago, says Mikhail Stakhiv, Head of Spent Nuclear Fuel, Radioactive Waste and Decommissioning at RosEnergoAtom. This decline is a result of measures that have been taken by the company over the last decades. Many efforts are spent on developing new waste handling solutions. Waste limits for nuclear power plants are also revised regularly. Stakhiv underlined that Russian nuclear plants used solutions that ensured safe handling of radioactive waste at every step of this process – from collection and transportation to processing and conditioning. The final product of this process – conditioned radioactive waste – can reliably prevent radionuclides from getting into the environment for an extended period of time, which is enough for hazardous substances to decay and become totally non-radioactive.

The work is ongoing to install radwaste processing facilities on the nuclear plants’ sites. A solid radwaste management center operates at Balakovo NPP; the world’s first treatment facility for liquid radioactive waste is in operation at Kola NPP. A similar facility has been commissioned at Smolensk NPP as part of a larger waste processing center, with two more under construction at Leningrad and Kursk nuclear power plants. At present, most of the Russian nuclear plants have equipment they need to process solid and liquid radioactive waste. Additionally, a radwaste plasma treatment center was launched in Novovoronezh last summer to achieve a 35-fold decrease in processed waste as compared to its original volume.

RosEnergoAtom’s primary task is to develop measures that will reduce new waste buildup by at least 5% by 2020. An ambitious long-term goal is to transport all radioactive wastes, previously conditioned, from on-site storage facilities to repositories.

Russia meets its commitments

Russia used the Forum as a venue to present its 5th National Report for the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management. The report was published on the 13th of November, for the first time before its submission to the IAEA. “Our previous reports and the 5th National Report, which is already published on the Convention’s website, demonstrate Russia’s commitment to the principles of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and Radioactive Waste Management; some of the measures we take are considered to be the industry’s best practices that may serve as an example for other countries,” said Oleg Kryukov, Rosatom’s Director for Public Policy on Radioactive Waste, Spent Nuclear Fuel and Nuclear Decommissioning, in an interview to RIA Novosti. According to him, the Joint Convention requires every contracting party to submit a national report, answer questions of other parties, and discuss its national reports in special meetings over the fulfillment of national commitments. “This is why we presented our report at AtomExo-2017 to an audience consisting of Russian and international experts as we wanted to have a detailed discussion of the report in advance,” Kryukov stressed.

Special attention

Much interest was excited by the Nuclear Development and Arctic Environment roundtable discussion. It was noted that comprehensive development of Arctic territories was one of Russia’s strategic priorities and that it would need cost efficient and environmentally safe technologies, including those developed by Russian nuclear companies. For instance, Alexander Pimenov, Deputy CEO for Innovative Projects at NIKIET, presented a new line of small reactor units for low-capacity nuclear power plants. These reactor units belong to the Schelf series and are designed to be used as a source of power for offshore and onshore facilities along the Arctic coast and in remote areas with no power supply or transport infrastructure. The standardized Schelf unit has a capacity of 6.4 MW, and includes a nuclear power reactor and other systems needed for its operation, such as emergency cooling, safety and maintenance systems.