Rosatom Accepts First MOX Fuel Batch for BN-800 Fast Reactor

Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company, said it is ready to receive a shipment of the first full reload batch of fresh uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for the BN-800 fast reactor at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station, the nation’s oldest operating  nuclear energy facility.

The company on July 23 announced the Mining and Chemical Combine, the Russian facility in Zheleznogorsk, a city in the Krasnoyarsk region in East Siberia, had manufactured the fuel. Rosatom said 169 fuel assemblies have been accepted by Rosenergoatom, which operates Russia’s nuclear power plants, and its authorized representative VPO ZAES. That group confirmed the fuel was ready to be shipped.

The Rosatom announcement came at the same time as U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Dan Brouillette said his agency is working to end U.S. reliance on Russia for nuclear fuel. Brouillette, in comments to members of Congress who focus on energy, said the DOE’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group wants American-sourced uranium for domestic nuclear plans. Brouillette said plans are in place to begin processing U.S. uranium into high-grade fuel at a DOE facility in Portsmouth, Ohio, as early as next year.

Brouillette said the high-grade fuel is of particular importance for new and smaller commercial reactors that his agency has said are critical to grid stability at a time when renewables are replacing power generation from coal- and natural gas-fired plants.

A U.S. program to produce MOX fuel from weapons-grade plutonium at a site in South Carolina was scrapped in 2018. A plan to produce MOX fuel in Japan has stalled.

TVEL Will Supply Fuel

TVEL Fuel Co., operated by Rosatom, will be the supplier of fresh MOX fuel for the Beloyarsk plant, a 1,485-MW facility with two operating reactors—a BN-600 and a BN-800, both fast breeder reactors. The Beloyarsk plant is located in Zarechny in the Sverdlovsk region in the Urals.

“Starting from the nearest refueling, the BN-800 core will be loaded with fresh MOX fuel. At the same time, TVEL together with the Mining and Chemical Combine, keep on further development of MOX fuel fabrication technology,” said Alexander Ugryumov, vice president for research and development at TVEL, in an email to POWER.

The BN-600, which came online in 1980, was originally scheduled to be decommissioned in 2010, but its service was extended after construction of the BN-800 was delayed. The BN-800 reactor, Unit 4 at Beloyarsk, was a POWER Top Plant in 2016.

The 1,485-MW Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station is Russia’s oldest operating nuclear power plant. Two fast breeder reactors are in operation at the site. Courtesy: Rosatom

Construction of the BN-800 reactor began in 1987, but a slumping Russian economy curtailed work—the country’s nuclear program also had been slowed by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986—and the unit did not enter service until 2015. The Beloyarsk plant originally came online with two small reactors in 1964; those 108-MW and 160-MW units were retired in 1981 and 1989, respectively. Along with being Russia’s oldest operating nuclear power plant, Beloyarsk also is the only Russian nuclear plant with different types of units.

Refueling Set for January 2021

TVEL will provide shipments to Beloyarsk through the end of this year. The refueling is scheduled for January 2021. The shift to the full load of BN-800 core with MOX fuel is scheduled for early 2022.

Rosatom said TVEL provides nuclear fuel for 73 reactors in 13 countries, along with fuel for research reactors in eight countries, and for transport reactors of the Russian nuclear fleet.

The TVEL Fuel Co. will supply the MOX fuel, shown here, for Unit 4 at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station in Russia. Courtesy: TVEL Fuel Co.

The BN-800 reactor was initially launched with a hybrid core, partly loaded with uranium fuel produced by Elemash, TVEL’s fabrication facility in Elektrostal near Moscow. It also was partly loaded with experimental MOX fuel bundles manufactured at the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad, in the Ulyanovsk region.

The first serial batch of 18 MOX fuel assemblies was loaded into the BN-800 core in late 2019. The remaining fresh fuel for the reactor included bundles with enriched uranium, loaded in January 2020, after an overhaul at the nuclear plant in which Unit 4 had been taken offline.

MOX Fuel a Mix of Derivatives

MOX fuel is distinct from traditional nuclear fuel with enriched uranium. MOX fuel pellets are based on the mix of nuclear fuel cycle derivatives, such as oxide of plutonium bred in commercial reactors, and oxide of depleted uranium, which comes from defluorination of depleted uranium hexafluoride, the so-called secondary tailings of uranium enrichment facilities.

Rosatom told POWER the company’s strategy is aimed at building up the dual-component nuclear power system with both thermal neutron and fast neutron reactors, and closing the nuclear fuel cycle, which it said “would solve a number of highly important tasks. First, exponentially boost the feedstock for nuclear power plants. Second, enable to recycle spent nuclear fuel instead of storage. And third, once again involve into nuclear fuel cycle and utilize the accumulated ground stocks of depleted uranium hexafluoride.”

Rosatom said its development of recycling technologies in for Russia’s nuclear power industry fully complies “with the UN Sustainable Development Goal ‘Responsible Consumption and Production.’

The Mining and Chemical Combine began serial batch-production of MOX fuel in late 2018.

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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