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Short Communication, J Nucl Ene Sci Power Generat Technol Vol: 8 Issue: 1

Export Potential of Russian Fast Reactors and Technologies of the Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Gulevich AV, Dekusar VM, Klinov DA and Chebeskov AN*

State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation, Institute for Physics and Power Engineering named after A.I. Leypunsky, Obninsk, Russia

*Corresponding Author : Chebeskov AN,
State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation, Institute for Physics and Power Engineering Named after A.I. Leypunsky, Obninsk, Russia
Tel: 7-48439-9-84-13
E-mail: [email protected]

Received: January 21, 2019 Accepted: February 23, 2019 Published: February 28, 2019

Citation: Gulevich AV, Dekusar VM, Klinov DA, Chebeskov AN (2019) Export Potential of Russian Fast Reactors and Technologies of the Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle. J Nucl Ene Sci Power Generat Technol 8:1.

Abstract

Russia at present is a recognized world leader in the number of nuclear power units being built abroad. In the long term, it is planned to significantly expand the scale of international business, which is reflected in the targets of the State Corporation Rosatom and its organizations. In particular, the foreign orders portfolio of Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation for 2017 included 34 nuclear power units. Currently, 7 nuclear power units are under construction in Russia and up to 10 units are being built on Russian projects abroad: in Belarus, Hungary, Iran, Turkey, India, China, Finland, Bangladesh, Egypt.

Keywords: Nuclear fuel cycle; Fast reactors; Nuclear energy

Introduction

The key competitive advantage of Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation in the world nuclear energy market is an integrated proposal to provide a range of services, including construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants abroad over the entire lifetime of up to 60 years, adopted for new projects with VVER-1200 reactors. At the same time, it is envisaged to supply the foreign nuclear power plant with “fresh” fuel and, in some cases, return of spent fuel to Russia for technological temporary storage and reprocessing. As a responsible supplier of nuclear technologies, Rosatom State Corporation actively promotes the development of nuclear power in other countries, especially in the newcomers, with strict observance of international norms and agreements in the field of nuclear non-proliferation.

Thus, it can be stated that the technology of Russian VVER reactors has reached commercial maturity both within the country and in the international market. At the same time, the problem of fuel supply of these reactors can be considered practically solved at least until 2050.

Today it can be said with great certainty that in the medium term, and possibly for a longer period, the technology of Russian VVER reactors will remain commercially attractive on the world market. In the long-term perspective, the main problems of the fuel cycle of these reactors - the resource base of natural uranium and the handling of SNF-remain unresolved unless the existing technological structure of nuclear power is changed.

The growing need for energy, especially in developing countries, will inevitably lead to a significant increase in the nuclear capacity of the thermal reactor park and, as a result, to aggravate the problems associated with the limited availability of relatively cheap natural uranium and the increasing accumulation of spent fuel from thermal reactors. And then the competitiveness of nuclear energy, while maintaining its current technological structure, will increasingly depend on the efficiency of using natural uranium and solving the problem of SNF.

At the present stage of development among scientists and specialists, there is in fact a consensus on the primacy of fast reactors in the future large-scale nuclear power. In addition to the basic role of providing fuel in the conditions of natural uranium resource shortage, as it was considered in the past, currently one of the first important requirements is the role of fast reactors in handling increasing volumes of SNF from thermal reactors. In this connection, it is quite logical that the topic of fast reactors is at the center of international INPRO projects and the Generation IV International Forum.

In modern Russia, as it was in the USSR, the strategic direction in nuclear energy is the continuation of the development of fast neutron reactor technology and a closed nuclear fuel cycle (NFC). At present, this activity continues in two main directions: with BN type reactors with sodium coolant and centralized deployment of the closed nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure, and with BREST-type reactors with lead coolant and with on-site deployment of the NFC infrastructure.

An additional area of activity for fast reactors can be considered the development of a modular SVBR reactor for small-scale nuclear power. The technology of such a fast reactor with lead-bismuth coolant was demonstrated in practice when used in submarines of the USSR.

To date, the maturity on an industrial scale of fast neutron reactor technology has been demonstrated, including many years of operation experience of nuclear power facilities with BN-350 (1972- 1999), BN-600 (since 1980) and BN-800 (since 2016) nuclear reactors. The nuclear power facilities operating at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant are the only ones in the world where energy production is carried out using fast reactors. It can be considered that at present the technology of fast reactors BN has entered the final stage of its justification - the stage of commercialization. The finalization of the design of the BN-1200 large-capacity reactor, which mainly deals with its technical and economic parameters, has entered the final phase. According to its economic indicators, BN-1200 is approaching to the thermal reactor VVER-1200. In accordance with the scheme of deployment of objects of electric power industry in the country, approved by the RF Government in 2016, it is planned to construct two units with BN-1200 reactors at Beloyarsk and South-Ural sites before 2030. The centralized deployment of the entire closed nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure for the BN reactors is considered as the main option.

In the project “Breakthrough”, the development of fast BREST reactors with a lead coolant and on-site deployment of the closed nuclear fuel cycle infrastructure for these reactors continues. This technology promises to be promising in the future, but to date it has not been demonstrated on any facility, so we cannot talk about its maturity, as in the case of BN reactor technology. To demonstrate this technology in the above-mentioned scheme for locating power facilities in the country, it is planned to build up to 2025 one power unit with the BREST-OD-300 pilot demonstration reactor at the Seversk Nuclear Power Plant in the Siberian Chemical Combine. On the same site, the construction of a pilot demonstration energy complex (ODEK) with the entire infrastructure of a closed nuclear fuel cycle is planned.

In accordance with the main directions of development of fast reactors noted above, two approaches are also being developed to the ideology of closing the nuclear fuel cycle of nuclear power in Russia.

In the first one, based on the existing sodium technology, it is assumed that in the first stage, and possibly even further, the fuel cycle of fast BN reactors using mixed oxide uranium-plutonium fuel (MOX fuel) will synergistically be combined with the fuel cycle of VVER reactors in a two-component system of nuclear power. Plutonium produced in VVER reactors will be used for starting up the first BN reactors. Excess plutonium from BN reactors in the form of MOX fuel can be used to expand the fleet of fast reactors as well as to extend the life of thermal reactors under conditions of natural uranium deficiency, if during some time interval an expansion of the fast reactor fleet is not required and economic efficiency of MOXfuel use in VVER reactors is demonstrated. At the same time, along with the expansion of the resource base of nuclear power, the deferred problem of energy utilization of VVER SNF in fast reactors will also be solved. The operation of fast BN reactors in a single closed fuel cycle with thermal reactors and with the centralized placement of SNF reprocessing plants, fuel fabrication/refabrication facilities and radwaste management facilities will ensure the fulfillment of all Russia’s export obligations and provide fuel for foreign nuclear power plants built using Russian technologies during throughout the 21st century. In this case, the nuclear power system becomes really twocomponent when these components are closely linked by a single fuel cycle and synergistically take advantage of each component for the normal functioning of the entire system. In the second approach, which is being

In the second approach, which is being developed in the project “Breakthrough”, there is no provision for combining the fuel cycle of BREST reactors with the fuel cycle of VVER thermal reactors. Yes, and this combination, apparently, cannot be done, including for technological reasons, since a new type of fuel, nitride, will be used in the BREST reactors. Therefore, the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle will in essence be carried out only for the BREST reactor fleet, leaving aside the power system of VVER thermal reactors with its fuel supply problems and SNF accumulation. Thus, in this approach the nuclear power system will also consist of two components, but these components will exist completely independently of each other. Also in the project “Breakthrough”, two possible options for launching BREST reactors are considered: using plutonium fuel and the use of enriched uranium fuel, followed by a transition to its own bred plutonium. To start up large park of the BREST reactors on uranium, significant quantities of natural uranium will be required, which can cause its shortage to provide VVER reactors, including for NPPs constructed by Russia abroad. This will create some negative competition for TVEL, the main producer of nuclear fuel in Russia.

In connection with various approaches to closing the nuclear fuel cycle, different approaches to assessing the export potential of Russian fast reactors and related technologies of a closed nuclear fuel cycle also arise.

The report discusses these approaches and presents a preliminary analysis of the export potential of Russian technologies for fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle in conditions of preserving the global non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Features of the Export Potential of Nuclear Energy Technologies

When analyzing the export potential of certain technologies, first it is necessary to analyze the technical readiness of the technologies for practical implementation in order to understand the maturity and commercial attractiveness of the product under consideration. It is also necessary that the technology supplier can demonstrate the presence of at least one reference energy unit and the experience of its operation for a sufficiently significant period. An important role in export issues is given to the study of possible markets and the availability of competing technologies.

Nuclear energy technologies have their own distinctive features from other technologies, related to the availability of nuclear materials and radiation sources. Therefore, special attention is paid to ensuring nuclear and radiation safety, as well as physical protection, when it is dealing with nuclear energy facilities, regardless of whether they are intended for export or not. The availability of nuclear materials when deliveries abroad requires compliance with non-proliferation regime of nuclear weapons (NW), which is regulated by relevant international norms, documents and procedures. Although nuclear power emerged as a peaceful continuation of military programs, it is impossible to exclude the risk of the reverse process, when under cover and with the help of nuclear power the leaders of some countries can decide to develop covertly a nuclear weapons program in the country. Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is aimed preventing such a scenario. At the same time, no one provision of the NPT is aimed at limiting the inalienable right of all participants of the Treaty to develop research, production and the use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

The nuclear materials of the nuclear fuel cycle can be processed into direct use materials for nuclear weapons. Such activities at the state level under the cover of nuclear power can be carried out in several directions, including:

• Direct use of nuclear power technologies, installations and materials for a covert military program

• Use of knowledge, competencies and experience of specialists working in the field of nuclear energy for a parallel concealed military program

• The withdrawal from the NPT and open use of nuclear fuel cycle technologies, installations and materials for military purposes

When importing nuclear power facilities, each of the NPT nonnuclear- weapon state must take safeguards, as they will be set out in an agreement with the IAEA, in accordance with the IAEA Statute and the system of safeguards. Such a norm is envisaged solely for the purpose to verify the fulfillment of the state’s obligations under the NPT in order to prevent the conversion of nuclear power from peaceful uses to the development of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

In addition to the task of ensuring the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the export of nuclear technology, it is important to ensure reliable physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities at all stages of the NFC. This task is a duty of the special structures of the state at whose territory the relevant nuclear power installations will be located. At the same time, close interaction between the seller and the buyer in cooperation with the IAEA is an important element to ensure physical protection of nuclear materials and to counteract subnational, terrorist and criminal acts [1].

There is no problem of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in Russia, since Russia is nuclear-weapon state. When entering international markets with proposals for the supply of nuclear power facilities, technologies and nuclear materials, such a problem for Russia rises to full extent and must be solved in accordance with generally accepted international norms.

With regard to physical protection, with proper organization of such a system and appropriate selection of personnel for the operation of nuclear power facilities, the risk of theft of nuclear materials at nuclear fuel cycle facilities and undeclared activities can be minimized. Such requirements must apply equally to the centralized deployment of nuclear fuel cycle facilities as well as to the on-site option, irrespective of the country where such facilities will be deployed.

At the same time, according to some experts (E.N. Avrorin and others), the risk of possible unlawful actions appears to be somewhat greater in the on-site option compared with the centralized one. They explain this by the fact that within the same site all the facilities necessary for the production (irradiation) and extraction of undeclared materials, including those for terrorist purposes, are available at one place. Such a scenario is potentially possible with the collusion of insiders within a single site. Of course, such a collusion is possible in centralized option, but it seems that in this case it is more difficult to turn criminal intentions into real acts, since this will require at least two production sites and external transport between them.

Export potential of fast reactor technologies

To enter the world markets with fast reactor technologies, first it is necessary to have commercial nuclear power units with such reactors. Russia ranks first in the world in the development of fast neutron reactors. As already noted above, the technology of Russian fast sodium reactors has now entered the stage of its commercialization. Over the past few years, the leadership of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom has repeatedly made statements at various international events that Russian fast reactor technologies can reach commercial attractiveness in the near term [2].

To try to make the assessment of the export potential of fast reactor technologies, first of all it is necessary to understand the features of these technologies and the main differences from the technology of thermal neutron reactors, which are widely used today in the world, which can have an impact on exports. First, in the nuclear fuel of fast neutron reactors, the concentration of fissile isotopes is several times higher than in the fuel of thermal reactors. This is equally true for both fresh fuel and spent fuel. Therefore, in the case of fast reactors, special attention should be paid to this from the point of view to ensure nuclear safety and physical protection of nuclear materials. Secondly, in fast reactors an opaque liquid-metal coolant is used, which complicates and makes more difficult monitoring of the fuel assemblies in the core, in blanket and in-vessel SNF storage. This requires the use of special technologies that allow you to “see” under a layer of liquid metal. The presence in the fast reactor blankets and internal breeding zones, mainly for increasing breeding ratio, will require special control due to the formation of plutonium in these zones with a small concentration of even isotopes, which is suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

At present, in the absence of commercial fast reactors, when commercialization activities have just commenced, the following stage-by-stage scheme for the deployment of fast reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle facilities can preliminarily be presented:

1. Construction of the most advanced fast sodium reactors in Russia only, with the closure of the NFC together with the thermal reactors of VVER. At the same time, the export of nuclear power plants with fast reactors is being postponed to a longer-term perspective.

a) Fast BN reactors carry out expanded plutonium production for use in MOX fuel in VVER thermal reactors, thereby expanding the fuel base of these reactors, both domestically and for export.

b) Fast BN reactors also utilize SNF from thermal reactors operating both domestically and SNF from foreign nuclear power plants built on Russian projects, increasing the export attractiveness of Russian nuclear power technologies.

2. Export of nuclear power plants with fast reactors without export of infrastructure and technologies of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. In this case, all activities related to the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle will be concentrated on enterprises in Russia.

3. Export of nuclear power plants with fast reactors altogether with export of infrastructure and technologies of a closed nuclear fuel cycle.

Today, it seems that the export of fast reactor technologies and a closed nuclear fuel cycle to the nuclear weapons states including the United States of America, Great Britain, France and China can be carried out without any restrictions.

To the unrecognized de jure nuclear-weapon countries India and Pakistan, as well as to countries that do not have nuclear weapons, the export of fast reactor technologies is also possible, but under certain additional conditions and with some changes in the design of nuclear reactors and with its special logistics of NFC enterprises in each case.

Which countries can be considered as potential customers in the future of Russian technologies for fast reactors? If you try to assess the market until 2050, then all countries can preliminarily be divided by the following four groups.

1. The most dynamically developing economies of China and India, which are strategically aimed at developing fast reactor technologies to expand the resource base of nuclear power, and ultimately, to increase the share of nuclear electricity production in the country.

China began to introduce fast reactors with the help of Russia. The experimental CEFR reactor was launched and is operating. Further, China will, apparently, rely on its own technologies, as it does in the field of thermal reactors. At the end of 2017, China began construction of a demonstration fast reactor CFR with a sodium coolant of 600 MW (e) capacity. The reactor is scheduled for commissioning in 2023. At the first stage, the reactor will operate on MOX-fuel, then the transition to metallic fuel is assumed. On June 8, 2018 during the official visit to China of the Russian delegation led by the President of Russia in Beijing, a number of documents on cooperation were signed. In particular, one signed document related to cooperation in the construction mentioned above CFR-600 fast reactor. An intergovernmental agreement and a framework contract have been signed as well. The Russian side, which has great practical experience in the creation and operation of fast reactors, will be involved in supplying the elements of this demonstration reactor, rendering services and supplying fuel. After commissioning of CFR- 600 Chinese specialists intend to start building a commercial reactor under the code name CCFR. The first commercial fast sodium reactor could be launched in 2034. Its power will be 1000-1200 MW (e), it will operate using metal fuel [3].

In India, since 1985, an experimental fast FBTR reactor with a sodium coolant of 40 MW (t) has been operating. Currently, in the final stage of the construction is a prototype fast PFBR reactor with a sodium coolant of 500 MW (e). In the short term, India plans to launch up to six fast nuclear reactors with a sodium coolant of 600 MW(e) each, and the first units in this series will operate using MOX fuel, with the transition to metal fuel for subsequent ones [4].

2. It is highly doubtful that developed countries such as the US, Japan, France, South Korea could be potential customers of Russian technologies for fast reactors. These countries protect their markets and try not to let competitors to enter them. In addition, these countries have their own serious achievements in the field of fast reactors and the nuclear fuel cycle.

3. Traditional partners of the former USSR and Russia: Ukraine and the countries of Eastern Europe, which currently have nuclearenergy units of Soviet design: Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia. These countries can be considered as potential customers, when in the future under the conditions of natural uranium deficiency, problems with accumulated SNF or for other reasons, there will be a need to replace current VVERs with new generation units.

4. Countries entering the path of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. According to IAEA estimates, the number of countries that declared before the Fukushima accident March 11, 2011 about their desire to use nuclear energy, reached almost 40. After the accident, about half reduced this number, but still remains significant compared to the total number of countries30, for today having nuclear-power units on their territory. Some of these countries may also be considered in the future as potential customers of Russian technologies of fast reactors.

The main problem in the countries that are going to use nuclear energy will be the problem of SNF management. This problem arises irrespective of what nuclear technology will be used by one or another country. The nuclear power unit and fresh fuel can be bought on the market. And what to do with SNF, which contains plutonium, let alone radioactive wastes? To create in the country its own infrastructure for spent nuclear fuel management is an economically costly business. In this connection, the only option is to send SNF to the supplier country, to Russia, i. e. to use the experience of the former USSR. This scenario greatly facilitates the newcomer to begin using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, as well as strengthens the nuclear nonproliferation regime and reduces the risk of terrorist actions with the use of nuclear materials.

From the very preliminary analysis presented above, it can be concluded that China can now be considered as the real and, perhaps, the only customer of Russian technologies for fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Such supplies to China will not cause any serious problems in preserving the nuclear non-proliferation regime. As for India, this issue will require further consideration. South Korea, with its problem of filling in near-term SNF storage facilities, can also be considered as a potential customer of Russian technologies for fast reactors, but it will require participation and permission from the US side as the main fuel supplier for South Korean nuclear power plants.

Options for Startup of Fast Reactors

At present in Russia two possible options for launching fast reactors are under consideration:

• A classical option with the use of plutonium produced in thermal reactors.

• A new option using enriched uranium with transition to its own bred plutonium.

The launch and operation of fast reactors using plutonium

Even at the dawn of nuclear power, E. Fermi, and then A. Leypunsky put forward the idea that the first fast reactors would run using plutonium, which would produce in thermal reactors (civilian plutonium). There is a significant amount the higher plutonium isotopes in civil plutonium, up to 25-30%, which form a significant neutron background, which exceeds by one order the neutron background of weapons-grade plutonium. In addition, the comparatively high content of plutonium-238 in civil plutonium leads to a significant heat release and an additional neutron background, and the decay of plutonium-241 with a relatively short half-life leads to the formation of americium-241 and radiation problems when handling such plutonium.

Nuclear fuel based on civil plutonium after irradiated in a fast reactor will contain plutonium, whose isotope composition does not fundamentally differ from the isotopic composition of the initial plutonium in the “fresh” fuel being loaded into the reactor. The calculations performed earlier on the example of the fast reactor BN- 800 type, gave the results presented in Table 1 [5].

Plutonium isotopic composition, % Equilibrium plutonium isotopic composition, % Рu-239/Рu-240/Рu-241/Рu-242
Рu-239/Рu-240/Рu-241/Рu-242
Loaded in reactor Discharge plutonium after one fuel campaign
100/0/0/0 89,2/10,5/0,3/0,02 59,3/31,4/5,7/3,6
60/25/10,9/4,1 58,7/28,4/8,1/4,8 49,1/35,9/7,9/7,1
55/20,8/17,8/5,9 57,5/24,3/11,1/7,1 53,2/33,0/7,3/6,5
43,2/38,8/10,3/7,7 43,8/38,8/9,2/8,2 45,5/37,9/7,9/8,7

Table 1: Evolution of plutonium isotopic composition in fast reactor.

Thus, this example confirms that when launching and operating fast reactors on plutonium fuel in the core, plutonium of rather poor quality is formed from the point of view of its use in nuclear weapons.

The situation is quite different with fast reactors, which have breeding zones: outer zones - blankets and inner zones, for example, in the form of an axial zone inside the reactor core. It is well known that plutonium bred in the blankets of fast reactors is very close by isotope composition to the weapons-grade plutonium. This represents a certain risk of proliferation, because such plutonium can be used directly in nuclear weapons.

To solve this problem the following technological methods are possible to be applied:

• Combined management and reprocessing of spent fuel assemblies of the core and irradiated blanket assemblies

• Non-separation of pure plutonium during SNF and blanket assemblies reprocessing, for example, a mixture consisting of 50% uranium and 50% plutonium is released

• Rejection of the blanket in the projects of fast reactors, which are designed in export performance for delivery to nonnuclear- weapon countries

• Organization of international centers for rendering services in the nuclear fuel cycle.

When exporting nuclear power plants with fast reactors, it is possible to supply reactors with a slightly modified design that does not contain blankets and internal breeding zones. Otherwise, a full and unconditional return of spent fuel assemblies from the core, as well as irradiated assemblies from blanket to the country-supplier, is necessary. This requires detailed monitoring of their irradiation in the reactor, continues monitoring in water pool, control of return to the supplier or to the international center for the provision of NFC services.

An important advantage of this option is the fact that when launching fast reactors on plutonium, there is no need to use uranium enrichment technology.

The launch of fast reactors using enriched uranium

The launch of fast reactors using enriched uranium is considered in the project “Breakthrough” for BREST reactors as one of the possible option. In this option a gradual transition to use mixed uranium-plutonium fuel is carried out using own plutonium bred in the reactor. This option allows fast reactors to be independent from thermal reactor plutonium. Analysis of this option shows that plutonium bred during several first fuel campaigns in the core of BREST reactor will contain a small amount of the higher plutonium isotopes. Moreover, the formation of such plutonium occurs in much larger quantities, when compared with the production of plutonium in a blanket of a fast reactor.

Table 2 presents plutonium isotopic compositions in discharged uranium fuel after the first campaign of the core of fast reactors BN and BREST, obtained on the basis of estimates from preliminary calculations [6]. Here is also presented the composition of plutonium in the unloaded fuel of the BREST reactor after the first microcampaign.

Reactor type Irradiation time in the core Plutonium isotopic composition, %
Pu-238 Pu-239 Pu-240 Pu-241 Pu-242
Weapons-grade Pu - 0.012 93.8 5.8 0.35 0.022
BN-1200 with UO2 Campaign 5 years 0.4 91.8 7.7 0.3 0.02
BREST-1200 with UN Campaign 5 years 0.1 95.5 4.3 0.1 0.003
BREST-1200 with UN Micro-campaign 1 year 0.02 98.73 1.24 0.01 0

Table 2: Plutonium isotopic composition in SNF of fast reactors.

As can be seen from the presented data, the plutonium produced during micro-campaign in the BREST reactor can be classified as a super grade according to the classification adopted in the USA. Plutonium, produced during full campaign is very close to a weapongrade plutonium for the content of plutonium-239 and higher isotopes, with the exception of plutonium-238.

As for the increased concentrations of plutonium-238 in the irradiated fuel of fast reactors compared to weapons-grade plutonium, Professor G. Kessler concludes that this can not be considered as a technological barrier by using such kind of plutonium in a nuclear explosive device [7].

An important conclusion follows from above consideration: when launching fast reactors with the use of enriched uranium, both hazardous materials will be circulated in the nuclear fuel cycle: enriched uranium and plutonium with a small content of even isotopes. Moreover, particularly important feature of this option is the following: both sensitive technologies - uranium enrichment and reprocessing of SNF – will be necessary.

Export Potential of Technologies of the Closed Fuel Cycle

As it was mentioned above, the technology of fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle, provided they have been commercialized, can become one of the main export products of the Russian nuclear industry.

Speaking at the IAEA Ministerial Conference “Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” which was held on November 30, 2017 in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, Director General of the State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” A. Likhachev outlined the main priorities for the development of world nuclear power in the nearest perspective [8]. In particular, among the most important tasks he noted cooperation in the field of nuclear fuel cycle closure. “We are convinced that the future of the world’s nuclear power industry is inextricably linked with the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle, of which fast reactor technologies are an integral part. The closure of the fuel cycle will allow the peaceful atom to become an environmentally safe source of energy with an almost inexhaustible resource for many millennia. What’s more important, it is not a technology of a distant perspective: taking into account the existing scientific and technological level of development, there is every reason to believe that a complex product in this sphere will be offered to the market within the next 10-15 years. By the standards of the nuclear industry - this is the technology of tomorrow, “- said the head of Rosatom.

Possible options for locating the infrastructure of the nuclear fuel cycle

In anticipation of the future export of Russian technologies of fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle, it is of interest to analyze, at least qualitatively, the possible options for locating nuclear enterprises on the territory of the custom country to take into account the nuclear status of the country and the issues of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.

The first, the most obvious and, perhaps the simplest, option may be one in which only nuclear power plants with fast reactors will be supplied abroad. At the same time, the entire infrastructure for the closure of the NFC will be located on the territory of Russia. The foreign nuclear power plant will be provided with “fresh” fuel and with mandatory return of SNF to the country of the supplier, i. e. in Russia. Spent nuclear fuel reprocessing, fuel fabrication and refabrication, management of nuclear waste will be carried out at the facilities available already in Russia or at facilities newly created for this purpose. In this case, the IAEA safeguards in the customer’s country will only apply to the operation of the nuclear reactor, fuel when loading into the reactor, during unloading and when staying in the water pool, as well as for all “fresh” and spent fuel transportation routes. The methodology of control and accounting of nuclear materials in fuel assemblies - accounting units, is well developed in practice for thermal reactors by IAEA inspectors and may be fully applicable to fast reactors. It is only necessary to take into account, as noted above, that the concentration of fissile isotopes in the fuel of fast reactors is several times higher than in comparison with thermal reactors.

As the next, more complex option, it is proposed to consider the supply of nuclear power units with fast reactors, altogether with the entire infrastructure of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. This option can be implemented in two sub-options:

• With a centralized location of NFC facilities on a separate site from the NPPs.

• With on-site location, i. e. on the same site on which the nuclear power units will be located.

Comparing these sub-options on a qualitative level, we can state the following preliminary considerations. When the entire NFC infrastructure is located on-site, almost absolute control over nuclear materials can be ensured, since there is no transportation of nuclear materials outside the protected area. At the same time, the risk of terrorist or criminal attacks on transport reduces practically to zero, which cannot be excluded when transporting nuclear materials outside the protected zone. There is also practically no risk of contamination of residential areas with radioactive materials in case of possible road accidents with the release of radioactivity. In case of on-site location the costs of transportation of nuclear materials and the time of transportation will be significantly less than in the centralized option, and the costs for the protection and accompanying of transported nuclear materials will also be substantially less.

On the other hand, in case of on-site location, in the event of an accident at the nuclear power plant, the nuclear fuel cycle facilities can also suffer, and vice versa. And as it was mentioned above, the risk of hidden use of NFC facilities for the undeclared activities including production and extraction of undeclared materials, is being increased, since all the necessary facilities in this option, will be concentrated on one site. It is also obvious that the specific costs for the construction and operation of the entire NFC infrastructure for a limited number of power units in the on-site option will be immeasurably higher compared to a centralized option that can be serviced by a much larger number of power units.

Central to the entire infrastructure of the closed nuclear fuel cycle is the radiochemical plant (RCP) for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel. RCP represents one of the most sensitive and responsible nuclear fuel cycle stage to provide the control of nuclear non-proliferation, which is primarily related to plutonium streams. Plutonium, which is in different phase states and chemical compounds, circulates in various sections of the RCP including in so-called “bulk” forms, which is difficult to control inventory of its mass quantity. Therefore, export of a radiochemical plant for reprocessing SNF will require increased attention in terms of the application of technical and organizational capabilities for the reliable functioning of the IAEA safeguards.Conclusion

Conclusion

At the present stage of development in the world, there is actually a consensus on the primacy of fast reactors in the future large-scale nuclear power. In addition to the main role of fast reactors to provide fuel in conditions of natural uranium resource deficit, one of the first places is the role of fast reactors in managing increasingly large amounts of spent nuclear fuel from thermal reactors.

Russia is a recognized world leader in the development of fast reactor technologies and a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The technology of fast sodium reactors has successfully been demonstrated and entered the commercialization stage. According to the leadership of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, Russian technology of fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle can enter the international markets already in the short term as the main export product of the Russian nuclear power industry.

The commercialization of Russian technologies of fast reactors and a closed nuclear fuel cycle is indisputably an indispensable condition for entering international markets. To prepare for the future export of these technologies, Russian specialists have to do a tremendous job. A promising direction of work in this area is application of “safeguards by design” approach, the approach proposed in the International Generation IV Forum. In this approach, technology developers should work in close cooperation with relevant specialists, including close cooperation with the IAEA, to develop practical recommendations for the application of the IAEA safeguards to nuclear power plants with fast reactors and nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

However, it should be borne in mind that the issue of access to international markets with technologies of fast reactors and closed fuel cycle is essentially political one and that commercialization, i. e. the economic attractiveness and competitiveness of such products may be of secondary importance for some of the customer countries of these technologies. In the foreground for such countries may be the opportunity to obtain material for nuclear weapons.

Therefore, in the currently existing political realities in the world, only nuclear-weapon countries can be considered as potential customers of the technologies under consideration. The most probable of them is China and India. It seems that the supply of such Russian products to China can be carried out in accordance with existing international standards without any restrictions. The possibility of such supplies to India will require further consideration.

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