Russia’s fast neutron 789MWe reactor commercially operating and several countries are building 14 new fast reactor designs by 2028

Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in Russia has started commercial operation, state nuclear corporation Rosatom announced today. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor started operating at 100% power for the first time on 17 August.

The BN-800 reactor was brought to minimum controlled power for the first time in June 2014, at which time commercial operation was planned for the end of that year. However, in December 2014 Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear fuel for the unit would first be developed further. It was brought again to the minimum controlled power level in August 2015, and again in November 2015, eventually being connected to the grid on 10 December 2015.

The 789 MWe BN-800 Beloyarsk 4 is fuelled by a mix of uranium and plutonium oxides arranged to produce new fuel material as it burns. Its capacity exceeds that of the world’s second most powerful fast reactor – the 560 MWe BN-600 Beloyarsk 3.

Beloyarsk 4 brings the total of nuclear power units in operation in Russia to 35 with a combined installed capacity of 27,127 GWe. These 35 do not include Novovoronezh 6, which is undergoing trial operation

The service life of the BN-800 is 40 years. Net thermal efficiency is 39.35% and average fuel burnup is 66 GWd/t with potential increase to 100 GWd/t. It has much enhanced safety and improved economy – while capital cost is 20% more than VVER-1200, operating cost is expected to be only 15% more than VVER. It is capable of burning up to 3 tonnes of plutonium per year from dismantled weapons (1.7 t/yr also quoted by OKBM Afrikantov) and will test the recycling of minor actinides in the fuel.An important feature of BN-800 closed-loop fuel cycle is that actinides (both plutonium and minor actinides) produced in the reactor are consumed in the same reactor. The reactor fuel cycle in equilibrium accommodates about 5 t plutonium (including 3 t in the core and 2 t in the external fuel cycle), and about 200 kg minor actinides. It is assumed that the reactor core would be recycled 20 times in 40 years of service life, based on 730 equivalent days of a fuel campaign. The main purpose of the BN-800 is to provide operating experience and technological solutions, especially regarding the fuel, that will be applied to the BN-1200.In 2009 two BN-800 reactors were sold to China. Construction at Sanming is delayed from intended start in 2013 and may happen after 2020.

Russia plans to reconfigure the BN-600 by replacing the fertile blanket around the core with steel reflector assemblies to burn the plutonium from its military stockpiles. Its licence has been extended to 2020 and a further five-year extension is envisaged.

Natural uranium contains about 0.7% U-235 and 99.3% U-238. In any reactor some of the U-238 component is turned into several isotopes of plutonium during its operation. Two of these, Pu-239 and Pu-241, then undergo fission in the same way as U-235 to produce heat. In a FNR this process is optimised so that it ‘breeds’ fuel. Some U-238 is burned directly with neutron energies above 1 MeV. Hence FNRs can utilise uranium about 60 times more efficiently than a normal reactor. They are however expensive to build and operate, including the reprocessing, and are only justified economically if uranium prices are reasonably high, or on the basis of burning actinides in nuclear wastes

The BN-1200 fast reactor is being developed by OKBM Afrikantov in Zarechny as a next step towards Generation IV designs, and the design was expected to be complete by 2016. Rosenergoatom is ready to involve foreign specialists in its project, with India and China particularly mentioned. Rosatom’s Science and Technology Council has approved the BN-1200 reactor for Beloyarsk, with plant operation from about 2025. A second one will be built at South Urals by 2030. It is significantly different from preceding BN models (four-loop rather than three-loop, being one aspect), and Rosatom plans to submit the BN-1200 to the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) as a Generation IV design.

BN-1200 is part of a federal Rosatom program, the Proryv (Breakthrough) Project for large fast neutron reactors. OKBM envisages about 11 GWe of such plants by 2030, possibly including South Urals NPP.To follow the BN series, Rosatom put forward two fast reactor implementation options for government decision in relation to the Advanced Nuclear Technologies Federal Program 2010-2020. The first focused on a lead-cooled fast reactor such as BREST with its fuel cycle, and assumed concentration of all resources on this project with a total funding of about RUR 140 billion (about $3.1 billion). The second scenario assumed parallel development of fast reactors with lead, sodium and lead-bismuth coolants and their associated fuel cycles, including the multi-purpose small MBIR. It would cost about RUR 165 billion ($4.7 billion). The second option was designed to attract more funds apart from the federal budget allocation, was favored by Rosatom, and was accepted. It provides a technological basis of the future innovative nuclear energy system featuring the Generation IV reactors working in closed fuel cycles by 2020.

China’s long range energy plans show fast reactors progressively increasing from 2020 to at least 200 GWe by 2050, and 1400 GWe by 2100.

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