Full load … with Westinghouse fuel

Vladimir LISNICHENKO: “We diversified supply and thus secured energy independence for ourselves”

Vladimir Lisnichenko, General Director of the South-Ukraine nuclear power plant (SU NPP)

Summing up the 2018, Vladimir Lisnichenko, General Director of the South-Ukraine nuclear power plant (SUNPP), spoke about the implemented projects, the problems in the industry, and the challenges that the plant should overcome.

– Mr. Lisnichenko, let us start with what is catchy. In 2018, South-Ukraine NPP (SU NPP) increased the percentage of loading the nuclear power manufactured by Westinghouse into generating units. How was the run of the trial operation of this fuel? Are there any plans to convert all the blocks of the plant to Westinghouse fuel?

– I want to remind you that the exploitation of Westinghouse’s fuel began at SU NPP back in 2005. Then, for the first time, six experimental (pilot) fuel assemblies of American production were loaded into the active zone of Unit 3. Five years later, in 2010, a reloading lot was loaded into the third block, which consists of 42 Westinghouse cassettes. Last year we carried out a full load of unit 3 with this fuel. This can be considered as a landmark event.

First, because until this point, the Westinghouse fuel at Ukrainian NPPs was operated only in mixed loads with the Russian one. That is, the third millionaire unit of our NPP has become the first power unit in the country, which operates exclusively on Westinghouse fuel.

Secondly, in 2019 we will be able to complete the trial operation of this fuel and move on to industrial. The transfer of American fuel into the category of industrial exploitation mean that other countries with Soviet Union the nuclear power plants technology – Bulgaria, India, Iran, China, and the Czech Republic – can easily use this fuel.

Let me remind you that today the Westinghouse cassettes are operated at SU NPP and at Zaporizhie NPP (ZNPP) (in total – at six power units. – Auth.), And in general the fuel diversification program has been increased to seven out of fifteen Ukrainian nuclear reactors.

In our plans – to carry out a full load of Westinghouse fuel also in the active zone of Unit 2, that today is loaded with American fuel by 50%. It can happen until 2020.

– There were warnings about the danger of loading American fuel assemblies into atomic reactors of Soviet development due to the inconsistency of the shape of the fuel cassettes of the reactor design. It’s been said that the loading of American fuel assemblies at SUNPP in the trial mode led to an emergency shutdown of the power unit due to an abnormal situation several times. Please comment on this information.

– The first thing I want to emphasize: there was no emergency shutdown of the power unit associated with the operation of Westinghouse fuel. As for the emergency, which you recall, it was recorded only once, in 2012. Then, during the regular fuel reloading, the spacer grids, the frame elements, were deformed. At the same time, there were no problems with depressurization of fuel.

Moreover, that was claimed as “series of events” only by representatives of the Russian Federation, which, for obvious reasons, does not as if Ukraine is gradually switching to using Westinghouse fuel instead of Russian. As for public organizations that are protesting against the use of Westinghouse fuel, judging by their demands and the so-called arguments, they have no idea how the country’s nuclear industry operates. It seems that these people are working on the aggressor: in the Donbass military conflict context they are looking for “holes” at strategic facilities.

Today, Westinghouse fuel assemblies are operated at the South-Ukrainian NPP in full compliance with safety requirements. Moreover, after the incident in 2012, our American partners eliminated all the drawbacks of cassettes, and in 2014, Westinghouse completed a cycle of bench testing of assemblies of a modified design, improving their operational properties.

– Do you think that the switching to American fuel will not make Ukraine dependent on another monopolist?

– Considering that Ukraine’s cooperation with Westinghouse has actually been going on since the beginning of the 2000s, and during this period of time our country has not fallen into total dependence, we should not assume that could happen in the future. On the contrary, diversification was necessary for us to get out of dependence on Russian fuel assemblies. Situation with stopping the supplying us with nuclear fuel by Russian Federation a few years ago would cause the very difficult situation in Ukraine. Today we have diversified supplies and thus secured energy independence.

– Have any other projects were implemented at South Ukraine NPP in 2018?

– First, a long-term reconstruction of the technical water supply system of the nuclear power plant. It provides the implementation of the three projects: the construction of 5 spray basins, the arrangement of a streamlining structure in the water area of the Tomalyk reservoir, as well as a complex of facilities for filling and feeding the reservoir-cooler. One of them, the deflector, is already working, dividing zones of discharge and the water intake, which is used for cooling the process equipment of the second circuit of the NPP. This allows reducing the temperature of the stream and, in the end, to generate additional electricity in the hot summer months.

Secondly, we continued the course towards achieving the goals of the “Energy Strategy of Ukraine for the period until 2030” to increase in the capacity of Ukrainian power plants. We are no exception in that regard.

Thirdly, according to the aforementioned strategy, we worked on projects for extending the service life of SU NPP units. The production life of the first and second units has already been extended – until 2023 and 2025, respectively. The first power unit of SU NPP successfully worked for 5 years after its service life was extended on December 2, 2013. Since the extension, it has generated more than 33 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.

Today we are actively working on preparations for the extension of the operation of power Unit 3.

– If we talk about the safety of modernized atomic “millionaires”, how reliable are they, is there any world experience in extending the operation of nuclear reactors?

– The work on the extension of the operating life of nuclear power units fully meets global practice. According to the IAEA, more than 280 reactors of the nearly 450 reactors currently operating in the world have already exceeded the initial design period. Thus, in the world, more than half of all reactors operate in an extra-design period. Therefore, Ukraine in this process is no exception. As I have already said, in 2013, the estimated service life of the first unit of SU NPP was extended for 10 years, and in 2015 – the second one. Now it`s the turn of the Unit 3. In February 2020 it is crossing the 30-year line of exploitation.

With complying the requirements of national standards and regulations on nuclear and radiation safety, so as IAEA recommendations, the technically feasible and cost-effective extension of the life of NPP units are among the priority tasks defined by the “Energy Strategy of Ukraine until 2030”.

At the same time, the operation of power units after reaching the design service life is possible only in case of changes in the license for operating a nuclear installation.

– Has the share of electricity production at South Ukraine NPP increased since the beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine? Is it true that only through the nuclear power industry Ukraine would not be threatened with blackouts and austerity mode?

– I would not consider the issue of electricity production in dependence on Russian aggression against Ukraine. In Ukraine, basically, production of electricity is growing steadily. At the same time, the share of the energy by nuclear power plants in total electricity generation before the Russian expansion started was approximately 48%. Now it reaches 56%, and in some periods, it increases to 68%.

The supply most of the energy by nuclear power plants in the last 5 years was in 2014-2015. Then the nuclear power plants “picked up on the collapse” of thermal generation, and one might say, saved the power system from rolling blackouts. In the last 3 years, the number of generated “atomic” kilowatts has slightly decreased. This is primarily because the National Nuclear Energy Generating Company of Ukraine “Energoatom” is working for extension the life of existing power units. To prepare them for pre-term operation and to bring them into compliance with actual safety requirements, should be performed large-scale reconstructive and modernization works, that requires an increase in the duration of scheduled preventive repairs. It automatically reduces the total operating time of the unit in the power system. Thus, in 2018, the production life of the third Rovno and fourth Zaporizhia blocks was extended.

It is also notable that “Energoatom” is working on a capacity replacement program and has reserves to increase power generation based on existing ones in the short term. Thus, the talks about the possibility of the rolling blackouts are not worth it.

I have already named projects that are being implemented directly at South Ukraine NPP. In addition, they will certainly allow the company to increase the utilization rate of installed capacity.

– In the summer of 2018, Security Service of Ukraine searched the South Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant in connection with the purchase of cables that not conform to required safety standards. How the situation with the “fake cables” was settled? What actions were undertaken upon prevention similar situations in the future?

– The staff of the Security Service of Ukraine together with the administration of South Ukraine NPP blocked the usage of equipment with low quality at our station. The cables that does not conform to required safety standards put up for tender were being replaced later. The security system has been tested successfully and now we are working at 100% power.

In order not to interfere with the investigation, I cannot tell the names of the persons involved in the case. But in addition to interacting with the investigating authorities, we conducted our own internal investigation and in the future we will carefully check the commercial structures that participate in the tender for the supply of equipment to the station.

In addition, the president of “Energoatom”, Yuri Nedashkovsky, appealed to the security forces officers to inform the power industry when receiving such operational information, so that any problem at the NPP could be resolved as soon as possible.

– Given the negative international experience of the tragedies in Chernobyl and Fukushima, what actions were undertaken to improve the safety of nuclear power plants?

– Undoubtedly, the safety of nuclear power plants is ensured by consistently implementing the concept of defense in depth. That concept is based on the use of a physical barriers system on the way of radioactive substances and ionizing radiation spread, as well as a system of technical and organizational actions to protect physical barriers and save their effectiveness in order to protect personnel population and environment.

SU NPP developed and agreed the list of nuclear hazardous work (that is, work that could lead to a nuclear accident. – Avt.), as well as the relevant regulations, programs and instructions, which compliance guarantees trouble-free work during transport, overload, operation and storage of nuclear fuel. The documentation necessarily contains information about the goals and conditions of the nuclear hazardous work, measures to ensure safety, the distribution of duties and responsibilities during the work, the order of operations, as well as the criteria and control over the work process.

The  State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate periodically reviews the compliance with the requirements of nuclear and radiation safety, as well as the safety of nuclear power plants.

In the field of  the implementation of post-Fukushima actions Ukraine is one of the leaders in Europe. At our power Unit 1 the implementation of the post-Fukushima event as a part of the The Complex Consolidated Safety Upgrade Program of Power Units of Nuclear Power Plants has been fully completed. Since 2011, 16 post-Fukushima events have been performed here. The two final ones – “Implementation of the forced pressure relief system from the containment of the reactor compartment” and “Instrumentation during and after beyond-the-design basis accident” – were implemented in 2018.

The implementation of the post-Fukushima actions at the second and third power units continues. For example, was implemented a system of forced pressure relief from the containment of Unit 2. It is designed to prevent damage of reinforced concrete containment structures in a case of a severe accident.

– It is not for the first time in the government point out the problem of the outflow the workforce from Ukraine. Does SU NPP encounter migration of highly qualified specialists abroad? How critical is this situation? Could the wages boost and social guarantees for nuclear industry workers help to solve the problem?

– Unfortunately, nuclear energy so as other sectors of the country’s economy, is faced with the problem of personnel outflow. Only in 2017–2018 were terminated a third of the contracts for the training of young specialists for South Ukraine NPP mostly initiated by students. In addition, during this period, 12% of young specialists left the enterprise on their own will. As for highly skilled workers, for instance, today in the thermal measurements and automation department there are two dozen vacancies.

I see two global reasons for this state of affairs. Firstly, the decline of the prestige of the nuclear industry, and secondly, the low level of wages and the lack of housing. I am convinced that the increase in wages and social guarantees for nuclear scientists will help in solving the problem. Together with The National Commission for state regulation in the energy and utilities (NKREKP) we are working on increasing the tariff for nuclear energy, including the part of raising the wage fund.

– How big is the role of the South Ukrainian energy complex in the development of the region as a context of decentralization? Are funds still being spent for the risk of living in the NPP monitoring zone? Do these funds reach the communities?

– The region continues to create united territorial communities. Unfortunately, Yuzhnoukrainsk trudges in the tail of that process. But this does not affect the level of deductions for the risk of living in the South Ukraine NPP monitoring zone. We fulfill our obligations clearly.

In general, compensation for risk of living in the monitoring zone of the South-Ukrainian NPP is received by five districts: Arbuzinsky, Bratsk, Voznesensky, Domanevsky, Pervomaisky, two cities – Voznesensk, Yuzhnoukrainsk – and the Nikolaev region. In accordance with the law, the regional budget special funds receive 30%, district budgets – 55%, satellite cities budgets – 15% of the total number of transfers.

The subvention is directed to the construction, reconstruction, capital and current repairs of social infrastructure facilities, electricity, water, gas, heat supply and drainage networks, providing the population with means of individual respiratory protection and potassium iodide preparations.

Although, of course, we understand that today’s allocations are not enough for local communities to solve their actual problems, since the cost of materials and work has increased significantly lately. SU NPP takes a large role in the financing of many social projects considering our importance for the development of the regional economy.

As a deputy of the Nikolaev Regional Council, once I made a proposal to increase the amount of deductions for living in the NPP monitoring zone, but today the question remains open. Moreover, even within the framework of the current legislation, these funds were not transferred to the regions in full. Although I would like to stress once again, “Energoatom” clearly fulfills its part of the financial obligations.

And more about the legislation. The Law “The State Budget of Ukraine for 2019” halted the Law “On the Use of Nuclear Energy and Radiation Safety” in terms of measures for the socio-economic compensation of the population’s risk that resides in the territories of the NPP monitoring zones. These changes will not affect financial contribution of the atomic company. That is, “Energoatom” will deduct funds to the state budget to compensate the risk of living in the 30-km zones of the NPP in the future. But the effect of the item that determine their distribution for the current year is stopped. I hope this action is temporary, and compensatory revenues to the budgets of the region and the satellite city will resume. Believe us, we, nuclear workers, are interested in it no less than territorial communities, because we want the flourish, modern, promising territory of our energy complex. So that people understand that nuclear power plants today are a reliable partner, as well as a guarantee of development and stability of the region.

* Diversification of supply – the distribution of purchases between different sources (countries) in order to reduce the critical dependence on any one source of supply.


The Day newspaper