By a strange coincidence, every few years the media scene is disturbed by the news about the construction of Khmelnitsky NPP Unit 3 and Unit 4 (KhNPP-3, 4). The experts take such messages with a grain of salt, while the public does not know at all how to react due to lack of unbiased information. The State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (SSTC NRS), as the Technical Support Organization of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU), sees it as its duty to explain Ukrainians what is really going on in this field.
Igor Shevchenko, SSTC NRS Director, helped us to clarify the situation.
Let us remind you how it all started.
The decision to build KhNPP was approved by the Ministry of Energy of the USSR in 1975. The construction of the first power unit started in Netishyn of Khmelnitsky Oblast in 1981, the second unit – in 1983, the third unit – in 1985 and the fourth one – in 1986.
The first two VVER-1000 reactors were successfully commissioned: KhNPP-1 was commissioned in 1987 and KhNPP-2 was commissioned in 2005. The fact is that a moratorium was imposed on the construction of new nuclear power units in 1990 due to the ChNPP accident. It is known that KhNPP-2 and KhNPP-3 were 75 % complete, while KhNPP-4 was ready by 28 %.
The construction remained frozen during three years up to 1993, when the parliament lifted the moratorium. In 2005, when KhNPP-2 was finally completed, the Cabinet of Ministers issued an order to continue activities on KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4.
In 2008, the Ministry of Fuel and Energy held a competition to select the type of reactor for KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4. The Russian Company Atomstroieksport won that competition. The cooperation with the Russians continued in 2010 on this issue, when the relevant Ukrainian agency signed a cooperation agreement with Rosatom, and an agreement on cooperation in the field of nuclear energy was signed between the governments of Ukraine and Russia. At that time, the estimated cost for the completion of the unfinished KhNPP units was 15 billion UAH. A number of important issues were approved in 2012: the parliament approved the decisions on the siting, design and construction of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4, the Cabinet of Ministers considered the feasibility study of the construction. It was expected that the cost of the project would be 40 billion UAH, and the capacity of two power units would reach 2000 MW in total.
However, in 2015, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine supported the decision to denounce the cooperation agreement between the governments of Ukraine and Russia on the development of nuclear energy in response to the Russian aggression. In addition, according to various estimates, the cost of completion of KhNPP units is about 80 billion UAH at present.
As one can see, the dynamics of the cost of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4 completion project since the beginning of construction has increased more than five times. Besides, not only experts, but also the society hold intensive discussions about the feasibility of such investments, because, given the current trend, electricity production in Ukraine is in excess.
– Mr. Shevchenko, the construction of KhNPP-3, 4 at present is considered more as a joke. At least four prime ministers have stated on the need and importance of this project, but five years have passed and we see no progress. What do you think is the main reason why KhNPP-3, 4 are still unfinished?
– It is necessary to refer to the historical background to answer this question. In 2005, by order of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, a decision was made to resume construction of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4. After this, the Energoatom with the involvement of JCS KIEP (Kyiv Institute of Energy Projects) carried out activities on the inspection of civil structures and buildings of the power units to find out whether it is possible to use them. According to the results of the inspection, reports and measures were developed to restore the operability of civil structures and buildings of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4. At the same time, the Energoatom states that it rejects installation of VVER-1000/320 that was in the project and changes it to a newer type of a facility that existed in Russia at that time. We now speak about VVER-1000/392B.
In 2009, SNRIU Board meeting was held to consider the reports of the analysis of the structures. The main conclusion was the lack of comprehensive information. The reports did not contain enough data. The analysis of all premises and structures was not carried out, for example, because everything below zero elevation was flooded. The condition of reinforced concrete structures was not analyzed at all. The most important thing was that the possibility of using VVER-1000/392B with the structures intended to VVER-1000/320 has not been analyzed. SNRIU Board recommended the Energoatom to revise the reports. However, eleven years have passed and, to date, the SNRIU has not received any new documents.
When military actions broke out in Eastern Ukraine, the Energoatom changed the construction concept abandoning the Russian design installation. Instead of this, is announced the construction of power units with VVER-1000Kh (Khmelnitsky). The feasibility study was changed, since the regulatory authority has approved it for previous type of reactor and once again the changes in the project were announced. It was about the Czech Company Skoda JS a.s. (which is still on US sanctions lists – ed.).
Therefore, at the moment, there is no idea, which reactor type will be the basis for the power units. All statements that the new project will be presented within six months are also unlikely, as the requirements for and approaches to nuclear and radiation safety have significantly changed including for new reactors since the beginning of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4 design and construction, in particular after the accidents at ChNPP and Fukushima-1 NPP. New approaches to safety based on international experience appeared even for operating power units of Ukrainian NPPs after the Fukushima-1 NPP accident. Thus, the so-called “post-Fukushima” measures are being implemented all over the world.
I would like to emphasize that a new power unit cannot be designed and started to be constructed if there is incompliance with the existing regulations and rules. Therefore, any proposed design from the beginning must be analyzed for compliance with regulations and rules and it shall fully comply with modern vision and level of safety.
There are many discussions now about the possibility to implement the approach of external cooling of a reactor pressure vessel, which, according to some experts, will significantly increase the safety of KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4. I would like to remind that this design, so far exclusively scientific, of the Rez Nuclear Research Institute (Czech Republic) is still ongoing. Ukraine is not a party to it. Moreover, when there was a chance, the Energoatom did not join it. Therefore, Ukraine does not have full access to its results. However, the design has not been implemented at any NPP unit, including the Czech Republic, and its results, as far as I know, have not been considered and approved by any regulatory authority, including those of the Czech Republic. In addition, according to the information available to me, the final configuration of the system of such reactor pressure vessel cooling is absent (the system of external cooling of reactor pressure vessel can be without additional modifications of the reactor room or with the installation of special equipment – ed.).
Therefore, the statements that KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4 construction project will be implemented in the near future are very optimistic.
– There are rumors that the structures were not properly preserved and therefore are not subject to further operation. Is that true?
– Absolutely true. Civil structures of KhNPP-3, 4 were not protected from external hazards, including weather conditions. This has been repeatedly mentioned in the Resolutions of SNRIU Board.
The construction site of KhNPP-3, 4 has remained the same as it was at the time of the moratorium. Some minor maintenance activities are underway, but they are not enough, and the degradation of building structures is progressing every year. We saw this during our inspection visits to the NPP. These units are the same age as the ChNPP accident. For better understanding what is happening to civil structures during this time, you can go to Prypiat and see the abandoned buildings and their condition. Therefore, I am sure that there is an urgent need to check whether something similar has happened to the structures of KhNPP-3, 4. In addition, it is necessary to analyze the possibility of maintaining the integrity of these structures in emergency conditions (in design-basis accidents, the maximum pressure in the containment can reach 5 kgf/cm2 and the temperature can reach up to 150 °С – ed.), taking into account their current state.
– What about the possibility to dismantle these structures?
– Such a possibility was not considered. However, such a practice existed in the world and now we speak about properly preserved power units.
– RNPP-4 and KhNPP-2 had the similar fate. However, they were successfully completed in 2004 and 2005 correspondently and were commissioned. Why the situation is so different for KhNPP-3, 4?
– These power units were much more complete. There were no questions about the civil structures and reactor. The activities were mostly related to equipment mounting and setup. In addition, the completion of RNPP, which had a lower degree of readiness, was mostly a merit of Vladimir Korovkin, its former director, and his political will.
– Recently, an issue about the so-called Enerhomist (Energy Bridge) project and appointment of KhNPP units for energy export to Europe was discussed. This project has both supporters and critics. What is your position on this matter?
– I supported the initiative that was announced several years ago, because Ukraine may export its electricity to the European Union, in particular, to Poland. However, while Ukraine decided to build these two units or not to build, Poland began to work actively on constructing its own energy capacities. In addition to the construction of the thermal power plant, Poland has plans to build two nuclear power units in the near future. Therefore, there are doubts that Poland will invest in a large project in Ukraine, having its own energy generation development plans.
– In your opinion, how expedient is the construction of high-capacity nuclear power units in Ukraine?
– Not everything is so clear on this issue. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have a clear strategy for the development of the energy sector as a whole. More precisely, there is such a strategy, but it is constantly changing and it is not clear, which way we are going. High-capacity units are the basic loads and their design, licensing and construction take about 10 year. Therefore, first of all, when deciding on their construction, it is necessary to understand whether they will fit into the economy of Ukraine at that period.
A comprehensive scientific and economic analysis of the development of not only nuclear generation, but also solar, wind, hydro and thermal generation, shall be carried out for this purpose. Therefore, I cannot say for sure that we will need such basic capacities in 10 years. If we become an agrarian country, then the answer will be no. If we develop industry, adjust energy-intensive technological processes, construct large plants, then the answer will be yes.
There is no clear answer to the need for constructing small modular reactors (SMR) in Ukraine. SMRs are more interesting for countries with large territories, such as Canada, or for countries with underdeveloped energy system. Their main advantage is the ability to be installed in remote areas in order not to lose energy during transmission to consumers. There is an option to build such plants near cities and meet their needs.
As for Ukraine, we have no problems with networks. We can put SMR on any site that will meet regulatory and legal requirements. The only thing we should pay attention to is that high safety level and fast construction declared by SMR designers, as well as the joint operation of modular reactors with other types of green generation are very important aspects in this matter. For example, NuScale presents SMR operation in cooperation with renewable sources. When there is no wind or sun, such an installation is able to deploy its capacities fairly quickly.
Therefore, I will repeat that it would be necessary to speak about the need for construction of new units only after understanding the way of economic development of the country. It is quite possible to consider high-capacity power units as replacing capacities.
– How do you see the further development of nuclear energy in Ukraine? Do we have any potential?
– Starting from the end of the question. We have a great engineering and technical potential. We can develop and build new capacities and our operating experience is huge. This is known all over the world and that is why out experts are so valuable there.
In general, we have inherited nuclear industry. Our main task is to ensure the reliable and safe functioning of these facilities. However, we need to think whether to develop this industry and in which direction to move.
Considering the advanced modern technologies, it is difficult for me to imagine that in 7-10 years we will have completed and commissioned units that were designed in the 1970s.
It is unclear why this issue has now being discussed again, since we still have unresolved strategic issues for the existence and further development of nuclear generation. As for the application to build a power unit in such a short time as in four years, it is impossible. Only the process of licensing new nuclear builds around the world takes more than one year. For example, licensing of a nuclear facility by the regulatory authority in the United States of America takes up to eight years, given the considerable experience and available capabilities. Now I am not talking about bureaucracy at all. Careful attention to all aspects of safety takes time.
In addition, we should take in mind, that the project is licensed not only by the SNRIU. The licensing process is a large comprehensive state review, including the State Architectural and Construction Inspection of Ukraine, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine. I hope that experts from leading European regulators and technical support organizations will be involved into the licensing process as well.
In my opinion, it would be possible to speak about the start of any activities at KhNPP-3 and KhNPP-4 only when a full analysis of civil structures is performed, when reactor type is defined, when there is an understanding that the systems to be implemented in the project are efficient (external cooling of the reactor – ed.) and when there is the analysis of project compliance with requirements of regulations. Only then will we be able to give some conclusions as to whether something can be built there at all.
SSTC NRC Press Service