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The first start-up complex of the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility has been constructed

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NNEGC Energoatom timely finalized the construction of the first start-up complex of the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility (CSFSF) - within the timeframe set by the government resolution of 2017. Another 14 start-up complexes will be completed by 2040 - along with the filling of the Storage Facility site with spent nuclear fuel containers.

Factory acceptance tests have already been carried out and Holtec International equipment has been installed. The stage of equipment adjustment as well as obtaining the necessary permits and licenses is coming next.

"Sleeping" under the open sky

All Storage Facility installations are ready for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) receiving and reloading. As part of the first start-up complex, four fuel storage systems have been installed and the required infrastructure has been constructed. The concreted site, which spent nuclear fuel containers will be placed on, is waiting for the first batch.

Can it be acceptable to store nuclear fuel in the open air? Absolutely, Energoatom engineers and specialists explain: due to the technology used in many countries around the world, spent fuel sleeps peacefully in double-walled stainless steel containers despite rain, snow, human-made or sudden natural disasters.

Acting President of NNEGC Energoatom Petro Kotin reassures: we can talk about 100% construction readiness of the facility. The first batch of SNF will enter the Storage Facility site for further storage as early as May 2021.

What's crucial is that the CSFSF will be commissioned according to the schedule approved by the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in June 2017. That is when the government endorsed the Storage Facility construction project. At the same time Energoatom was licensed to carry out construction and commissioning activities.

Andriy Savin, the chief engineer of the CSFSF, explains that several commissioning tests, namely equipment and systems testing, must be conducted upon completion of construction works. They will be conducted by specialists of separated subdivisions "Atomprojectengineering" and “Atomremontservice”, SE “NNEGC “Energoatom”, as well as IAEA specialists, who are awaited at the Storage Facility site in March next year.

Finalizing of the CSFSF construction is a further step towards the actual energy independence, because up to the present, Ukraine has dispatched SNF from its three nuclear power plants to Russia for technological treatment with further reprocessing. Annually, Energoatom spent about USD 200 million on such services. But above all there is no technological or economic expediency in the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from Ukrainian nuclear power plants in the Russian Federation. Export for reprocessing is carried out by inertia and under the Soviet times scheme, thus under the circumstances Ukraine suffers just obvious losses.

Therefore, commissioning of the Storage Facility is a crucial geopolitical decision. Thus, the national nuclear power industry finally eliminates its dependence on Russian specialized enterprises, which provide reprocessing and temporary storage of SNF, whereas Energoatom is able to save millions of dollars and decrease electricity production costs.

Creating appropriate conditions for long-term and safe storage of spent nuclear fuel is a strategic priority not only for Energoatom, but also for the state of Ukraine, as national nuclear power plants generate more than 50% of the total electricity. Therefore, the functioning of the CSFSF is a guarantee of further sustainable and safe operation of Ukrainian NPPs.  

Stocking up on time

Ukraine has undertaken international obligations, which envisage that a state with a developed nuclear generation bears the ultimate responsibility for safe SNF handling. All countries that have constructed or are constructing similar Storage Facilities obtain about a hundred years leeway to choose the best-case scenario for spent nuclear fuel handling in prospect.

In the future, the volume of radioactive waste in SNF reprocessing should decrease significantly given that scientific and engineering advances forge ahead, thus the waste processing techniques are being improved. In the long run, they will allow to "extract" all the useful components from spent fuel as much as possible and the Storage Facility will be not just a site for long-term SNF storage, but also a place for valuable feedstock storage.

This feedstock will "sleep" in the Storage Facility with the use of double-barrier technology of dry long-term storage (in a noble gas medium within passive air-cooled containers), developed specifically for Ukraine by Holtec International, having extensive experience in the construction of similar facilities around the world.

This technology has been licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC), as well as has undergone the state examination in Ukraine for compliance with regulatory requirements for nuclear and radiation safety. Based on its results The Board of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine approved a positive expert report in November 2016.

Storage Facilities similar to the Ukrainian CSFSF, which are high-tech facilities with the maximum nuclear and radiation safety level using Holtec equipment and technology, are being operated at the Asco and Jose Cabrera nuclear power plants in Spain. Holtec dry SNF storage equipment is also used in Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA. Therefore when commissioned, CSFSF will be state-of-the-art safest nuclear fuel storage site of its kind throughout the world for a while. 

Storing of spent nuclear fuel from foreign reactors in the Storage Facility contradicts both the Ukrainian statutory provisions and the IAEA requirements. Therefore, spent fuel exclusively from the three Ukrainian NPPs - Rivne, Khmelnytsky and South-Ukraine - will be stored in the CSFSF. Zaporizhzhya NPP has its own storage facility for SNF, which has been in operation since 2001. No problems occurred with its operation over 19 years. Safety reassessment as well as IAEA inspections of SNF storage at ZNPP are carried out regularly and the conclusions of inspections are positive.

Resistant to earthquakes and air crashes 

Currently, IAEA experts are preparing for the final procedures at the CSFSF site. Engineers say they are satisfied with the progress of work. The Storage Facility will operate in such a way that neither people nor the environment would even notice it if they did not know what exactly was stored in huge deep blue containers.

According to experts, the Central Spent Fuel Storage Facility will have no harmful environmental impact in general, and particularly for the groundwater, even if a beyond design basis accident would take place because the "dry" technology allows storing the SNF in a noble gas medium, within double-wall stainless steel containers, which are loaded into protective concrete modules.

Two walls serve not only as barriers preventing any probable release of radionuclides from spent fuel assemblies, but also protect the assemblies from external extreme natural and human impacts.The structural strength of this system has been verified through simulating the following impact situations: fire, explosion, earthquake and a crashing aircraft event.

Experts claim that the potential environmental impact area, even if a maximum design and beyond design basis accidents take place, would cover a territory with a radius of up to 1 km. The nearest populated areas to the CSFSF are 13 kilometers away, the nearest settlement - Ivankiv Township - is located 40 km away from the Storage Facility. The distance to Kyiv is 110 km, to Chernihiv is 90 km.

The CSFSF construction project has undergone a comprehensive state expert examination including environmental impact assessment, sanitary and epidemiological examination, nuclear and radiation safety expertise, human impact assessment as well as the examination of strength, reliability and durability. On December 23, 2016 SE Ukrderzhbudekspertyza, being a specialized state expert organization of the Ministry of Regional Development, Construction, Housing and Communal Services of Ukraine, provided a positive expert report on the Storage Facility construction project.

458 HI-STORM reinforced concrete storage casks with biological protection and passive heat dissipation functions capable to accommodate 16,529 spent fuel assemblies will be located on the CSFSF site. HI-STAR multi-layered overpacks containing double-wall stainless steel sealed by welding multi-purpose cylindrical containers (MPC) will travel by rail to the CSFSF from Rivne, Khmelnytsky and South-Ukrainian NPPs.

MPCs will be unloaded from HI-STAR transport overpacks and loaded into HI-STORM storage casks at the Storage Facility site. Through the use of a powerful crane the casks, each weighing almost 200 tons, will be loaded on a vertical container conveyor, which will transport them to a special site for long-term storage. It will go on this way for 50 years, until the Storage Facility is filled with 458 spent fuel casks. The SNF storing at the Storage Facility will be guaranteed and controlled by the IAEA.

Stumbling rail spur

The CSFSF construction and commissioning schedule envisaged that the CSFSF should be connected to power supply from the “Buriakivka” substation in November 2020, and by that time the repair of a railway track at the Vilcha-Yaniv section with a length of 43 km, was to be finished, but SSE Pivnichna Pushcha failed to perform its works on felling of trees, bushes and shrubs up to the present.
Funding for such works was to be allocated by the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management (SAUEZM). However, it was unable to obtain funding for area clearance for construction of a rail spur to the CSFSF, because the Ministry of Finance triply rejected a request of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources for changes to the SAUEZM’s budgetary program passport. 

According to Petro Kotin, the Head of Energoatom, this issue is urgent because the CSFSF will not be able to operate properly if the Vilcha-Yaniv rail spur is not repaired. On December 18, at the meeting in the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, Energoatom offered to act as a customer for the reconstruction of the Vilcha-Yaniv rail spur in order to finalize works by May 1, 2021. JSC Ukrzaliznytsya will serve as Contractor for laying of a railway track. From then on, Energoatom will have the right to exercise the operational management over the rail spur to the CSFSF.

Pros for the region

Holtec International will supply a batch of  94 casks of its own production worth $ 300 million for the first four CSFSF start-up complexes. In the future, Ukraine will take up the initiative and will not only put such casks in production but will also be able to export them to countries that have recently made a strategic decision to develop their own nuclear power industry.

Our country will need special concrete for casks manufacturing. Therefore, the concrete plant construction close to the CSFSF will begin at the nearest time. This is one of the substantial advantages of the Storage Facility's operation in the region, because the new plant is a guarantee of creating new jobs and related infrastructure.

Besides, pursuant to the Law “On Spent Fuel Management for the Siting, Design and Construction of the Central Storage Facility for Spent Nuclear Fuel of VVER reactors at Ukrainian NPPs” NNEGC “Energoatom”, Kyiv Regional State Administration and the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management (SAUEZM) have concluded an agreement. According to this document, Energoatom should direct 10% of the total estimated cost of construction of CSFSF start-up complexes (UAH 3.7 billion) for the construction of social facilities in the city of Slavutych, as well as in Ivankiv and Polissya districts of the Kyiv region. It means that mentioned funds are intended directly for the construction of kindergartens, schools, hospitals and other priority infrastructure.

Under this agreement, as of February 2020, Energoatom has already transferred over UAH 96 million to the Kyiv Regional State Administration. Once the CSFSF first start-up complex has been commissioned, as scheduled, the Company should allocate another UAH 380 million for social facilities construction. NNEGC Energoatom has repeatedly emphasized that the Law requirements are adhered to strictly and assignments  in the amount of 10% of the total estimated cost of the CSFSF construction will be carried out steadily.