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Primary loop construction begins at world’s first new-generation lead-cooled fast reactor

24/1/2024

Engineers during construction at Rosatom site Photo: Rosatom
Rosatom’s innovative fast neutron BREST-OD-300 reactor under construction in Seversk, Tomsk Region, West Siberia, is claimed to be the world’s first new generation lead-cooled fast reactor

Photo: Rosatom

Rosatom has completed groundworks and is now beginning nuclear installation of what is claimed to be the world’s first new generation lead-cooled fast reactor, located at the site of the pilot demonstration energy complex (PDEC) in Seversk, Western Siberia.

A 300 MW nuclear power plant powered by a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast reactor is the key element of the PDEC which is being built at Siberian Chemical Combine, part of fuel company TVEL, a subsidiary of state nuclear corporation Rosatom, as part of the Proryv (Breakthrough) project. In addition to the power unit, the site will also include facilities for an on-site closed nuclear fuel cycle – a unit for the fabrication of uranium-plutonium nitride fuel, as well as a unit for reprocessing of irradiated fuel.

 

Rosatom reports that the 165-tonne steel baseplate has now been installed and workers have loaded into the reactor shaft the first part of the BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor vessel – the lower tier of the containment. The containment structure is the outer part of the reactor vessel. It provides retention of heat-insulating concrete, forming an additional barrier of protection, which surrounds the boundary of the coolant circuit. On its surface, the temperature should not exceed 60°C, and the radiation background is equal to the natural background, claims the company.

 

Commenting on the construction project, Vadim Lemekhov, Chief Designer of the BREST-OD-300 reactor unit and General Designer of the Breakthrough project team, says: ‘We have started installation of the world’s first lead-cooled fast reactor, the fourth generation reactor BREST-OD-300. Unlike traditional light-water VVER* thermal reactors, BREST has an integral layout. Its vessel is not an all-metal structure like the VVER, but a metal-concrete structure with metal cavities to accommodate the primary circuit equipment. The space between the cavities should be gradually filled with concrete filler during construction. In addition, the BREST [reactor] vessel is larger in size, it can be delivered only in parts, and the final assembly is possible only at the PDEC construction site.’

 

The advantage of fast reactors is their ability to efficiently use the fuel cycle’s secondary byproducts (in particular, plutonium) for energy production. At the same time as having a high regeneration factor, fast reactors can produce more potential fuel than they consume and also burn out (ie use in the process of energy generation) highly active transuranic elements (actinides).  

 

The design of the BREST-OD-300 lead-cooled reactor is based on the principles of so-called ‘natural safety’, according to Rosatom. ‘The features of the reactor made it possible to abandon the melt trap, a large volume of support systems, and also to lower the safety class of the non-reactor equipment. The integral design and physics of the reactor facility enable [us] to exclude the possibility of accidents requiring evacuation of the population. In the future, such installations should not only enhance the safety of nuclear power, but also make it more economically competitive in comparison with the most efficient thermal power generation, in particular, steam-gas technology.’

 

The BREST-OD-300 reactor will provide itself with its main energy component – plutonium-239 – transmuting it from the isotope uranium-238, which has a relative abundance of more than 99% (it is the isotope uranium-235, which makes about 0.7% of natural uranium, that is currently used to produce energy in thermal neutron reactors), reports Rosatom. ‘The introduction of such technologies will increase exponentially the efficiency of natural uranium,’ says the company, noting that ‘uranium has about an 86% share in the world reserves of energy resources, compared to coal at 8%, oil at 3%, and gas at 3%.’ (Canada’s indigenous CANDU nuclear reactor designs, which are thermal neutron reactors, also use of U-238 as fuel.)

 

*The VVER (or water-water energetic reactor; WWER) is a series of pressurised water reactor designs originally developed in the Soviet Union, now Russia.

 

To find out more about Russia’s energy transition, visit the Energy Institute Statistical Review Country Transition Tracker.