By 2025, 1/3 of European nuclear power plants will be eligible for retirement

There are 171 nuclear reactors for the production of electricity in operation on the territory of 18 countries of Europe. There are currently 12 reactors under construction, and another 26 are in the planning phase

During the 1960s and 1970s, due to the accelerated development and improvement of nuclear technologies, there was an expansion of the construction of nuclear power plants in other countries as well. That trend stagnated after the accident in Chernobyl in 1986, as well as after the accident in Fukushima in 2011, due to concerns about the safety of existing reactors and the necessity of additional safety improvements – says Vladimir Janjić, assistant director and head of inspection at the Directorate for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Security of Serbia.

According to the time of creation and the level of technological development, nuclear reactors can be divided into four generations. Some of the key attributes that characterize each generation are, among others, the safety and security of reactors, nuclear fuel and associated systems, economic efficiency, compatibility with the national energy grid, and the life cycle of nuclear fuel.

Most of the active reactors in Europe belong to the second generation

– Most of the reactors active today in Europe belong to the second generation. They were built during the seventh and eighth decades of the last century. Over time, safety and security systems and procedures have been constantly improved. This was done in accordance with stricter regulatory requirements and international standards. So we are talking about the so-called II+ generation of reactors. From the mid-1990s and during the following decade, the application and construction of generation III and III+ reactors began. The construction of the reactors itself has been further improved. As well as the technology of production and use of nuclear fuel, thermal efficiency and safety and security systems

The fourth generation of nuclear reactors is under development. It is expected to be ready for commercial use after 2030. Many countries are also considering the construction of small modular reactors. This technology is still in the stage of development and testing. However, it is considered to be the future of the further development of the nuclear industry. Most countries decide to purchase commercially available reactors and supporting systems from Russia (Rosatom), USA (Westinghouse), France (Framatome) or Canada (Candu Energy).

– In Europe, there are 171 nuclear reactors in operation that are used for the production of electricity, in 18 countries. France has 56, Russia 38, including the Asian part, Ukraine 15, Great Britain nine, Spain and Belgium seven each, Sweden and the Czech Republic six each, Finland five, Slovakia, Hungary and Switzerland four each, Germany three, Romania and Bulgaria each two, and one each is located in Belarus, Slovenia and the Netherlands. All these nuclear power plants generate from 20 to 25 percent of the total electricity production on European soil.

Twelwe reactors are currently under construction in Europe

Currently, 12 reactors are under construction. In Great Britain, Slovakia, Russia, Ukraine, France and Belarus. Another 26 reactors are in the planning phase: in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine, Great Britain. To date, a total of 118 nuclear reactors in Europe have reached the end of their useful lives. They have either already been dismantled or are in the process of being decommissioned.

The working cycle of currently active nuclear reactors is on average 50 years. Many countries deciding to extend their life, based on the comprehensive condition of systems and components, economic profitability and available capacities for electricity production. It is expected that the working life of the new generations of reactors will be longer than 60 years. That will also affect the economic profitability of the construction of nuclear power plants. It is estimated that by 2025, a third of the existing nuclear reactors in Europe will be at the end of their initially planned working life.

Certain countries, such as Italy and Lithuania, have permanently shut down all their nuclear power plants or plan to do so in the near future, such as Germany and Belgium. There are countries that build energy stability mainly on nuclear technology. They will do it by building new power plants or expanding current capacities. In Austria and Denmark, just like in Serbia, laws prohibiting the construction of nuclear power plants are in force.

The biggest challenges as storing spent nuclear fuel are still unresolved

One of the main challenges of the nuclear industry is the problem of storing spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste resulting from the decommissioning of nuclear facilities. It is estimated that around 7,000 cubic meters of high-level waste is generated annually in the EU. Most countries temporarily store spent nuclear fuel and other high-level waste in surface facilities that require ongoing maintenance and monitoring. Finland is currently the only country that permanently disposes of its radioactive waste in underground geological repositories.

Alternative solutions, apart from reducing the total amount of radioactive waste, include the processing of spent nuclear fuel in order to extract unused uranium and plutonium. It can be reused for the same purposes. Currently, processing of spent nuclear fuel in Europe is carried out in France and Russia.

Why Rosatom’s new laid-down reactor is the safest in the world, and when will it enter series

Russian giant Rosatom is rightfully considered the world leader in nuclear energy and a number of other high-tech areas, as evidenced by an extensive portfolio of foreign orders

Rosatom was the first to master the serial production of the latest modern third generation fast breeder reactors. 

Now our concern has begun construction of the world’s first power unit of the next generation – the fourth.

A new power unit is being built in the city of Seversk in the Tomsk region. 

The installation was named Brest OD 300.

The new reactor operates on fast neutrons and has a lead coolant.

Rosatom considers this # type of reactor to be completely safe. Accidents like Chernobyl and the Fukushima disaster using the Brest reactor are excluded.

The new reactor was based on the principle of natural safety. 

Foreign competitors of Rosatom do not possess such technology and continue to build thermal neutron reactors in which water serves as a coolant.

The advantage of fast reactors is the ability to reuse spent nuclear fuel as new fuel, thereby achieving a closed cycle. 

In addition to being economical, fast reactors are safer than existing thermal reactors. The possibility of unpredictable and uncontrollable acceleration of neutrons is excluded, which is equivalent to the loss of the coolant. 

The risk of a parazirconium reaction that provoked the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is also excluded. 

The work on the design of the fourth generation reactor has been carried out by Rosatom since 2010. Rosatom plans to commission the Brest power unit by the end of 2025.

One of the important advantages of the new reactor will be its ability to run on fuel # uranium 238, which is much cheaper and more widespread on our planet, in contrast to the rare uranium 235.

In the next few years, Rosatom plans to organize the serial production of the newest Brest reactors in Russia, and after 2030 start exporting them to foreign partners. 

Don’t like CO2? Nuclear power is the answer!

Renewable wind, solar, hydro and bio-fuels cannot fill the gap

by Jonathan Tennenbaum

So you don’t like CO2? What you need to know, then, is that there’s no alternative to advanced nuclear power.

Concern about the climate effects of man-caused CO2 emissions has prompted gigantic investments into so-called renewable energy sources: wind, solar, hydropower and biofuels. Meanwhile, in a huge mistake, nuclear energy – a reliable CO2-free power source producing 14% of the world’s electricity – has been left far behind.

Germany provides a bizarre example, albeit not the only one. Here the government’s commitment to its so-called climate goals has been combined, paradoxically, with the decision to shut down the country’s remaining nuclear power plants by 2022.

Would it not be more rational, if we believe that human emissions of CO2 are destroying the planet, to expand nuclear energy as quickly as possible, rather than shut it down?

Last December the influential German magazine Der Spiegel ran a story with the title, “Can New Reactor Concepts Save Us from the Climate Collapse?” The article reports on how numbers of international investors and firms, including Bill Gates and his TerraPower, are engaged in a race to develop advanced nuclear reactor technologies as the key to eliminating world dependence on fossil fuels. A goal that could never be attained by the so-called renewable sources alone.

What should we fear most?

Addressing readers who remain terrified of nuclear energy, Spiegel writes: “According to estimates, 800 000 people die every year from the smoke produced by coal, containing toxic substances such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or arsenic. But concepts must also be demonstrated for how to dispose of the toxic substances contained in used-up photovoltaic cells.”

The magazine explains that “energy generation nearly always claims victims and creates some pollutants. The question is, what costs and risks are we ready to accept? What should we fear most? Global warming, which is sure to come, or a possible regional reactor catastrophe? The objections to nuclear energy are justified. But in view of climate change, is it right to reject nuclear technology altogether?”

New reactor designs such as the traveling wave reactor, the molten salt reactor and small modular reactors promise to be much safer and cheaper than conventional nuclear power. And to have broader ranges of applications. Some could even “burn” nuclear waste as a fuel. Therefore eliminating the need for very long-term storage of radioactive material, which is a major argument against nuclear energy. Standardized modular construction would allow nuclear reactors to be factory-produced in much shorter times.

On this basis, a massive expansion of nuclear power worldwide might be accomplished within the space of 10-15 years. The rapid build-up of nuclear power in France, in response to the 1973 “oil shock,” provides a certain historical precedent.

New agenda

There is no doubt that nuclear energy is back on the world agenda. Even for many of those who have been bitterly opposed to it in the past. And nuclear energy – in the form used today – still has serious problems. But new reactor concepts are on the table. That addresses those issues and could completely redefine the role of nuclear energy in the world economy.

I shall describe some of these reactor concepts in a bit of detail. But first I should try to establish clarity on a crucial point.

I believe we are facing a branching point in global energy policy. What should be the priority? Assuming it should be a goal to drastically reduce world emissions of CO2 in the medium and long term – which I don’t want to argue about here – is it wise to invest so much in renewable energy sources, as many nations are doing today? Or should we allot only a limited role to the renewables? And go for a massive expansion of nuclear energy instead?

A license was issued to create the BREST-OD-300 reactor. What does it mean?

This week Rostekhnadzor issued a license to build the world’s first experimental demonstration power unit with a lead-cooled BREST-OD-300 fast neutron reactor. The project is being implemented at the site of the Siberian Chemical Combine of Rosatom near Tomsk

This material was prepared with the support of Postnews.

What does it mean? This means that the creation of the most modern, efficient and safe nuclear reactor in the world has officially begun in Russia . It’s just so pretentious? In this case, it is not a cliché. Let’s explain and start from afar. That is why nuclear energy has not yet conquered absolutely the whole world? After all, the problem of emissions from hydrocarbon power plants is now so acute. It would seem that nothing better than nuclear power could be invented. There are two reasons.

First: depleted uranium

Accumulated during uranium enrichment for reactor fuel and already spent fuel . What to do with them? In fact, the problem of their storage is not so terrible, because there are not so many of them and they are not so radioactive, and the methods are quite reliable. But still.

This is how depleted uranium hexafluoride is stored in Russia. 
And most importantly, this is sufficient for safety. 
From the site https://www.atomic-energy.ru/

The second reason: fear of a repeat of Chernobyl.

The first problem with “waste” is solved with the help of fast reactors. In such, recycled fuel elements of conventional nuclear power plants are used as fuel elements. And in the process, they also enrich depleted uranium. Bingo! How? Here is brief explanation:

“Conventional” thermal (much less fast) neutron reactors use enriched radioactive uranium-235. Fast reactors can use both thorium-232 and weapons-grade plutonium, which in conventional reactors cannot participate in a controlled reaction. This solves the problem of spent nuclear fuel and weapons-grade plutonium stockpiles. But how is the problem of depleted uranium-238 solved?

It is placed in the reactor core. Neutrons are fast, so they have enough energy to turn depleted uranium into plutonium. Which can be used right there (well, not quite right there, but after processing into special assemblies) as fuel.

Experiments with such reactors were carried out at the dawn of nuclear power, but then there was simply not enough technology and materials to create such complex systems. It is a little paradoxical that neutrons are initially fast during the reaction. In the classical scheme, they have to be slowed down with the help of fuel compaction and special moderators and reflectors. But now in Russia there are such technologies, materials and specialists to cope with fast particles.

Solving problem with nuclear waste

There are now only two such commercial reactors in the world, both in Russia. Therefore, sometimes you can see panic news that “nuclear waste” is being brought from Europe to Russia . This is not waste, but raw material for the fuel of our nuclear power plants. And we are also paid extra for this. Moreover, in fast neutron reactors most of the radioactive superheavy elements are “burned out”, which in a conventional reactor go to waste. Combustion is not a very good term. Because smoke and soot remain from the fire, but not here. They, these elements, are simply not available at the output.

The second reason, security, is also being addressed. A second Chernobyl will not happen at the current level of technology. A lot of special and active and passive (like several thick reinforced concrete sealed capsules) have been invented since then.

But it is possible to make a peaceful atom even safer. In the abbreviation BREST, “BR” stands for “fast reactor”, and “EST” stands for “natural safety .

In ordinary fast reactors, sometimes mercury is used as a coolant, but more often it is liquid sodium (and in “ordinary”, thermal reactors , it is most often water). It boils at 883.15 ° C. And upon contact with air, it actively reacts chemically. So an explosion is purely potential.

In BREST, liquid lead is used. It does not react with air, it boils well over a thousand degrees, and in the event of a depressurization (and so unlikely) it will simply solidify and cool the reactor core by itself.

So in Russia two futures began at once : the future of a closed nuclear cycle and the future of naturally safe reactors.