The Russian nuclear safety regulator has agreed to extend the operating licence of Smolensk 1 by ten years, enabling nuclear generation to continue until a replacement plant is built.
The 925 MWe RBMK-1000 reactor was first connected to the grid in 1982 and has been extensively modernised as part of a RUB45 billion ($1.5 billion) package covering the three unit site - announced by Rosatom at the beginning of 2012. This followed an International Atomic Energy Agency safety mission to the plant carried out in September 2011, which noted good practices and identified areas for improvement.
The ten-year extension will see the reactor operate until 25 December 2022, a lifespan of 40 years, although a 2010 Rosatom plan was open to the possibility of Russia's RBMKs operating for up to 45 years. The existing Smolensk reactors are set to be replaced by a new plant, Smolensk Phase II, which will consist of two to four VVER-1200 reactors. Although no firm date has yet been scheduled, the first of these is pencilled in to come on-line by 2024.
RBMK reactors became the focus of much attention internationally following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident which involved a reactor of that design. Russia responded by instigating a program of operational and technical improvement at its 11 operational RBMK units - which still account for approximately 45% of the country's nuclear electricity production. One more RBMK remains officially under construction as the fifth unit of the Kursk nuclear power plant.
Over the past ten years performance of the RBMK reactors has steadily improved, with an average 2011 load factor of 81.5% compared to a lifetime value of 63.9% according to data collected by trade journal Nuclear Engineering International.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News