EU funds diversification of Russian reactor fuel supply

29 June 2015

Westinghouse Electric Company and eight European consortium partners announced today that they have received €2 million ($2.2 million) in funding from the European Union "to establish the security of supply of nuclear fuel for Russian-designed reactors in the EU". The move means that operators of Russian-built reactors in the EU will not have to rely solely on Russia's Rosatom for nuclear fuel supply.

Five EU member states, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Slovakia, operate Russian reactors - four VVER-1000 and 14 VVER-440 type units - and are currently 100% dependent on Russia for nuclear fuel supply. These reactors provide up to 52% of the electricity supply in the Member States concerned.

Yves Brachet, Westinghouse president, Europe, Middle East and Africa Region said the EU's decision to provide funding demonstrates that it is "serious about taking measures to improve its energy security through a diversification of its nuclear fuel sources".

Westinghouse, which has facilities in Sweden and the UK, will act as the coordinator for the project. Westinghouse's consortium partners are: Vuje (Slovakia); ÚJV Řež (Czech Republic); Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT, Finland); National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL, UK); NucleoCon (Slovakia); National Science Centre Kharkov Institute of Physics and Technology (NSC KIPT, Ukraine); Institute for Transuranium Elements of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC-ITU); and Enusa Industrias Avanzadas (Enusa, Spain).

Westinghouse said that each partner brings "leading expertise in their chosen fields". Westinghouse, ENUSA and NNL have "considerable experience" in developing, licensing and manufacturing Westinghouse VVER-440 fuel in combination with operating experience at the Loviisa nuclear power plant in Finland. VUJE, ÚJV Řež, LUT and NSC KIPT have "extensive knowledge" with regard to safety analysis, licensing, and experience in working with the local authorities in their respective countries. The JRC-ITU and NucleoCon are experts on the development and adaption of the TRANS-URANUS code, which is "widely used and commonly available" for fault analysis during the licensing process of pressurized water reactors.

Westinghouse, which is majority-owned by Toshiba of Japan, says it is the largest supplier of nuclear fuel in Europe and also the only other fuel manufacturer for VVER-type reactors.

The US-headquartered company supplied VVER-440 fuel from its fuel fabrication facility in Preston, in the UK, together with ENUSA, to Loviisa from 2001 to 2007 in annual fuel load quantities following a fuel design and lead test assembly program. Since 2008, all fuel for the Loviisa nuclear power plant has been supplied by Rosatom's fuel manufacturing subsidiary TVEL.

In December 2014, Westinghouse and Energoatom, Ukraine's nuclear power plant operator, completed a contract extension for its VVER-1000 reactors. The fuel will be delivered from Westinghouse Electric Sweden.

The European Commission's primary public portal to disseminate information on all EU-funded research projects - the Community Research and Development Information Service, or Cordis - said the scientific objectives of the proposed project include increased knowledge concerning the behaviour of the VVER-440 fuel during operation.

Cordis said: "State-of-the-art methods will be verified against an extensive database, including operating experience from several VVER-440 reactors as well as a number of other reactor designs and a wide range of operating conditions. The ability to accurately predict the fuel behaviour will be improved and thereby also the safety margins. New knowledge as well as identification of needs of technology development and improvements will be created in the fields of technologies for mechanical design, thermo-mechanical fuel rod design, and safety analysis for VVER fuel. In addition to the technological advances, the project will identify the variation in licensing requirements between the authorities in the different countries. Through such identification, it will become clear that standardization would be beneficial and will foster a dialogue between the authorities/regulatory bodies."

Results of this analysis will be presented to members of the VVER community - utilities, universities and other organizations with close links to the nuclear energy industry - and articles and papers presenting the work and the results of the project will be targeted for nuclear industry, magazines and conferences, it said.

The EU funding comes from the Euratom Research and Training Program, which is part of Horizon 2020, the EU's research and innovation program. The project, known as ESSANUF - European Supply of Safe Nuclear Fuel - focuses on licensing alternative nuclear fuel supplies for Russian-designed pressurized water reactors (VVERs) operating in the EU.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News