Nucleoeléctrica contracted to complete CAREM-25

07 July 2021

Nucleoeléctrica Argentina SA (NA-SA) will complete the construction of the prototype CAREM-25 reactor under a contract signed with the country's National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). The contract specifies construction of the small modular reactor will be completed within three years. Work on the small pressurised water reactor began at a site adjacent to the Atucha nuclear power plant in Buenos Aires Province in early 2014, but has been suspended several times.

Installation in November 2020 of one of the modules of the containment liner for the CAREM reactor (Image: CNEA)

The contract was signed on 2 July by CNEA President Adriana Serquis and NA-SA President José Luis Antúnez. Under the agreement, NA-SA will complete construction of CAREM-25 as a contractor for CNEA, a role it played in the first phase of the project, from 2014 to 2017.

Serquis said the signing of the contract entrusting Nucleoeléctrica to complete the construction of the civil works of CAREM-25 represents "a very important milestone in the beginning of the reactivation of the nuclear sector".

Antúnez said the objective of collaboration with the CNEA is part of its Plan of Action, recently approved by the National Executive Power. "Just as we have done previously, we are returning to accompany the CNEA in the CAREM project."

First concrete was poured for the reactor in February 2014, marking the official start of its construction. However, the project was suspended on several occasions for breach of the construction contract by the national government, during the administration of Mauricio Macri.

In November 2019, work was halted by contractor Techint Engineering & Construction due to late payments from the government, design changes and late delivery of technical documentation. In April 2020, it was announced that construction was to resume.

In mid-2020, a 'transition' contract was signed, from which teams from the CAREM Works Directorate Management (responsible for the integral direction of construction) and the Nuclear Project Management Unit of NA-SA began a process of ordering and analysis of the technical documentation related to the building and the degree of progress reached with the previous contractor. This analysis included a survey of materials and the state of the facilities, as well as the pending subcontracts and the employment situation of the workers who had been laid off and with whom their gradual reinstatement was agreed. The overall objective of that pre-contract was to establish the basis of what would be the definitive agreement, under which NA-SA resumes the execution of the construction, under the direction of CNEA. This new contract establishes a duration of 36 months to complete the reactor building.

Reactor design

CAREM - the name is taken from Central ARgentina de Elementos Modulares - is Argentina's first domestically-designed and developed 32 MWe nuclear power unit. At least 70% of the components and related services for CAREM-25 are to be sourced from Argentine companies.

Developed by CNEA with Argentinean nuclear technology firm INVAP and others since 1984, CAREM-25 is a modular 100 MWt simplified pressurised water reactor designed to be used for electricity generation,as a research reactor or for water desalination.

As well as relying on passive safety systems, CAREM's entire primary coolant system is contained within the single self-pressurised vessel and uses free convection to circulate the coolant. This eliminates the need for devices such as pumps within the primary circuit and decreases the extent and complexity of the piping system required, as well as reduces the possibility of accidents involving a loss of coolant.

The 32 MWe prototype will be capable of supplying electricity to, for example, a city with a population of 120,000 inhabitants. Once the design is proven, a larger 100-200 MWe version of the reactor is pencilled in to be built in the northern province of Formosa.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News