Russia starts batch production of MOX fuel assemblies

13 December 2018

Russian nuclear fuel manufacturer TVEL has launched the batch production of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel assemblies for the BN-800 fast neutron reactor.

MOX fuel assemblies for the Beloyarsk 4 BN-800 fast reactor (Image: NIIAR)

The basic technology for manufacturing the MOX fuel pellets was developed by TVEL subsidiary AA Bochvar Research Institute of Inorganic Materials. The fuel pellets are manufactured from a mixture of oxides of depleted uranium accumulated at TVEL facilities and oxides of plutonium extracted during the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The first batch of MOX fuel assemblies were shipped to the first-of-a-kind BN-800 fast reactor in March 2014. A total of 106 assemblies were produced by Research Institute of Atomic Reactors in Dimitrovgrad.

A MOX fuel fabrication facility at Russia's Mining and Chemical Combine in Zheleznogorsk, in the Krasnoyarsk region of Russia, became fully operational at the end of 2014. The production line - located in a mine 200 metres underground - was built as part of Russia's 'Proryv', or Breakthrough, project to enable a closed nuclear fuel cycle. The ultimate aim is to eliminate production of radioactive waste from nuclear power generation. The facility completed tests on putting together the first nuclear fuel assemblies for the BN-800 reactor in August 2015.

TVEL announced today that the first serial batch of the MOX fuel assemblies for the BN-800 had successfully passed acceptance commissioning.

"The start of MOX fuel production is an important milestone for solving the strategic task of establishing the closed nuclear fuel cycle, as well as double-component nuclear power industry which would include both thermal and fast neutron reactors," said Konstantin Vergazov, TVEL's senior vice president for R&D, technology and quality. "Involvement of the large stock of depleted uranium and bred plutonium into the fuel cycle would enable expansion of the resource base of the nuclear power industry and reduction of natural uranium consumption."

The BN-800 reactor - constructed as unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Sverdlovsk district - was brought to minimum controlled power for the first time in June 2014, at which time commercial operation was planned for the end of that year.

However, in December 2014 operator Rosenergoatom announced that nuclear fuel for the unit would first be developed further. It was brought again to the minimum controlled power level in August 2015, and again in November 2015, eventually being connected to the grid on 10 December 2015. The 789 MWe reactor entered commercial operation on 31 October 2016.

Fast reactors, fuelled by MOX, vastly increase the efficiency of the nuclear fuel cycle and feature heavily in Russia's long-term nuclear energy plans.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News