In 2007 the State Scientific Center of the Russian Federation - Institute for Power and Physics Engineering (SSC RF IPPE) in Obninsk was in the spotlight of American nuclear specialists. In March the first bilateral Russian-American seminar devoted to developing cooperation in the area of nuclear power held on the basis of IPPE. The USA delegation included specialists from the State department, DoE and leading national laboratories.
Today the world's leading powers understand that now it is already necessary to begin work on new generation of reactor and fuel technologies in order to provide long-term, reliable, safe and ecological use of nuclear power. This fact explains the intensification of sci-tech cooperation and establishment of the whole series of international initiatives and projects for development of innovation nuclear power such as INPRO, Generation IV (G-IV), GNEP and others.
Co-chairmen of the seminar in Obninsk, director general of IPPE Anatoly Zrodnikov and Senior Adviser of DoE (USA) Jonh Herzeg believe that March meeting laid the foundation for mutual beneficial cooperation of Russia and USA in nuclear sphere. What results can Russian and American nuclear specialists achieve working together? Do Russia and USA have the same points of view and how serious are the existing differences? We asked Vladimir Kagramanian, assistant of director general of IPPE for innovation technology in nuclear power, to comment these questions.
Competition of initiatives
First of all, we'd like to ask you in brief to remind our readers, what is the difference between INPRO, G-IV and GNEP-initiatives?
I would start from that they are similar. All these initiatives are aimed at removing barriers on the way of large-scale use of nuclear power in the world.
Initially two initiatives: INPRO and G-IV were established. They were aimed at solving cardinally the complex of problems connected with safety, economy, waste and resources and aimed at long-term prospects.
Unlike G-IV, in INPRO the problem was divided by two stages. At the first stage it was suggested to understand at system level what problems, requirements, criteria are expected in future, and only after this, at the second stage, to transfer to practical steps. But in G-IV initiative, the representatives of technologically developed countries wished to begin cooperation for development of new reactor technologies as quickly as possible. System level practically wasn't considered in G-IV.
Which of initiatives did the Russian Federation take part in?
Our country initiated INPRO and the speech of Russian president Vladimir Putin at Millennium Summit in New York (September 2000) became the base for this initiative. We invited all countries to cooperate in the area of innovation nuclear technologies under the aegis of the IAEA
GEN IV is an idea of USA. Washington involved to this initiative only those countries, with whom they wanted to cooperate in the area of new technologies.
Has Russia been invited to G-IV?
The Americans wanted to invite Russian immediately, but at that time Russia began to continue construction of Busher NPP in Iran, and these political problems started to influence on nuclear theme. Besides, INPRO initiative was accepted in Washington as a competitor for G-IV initiative. At that time America first opposed strongly to the project under the aegis of the IAEA, and informal opposition between these two initiatives has been started.
Generation IV Forum was established in January 2000. Argentina, Brasilia, Canada, Euroatom, France, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, UK and USA were the first participants of the Forum. Besides, IAEA and OECD NEA have received a status of the permanent observer in it. In July 2006 G-IV Forum's participants voted unanimously for involving Russia and Chine to G-IV (AtomInfo.Ru).
It is very important that we could divide the problem by two parts - ideological (try to understand future) and practical (technological). It was suggested to realize the transition to the second part and real cooperation only after successive completion of the ideological stage. Just due to this fact, the initiative started to work despite USA's complaint.
Actually, there is certain logic in American opposition to organization of technical cooperation for innovation nuclear technologies under the aegis of the IAEA, and we could understand it later. IAEA is an open organization. Launching the initiative for technical cooperation within the agency, you actually suggest all countries to join it.
It is necessary to note that when starting INPRO, the opinion was dominated that nuclear non proliferation problems could be settled mainly by technology. It was suggested that one can develop such nuclear power system (reactor and fuel cycle), where all nuclear non-proliferation problems including plutonium extraction and possibility "to switch" nuclear activity for weapons purposes, can be settled at the expense of technological barriers development. In particular, the ideology of Russian reactor BREST is based just on this conception.
The Americans have also the same idea, and they were going to develop reactors protected against nuclear proliferation within C-IV initiative. But they understood that they couldn't invite all countries for cooperation for these sensitive technologies, and exchange of the corresponding information may be unsafe.
What countries are taking part in INPRO?
Due to USA position, only several of technologically developed countries: Canada, Spain, Germany and Netherlands joined to this initiative first. But it was important that China and India involved to INPRO immediately. Today above 30 countries are taking part in INPRO including all technological- developed countries such as USA, Japan and France. It is also important that unlike G-IV, the whole group of countries is taking part in INPRO, which don't develop nuclear power technologies now, but consider their potential development in future.
GNEP - reaction to North Korea
Thus, at the beginning of the XXI-century two competitive international nuclear projects - INPRO and G-IV - were established. Each of projects has own advantages and disadvantages. Now, if possible, let's go to American initiative GNEP.
As I have already said, initially INPRO and G-IV were aimed at technological ways of solving non-proliferation problem. It was obviously only after 5-6 year after the incident with North Korea, that it was impossible to solve it only by technological ways.
North Korea showed that sensitive nuclear technologies could be developed in full accordance with NPT provisions and under IAEA supervision. But some time later country could declare about force majeure and go out from NPT, having sensitive knowledge and technologies and not connected with international treaties.
In this connection it is easy to see defects of BREST ideology from the viewpoint of global nuclear proliferation. Imagine that fast reactors with full nuclear fuel cycle would be spread in the world. Yes, of course, fuel cycle of BREST reactor is protected against plutonium extraction, but any country having technologies of full nuclear fuel cycle should be considered as the threshold state.
In 2004 Mohammad Elbaradey established an international group for assessment of various approaches in nuclear fuel cycle from the viewpoint of answer to new questions in nuclear non-proliferation area. After a year experts concluded that there were no simple answers. And at that time international atomic community remembered successful experience of USSR.
USSR constructed NPPs on the territories of countries - members of Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, giving a possibility to use nuclear power to its allies. Here sensitive technologies weren't handed over - fresh nuclear fuel was delivered to NPP and spent nuclear fuel (SNF) was taken back. It is interesting that nowadays Russia has made the same offer to Iran in connection with Busher NPP. Soviet and Russian experiences show that it is possible to solve nuclear proliferation problem with optimal usage of technological and institutional measures. For these purposes, developed states should "serve" fuel cycle not only of own reactors, but also of reactors to be sold to countries not having nuclear technologies.
Talks about the necessity of using Soviet experience had started 3-4 years ago. But at that time there wasn't clear answer to the question what to do with spent nuclear fuel - there was an unpleasant prospect to become the world's nuclear waste dump.
We cannot escape this problem without fast reactors. Analyzing all aspects, the Americans had to recognize that nuclear non-proliferation can be provided by combining the Soviet approach to SNF problem and reanimation of the program for fast reactors development. Herefrom Washington conceived the following idea - let countries already having technologies of full nuclear fuel cycle (these are the countries, except Japan, having also nuclear weapon) will agree about the unified policy on nuclear fuel market. Nuclear fuel delivered abroad should be returned after use and reprocessed for recirculation of nuclear materials in fast reactors.
The Americans needed to "sell" this idea on its home market, where "question No1" is the problem of nuclear waste management, but not nuclear non-proliferation. So the American nuclear specialists and politicians started talking about an opportunity to use fast reactors for burning plutonium and minor actinides…
It seems so, a concept of reactor-burner has appeared? What will this reactor installation differ from Russian BN-reactors?
There is a simple logic here. There are two competitive processes in fast reactor - burning of plutonium loaded and accumulation of new plutonium from 238U. If fraction of loaded plutonium is 20%, its burning is compensated due to accumulation, and energy is generated due to using natural 238U, the reserves of which are "unlimited". But if the content of plutonium is higher than the above-indicated border - 40-50% and more, the rate of plutonium destruction will exceed the rate of its accumulation from uranium. This reactor will become the reactor - burner of plutonium technologically bred, the reserves of which are small, in several times less than the reserves of natural 235U.
It means that reactor itself, coolant, the core and other components will be the same both in reactor-breeder and in reactor-burner, but the relationship between physics processes will be different. The tasks, which these reactors will solve, also will be different. Naturally, economy and safety of these reactors will be also different. For example, reactor-burner will have more complicated fuel cycle, and it will be necessary to compensate a drastic drop in reactivity during fuel cycle in this reactor core…
Excuse me, did I understood you a proper way? Will American reactor-burner and Russian fast reactor differ only by fuel loading?
…And by economy, and by safety. It will be necessary to design the safety system for reactor-burner and to justify serviceability and economic efficiency of a new fuel. The American ideology is based on burning of transuranium fuel - plutonium together with minor actinides (MA). It is a very complex fuel, technology of which hasn't been developed to completion yet.
How will reactors-burners be appeared in USA?
It is the most interesting question. Formerly USA was a pioneer in the field of fast reactors. But during the last quarter of a century they didn't anything in this direction. Naturally, people went away, technologies were lost. By the way, herefrom one can explain G-IV appearance - attempts to involve developed countries for mutual development of the new reactors.
Now within the new initiative GNEP, USA addressed first of all to those countries, which have some or other experience in the field of fast reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle - France, Japan and Russia.
But DoE gives grants only to the French, doesn't it?
Naturally, primarily the Americans will rely on own old partners. As to Russia, we have not Framework Agreement "123" with USA yet, which would help us to cooperate together actively in this area.
Besides legal problems, the fact that we are at different technological levels: at a lower level in most areas and at a higher level in fast reactors area than USA, influences on interrelations of Russia and USA. We have a fine experience in operating BN-600 reactor, and after putting into operation BN-800 reactor we will be ready to large-scale commercialization of this type reactors. The Americans have not passed R&D stage yet.
I think, it is the main difficulty. In order to cooperate with us in the proper way, the Americans had to buy our fast reactor technologies or invest mutual developments. But Washington always preferred and prefers to be the leader. You understand that it will be very difficult for America to "sell" to its taxpayers the idea that it is necessary to buy Russian reactor technologies. It is easier for them to inspire an idea in Russia that the world needs complicated reactors - burners, which are necessary to develop within GNEP initiative under the guidance of USA.
Nevertheless, they buy plant for MOX-fuel fabrication from weapons-grade plutonium for thermal reactors abroad, in France.
They can buy technologies from the French. In this case there are no serious political obstacles. But USA is not ready to consider Russia as the "seller" of reactor technologies. It is the main brake for bilateral cooperation between Russia and USA in the field of peaceful atom. Even if the Russian-American Agreement "123" is signed, USA will try to induce Russia to mutual work within American ideology.
But today Russia has finished technologies of fast reactors with BR>1. It is easier to create such reactors, they have already been tested during many year of practice. China and India could buy commercial NPP with such reactors. As to American reactors-burners with BR=0.5, then a theorem of existence for these reactors should be proved. If the Americans are able to argue our politicians and to engage our scientists, then there will be a danger that we will settle tasks for the Americans at our own expense.
In Russia fast reactors with BR>1 will solve two problems - involving isotope 238U in the process of generating power (solving problem of resources) and simultaneously solving INF problem. American ideology of reactor-burner with BR=0.5 is concentrated only on INF - reprocessing, the amount of which in USA is accumulated much more than in Russia. It will take at least 50 years for us and the Americans to execute the final purposes - to construct balanced system of thermal and fast reactors with multiple recirculation of plutonium and minor actinides in whole or in part in fast reactors.
We suppose, and our assessments confirm it, at first both the Americans and we don't care for achieving a certain preset BR values. The first fast reactors - for example, small series of BN-reactors - can be built with those BR values, which are achieved. Further it will be possible to introduce the corresponding modifications into the projects and to achieve step by step those BR values, which are required for successful functioning of nuclear power as long-lived system.
If the Americans agreed to construct reactor installations with "cheap" BR on the basis of already existing technologies, they would start the practical realization of own purpose - reprocessing of INF of thermal reactors already today. In this case Russia and USA could pass the first 20-30 years of fast reactors development by the same developed and relatively "cheap" way. Both states could start with existing fast sodium reactor technologies.
We could introduce some modifications in BN-800 project jointly, taking into account tendencies of nuclear power development for the last 20-30 years and start to construct such reactors with the cheapest BR value within the limits of 0.9 -1.1. I emphasize again that the certain BR value of fast reactors shouldn't bother anybody during the first 20-30 years. In this period from the viewpoint of forming balance of plutonium and MA in nuclear power system of Russia, USA and in the world as a whole, the contribution of thermal reactors will be predominant. The main idea is that the BR value of the first fast reactors should be "the cheapest". It is a requirement of economy.
Do American partners understand Russian proposals?
Unfortunately, the Americans still aim at stealing political leading in nuclear power development within GNEP initiative, where the main attention will be paid to R&D work. There is a certain risk that they can succeed in it. Many countries are interested in R&D work. The American fast reactor developers think more about reanimation of their old projects like metal fuel and don't hasten the transition to practical stage. Our scientists also dream about the beginning of R&D work, not receiving serious government orders in this area for a long time. Naturally, the activity of the scientists is based on R&D work, and they are ready to develop any technologies including those, in which the Americans need.
I think that under these conditions it is very important for Russia to develop already approved domestic technologies of BN-reactors till commercial level and to promote these technologies on China and India power markets. Simultaneously with taking into account in international cooperation, it is necessary to provide innovation development of own nuclear power, which firstly meet the needs of our country.
Thank you for interview for AtomInfo.Ru.
DATE: August 27, 2007
Topics: NFC, Spent Fuel, Russia, MOX-fuel, USA