Nuclear Power in Belarus
(Updated March 2017)
- Belarus has its first nuclear power plant under construction and plans to have it operating from operating from 2018, with Russian finance.
- Atomstroyexport is building the 2400 MWe plant, with two modern reactors.
Belarus produces only 31 TWh/yr from 8 GWe of plant, almost entirely gas-fired, It has net imports of 8 TWh (2012) giving consumption of 30 TWh, per capita about 3330 kWh/yr. Government plans to reform the electricity sector by creating a wholesale market in three stages have stalled, and electricity remains heavily subsidised for households.
Under its 2011-2020 energy strategy, Belarus is seeking to reduce its reliance on Russia as a major energy supplier. The plan calls for a 1000 MWe coal-fired plant and a 2400 MWe nuclear power plant as well as four hydropower stations with total capacity of 120 MW, and wind projects totaling 300 MW. If fully implemented, the strategy would bring the share of power generated using Russian gas down to 55% by 2020, from over 80% in 2009. Gas demand should decrease by one-third.
The country imports 90% of its gas from Russia (estimate of 22.5 billion m3 in 2012) – much of it for electricity – and overall aims for 25-30% energy independence, compared with half that now. The proposed 2400 MWe nuclear plant is expected to reduce gas imports by 5 billion m3 per year, now costing over US$ 800 million, while the fuel and waste management for it would be a quarter of this. In November 2011 it was agreed that Russia's Gazprom would pay $2.5 billion for the 50% of Belarus' gas transmission network, Beltransgaz, that it did not already own. This was linked both to lower gas prices and to Russian finance for the nuclear plant. Earlier, there had been studies on both a domestic nuclear power plant using Russian technology, and Belarus participation in a new nuclear unit at Smolensk or Kursk in Russia.
Plans for nuclear capacity
In mid 2006 the government approved a plan for the construction of an initial 2000 MWe PWR nuclear power plant in the in the Mogilev region of eastern Belarus. This was expected to provide electricity at half the cost of that from Russian gas (5 billion cubic metres per year for same capacity) and to provide some 30% of the electricity by 2020 at a cost of about €4 billion (January 2008 estimate) on a turnkey basis.
After expressions of interest from international reactor vendors were invited, the energy ministry announced in August 2008 that proposals had been received from Atomstroyexport, Westinghouse-Toshiba and Areva. Anything from USA would need several years for an intergovernmental agreement, and Areva's EPR was noted as being too big for the first plant. In addition, the energy ministry received a proposal from the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation. Russia's Atomstroyexport emerged as the most likely supplier for the 2 x 1000 MWe plant since the others either did not provide all the information required or could not build the plant soon enough. Operation of the first unit was envisaged for 2016 and the second in 2018. Two further units are proposed for operation by 2025. In June 2007 Russia's Eximbank offered a US$ 2 billion credit line to enable purchase of equipment from Russia's Power Machines company as a major part of the overall cost.
In November 2007 a presidential decree defined the organizations responsible for preparing for the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant and budgeted money for engineering and site selection. The candidate sites were Krasnopolyansk and Kukshinovsk (both in the Mogilev region) and Ostrovets in the Grodno region. Ostrovets/Astravets, 23 km from the Lithuanian border and 55 km from Vilnius, was chosen in December 2008, despite protests from Lithuania. Ownership of the plant could be partly or wholly private, and the Bulgarian precedent was being watched with interest (or despair).
The decree also aimed to ensure that nuclear and radiation safety was in line with the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Directorate for Construction of Nuclear Power Plants was established under the Ministry of Energy. The Nuclear & Radiation Safety Department was also set up as part of the Emergencies Ministry to act as the state nuclear regulator and licensing authority. The state-run Belnipienergoprom enterprise was designated as the general designer of the plant and will be responsible for negotiating and signing contracts, carrying out feasibility studies and preparing tender documents.
Ostovets nuclear plant
In June 2009 the government announced that Atomstroyexport would be the general contractor, with Russian and Belarus subcontractors, notably St Petersburg Atomenergoproekt. An intergovernmental agreement concerning the plant was signed in March 2011. A preliminary turnkey construction contract with Atomstroyexport for a 2400 MWe plant (2 x 1200 MWe AES-2006 units using V-491 reactors) was signed in October 2011 by Belarus state-owned Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate, and a general construction contract was signed in July 2012. St Petersburg AEP (now part of ASE Group) has been involved with the project since 2004, including site selection and technology choice. In January 2014 the Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate became the Belarus Nuclear Power Plant state unitary enterprise.
In June 2009 the government announced that US$ 9 billion Russian financing had been lined up, and Belarus also wanted the Russian loan to include provision for infrastructure. Belarus official cost estimate including infrastructure was US$ 9.4 billion, with one third of this to be spent 2011-15. In November 2011 it was agreed that Russia would lend up to $10 billion for 25 years to finance 90% of the contract between Atomstroyexport and the Belarus Directorate for Nuclear Power Plant Construction (now the Belarus NPP state unitary enterprise). In February 2012 Russian state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) and Belarusian commercial bank Belvnesheconombank (BelVEB) signed an agreement needed to implement the Russian export credit facility. In May 2012 the parties said that the first instalment under the design contract would be $204 million, and that this would be followed by $285 million for pre-construction site works. This was confirmed with an agreement signed in May 2014.
In December 2011 the Nuclear Power Engineering Department of the Energy Ministry submitted an application for a construction licence to state nuclear regulator the Department for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (Gosatomnadzor) of the Ministry of Emergencies, for the Ostrovets plant. During 2012 some site works were underway, and excavation for the second unit started in February 2013.
Belarus nuclear power reactors under construction
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Two further units are proposed for about five years later.
In April 2013 Atomenergomash (AEM) won the tender to supply the two reactors, which are being manufactured by AEM-Technologies at the Atommash plant at Volgodonsk. In October 2013 Gosatomnadzor (GAN) issued the Nuclear Power Plant Construction Directorate (Belarus AEC) with a licence for the construction of the first reactor at the Ostrovets site. First concrete was in November 2013, with VNIPIET (formerly SPbAEP) as main contractor, though the full construction licence was not issued until April 2014. A construction licence for the base mat of unit 2 was issued by the ministry in February 2014. Construction of unit 2 started in May 2014, several months ahead of schedule. The full construction licence was issued at the end of December 2014. The construction time for the first unit was expected to be 60 months, with grid connection of the unit due in November 2018.
In September 2015 the prime minister ordered relevant ministries and the Minsk executive to allocate the required number of qualified workers to “eliminate delays to construction and installation work” so that the project remains on schedule. In July 2016 the unit 1 reactor pressure vessel (RPV) slipped out of sling when being moved and hit the ground, apparently without being damaged. OKB Gidropress and Atomstroyexport in August inspected the RPV and sent the results of that to the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant Company – and to Gosatomnadzor. However, the Belarus government said that it wanted it replaced, and Rosatom responded that it would do so, later making it clear that this was a public acceptance matter rather than a technological issue implying any safety issue. The RPV for unit 2 will now be used in unit 1, incurring about a six-month delay in construction but no extra cost for the customer, and the original RPV will be used elsewhere. The new one was shipped from Atommash in Volgodonsk late in October 2016.
Otherwise, in mid-2016 construction was on schedule, with unit 1 about one-third complete, and start-up is now expected in mid-2019.
Belarus used INPRO’s Nuclear Energy Systems Assessment methodology covering economics, infrastructure, waste management, proliferation resistance, physical protection, environment, and safety to confirm its investment decision. The results showed that nuclear would be competitive, with overnight costs US$1960/kW and levelized electricity price 5.81 cent/kWh (compared with coal $1175/kW and 6.52 cent/kWh, and gas $805/kW and 6.76 cent/kWh). The basic overnight cost of the two units was put at $6.135 billion.
Lithuania remains opposed to operation of the plant and earlier filed a complaint with the Implementation Committee of the Espoo convention (Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context), which ruled that Belarus had violated the convention, though Belarus denies this. Since then discussions have continued, with Germany joining the Lithuanian objections. In 2014, a meeting of the parties to the convention "encouraged” Belarus to take measures to build confidence with neighboring countries concerning the project. They also suggested that Belarus invites the IAEA to carry out a site and external events design (SEED) mission at Ostravets. Belarus did so, and in January 2017 the IAEA team reported: "Appropriate steps have been taken to establish the design parameters of the nuclear power plant to protect it against the worst credible external event.” It said that the plant’s design parameters adequately accounted for external hazards, such as earthquakes, floods and extreme weather, and for human error. It said that hazard monitoring programs were adequate and properly documented.
The following month Lithuania’s energy minister threatened to boycott electricity imports from Belarus, suggesting that this would undermine the economic foundation of the project. He proposed a bill which would prohibit access to Lithuania's grid and power market by foreign countries which "operate or build" unsafe reactors. Lithuania has had no plans to import electricity from (as distinct from through) Belarus, and its 2012 energy policy involves rebuilding the Baltic states grid to be independent of the Russian/Belarus system, and to work in the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO) synchronous system.
Russia's policy for building nuclear power plants in non-nuclear weapons states is to deliver on a turnkey basis, including supply of all fuel and repatriation of used fuel for the life of the plant. The fuel is to be reprocessed in Russia and the separated wastes returned to the client country eventually.
In May 2009 the government approved a nuclear cooperation agreement with China, which includes nuclear power, joint development of innovative reactor technologies, nuclear safety, radiation protection and environmental protection as well as radiation technologies and their applications, nuclear medicine and radiation therapy. It creates a legal basis for Chinese participation in nuclear power plant and related construction in Belarus. It follows both a 2008 proposal from China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPC) and a 2005 cooperation agreement. Early in 2010 official announcements said that the President had proposed to cooperate with China in nuclear power, including the construction of a power plant, although Chinese official sources did not confirm this. In July 2012 the North China Power Engineering Co Ltd (NCPE) won a contract from Grodnoenergo to build a 330 kV transmission line to connect Ostrovets power plant to the grid. This would be financed by China Exim Bank.
In August 2012 the government said that there were no specific plans for a second nuclear power plant but the question remained on the agenda. A decision on it will be made once the first is operational, and in the light of costs and energy options then.
A VVER-1000 unit was earlier being built near Minsk but construction was abandoned in 1988 after the Chernobyl accident.
A radioactive waste management strategy based on IAEA principles was adopted in June 2015. It builds on regulations for nuclear and radiation safety approved by the Ministry of Emergency Situations in September 2010. High-level waste (HLW) will be stored near the plant for its lifetime (though used fuel is returned to Russia). Low- and intermediate-level waste (LILW) will be stored there for up to ten years before being removed to a repository. A LILW repository is to be constructed from 2028. The strategy also considers construction of a deep geological repository for the disposal of HLW following decommissioning of the plant.
The strategy predicts that there will be about 9360 m3 of solid radioactive waste of various types and 60 m3 of HLW arising during the 60-year operating life of the twin-unit Ostrovets plant. The projected amount of solid LILW resulting from decommissioning the plant is 2050 m3 per unit and HLW is 85 m3.
Public opinion monitoring conducted by the Ministry of Energy jointly with the National Academy of Sciences shows a sustainable growth of support to nuclear power over the period September 2005 to May 2012. The number of nuclear power supporters increased from 28.3% to 53.5% over that period, while the number of opponents decreased from 46.7% to 21%. Slight fluctuations were observed in 2012 after the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi, which triggered “a new outburst of anxiety.” An important result of the studies is the fact that they “unambiguously recorded” positive shifts in public attitude to “calm and reasoned perception”, despite the fact that Belarus was very affected by fallout from the Chernobyl accident, with resultant evacuations.
Belarus joined the NPT in 1995, and in 2005 signed the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with IAEA.