Public comments on the lifetime extension of Ukrainian nuclear power plant units | Nuclear Energy in Ukraine

Nuclear Energy in Ukraine

Public comments on the lifetime extension of Ukrainian nuclear power plant units

As of the end of 2009, there were 436 nuclear power plant units in operation worldwide. This is four units less than in 2004, and eight units less than in 2002, when the historical maximum was fixed. This represents a marked difference from the forecasted 4,450 GW by 2000, as it was expected by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1974 [1]. The last new nuclear unit was connected to grid more than two years ago. It was the Cernavoda-2 reactor in Romania, which took 24 years to build and is based on outdated and dangerous technology. At the same time, each year wind farms with capacity of more than 27 GW and solar power plants with capacity of over 6 GW, equivalent to 27 and 6 new reactors respectively are constructed in the world.

The present average age of nuclear reactors is more than 24 years. If to take into account that the average age of the power plants, which now are being shut down, is 22 years [2], it becomes clear that the prospects of nuclear power is not very optimistic. In fact, design lifetime of 80% of all nuclear reactors worldwide is coming to an end in the next 10 years. The situation in Ukraine corresponds to these world tendencies. Beginning with 2010, the lifetime of one nuclear power plant unit will expire in Ukraine almost every year. By 2020, design lifetimes of 12 out of 15 operating units will expire (Table 1).

For reactors, designed lifetime of which expired, there are two options: either to be shut down or to continue running. As for the end of 2009 there were totally 127 reactors shut down and lifetime for several nuclear reactors was extended (Table 2).

In Ukraine, the decision whether to stop or continue operation on the first unit of the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant should be finally adopted in December 2010. Because the process of power-generating unit decommissioning requires significant financial resources which the Government of Ukraine lacks today [3], Ministry of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine sees the way out in service life extension of old power-generating units so that nuclear power plants could accumulate funds required for shutdown and decommissioning process [4].

When referring to the service life extension of nuclear power plant units, one means the activities associated with preparation of all related facilities including nuclear power plant unit, storage facilities for nuclear materials and radioactive substances and radioactive waste and power plant fuel storage facilities for extended operation. Service life extension of old power plant units requires significant financial, scientific and technical resources. This process consists of several key areas: substantiation of service life extension, of its legislative provision, the power-generating unit state analysis, planning and execution of engineering works. This can be supplemented by the need to take into account of some problem which is specific for Ukraine: the availability of custom-built nuclear reactors.

Ukrainian nuclear power-generating units. Water-Water Energetic Reactors (VVER-type) are used to generate electricity at nuclear power plants in Ukraine. The Western equivalent of the Soviet VVER-type reactors is called a reactor with water under pressure or ‘pressurized water reactor’ (PWR). This type of reactors is the most common in the countries of the former socialist camp. There are two VVER-440/213 reactors and 13 units with the VVER-1000 reactor in our country. The units with VVER-440/213 reactor at the Rivne NPP are the oldest and have significant shortcomings (related to stability of reactor control and fire safety) in comparison with the equivalent used in Western Europe. Besides, there are two custom-built units VVER-1000/302 and VVER-1000/338 operated at the South Ukrainian NPP. These are one of the first constructed VVER-1000 reactors, which are almost experimental prototypes of the so-called ‘small series’. It should be noted that currently the process of VVER reactors decommissioning is ongoing in Western Europe.

Experience in service life extension for VVER units. At present, there are a small number of units with VVER reactors worldwide, service life of which has been extended (Russia, Finland). Out of all cases of service life extension, only eight concerned units with VVER-440 design: two of these units are VVER-440 Model B-213 at Loviisa NPP (Finland); two VVER-440 Model B-189 units at Novovoronezh NPP (Russia); two VVER 440 Model B-230 units at the Kolska NPP (Russia). Among these six blocks only the last two at Finnish NPP correspond to the Ukrainian reactors at Rivne NPP, in respect of which the process of the lifetime extension will take place on a first priority basis. But designs of the first and second units at Rivne NPP with VVER-440 Model B-213 are slightly different, while they were repeatedly modified at the request of the countries members of the Association of Donor to improve NPP safety. Moreover, all operations relted to the lifetime extension of VVER units of various models were performed mainly by Russian experts with participation of Finnish experts at the Loviisa NPP. Of course, Russian experts are also partially involved in the works at Rivne NPP, but those that dealt with VVER-440 reactors Model B-230 at the Kolska NPP.

So, Energoatom National Nuclear Energy Generating Company will continue operation of nuclear power-generating units without proper personal experience, just as without experience of cooperation with foreign specialists working specifically with Ukrainian nuclear reactors. At the same time, the history of nuclear power sector shows that even decades of experience do not provide guarantee of safe performance of work in this complex field. In fact, lifetime expansion of old power-generating units is an experiment, and experiments in nuclear power industry pose serious danger to humans and the environment. It is worth mentioning that almost similar units VVER-440 at Nord NPP (Germany) were closed immediately after the unification of Western and Eastern Germany; at the request of the European Union operation of VVER-440 units at Kozloduy NPP in Bulgaria was discontinued as the condition for admission of this country to EU.

Problems related to off-design extension of nuclear power plant units lifetime. When reactors are operated for over 20 years the risk of accidents involving radioactive emissions significantly increases. While the extension of reactor lifetime provides the financial prospects for energy companies, this solution is unacceptable to society in view of the risk of danger threatening all the people [6].

As result of nuclear power plants ageing there is increase of violation cases such as minor leakages, cracks or short circuit. It is demonstrated by the implementation practice of service life extension projects in the U.S., Europe and Russia. The increase of violation cases is caused by gradual decrease in reactor materials strength because of ionizing radiation exposure, mechanical loads, corrosion and other factors.

The first signs of ageing usually occur on a microscopic level of the material structure and often become apparent only after the materials are damaged. Assessment of the risk, caused by reactor ageing of any type, begins after 20-year period of its operation, while according to theoretical calculations NPP equipment depreciation period falls on that age (but, it should be emphasized that it is only according to theoretical calculations).
The risk of such a danger is growing every year: this is a trend which is observed throughout the whole sector but is manifested differently.

The number of failures is minimal when the operating life of reactor reaches its ‘middle age’. With time this figure gradually increases (Fig. 1) [7]. This process is not always easy to recognize and track and it is of serious hazard to nuclear power plants.

Technical works related to off-design extension of reactors lifetime begin with the analysis and assessment of the technical condition basing on the results of operational inspection, including the analysis of changes in material properties that occurred during the operating life with the forecast of extension period and assessment of the strength of units including operational factors and the lifetime extension period. Basing on the performed works a set of technical documents defining the possibility of lifetime extension has to be developed. Modern methods of determining the state of the reactor elements can not guarantee 100-percent reliability. Moreover, available state evaluation programs are not always fulfilled [8]. Consequently, the real situation often becomes known only after the accident occurred, when it is too late to carry out evaluation.

Quality of components and quality of work performance. To carry out works on extension of reactor lifetime it is necessary to replace some units of reactor facility. In recent years there has been a mighty row about the supply of low quality components for nuclear power plants and poor quality of performed works [9], [10] This is alarming, since the dangers created by the operation of obsolete off-design equipment are supplemented with the danger caused by operation of low-quality equipment.

Accumulation of radioactive waste. Any replacement of materials and equipment for nuclear power plants causes generation of radioactive waste (RW) of various degrees of radioactivity. To extend the operation of NPP much greater volume of work must be performed than at implementation of usual measures to improve nuclear safety of NPP or at occurrence of design accidents. Greater volume of work means a greater volume of radioactive waste compared with previous years.

Also there is a problem with spent nuclear fuel. Due to the lack of alternative ways of fuel handling, the practice of spent nuclear fuel storage in the national deposits is increasingly used worldwide. If there are intents to extend service life of reactors it is necessary to increase storage capacity of storage facilities at NPP. Unless this issue is given due attention, the amount of radioactive material in each of the facilities is going to increase.

Project documentation. Operating organizations are trying to convince the public that due to the ongoing modernization of power plants, which aims to improve safety, no accidents at nuclear power plants will happen. However, deviations from the original project often occur in the course of modernization process. Meanwhile, for planning and performance of complicated and long-term complex works, which include the nuclear power plants lifetime extension, it is essential to have relevant project documentation for a specific plant. Practice of the similar projects in Russia [11] shows that, because of changes made to the design of power installation and not marked at all levels of project documentation, contractors are forced not only to deviate from the work plans but even stop them completely, which causes delay in both works performance and financial overruns. However, the main consequence of documentation non-compliance to the actual operating nuclear power plant is that the installation of new elements according to the outdated plan or simple replacement of components may lower the security level of the plant or even cause an accident.

Legislative aspects of lifetime extension process. Technical and economic assessment (feasibility study) of lifetime extension expediency is one of the initial stages of making decision as regards lifetime extension. Feasibility study results and technical and economic indicators of investment projects in nuclear power sector are the main factors for making decisions as regards starting financing these projects.

Furthermore, in most democratic countries in order to extend the service life of old nuclear power units an operator should prepare environmental impact assessment (EIA). The main objectives of the EIA are: defining the scope and level of impact of the planned activities on the environment; measures to prevent or mitigate these impacts; acceptability of design solutions in terms of environmental security; forecast of environmental changes according to the list of impacts; identifying a set of actions to prevent or limit dangerous impacts of a planned activity on the environment. And, most importantly, the public can be involved to the discussion of NPP units lifetime extension process. But in Ukraine no EIA was prepared for lifetime extension operations, therefore, the public was not involved into discussion of this issue.

Scientific and technical support of lifetime extension process. Representatives of nuclear power sector are confident both in the ability to substantiate revision of earlier fixed deadlines for nuclear power plant units operation and in the ability to persuade the public in security of these nuclear power plant units and most importantly, in the need for lifetime extension for old nuclear units. However, over the past 30 years, the nuclear industry has been facing radical change of problems in the industrial environment [12], associated, firstly, with waste disposal and the cost of decommissioning that considerably exceeds the evaluation made in the past; secondly, with competition with the essentially more upgraded gas and coal sectors and sector of new and renewable energy sources [13]; thirdly, with rapid loss of personnel’s competence and lack of industrial infrastructure [1]. According to IAEA, the situation with the engagement of competent experts to the process of lifetime extension is critical, and the average age of NPP personnel and technical support services is noticeably approaching 50 years [14].

Peculiarities of arranging lifetime extension for NPP in Ukraine. According to the Energy Sector Development Strategy by 2030, the lifetime of 13 out of 15 existing nuclear power plant units is going to be extended in Ukraine. Despite the fact that the official energy strategy is under constant criticism and fails to meet European standards [15] and has a number of more realistic alternatives [16], on April 29, 2004, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved the document titled Integrated Program of Works Related to Lifetime Extension for Operating Nuclear Power Plant Units.

The main point in defense of this step was the opportunity to continue to receive cheap nuclear power in required quantities and accumulate funds needed to shut down the unit when it is depleted of its resources. Besides the divisiveness of above mentioned argument, we should emphasize that the Government of Ukraine, by making such decision, failed to take into account Ukraine’s ability to accomplish the task. According to the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine, the adopted program was initially performed very poorly [17], [18]. Now, when there is less than a year left till the end of service life of the unit number 1 at the Rivne NPP, which is the first in line for lifetime extension, the situation, generally, remains unchanged [19].

Economic peculiarities of lifetime extension for nuclear facilities in Ukraine. The rate of 1kWh generated by Ukrainian NPPs does not include the NPP construction costs. Meanwhile, the costs of implementing measures for lifetime extension and launching new capacities should be included into the rate. Thus, the cost price of electrical power produced by new units or by units with the extended lifetime should be higher than the cost price of electrical power produced by operating NPPs. Hence there are major concerns as regards the economic feasibility of extension of Ukrainian power generating units lifetime. What concerns statement on accumulation of funds in the decommissioning fund in the event of extended operation of NPPs, they have been declared for more than ten years, and not a dime was received in the fund.

The measures associated with the extension of the lifetime of existing NPP units are financed in accordance with the legislation at the expense of the investment component of the rate, namely, amortization deductions, maintenance fund as it pertains to costs associated with the improvement of fixed assets and classified as the gross expenditures for production of electric power. According to national experts, the budget estimate of the main measures and estimated additional costs related to extension of the life of one unit with capacity of 1000 MW will amount to $ 50-80 million (U.S. analysts argue that the costs of U.S. nuclear power plant will amount about $ 50 million for extension of the life of one unit with capacity of 1000 MW; extension of service life of two reactors of the first generation at the Kolska NPP for 15 years would cost $ 230 million for both units).

It should be noted that some works on lifetime extension have been already performed within the Program for improving the safety of Ukrainian NPPs. During 2006-2008, more than $ 200 million [20] was spent under this program. About $ 100 million more was expected to be spent in 2009. These works are performed at own expense of NPP and at the expense of credit resources provided by the EBRD and Euroatom. Under these conditions it is difficult to determine the real cost of the lifetime extension process.

The problem of cost overruns is common for the world nuclear power industry [10], and the same problem will occur to Energoatom National Nuclear Energy Generating Company. Inspections of nuclear power companies carried out by National Electricity Regulation Commission of Ukraine (NERC) revealed that the company violated license terms due to failure to meet the structure of rates, approved by the commission, also due to cost overruns and the incomplete fulfillment of certain cost items [21], [22]. Therefore, when considering the financial issues associated with the production of nuclear energy, one should keep in mind that preliminary estimates will be exceeded.

Let us try and assess the economic feasibility of lifetime extension for the unit number 1 at the Rivne NPP. According to Energoatom, the installed capacity of the unit number 1 at Rivne NPP is 420 MW [24]. Aggregate capacity of all operating nuclear reactors of Ukraine is 13,835 MW. The share of the unit number 1 at Rivne NPP in the total volume of electric power produced by Energoatom company is 420/13,835 ? 100% = 3%.

Net income of Energoatom in 2008 amounted to UAH 128.86 million, equivalent to approximately $ 16 million. Accordingly, the annual income of the unit number 1 at Rivne NPP is 3% of the stated amount, or $ 0.48 million.

Energoatom plans to extend the lifetime of units for maximum 15 years. During this period, the unit will bring the company the profit of 0.48 ? 15 = $7.2 million.

Hence, the profit earned by the unit during the entire pre-planned off-design service life will be just over $7 million; meanwhile according to the estimates of Ukrainian experts the works on the service life extension will require at least $50 million, but in fact more than $100 million.

As of October 2009, the work on extension of the lifetime of the unit number 1 at the Rivne NPP is underway. Energoatom informs that “… the expenses are substantiated in technical-economic calculation (cost analysis), approved by the Ministry of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine, and at present this amount does not exceed the level set by international practice, and may be up to 680 dollars per kilowatt of installed plant capacity …” [25]. Thus, the cost of lifetime extension for the unit number 1 at the Rivne NPP with capacity of 440 MW can make about $300 million, which many times exceeds international practice of lifetime extension for similar nuclear power plant units.

From the above facts it is clear that the lifetime extension is not economically feasible. We did not take into account any additional costs that Energoatom would incur except as described above, so the real situation will be much worse.

Energoatom can get away with this economically risky undertaking, because the company has the right to make unilateral decisions as regards lifetime extension for old units, and the State Committee for Nuclear Regulation of Ukraine, which grants licenses for off-design lifetime, is not able to control the financial matters.


Today, the power industry of Ukraine depends on nuclear power plants as far as they generate about 50% of all electric power.

The main danger of nuclear power is that at each stage of nuclear power plant operation, beginning with uranium mining for nuclear fuel production and ending with facility decommissioning which generates hazardous radioactive waste. RW pose huge risks for the population and environment not just nearby NPP, but also for much larger territory and greater number of people. These extremely hazardous substances can enter the environment during transportation, processing, use and storage, and can be used by terrorists.

Because of imperfect structures most NPP themselves represent a significant threat, while operation of nuclear reactors during off-design period bears an even greater risk.

To neutralize radioactive waste, money earned by nuclear power plants are insufficient, i.e. the use of nuclear power plants in Ukraine makes no economic sense, all the more so the service life extension for nuclear plants plant units is economically unadvisable. But due to incomplete payment for overcoming the consequences of the nuclear industry operation, as well as because of the unwillingness of the Ministry of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine to develop modern energy resources, nuclear power still receives substantial benefits for future development.

Based on the fact that Ukraine does not possess nuclear technology adequately, the decision of the leaders of the country in respect of lifetime extension makes our power sector dependent on foreign suppliers.

Lifetime extension for old nuclear reactors will not solve the problems in the Ukrainian power sector; instead it will make a set of new ones. In fact, we are going to receive only negative effects, which should be listed once more: increase of the volume of radioactive waste; increase of nuclear accident risk; threat to energy security; economic loss; ecological disturbance in the regions around NPP.

The best solution in terms of energy security of Ukraine today is the gradual decommissioning of hazardous nuclear power facilities and allocation of funds spent on its support for energy efficiency improvement in industry and housing sectors, as well as for the development of much cheaper energy resources.

Download Ukrainian version: lifetime_extension_ukr.pdf
Download Russian version: lifetime_extension_rus.pdf


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  24. According to Energoatom National Nuclear Energy Generating Company. —
  25. Response to the letter of NECU to Energoatom regarding issues of off-design lifetime extension for nuclear power plant units. —