Nuclear Fuel Diversification: Ukraine’s Successful Experience

On 19 July 2018, a remarkable event took place: for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian NPPs, a nuclear power unit core was fully loaded with Westinghouse fuel. This refers to the third power unit of the South Ukrainian NPP, which was selected as a pilot one to load American-Swedish fuel assemblies. Yuri Nedashkovsky, Energoatom President, stated on this occasion: "This is a truly outstanding event, as Ukraine is gradually diversifying nuclear fuel supply. Nuclear fuel manufactured by Westinghouse is being operated in six of the fifteen Ukrainian reactors, and the issue is to gradually increase this proportion, by reaching the balance 50 to 50. This involves both energy security and economic feasibility."

The Westinghouse fuel appeared in the Ukrainian market back in 1991, but until now, only mixed loading of reactors was exercised – nuclear fuel of two manufacturers - Westinghouse and Russian TVEL was simultaneously operated at six Ukrainian power units. Russian fuel assemblies were operated in remaining nine power units.

"For the first time, the core of the SUNPP unit 3 was fully loaded with the Westinghouse fuel. This will allow completing trial operation of this fuel within one year and switch to commercial operation," - stated Yuri Nedashkovsky at the 33rd extended meeting of the Headquarters on implementation of the Westinghouse Fuel held at SUNPP on 19 July 2018. Representatives of the SNRIU, the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, the Ministry of Energy and Coal Industry of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Parliament, Westinghouse top managers and a number of Ukrainian energy sector companies attended the meeting.

The transition to Westinghouse fuel a priori allows increasing the power by 7-10%, that means adding 70-100 MW for each power unit. "It is possible to increase the capacity after carrying out necessary calculations, upgrading the turbine and replacing the generator, agreeing respective technical decisions with the regulator, - added Yuri Nedashkovsky. - These issues will be resolved by specialists, including representatives of the technical support organization of the national regulator - the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety".

Congratulating colleagues on the first full loading of the power unit with Westinghouse fuel, the director of the State Scientific and Technical Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety Ihor Shevchenko noted that a critical approach was applied during the nuclear and radiation safety review. "I will not praise the Westinghouse fuel, because we are looking for exceptionally problematic issues in all designs. But I cannot say anything bad either. The Westinghouse fuel assemblies, compared to fuel of another manufacturer, have much higher quality. For all the period of the American assemblies operation, just one failure has been identified. Thereafter, the manufacturer, using the original inspection and repair stand, successfully detected and removed a damaged fuel rod. After repair, this assembly can be reused in the reactor core", - said Ihor Shevchenko.

For comparison - when detecting the leaking fuel assemblies of Russian manufacturer, such assemblies are removed from the reactor core without the possibility of their further operation.

Besides Ukraine, trial operation of Westinghouse fuel was also held at Temelin NPP (Czech Republic). A number of other post-Soviet countries possessing WWER type reactors are also interested in an alternative supplier of fresh nuclear fuel. "The Ukrainian experience of diversifying nuclear fuel may be interesting for other countries operating WWER reactors, what means that Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Finland can join this project, and such negotiations are ongoing today”, - said Aziz Dag, Vice President, Westinghouse Executive Director. Westinghouse top manager emphasized that the energy security and independence of Ukraine depend on the cooperation issue regarding purchase of nuclear fuel.

The SUNPP Directorate also announced that full transition of the second power unit to Westinghouse fuel is planned by 2020. During 2019-2021, Energoatom plans to load another four power units of Zaporizhzhya NPP with alternative fuel. In general, it is about operation of the Westinghouse assemblies in seven of the fifteen power units of Ukrainian NPPs.


Tetiana Verbytska