Belarus on November 3 became the latest nation to begin generating electricity with nuclear energy when Unit 1 of the Belarusian nuclear plant was connected to the country’s power grid.
The Belarusian construction project, located in the Grodno region of Belarus, features twin 1,109-MWe pressurized water reactors, supplied by Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation. The units are VVER-1200 Generation III+ designs, model AES 2006. Just last week, a VVER-1200 was connected to the Russian grid at the Leningrad plant.
The start-up program for Unit 1 began on August 7, when the first fuel assembly with fresh nuclear fuel was loaded into the reactor, according to a Rosatom press release. The reactor achieved first criticality on October 11.
Once fully completed, the plant is expected to supply approximately 18 billion kWh of low-carbon electricity to the Belarus national grid every year, Rosatom said.
Quotes: “The delivery of the first ‘nuclear’ kilowatt-hours of electric energy into Belarus’s unified energy system is a historic event that marks the beginning of the republic’s nuclear [power] era,” said Alexey Likhachev, Rosatom’s director general. “This was made possible by the efficient long-term efforts of a large team of Belarusian and Russian specialists. Undoubtedly, there is still a lot of work to be done before the unit is put into commercial operation, but we can already say that, as the first Russian-designed III+ generation nuclear power plant to be built outside of Russia, Belarusian nuclear power plant is a success.”
Sama Bilbao y León, the World Nuclear Association’s new director general, commented, “Evidence is mounting that to keep on a sustainable and low-carbon energy path, we need to rapidly accelerate the amount of new nuclear capacity built and connected to the grid globally. The 2.4 GW of new nuclear capacity in Belarus will be a vital contribution to achieving this goal.”
Safety concerns: Despite assurances by Rosatom in its press release that the Belarusian safety system “has been fully endorsed by the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the news from the plant was not greeted warmly by neighboring Lithuania. (Belarusian is approximately 31 miles from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.)
According to a November 3 Reuters story, Lithuanian transmission system operator Litgrid ceased all power trading with Belarus upon being made aware of the grid connection. The move was not unexpected, as Lithuania has long opposed the construction of Belarusian, declaring the plant in June 2017 to be a security threat, as well as a threat to the Baltic state’s environment and public health.
IAEA review: In August of last year, an IAEA Pre-Operational Safety Review Team conducted an 18-day review of the Belarusian plant, covering operational programs under implementation, including leadership and management for safety, training and qualification, operations, maintenance, technical support, operating experience, radiation protection, chemistry, emergency preparedness and response, accident management, and commissioning. At the conclusion of the review, the team’s leader identified “a commitment by plant management to assure safe and reliable operation,” according to the agency.