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Nuclear energy for the Arctic: Solutions from Russian engineers

November 20, 2017, 8:32 UTC+3 MOSCOW

An expert on climate change sees an alternative to nuclear power plants in hydro energy

1 pages in this article
© Donut Sorokin/TASS

MOSCOW, November 20. /TASS/. Nuclear technologies may offer solutions for the energy problems the Arctic compounds are facing. Rosatom's design bureaus have been working on technical options. They suggest using a line of small nuclear power plants (NPP) to satisfy the energy deficit in the northern regions' isolated energy systems - in the Far East’s Chukotka, Magadan region and in Yakutia.

TASS correspondents discussed future of those projects with regional and federal experts.

Energy for the Russian North

Engineers suggest building in the north small NPPs of super-low capacity of up to nine megawatts. The designers told TASS they offer power plants of various forms - from fixed, to floating or even underwater - depending on where they would be installed.

"The small-and medium-capacity nuclear energy blocks may be good for remote regions - at natural resources’ fields, or at sites of big industrial or infrastructural construction," the designers told TASS. "Producing energy for small compounds is also possible, though here it is worth considering the economic component and the final cost of produced energy."

The main advantage of this variant is mobility.

"Once you finish developing a region, this plant may be relocated to another venue. The payback is good, the service terms are long. The less often you reload the block, the longer and better it is working," the experts said.

Mini-NPPs are a good solution for isolated energy systems in the northern areas of the Far East - Chukotka, the Magadan region, northern Yakutia, experts said. "In the North, most electric energy is generated at diesel and coal plants, which use the expensive fuel, brought in from the mainland," Sergei Kondratyev of the Institute of Energy and Finance said.

Solving old problems

Nowadays, energy systems of the remote districts in the Far East’s north depend fully on deliveries during the summer navigation of diesel, oil products and coal for electric energy plants and heating stations. For example, in Yakutia, because of the Lena River’s shallow riverbed, a part of the fuel was delivered not only along the Arctic rivers, but also along the Northern Sea Route and by railroads.

In Yakutia only, the local energy company, Yakutskenergo, and its branches had to bring in 73.3 thousand tonnes of light oil products, 85.5 thousand tonnes of coal and 4.5 thousand tonnes of raw oil. From the reloading bases to the final destinations, they transported along the Arctic rivers 10.5 thousand tonnes of diesel, 22.6 thousand tonnes of coal and 3.8 thousand tonnes of raw oil.

Yakutia’s legislator Viktor Fedorov says small NPPs could cut dependence of the remote regions’ energy sector on bringing in the fuel. "Small NPPs are optimal for the republic’s northern districts. Just bring in an NPP for the term of five years, and be relaxed. Our main expenses in the energy are the transportation costs. This could be a most effective solution," he said.

A matter of price

Nuclear energy is a money-consuming sector, Professor of the North-Eastern Federal University Tuyara Gavrilyeva says. According to her calculations, based on prices on such systems in the U.S., the cost of having one mini-NPP in Yakutia could be worth 14.3 billion rubles ($242 million). If a system of the kind is installed in a settlement of Yakutia’s Tiksi, where about 5,000 live, the expenses would be 2.8-2.9 million rubles per capita ($47-49 thousand), the expert said. "In other Arctic settlements, where the density is even lower, the expenses per capita would be even higher," she said.

Yakutia’s authorities recognize long-term benefits from using NPPs in the northern districts. The republic’s minister of housing and energy Danil Savvinov could not specify to TASS when this project could be implemented. The local authorities are still looking into it, he said. "Until we have the project’s studies, it is too early to speak about dates or profitability," the minister said.

Designers explain the big investments in the beginning would payback with organization of an effective energy system. "It [nuclear energy - TASS] pays back and is ahead of competitors in a few years of working. If we calculate the entire life cycle, these systems will prove to be more economically effective," engineers said.

As the mini NPPs are produced in series, their cost will reduce greatly, Sergei Kondratyev said. "As markets for these NPPs we should consider not only the Russian Extreme North, but also countries in Asia and Africa, which have a demand for reliable energy supplies," he said.

Keeping the Arctic’s fragile environmental system

The designers say use of nuclear power plants is optimal for the Arctic’s fragile environmental system. "This is why a source of energy should be exclusively secure, which the nuclear industry is offering," they said.

Experts agree with the engineers that mini NPPs do not cause high ecology risks for the Arctic environment. Unlike in burning coal, natural gas or oil products, the nuclear energy does not cause emissions of greenhouse gases, Gavrilyeva said.

The reactors "produce heat energy, the blocks do not require much water for cooling, and expenses for the NPPs’ construction and further service are minimal," she added.

Human resources for nuclear power plants

The nuclear energy is a technologically complicated sector, and it requires sufficient personnel to service nuclear power plants. This explains the failure of a similar project to install the Toshiba 4S small reactor for energy supplies to Galena in Alaska (the US), where 500 people live, the expert continued.

"The calculations have proved diesel generation is more profitable. The reactor’s small capacity (of ten megawatts) does not mean it possible to cut the required personnel of about a hundred people," she said.

It would be necessary to invite specialists from other regions to work at first NPPs of the kind, Sergei Kondratyev said.

According to the expert, further on, training of specialists for this project would be available at a Far Eastern university.

An alternative to NPPs

An expert on the climate change Oleg Anisimov sees an alternative to NPPs in hydro energy, which is "absolutely environment-friendly."

The gradual warming, the expert said, favors development of hydro energy. "With the climate change, water in the northern rivers is growing. From the 1970s the growth is by about ten percent, which offers favorable conditions for development of hydro energy," he said.

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