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Nuclear energy became an integral part of modern civilization in the not so distant past. Still, its benefits are undeniable. The electricity and heat that we enjoy in our offices and residential buildings, and the energy needed for industrial facilities are all largely thanks to nuclear power plants.


The use of nuclear technology has opened up new avenues for the world to create advanced systems, unique materials, and to develop far-flung and inaccessible places around the world. What’s more, it helped contribute to the exploration of the other planets in the solar system and unlock the secrets of the Universe itself.


A future without humanity harnessing the benefits of nuclear power and radiation technologies is inconceivable. We just cannot do without putting various radioactive properties to work both on Earth and in space, since they are indispensable to sustaining and healing people, preserving nature, and opening new horizons to explore space and the biological environment we live in. 


What is nuclear energy?


We want people to learn about natural radioactivity, and make them aware of the fact that radioactivity is all around us, that it’s natural and that at low levels they are not dangerous. Radioactivity is in the floors and walls of our homes, in the food we eat, in the air we breathe, and even in our own body

Ludovic Ferriere

curator of the meteorite collection at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria.


In 1896, French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered the phenomenon of radioactivity, that is, the spontaneous transformation of atoms of one chemical element into atoms of another, accompanied by the emission of elementary particles and electromagnetic radiation. Over the next decades, scientists all over the world delved into the essence of this phenomenon in all of its subtleties while striving to put it into practical use.

Radiation is a common phenomenon in the Universe

Naturally occurring radioactive elements are present in the Earth’s crust. Our bodies are a bit radioactive too, because any living tissue inevitably contains radioactive material subject to radioactive decay.

In fact, all living organisms on Earth are constantly subject to ionizing radiation. There’s even a scientific theory which links the origin of life on our planet to its exposure to powerful radiation fields.


Scientists are aware of the existence of a natural nuclear reactor originating two billion years ago. In the early 1970s, French specialists accidentally discovered uranium ore that contained an unusually low ratio of U-235 isotopes, which could only occur as a result of a nuclear reaction.


Following a detailed study of the material extracted from the mine, the researchers came to a dazzling conclusion: the uranium ore was subject to natural fission.


Two natural factors had to coincide to make it all possible. Firstly, the uranium ore deposits in western Equatorial Africa contained a critical mass of uranium-235. Secondly, there was also a nuclear reaction moderator there – water. A controlled fission reaction would be impossible without water slowing down the neutrons.


Today, the very existence of humanity is unimaginable without employing knowledge about the power of the atom. Advanced countries have been amplifying progress on various radiation and nuclear power technologies evolving from the fundamental discovery of radioactivity.  


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From X-rays to the world’s first nuclear power plant

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Modern high-tech devices, unique scientific and industrial tools and systems, new materials and their physical properties – all these are being made nowadays thanks to various properties of radiation. People study and preserve ancient artifacts, safeguard nature, learn the secrets of the Earth and the Universe thanks to the boundless power of nuclear energy. Sure, we’re just at the very beginning of the full use of energy produced by nuclear fission, but even those few things about it we’ve already managed to discover are brimming with enormous opportunities.


On November 8, 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-rays, which were later named in his honor. Not only did mankind learn to treat the gravest diseases with the help of X-rays, but that also made it possible to penetrate the mysteries of inanimate matter.  



Humanity uses the natural radioactive decay energy in various terrestrial and space devices known as radioisotope energy sources (or RTGs). These generate electric power and heat needed to keep various systems functioning. For instance, in Soviet lunar rovers designed to explore the Moon, RTGs heated all the built-in equipment and machinery.

The world’s first artificial nuclear reactor

It was built in 1942 at the University of Chicago under the direction of the world-famous physicist Enrico Fermi. In our country, the first F-1 nuclear reactor was built in 1946 by Academician Igor Kurchatov who had been working at the Laboratory No. 2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences (which is known today as the “Kurchatov Institute” National Research Center).

Using the method of radiometric dating (which is basically a technique for determining the age of objects containing radioactive isotope), archaeologists, paleontologists and even art historians are able to tell the age of any given ancient artifact.


The world’s first nuclear power plant to be put to real industrial use was the Obninsk NPP in our country. It was connected to the grid on June 26, 1954.

   

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Nuclear power stations are safe and reliable sources of energy

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Our country pioneered the industrial use of nuclear power facilities. Today, our nuclear engineers design and construct cutting-edge 3+ generation NPPs that are extremely cost-effective, reliable and buttressed by state-of-the-art active and passive security systems.

As of today, there are four active power units equipped with VVER-1200 reactors in Russia

Generation 3+ NPP projects were designed by the experts from the Engineering Division of the ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation. 


The first of these to be constructed was the Power Unit No. 1 of the Novovoronezh NPP-2 (it was put to operation on February 27, 2017). Power Unit No. 2 was connected to the grid on October 31, 2019. Furthermore, in March 2018, the first generation 3+ power unit was launched at the Leningrad NPP. Late October 2020 saw the second unit of this type being put to work at the same nuclear power station.


As of now, ROSATOM’s Engineering Division is the only company in the world having the practical experience of construction of both generation 3 reference NPP power units, namely:

• Power units Nos. 1-4 of the Tianwan NPP in China

• Power units Nos. 1-2 of the Kudankulam nuclear plant in India


and generation 3+ reference NPP power units, namely;

• Power units Nos. 1–2 of the Novovoronezh NPP-2

• Power units Nos. 1–2 of the Leningrad NPP-2)

ROSATOM considers the NPP power unit equipped with a VVER-1200 reactor to be the company’s flagship project. 


It draws heavily on domestic reactor engineering experience and the world’s best research in the field of nuclear reactor reliability and safety. The VVER-1200 boasts a 20-percent higher energy output than the previous design. 


It has a 60-year-long (and potentially extendable) service life and a very high installed generating capacity rate (up to 90%), and allows for reactor power maneuvering and is capable of operating for 18 months without refueling.


The VVER-1200 reactor design meets the EUR (European Utility Requirements for LWR Nuclear Power Plants), the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and WENRA’s (Western European Nuclear Regulators Association) post-Fukushima safety requirements.


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Depending on the exact contract terms, ROSATOM’s Engineering Division is now designing, constructing, supervising the construction or supplying equipment to the following nuclear power plants equipped with Russia’s VVER-1200 power units:

• El-Daaba Nuclear Power Plant in Egypt

• Xudapu and Tianwan (units Nos. 7-8) NPPs in China

• Hanhikivi Nuclear Power Plant in Finland

• Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant in Turkey

• Paks-II Nuclear Power Plant in Hungary

• Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh

• Kursk Nuclear Power Plant in Russia

and the Belarusian NPP in Belarus


Building four such power units creates 24,000 jobs, provides high value-added export earnings and contributes to the establishment of stable long-term relationships with each of the partnering countries.   


Nuclear power in the service of the nation

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Alexander Lokshin, First Deputy Director General for Operations Management of the ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation, President of ASE Engineering Ltd.

Safety in the nuclear industry is determined by referentiality: the technology offered by ROSATOM has long been field-tested and the NPPs constructed on their basis have already been operating safely for years.

Alexander Lokshin, First Deputy Director General for Operations Management of the ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation, President of ASE Engineering Ltd.

The safety system of Russian nuclear power stations

Four high-efficiency barriers:


The first one – nuclear fuel pellet prevents radiation blast under the fuel rod shell.


The second one – the fuel rod shell itself - is made of zirconium alloy and keeps radiation away from the coolant (water) of the main circulation loop.


The third one – the main circulation loop prevents fission products from leaking under the hermetic containment.


The fourth one – a system of hermetically sealed containments that are able to withstand a plane crash, a tornado, a hurricane or an explosion, as well as huge internal or external pressure caused by a powerful shock wave. Modern Russian nuclear plants can even withstand a magnitude eight earthquake.  


Should something happen inside the reactor room itself, radioactivity will be trapped inside this containment. For instance, if water in the reactor evaporates and starts causing pressure on the reactor lid (like, say, in a huge tea kettle), the containment will be capable of withstanding this as well. The safety systems prevent the accumulation of explosive hydrogen inside the power unit and remove heat from the containment autonomously, should any emergency situation occur.


Nuclear power plants have active safety systems operated by personnel and passive ones that are completely non-operator-dependent.


One of the core nuclear power plant safety systems is the so-called “melt trap”. The Tianwan NPP (which was constructed on the basis of Russian designs) became the first nuclear station equipped with this device. Today, such safety systems are being installed at all nuclear plants constructed under ROSATOM’s supervision.


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This trap is basically a crucible

It is placed under the reactor and filled with the so-called “sacrificial material” (that is, ferric oxide and boric acid) that can stop the nuclear reaction instantly. The system is called passive because in the event of a nuclear reactor meltdown, the fuel would pour into a fireproof containment and would remain there under the force of gravity alone. 


In accordance with the IAEA’s requirements, all nuclear power plants must be equipped with autonomous backup mobile diesel generators and mobile pumping stations in order to prevent a repetition of the Fukushima incident (that is, the nuclear disaster that happened at Fukushima-1 NPP in 2011).


The modern nuclear power station is a stable, reliable and powerful energy source. Electric power generated by nuclear power plants enters the overall energy system and is then supplied to industrial users, residential areas and other consumers and facilities. Nuclear power plants generate environmentally friendly energy, because they do not pollute the atmosphere by emitting harmful elements or greenhouse gases.


And, among other things, a nuclear station is one of the most beautiful man-made industrial facilities: you may just take a look at the photos of the NPPs constructed by the ROSATOM’s Engineering Division to be sure of that.


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What will the nuclear power plant of the future look like?


Today, ROSATOM specialists are outlining the image of the nuclear industry of the future. Designers, engineers and construction workers are all operating together as a team. They are developing state-of-the-art projects and implementing innovative solutions, thereby optimizing the work of nuclear power facilities and improving their efficiency. The industry’s development prospects have been outlined for years to come.


ROSATOM’s Engineering Division has also adapted the generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactor design, so that it could meet the requirements of the European supervisory authorities. These types of nuclear power plants are going to be built in Hungary and Finland.  



The extreme degree of the VVER-1200E reactor’s safety and resistance to external shocks and internal malfunctions is its main feature and advantage. The built-in structure of safety barriers and systems eliminates the possibility of a radiation leak and pollution, and provides physical protection against natural disasters, technological accidents and other emergencies.

The VVER-TOI reactor is yet another unique design developed by ROSATOM’s Engineering Division

It is, in fact, evolutionary, since it is based upon the technical solutions behind the VVER-1200 NPP power unit design. 


A number of technical and maintenance features of the VVER-TOI reactor include:


• An optimized 40 month-long construction period

• Reduced construction costs (20% lower than earlier designs)

• Reduced operating costs (10% lower than earlier designs)

enable it to compete successfully in the global market. 

The VVER-TOI design features a number of additional safety measures enhancing its seismic resistance and damage stability in a hypothetical case of a severe accident. In addition, such a power unit is capable of running on the so-called MOX fuel without any modifications. In 2019, the VVER-TOI project was found to be compliant with the European Utility Requirements for LWR Nuclear Power Plants (EUR).


Presently, the VVER-TOI construction project is being implemented at the Kursk NPP-2 in Russia and at Turkey’s Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant. 


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ROSATOM’s Engineering Division is the general designer of fast breeder reactors. To date, Russia’s nuclear industry has accumulated a wealth of unique experience in constructing and successfully operating these types of reactors. The latter are associated with the prospect of transitioning to a closed fuel cycle nuclear power program that ensures the most efficient use of uranium resources and could solve the SNF- and RW-related environmental problems.


In 2015, the world’s first and only power unit equipped with a BN-800 reactor was launched into operation at the Beloyarsk NPP in Russia. Apart from generating electricity, the unit contributes to research aimed at the construction of the BN-1200 high power breeding reactor.


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TASS Special Project, 2020

TASS News Agency (Mass Media Registration Certificate No. 03247, issued April 2, 1999, by the State Press Committee of the Russian Federation). Certain publications may contain information not intended for users under the age of 16.

The project uses photographs from the TASS archive, partner sources and Gettyimages.

The project was made by: 

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