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    Fast reactors: Russia solves fuel and waste problem

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - An international scientific conference on nuclear power ended its work in Moscow on November 29.

    The conference, called "The Development of the Nuclear Industry Through a Closed Fuel Cycle on Fast Neutron Reactors," was attended by 200 delegates from Russia, France, the United States, India, Japan and China. It discussed the rapidly developing nuclear power sector, or more specifically fast neutron reactor technology.

    Experts single out three aspects of the problem. First, nuclear power is a must for civilization, because there is nothing more effective or competitive invented thus far. Second, nuclear technology has no future without a closed fuel cycle. Without it, its days are numbered in this century.

    The third element of the issue is fast neutron reactors. The nuclear industry is rapidly using up the scant natural resources of uranium and only fast neutron reactors can solve the fuel problem in the long term.

    All countries developing nuclear power are aware that the future lies with fast reactors. France plans to finish its new project by 2040. The U.S. regrets that it froze its fast reactor program and is now trying to catch up.

    Russia, according to the foreign conference delegates, is in the best situation with regard to the adoption of fast neutron reactors in the near future.

    Russia paid attention to fast reactors as it began developing nuclear power. The problem was tackled gradually and in stages, from small research units to industrial-scale reactors.

    In 1980, the Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant in the Urals launched a BN-600 trial reactor on fast neutrons, which is still operating and feeding current to the grid. The technology is being carefully improved step by step to avoid mistakes.

    Oleg Sarayev, deputy general director of Rosenergoatom, Russia's state-run nuclear power generating monopoly, stressed at the conference that the country is already building a BN-800 reactor, which it plans to put into operation in 2012.

    The project is part of the federal program of nuclear power development and is financed by the state. By 2030, Russia plans to have a competitive, tried and tested reactor on fast neutrons, ready for commercial use.

    A fast reactor is one that solves two problems at the same time in the nuclear power industry. Its surplus of neutrons enables it to burn nuclear fuel while at the same time making more. Therefore it is self-supporting. That addresses the other problem, that of nuclear waste, which now does not need to be stored.

    BN-800 (as well as the following model BN-1800) will be built at the Beloyarskaya plant. It will operate on a mixed uranium-plutonium fuel, or MOX. The uranium does not need to be enriched and can be used in its depleted form. In practical terms, it is an ever-lasting fuel with a never-ending supply.

    The introduction of such breeder reactors will increase the effectiveness of using natural resources 50 times and therefore drastically reduce troublesome radioactive waste.

    By having three to four such fast neutron reactors, humankind could solve all storage problems for radiated nuclear fuel by the 2080s. At a time when more and more countries are stepping forward and wanting to build nuclear plants and the traditional nuclear powers are building up their capacities, this fact becomes important.

    Alexander Lokshin, acting general director of Rosenergoatom, stressed at the conference that "the closed fuel cycle in reactor building should be an international cooperative effort." It is a key aspect of the costly fast reactor program.

    Combining intellectual and financial resources has become a tradition. Russia already has seven expert groups working in this area with France. It also has contact with Japan. Moreover, Russia has been invited to join the International Project for Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) under IAEA auspices. The project was initiated by President Vladimir Putin after the G8 summit in 2000.

    The highlight of the conference was a collection of reports contributed by its participants.

    Speaking of the meeting's importance, Valery Vanyukov, of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, said that its conclusions would play a great role in technological policy on fast reactors and find their way into government decisions in many countries.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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