Regulatory approval for Holtec’s Chernobyl used fuel store

8 August 2017

Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate (SNRC) on 1 August approved integrated systems testing of the interim used fuel storage facility (ISF2) being built by US-based Holtec International at the Chernobyl nuclear site.

Holtec said on 3 August that this marks the official transition to the post-construction phase. Holtec said the cold testing phase would move to hot pre-commissioning testing in December, with fuel loading beginning in March 2018.

ISF2, which is costing around €380m ($451m), is supported by the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA) managed by the London-headquartered European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The facility will be used for processing, drying, cutting and storage of the used nuclear fuel from Chernobyl units 1-3, which is necessary for the decommissioning of the plant. In total, more than 21,000 fuel assemblies will be placed in double-walled canisters and stored in concrete modules onsite for at least 100 years.  

The 18 NSA donors have committed more than €280m to Chernobyl safety projects, and the EBRD itself has contributed more than €200m to the ISF2 project. The principal contractors on the project are Ukraine's UTEM, Germany's BNG and Italy's Maloni.

Design and construction of ISF2  began in 1997. Holtec took over the project in 2007 after France’s Areva pulled out over construction problems.

Holtec said ISF2 features the world's largest fuel dismemberment facility including a hot cell for RBMK fuel. "Back-fitting the state-of-the-art systems in the existing Processing Building, with its substantially obsolesced and long disused equipment and machinery ravaged by over a decade of Ukraine's fierce winters, turned out to be far more complex than was initially envisioned,” the company added. “The plethora of daunting technical and regulatory challenges that had to be overcome and hundreds of thousands of person-hours applied to reach this final regulatory approval makes August 1 a memorable day in the annals of our company."

The ISF2 project has bestowed new technologies to the nuclear industry, including the first double-walled canister design and a Forced Gas Dehydration system to dry waterlogged RBMK fuel, Holtec said.

Following the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which destroyed unit 4, units 1-3 continued to operate for some years. Chernobyl 2 closed in 1991, Chernobyl 1 in 1996 and Chernobyl 3 in 2000. The plant officially entered the decommissioning phase in April 2016, following SNRC approval. The first phase of decommissioning -  the final shutdown and preservation stage - is expected to take ten years. The last damaged used fuel assembly from units 1-3 of the plant was removed from the cooling pool of unit 1 in June 2016,  and transferred to the ISF1, interim pool storage facility. Once completed ISF2 will be used to store all the used fuel on the site for at least 100 years.

The implementation of the ISF2 project has faced opposition from the Kiev Regional Council and residents of the Ivankovichi township, whose houses are located about 100km from the site. The villagers have repeatedly organised protest actions and collected signatures against the project.

Photo: ISF2 facility (Credit: Holtec)

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