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Nuclear power engineering: historic landmark

This year we are marking the 50th anniversary of Russia's nuclear power engineering, the industry that is the focal point of main hopes for securing the future energy well-being of the mankind. Its development began in 1954 with the start-up of the USSR first nuclear power plant that had a capacity of only 5 MWs. By the 1980s there were already about 300 operating nuclear reactors in the world with the total capacity of about 200 HWs.

At present there are 300 nuclear power plants on the Planet with 446 power-generating units, which are being operated by 150 companies and dozens of organizations in 34 countries. The RosEnergoAtom Concern is the world's second largest operating company. By the level of safety of the nuclear power engineering Russia ranks third and by the volume of the established capacity of the nuclear power engineering it ranks fifth among the developed countries.

Developing the nuclear power complex was started not just because of the need for electric power. The nuclear power engineering is, probably, the only industry, which was established with moral and political motives playing the central role. But today the electric power of NPPs is in as much demand as never before. Nuclear power plants account for major base loads in Russia's unified energy system. The stabilization of the country's economy, growth of industrial production and, as a result, increased consumption of electric power are emphasizing the need to raise capacities of the energy complex. Under Russia's energy strategy for the period till 2020 approved in 2003 by the government of the Russian Federation, the nuclear power engineering is one of the fundamentals of the economy's basic restructuring and the most important component of the national electric power engineering. And it is not surprising since the industry has a major potential to gradually replace a considerable portion of the traditional electric power engineering, which uses organic fuel, and to reduce the raw material orientation of the economy as a whole. Since 1998 NPPs have ensured the average gain in power generation equaling about 7 billion kWh and satisfied the increasing demand for electric power in Russia's European part by almost 50%.

In 2000 the nuclear power industry became the first Russian industrial sector to achieve the maximum level of production since the times of the Soviet Union. Operating just 11% of Russian generating capacities NPPs provide 16.5% of electric power (the share of NPPs in the electric power generation reach 32% in the European part, it amounts to 30.5% in the Center's power zones, to 29.1% in the Volga river's middle zones, to about 42.2% in the North-West and to 16.1% in the Northern Caucasus).

The growth of NPPs' electric power generation allows to optimize the country's fuel and energy balance by annually replacing over 40 billion cubic meters of gas in power engineering. At the same time, the RosEnergoAtom Concern acts as a tariff-stabilizing entity in the market of electric power, i.e. it restrains the tariff growth by generating cheap electric power. Besides, the nuclear power engineering industry plays an important nature-conservative role contributing to reduction of the ecological burden on the environment and harmful discharges in the atmosphere.

These days the ecological aspects are becoming a priority, when the energy strategy is formed. It gets obvious that the solution of many problems of ecological safety directly depends on the development of the nuclear power engineering because, as of today, the impact of its enterprises on the environment amounts to single percentage points as compared with the level permitted by the existing laws. At the same time, norms and requirements with respect to NPPs' ecological impact are constantly being made tougher (today, Russian standards are one of the toughest in the world). And, regardless of their toughness, NPPs are strictly obeying these requirements.

Facts prove that the "contribution" of radiation risks to general risks to life and health of a human being as well as the impact of NPPs on the environment are extremely small. The share of discharges by enterprises of the nuclear power engineering in the general industrial discharges of contaminants does not exceed 0.6%. Amounts of the radionuclide discharges at such NPPs as Beloyarskaya, Balakovskaya and Kalininskaya are not just small, they are close to the detection limit of measuring instruments during 24-hour measurements. In recent years not a single enterprise registered the worsening of either ecological situation or the people's health in a place of its location. What is more, the statistics show that, as a rule, at locations of nuclear power facilities the life span as well as the birthrate are noticeably higher than in neighboring regions.

Today, it is obvious to Russia that investments in NPPs are more economically efficient than those in other types of power generation. The upturn of the industry features more active works on completion of blocks of high degree readiness as well as works on raising the coefficient of using the established capacity (CUEC) and the efficiency factor, on reconstructing operating energy-generating units and increasing their service life. At the same time, measures to modernize and renovate the main and auxiliary equipment at NPPs allow to significantly raise the safety level while operating nuclear power blocks, to increase the reliability of equipment operation and stability of power supplies, to reduce all kinds of man-caused impacts on the environment and human beings around NPPs.

Under the energy strategy, even with the economy's moderate rates of growth the need for generating electric power at NPPs in 2020 may amount up to 230 billion kWh. In order to get prepared for the predicted levels of maximum electro- and heat consumption it is necessary to put in operation NPPs'generating capacities of up to 5 hectowatts by 2011 and no less than 18 hectowatts by 2020 (while taking into account the power production by energy-generating units of the first generation), including nuclear heat power stations' capacity of up to 2 hectowatts. As a result, the total capacity of Russia's NPPs will reach about 40 hectowatts (with average growth rates of more than 1 hectowatt a year) with CUEC exceeding 83%.

As growth rates of electric power generation in Russia amount to over 2% a year, the task of the nuclear power engineering industry is to ensure the growth of the annual power production over 4%, rates of increasing the generation of electric power equaling up to 8 billion kWh a year and rates of heat production up to 1.5 million hectowatts a year.

The promising future of the long-term development of the nuclear power engineering is linked to the real possibility of renewing and regenerating nuclear fuel resources without damaging the competitiveness and safety of the industry. The industry's long-term technological policy provides for an evolutionary introduction (in 2010 to 2030) of a new nuclear energy technology of the fourth generation with fast reactors, uranium-plutonium fuel and a perspective of creating a closed fuel cycle that will remove restrictions with respect to fuel raw materials in the foreseeable future.

Fast reactors (BN-800, BREST) should ensure the industry's transition to a qualitatively new level to be marked by a maximum efficiency of fuel use and a solution of radioactive waste problem. The latter is absolutely necessary since expenses on handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel with the use of advanced technologies are constantly growing. The world community of the 21th century will not get reconciled with the current state of radioactive waste treatment and growing volumes of waste at NPPs while upgrading of existing technologies will bring no needed results.

Today, the nuclear power engineering is quite competitive if compared with the heat power engineering and is capable of maintaining its competitive edge, including investment advantages, in the foreseeable future. However, this advantage is not a 100%-guaranteed matter and it should be supported by all technical, technological and organizational means, even more so, since the question of investment adequacy is critical. Today, only commodity products of RosEnergoAtom (the investment component of NPPs' tariff) are the source of funds for developing the industry. And it is absolutely clear that plans' implementation requires, above all, a state support. This is proved by the experience of other countries as well.

In conclusion, I would like to point out once again that the development of the nuclear power engineering does optimize the balance of fuel-and-energy resources, limits increasing cost of electric and heat power for consumers, contributes to effective growth of the economy and GDP, to normalization of the ecological situation in industrial regions. It also leads to consolidating the technological potential for a long-term development of the power engineering on the basis of safe and economically efficient NPPs.

Oleg Saraev, General Director, RosEnergoAtom Concern


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