Atom in transit

Russia and Belarus are considering the possibility of building nuclear power engineering installations
Only recently the word “atom” provoked a social allergy, if I can say so. It was perfectly understandable in view of the colossal losses the country incurred due to the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Millions of hectares of land were no longer used, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to resettle from well-established homes to clean areas, billions of dollars of damage, galloping morbidity… It is perfectly understandable why in its time the Belarusian society was categorically against continuing the construction of a nuclear heating power plant, which was converted into a common heat and power plant, near Minsk. Construction of new nuclear facilities was tabooed.

Nevertheless, today 20 years since the Chernobyl tragedy the attitude towards the nuclear power engineering in Belarus is gradually changing. There are several reasons for that. On the one hand, since the catastrophe the world has made essential steps to ensure the safety of nuclear installations. Director of the national enterprise “Energy Strategy” Oleg Martynenko believes, that today for example, nuclear reactors are insured against nuclear, heat, and explosion emergencies. “A reiteration of the Chernobyl catastrophe is practically impossible today,” he stated.

On the other hand, it is becoming more obvious that gas, oil, coal need a cheaper, predictable and sometime more ecologically harmless alternative.

For the conventional energy resources are getting constantly more expensive and the most precious of them may be depleted soon. Specialists understand the situation fine and see the opportunity for the peaceful atom to “feed” the conventional energy sources. Meanwhile the Belarusian Energy Ministry is constantly monitoring the public opinion of the idea to build a nuclear power plant and carries out corresponding sociological studies. Vladimir Bobrov, head of the Energy Ministry’s strategic development department, told the press, according to the latest of the studies, one in three of the polled okayed the idea to build a nuclear power plant in Belarus. Another 14 percents stated their support of the initiative due to various reasons. Thus, half of the population supports the project. “Now the share of those in favour of the idea is incommensurably larger than those against it,” noted Vladimir Bobrov.

After analysing forecasts of the Belarusian industry development and energy price growth as well as plans to increase the share of locally available fuels in the fuel consumption, scientists of the United Energy and Nuclear Research Institute “Sosny” believe, it is advisable to commission such a power plant in 2015. It means the substantiation of the respective investment project should be ready within the next two years. According to international practices, around five years will be spent on the construction work, installation and tuning of the equipment. As an example the project takes a water-cooled reactor, which is recognised as the safest type and rules out the possibility of catastrophic consequences, informed deputy director of the Sosny Institute Alexander Yakushev. The substantiation of the nuclear power plant construction project will take into account possible ecological consequences both during the construction and operation of the plant.

It will be a unique facility, actually a new high-tech industry will be created to face several essential problems. One of the problems is preservation and utilisation of used nuclear fuel. Getting the supplier to take care of the problem will also need money. The nuclear power plant will need a significant and quite expensive infrastructure, hundreds of highly qualified specialists. In view of these aspects there is another way to get Belarus into the club of nuclear power countries. Belarus received a proposal to build a Belarusian unit at the premises of Smolensk nuclear power plant, informed Vladimir Bobrov. “The proposal looks promising, as the power plant has all the necessary infrastructure, specialists, part of the required equipment,” he noted. Such a variant may cheapen the implementation of the national nuclear programme.

A variant of the forecast expects the nuclear power engineering in Belarus to take a dominating position by the middle of the 21st century, with the nuclear energy share reaching 80 percent of the country’s fuel and energy consumption.

by Alexander Sokolovsky
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