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Russia is standing on the threshold of nuclear rates

Russia is standing on the threshold of nuclear rates

25.09.2012 — Analysis

The new BN-800 fast-neutron reactor is scheduled for commissioning at the Beloyarsky Nuclear Power Plant in 2014. The total generation capacity of the plant will reach 2.5 thousand megawatt after completion of the planned construction and commissioning of another unit, one and a half times as powerful. Experts anticipate problems regarding consumption of the power generated by BN-1200. Furthermore, as the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, the increased nuclear power generation will create additional problems both for owners of thermal power stations and consumers.

The government of the Sverdlovsk Region expects that by 2022 the installed generation capacity will exceed 15 thousand megawatt in the Middle Urals, a 5.5 thousand increase against 2012. The Beloyarsky NPP will account for the lion’s share in the growth of the generation capacity, after it increases its power output almost five times against today’s level.

Viktor Gorshkov, a leading expert of the service for long-term planning of electricity production modes at the System Operator Unified Electrical System – Ural United Dispatch Department (SO UES UDD), notes that the reliable information about the commissioning date for Beloyarsky NPP Unit 5 with BN-1200 reactor is not available: It is most likely to be commissioned by 2025. Therefore, by 2020 the installed capacity of the energy system will not exceed 11 thousand megawatts, after BN-800 has been put into operation. In the meantime, even this amount is excessive for the Sverdlovsk Region: In 2012 the maximum consumption was 6.9 thousand megawatts, and in eight years, according to V. Gorshkov, it will be as high as 7.9 thousand megawatts.

The problem of the excessive electric energy, which in 2011, according to Nikolay Smirnov, the minister of energy and public utilities of the Sverdlovsk Region, amounted to 6 billion kilowatt-hours, has been successfully "fixed" so far through the distribution to neighboring regions. However, it is a short-term solution: The neighbors are building their generation facilities and soon will not need to import energy from the Middle Urals.

Vladimir Pavlov, the general director of the branch of Ural SO UES UDD, says that he does not understand why one more powerful reactor, like BN-1200, should be built in the Beloyarsky-Reftinsky hub. The delivery of additional energy to consumers involves heavy investment in distribution networks. It is still unclear whether such investment is feasible. Generation companies have been discontented with the Russian economy for quite a long time: The consumption in the oil sector does not grow; such a heavyweight as the RUSAL United Company announced the reduction of the aluminum production, which is going to have a direct adverse impact on the Sverdlovsk Region. The electrolysis production is facing reduction at the Bogoslovsk smelter located in the north of the region. As a result, the energy consumption by the smelter will decrease from 330 to 69 megawatts.

However, supply is not the main problem that will be triggered by the new nuclear reactors (according to V. Gorshkov, the excess in the regional energy system will be not more than 475 megawatts in 2020, taking into account the existing limits, scheduled repair work and maintenance of the required reserves). Sergey Scheklein, head of the Nuclear Power Department at the Ural Federal University, says that the increased nuclear power generation will lead to a larger load for thermal stations that will have to smooth out the consumption peaks, which, in turn, will cause an increase in the electricity rates.

It is commonly known that energy cannot be put into storage for future use; thus, its production cannot exceed its consumption. Therefore, the energy system operator loads up or loads down the power plants, depending on daily load variations. During the night hours, when electricity consumption goes considerably down, someone has to decrease the output. The operator generally is guided by economic considerations: The higher is the rate offered by the plant, the faster it will be relieved from load. The problem is that nuclear power plants operate in the base-load regime day and night, while co-generation power plants must supply heat of the specific temperature and quality; therefore, they also cannot compensate load swings (operating off-load at night).

Pumped-storage units would be a perfect solution in this situation, as they pump water into the upper levels of the cascade system in advance, using the excessively generated energy, but in Russia such units are a rarity. It is obvious that the Ural generation companies cannot count on hydraulic plants in order to smooth out daily variations. Therefore, this job will be done by inertial thermal power plants, where efficiency goes down in variable load operating conditions and equipment often breaks down. S. Scheklein thinks that thermal power plants will be moved to the periphery when nuclear power generation increases, and will increase their rates to compensate their losses and to survive.

The experts believe that the problem of reaching the balance in the entire Russian energy system should be addressed, taking into account technological and economic limitations. Sergey Scheklein thinks that money should be spent not only on new generation facilities, but also on reconstruction of nuclear power plants so that they would be able to operate in variable load conditions. However, the man objective is to learn how to accumulate energy, following the US experience in construction of 20 MW plants that operate, using the accumulated solar radiation, and that are efficient in smoothing out load swings. The expert says that the first experiments resulting in a 40% load relief have been conducted at Russian nuclear power plants. However, nothing has changed in the actual plant operation, and the situation keeps aggravating due to departmental interests of participants of the electric energy market.

It is clear that both the maintenance of excessive capacities and using of thermal power plants for daily load control will lead to slowdown in the industrial growth rates, which already stir up concern among economists.

Vladimir Terletsky

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