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Bilibino: | Operating History | Technical Activities | Accomplishments

Bilibino Operating History

In 1973-76 in Bilibino, Chukotka, four power units of the first nuclear heat and electricity generating plant were sequentially commissioned. They had water-graphite reactors of the channel-type with tubular fuel elements designed by the Institute of Physics and Power Engineering (IPPE). The design is unique among Soviet-designed reactors. Each unit's capacity is 12 MWe, each of them supplying heat for Bilibino central heating at a rate up to 25 Gcal/hour. Fuel in the reactors is annular, clad on both the inside diameter and the outside with stainless steel and cooled via the inner annulus. The central part of the core is composed of 3.3% U235 and the outer parts of 3.0% U235.

Several features of the Bilibino reactors cause concern for nuclear safety experts. The Bilibino reactors are not surrounded by a containment structure such as those used in Western designs, but simply by building walls. Also, they may be prone to reactor cavity over-pressurization in the event of a multiple fuel channel rupture.

Although the Bilibino reactor design does not meet current safety criteria for Russian reactors, the level of reactor safety is still judged to be good compared to other Soviet-era reactors. Since 1993, the Bilibino plant has had eight events classifiable on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES); none was higher than Level 1. This is due both to the conservative design of the reactor (low temperatures with large heat-sink capability) and the relatively good physical and operational conditions found at the site.

The Bilibino plant's load factor has steadily declined from 77.4% in 1990 to 30.9% in 1995, reflecting the frequent power limitations imposed by the dispatcher.

All low-level and high-level waste is kept onsite, the latter being kept in stainless steel-lined concrete tanks.

As of 1993, plant modifications were planned in fire safety, plant safety, storage and disposition of spent fuel, and monitoring. Work had been previously stopped because of lack of funding.

A group of U.S. and State of Alaska officials visited the Bilibino plant in 1993, initiating discussions of emergency response and plant modifications and upgrades.

In 1995, the Bilibino plant was owed 65 billion rubles for electricity and district heating. As of October 1996, plant staff were owed three months' back wages, and there was a selective labor action by maintenance workers. The labor action had extended the maintenance outages at two of the four units and deferral of safety improvements, such as the replacement of 48-volt DC power system batteries. Skilled workers have been leaving Bilibino, as a result of the wage troubles. As of September 1996, staffing levels were at 611, down from the normal staffing of 741.

Bilibino: | Operating History | Technical Activities | Accomplishments


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