Rosatom, Russia's state-owned nuclear technology company, is expected to apply for design certification in the U.S. and the U.K. for its VVER pressurized water reactor design.Russian state media reported that an executive of Rosatom subsidiary ZAO Rusatom Overseas announced the company would pursue the certifications at Atomexpo-2012. An application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would follow a similar process with British regulators, which the company hoped to complete in five years.In addition to the company's interest in reactor technology exports to Western countries, Rosatom also expressed interest in building reactors in the U.K. and providing fuel for pressurized water reactors in Western countries. The company is reported to be planning to make a pilot delivery of fuel to Sweden's Ringhals 3 plant as early as next year.State-run publication “Russia Beyond the Headlines” also quoted Rosatom head Sergei Kiriyenko as saying the country is interested in Horizon Nuclear Power. The joint venture owned by RWE and E.ON was formed to build new nuclear plants in the U.K., but in March the German companies announced they would abandon that effort.
Typically before NRC would accept a new application for a Design Certification review they would like to see a US licensee intereted in building the plant once certified.
While a US customer, or at least significant interest by a prospective customer, is viewed as desirable by the NRC, it is not a prerequisite for submission, or NRC acceptance, of a design certification application. And with the design certification of the AP1000 complete, the ESBWR review nearly complete, and the EPR and US-APWR reviews entering their final phases, the Office of New Reactors may be looking to the VVER, and other possible new certification applicants, to keep its technical review staff busy.
However, if the Russians think the NRC will complete a design certification within 5 years, they need to take a look at the NRC's history in this regard. The agency has not yet been able to complete the certification of a completely new (to the US) design in less than 7 years, and it seems unlikely that it could do so in this case, especially given the Russians' unfamiliarity with the US regulatory system and the NRC's unfamiliarity with VVER technology.
In the late 80s and early 90s, before the DOE took over management of US assistance programs with Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union, the NRC developed substantial information regarding the design philosophy and operation of Soviet-designed reactor units - not only the RBMK, but also the various generations of VVERs in operation at the time.
When a delegation of Soviet physicists, bureaucrats, and power plant people visited the US in October 1987, I was selected as one of the interpreters for the group, which toured plants in Illinois, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania (TMI), along with stops for discussions at Bechtel, EPRI, INPO, and Brookhaven. This led to the creation of WANO two years later and, under the leadership of the late Bill Lee, to industry sponsored exchanges involving primarily Duke Power (Catawba and McGuire) for PWRs and PPL (Susquehanna) for BWRs. These exchanges lasted into the mid-90s.
In 1989, I spent seven weeks in Russia and the Ukraine with an NRC chief inspector and a regional administrator. This delegation led to numerous interactions between Commission members, their staffs, and counterparts in the Soviet Union, which in turn led to greater safety collaboration.
More specifically, under the aegis of the Lisbon Initiative, teams consisting of DOE lab personnel (mostly from PNNL and ANL), together with industry experts in power plant operations and operator training (through cooperation with INPO), were engaged to provide training and advice. Within this program staff members at VVER plants in Russia, the Ukraine, and Eastern Europe spent several years learning to develop symptom-based emergency operating procedures for their reactor units. Four meetings were held overseas each year, and numerous US plants allowed the team to train on their simulators (Russia had no full scope simulators at the time, although their development was taking place concurrently under other assistance programs). I had the honor to serve as the lead interpreter for many of these various endeavors.
This process involved intense discussions regarding differences between Soviet and US PWR hardware, design principles, and plant operating procedures. Initially there was a significant level of distrust on the part of the Eastern Europeans, but ultimately they came to understand that the US participants, who had been carefully selected to avoid Cold Warriors, were genuinely interested in helping them learn to operate their plants more safely. Although the number of units that managed to implement SBEOIs under the program was miniscule, there is no doubt that the US personnel who participated had succeeded in their efforts to “change the hearts and minds” of their counterparts.
In one particularly telling incident, a procedure involving the response to a steam generator malfunction was presented for discussion by the Ukrainian team. The draft EOI involved scramming the reactor, which was contrary to common Soviet practice. When the Americans asked why the unit did not continue to operate with the remaining SGs, they were told succinctly, “We are not allowed to do that anymore.”
Many of the US personnel who participated in these programs are still active in the industry. I am certain the NRC could assemble an advisory team of people who do (or did) have knowledge of VVER design and operation.
Michael K. Launer, Ph.D.
RussTech Language Services, Inc.