Mobile atom: from Chukotka to tropical islands?

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Mobile atom: from Chukotka to tropical islands?
Mobile atom: from Chukotka to tropical islands?
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The smaller the power system, the more expensive the electricity in it. This is true for both Hawaii and Pevek on the Arctic Ocean coast. You can try to save money by heating with coal, but gray snow in Chukotka and severe air pollution on the southern islands are practically guaranteed. An alternative to this has been developed since the 1950s - small transportable nuclear power plants. Will they replace dirtier and more expensive solutions?

"Academician Lomonosov"

Most of us, getting to exotic places as tourists, rarely think about how the locals live there. Meanwhile, the more exotic the place, the more difficult it is to provide it with acceptable energy - the foundation of a modern technological society.

The reason is that most energy solutions are optimized for large networks that are only possible on the mainland. A conventional gas-fired power plant is connected to a gas pipeline, and network gas is cheap. But what if we are on an island and there is no gas pipeline there? We'll have to carry liquefied gas on a gas tanker - and this will already raise the price of fuel by one and a half times or more. Plus, you will need to build a storage facility for stocks. And if this is Pevek in Chukotka, where ships do not go for a significant part of the year? How big should the storage be?

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There are simpler solutions: diesel generators. But you need to understand that electricity from them is much more expensive (only for fuel, excluding the price of the generator itself - from 17 rubles per kilowatt-hour). Another option is a coal-fired mini-thermal power plant, where fuel is cheaper. However, the residents of the same Pevek know very well from the experience of the Chaunskaya CHPP that as a result, the snow in the area becomes gray. Anyone can guess that the lungs of local residents do not become cleaner from this. For such "cheapness" you have to pay with heavy hospital bills, and even with lives: there are much more microparticles from the combustion of solid fuel than from the combustion of diesel fuel, and even more so - natural gas.

However, let's forget about Chukotka for a minute. Take Hawaii, a seemingly large island power grid, home to 1.4 million people. The average electricity cost there is 37 cents per kilowatt-hour, about 25 rubles, and the typical monthly electricity bill is $ 206, three to four times higher than on the continent. Cause? Local thermal power plants are small by American standards and run on fuel oil. The “island effect” is thus felt even where the island is very large and densely populated.

The same effect is to blame for the fact that the problems of small power grids cannot be solved at the expense of a conventional nuclear power plant. Today, the capacity of even one modern nuclear power plant reactor is up to 1-1, 2 gigawatts. Earlier, smaller reactors were also built: for example, VVER-440 (the last launch of a new one was in 2000).

However, due to the transition to more powerful VVER reactors, today VVER-440 or their foreign analogues (in terms of capacity) are no longer being built. For a year, a four-unit plant with "thousand-power" power units can generate up to several tens of billion kilowatt-hours, because it is most economical for a nuclear power plant to operate 24 hours a day at full power: after all, the nuclei of atoms in "pellets" with fuel inside the fuel elements are divided continuously, they cannot be “turned off” while there is no demand on the network. Ten billion kilowatt-hours a year is one percent of electricity consumption in a country like Russia.Obviously, in the "island" or northern small power systems, there will be nowhere to put so much energy.

Finally, in conventional nuclear power plants, the spent nuclear fuel must first be kept in a cooling pool for a long time until its temperature drops enough to allow the fuel to be transported for further reprocessing. Such an infrastructure requires space, trained personnel, security requirements, and therefore is also not very suitable for isolated and remote areas.

Atom on tracks and wheels

In the early 1960s, the so-called TPP-3 was created in the USSR. Contrary to the name, this is not a thermal, but a transportable power plant - a full-fledged nuclear power plant with a thermal capacity of 8, 8 megawatts. It was placed on the chassis of four heavy T-10 tanks - only stripped of armor and elongated to accommodate everything needed. The reactor was made in the form of a compact cylinder with a diameter of two thirds of a meter, placed in a lead glass.

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The mini-nuclear power plant did not work on the move: after arriving at the site and connecting all four machines with pipelines, water was poured over the lead shield, thereby creating an external circuit that not only provided heat removal, but also sharply reduced the "emission" of neutrons outside the reactor. In addition, during operation, all four machines of the nuclear power plant had to be in concrete or earthen protective caponiers. The system turned out to be quite expensive compared to diesel generators, so it was abandoned.

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However, there was still one more window for nuclear reactors - in providing electricity to small geological parties in the Far North and other remote places. For this, in the 1980s, the USSR created the Pamir-630D: the number in the name meant the electric power equal to 630 kilowatts.

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In the tundra, clean fresh water is often nowhere to be found, so to cool the new reactor - now on a multi-axle automobile chassis - they chose an absolutely fantastic liquid based on nitrogen tetroxide (a highly toxic rocket oxidizer). As a result, one employee died while testing a new mobile nuclear reactor. Ultimately, the already tested design was abandoned.

Non-self-propelled sailing

From a technical and economic point of view, all these projects had big problems. The fact is that the atomic kilowatt-hour from too small stations is very expensive. When the linear dimensions of the reactor are halved, the area of ​​its walls decreases fourfold, and its volume, eight times. This means that the specific material consumption rises sharply - and with it the price of generated electricity rises.

The capacity of the Pamir or TPP-3 was so small that just such an effect worked there: the specific material consumption and the price went off scale. Diesel mobile generators did not need thick lead shielding or exotic (and unsafe) rocket oxidizer, which benefited not only from simplicity of design, but also from price.

Therefore, approaching the problem at a new technological level, in 2006 the designers of Rosatom decided to take a different route. First, not to create a fundamentally new design of the reactor: they took as a basis a pair of icebreaking reactors - to start with KLT-40.

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This is a reliable structure that has been operating in the Arctic for more than a dozen years: these were and are on the icebreakers and the nuclear-powered lighter carrier "Sevmorput". Its electric capacity is 35 megawatts, tens of times more than the Pamir or TPP-3, which made it possible to significantly improve the economics of the project. The decision to use an icebreaking reactor, among other things, allowed significant savings on R&D.

Secondly, the developers have placed the new mobile nuclear power plant on a non-self-propelled vessel - in fact, a huge barge. In the case of the first floating nuclear thermal power plant, FNPP: its floating power unit "Akademik Lomonosov" is 144 meters long, 30 meters wide and has a displacement of 21 thousand tons. It houses two KLT-40S reactors with a total net electrical power of up to 70 megawatts.

The non-self-propelled nature allowed to save space for the NPP systems, and in any case, the ship will have to be sent to sea no more than once every 10-12 years - that is how much is assigned between the repair cycles of the ship's equipment. The very partial replacement of nuclear fuel there will take place every three to four years, but it will be carried out directly on board the floating power unit "Akademik Lomonosov", which will minimize the time when the floating nuclear power plant will not be able to supply residents of nearby settlements with heat and electricity.

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By the way, repairs will be carried out in the same way as for icebreakers at shipyards. All station personnel are supposed to be stationed on board the same non-self-propelled vessel, in the living area at the stern. The fact is that its large size and mass allow the use of full-fledged radiation protection - the same as on icebreakers, in which there is no danger of excessive radiation exposure of the crew. And accommodation on a ship, which includes a gym, swimming pool, sauna, bathhouse and even a shop with a laundry, can significantly increase the comfort of the work of power engineers.

The bottom and sides of the Akademik Lomonosov are double, which increases its resistance to any possible damage or terrorist attacks. In addition, at the site of permanent operation, it is protected by a special jetty. In the case of Pevek, where the Akademik Lomonosov floating power unit operates, the protection will work against ice. On tropical isolated islands, it additionally protects against typhoons and tsunamis.

What is important, Rosatom does not plan to be satisfied with what has already been achieved. They have already created a new reactor for icebreakers - RITM-200 - and are working on an even more powerful RITM-400. All of them can be installed at the next floating nuclear power plants.

RITM-200M ("M" - modification for floating nuclear power plants) is very different from KLT-40S: it has steam generators installed directly in the reactor vessel, which made the reactor much more compact. If KLT-40S has dimensions of 12 × 17, 2 × 12 meters with a mass of 3800 tons, then RITM-200M is only 6 × 13, 2 × 15, 5 meters with a mass of 2200 tons. Reducing material consumption also means reducing (with serial production) the cost of the product.

Vitaly Petrunin, First Deputy General Director of OKBM named after I. I. Afrikantov, where icebreaker reactors are designed, emphasizes: almost doubled - from 21 to 12 thousand tons”. Naturally, such a floating nuclear power plant will be much cheaper than the Akademik Lomonosov floating power unit.

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At the same time, RITM-200M is more powerful than its predecessor: the electric power of one such reactor reaches 50 megawatts. That is, one floating nuclear power plant with two similar reactors will be able to provide up to 100 megawatts of power instead of 70 from Akademik Lomonosov. Consequently, the cost per kilowatt-hour can drop significantly.

In the same direction of reducing the cost of operation, the fact that the breaks between repairs for RITM-200M are increased compared to KLT-40S plays.

What does this mean in practice? The fact is that in many isolated power systems, the maximum power of a nuclear power plant is not in demand for a significant part of the day. It is on the mainland at night that electricity can be transferred to another region, where the thermal power plant was stopped at night: on the island or in Pevek, such a “network maneuver” will not work, and there are very few consumers at night. Initially, the icebreaking principle of the reactor makes it possible to maneuver with its development: and if they are used, then the service life of the RITM-200M before repair can be increased to 20 years instead of the previous 10-12 years.

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But that's not all. A number of islands need much more than even 100 megawatts of power from one floating nuclear power plant with two RITM-200M reactors. Of course, you can order two floating power units at once - but this increases the cost.

In connection with the creation of the world's largest icebreaker "Leader", the RITM-400 reactor is being developed in Russia - and its electric power will be not 50, but about 110 megawatts: that is, one floating nuclear power plant with a pair of such reactors will give up to 220 megawatts of power.The dimensions of the new reactor are 8, 2 × 9 × 17 meters versus 6 × 13, 2 × 15, 5 meters for the RITM-200M, and the weight is 4000 tons versus 2200 tons for its predecessor. This means that in terms of the mass of structures per unit of power, RITM-400 is 20% more efficient (approximately 33 tons per megawatt of power versus 40 tons of mass per megawatt for RITM-200M). Accordingly, the price of its kilowatt-hour will be noticeably lower.

It is worth noting that, in addition to electricity, the floating nuclear power plant produces a lot of heat. In the case of Pevek, “Akademik Lomonosov” will provide heating to the city, giving off to its heating network that low-grade heat that cannot be economically used for power generation and which is usually dissipated by the nuclear power plant into the atmosphere. Since water for this is taken from the second circuit, no radiation hazard arises along the way - as in the case of heat supply from nuclear power plants, which has been working in Russian nuclear cities for decades.

What will it give

A natural question arises: what are the market prospects for the floating nuclear power plant? Yes, for the Far North of Russia, the decision seems more than justified. Coal leads to the premature death of about one person per 100 million kilowatt-hours of generation - and this is the case of developed countries, and for developing countries, industry experts talk about one death per 10 million kilowatt-hours of production.

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As Naked Science already wrote, out of 52 thousand Americans who die prematurely due to the operation of thermal power plants every year, the vast majority become victims of coal-fired power plants. That is, potentially even the first FNPP "Akademik Lomonosov" saves at least three lives a year, and the FNPP on RITM-200M - at least five over the same period. Dozens more will avoid lung and heart disease caused by microparticles of coal.

“In our country, those who like to sleep with the window open will have to wash the apartment three times a day,” Valeriya Shvets-Shust, the director of the Pevek Museum, explained half-jokingly. coal ".

Residents of Pevek have their own opinion about the prospects for the operation of the floating nuclear power plant in their city.

But what about foreign customers? Will the large thermal capacity of floating nuclear power plants be useful in a tropical climate, on distant islands? Will the project be competitive in the warmer regions of the planet?

The estimated cost of the first Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear power plant is up to five times higher than that of a coal-fired power plant, and even slightly higher than that of large diesel power plants. But at the same time, in a kilowatt-hour of a thermal station, the main share is occupied by fuel, and at nuclear power plants only a small part of the price of electricity falls on it. Therefore, a head-on comparison of this kind is not entirely correct.

In addition, as we noted above, with the use of the new RITM-200M reactors, the displacement of the vessel where the power island is based can be reduced by one and a half times along with its cost, while the capacity will increase by one and a half times. It can be seen from this that the potential cost of FNPP energy cannot be as high as that of diesel generators, and it is quite competitive against the background of Hawaiian thermal power plants with their 37 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is even more true in the event that the floating nuclear power plant will be built on the basis of RITM-400, with a lower specific material consumption.

Of course, this does not mean that floating nuclear power plants will be built in Hawaii: the United States rather rigidly regulates who and with what can enter their market. And it is obvious that they do not intend to admit such a player as Rosatom there for purely political reasons. But many states of Oceania, Latin America and Africa do not have their own players in the nuclear industry, and Western companies simply do not offer such a mobile product with a nuclear power plant capacity of 100-220 megawatts. Even ground-based serial NPPs of similar power outside Russia exist only on paper, in the form of draft designs.

Such countries will have a fairly simple choice: either more expensive small thermal power plants using hydrocarbons, or the same at the price of a kilowatt-hour, but much more "dirty" coal-fired thermal power plants.But if we are talking about zones with developed tourism, the "coal plume" can seriously harm the local economy. Tourists rarely like dirty air, and the climatic concern of the population of Western countries (where foreign tourism is especially common) is constantly growing. In such conditions, the floating nuclear power plant has a noticeable chance of success.

Oddly enough, even their low-grade heat can be useful, which in the Far North is used to heat water and heat houses. Many tropical areas lack sustainable sources of fresh water - especially during the dry season. Depending on the temperature of the withdrawn water and some other factors, heat from the floating nuclear power plant based on the Akademik Lomonosov floating power unit, according to calculations, makes it possible to desalinate from 40 to 240 thousand cubic meters of seawater per day. When using RHYTHMs, this volume can be much larger.

The principle of this desalination is simple: the superheated water in the secondary circuit evaporates the seawater through a heat exchanger. Water vapor is condensed at the outlet of the desalination plant, and the half-evaporated brine is poured back into the sea, since its volumes there will literally be just a drop.

Why are the greens attacking floating nuclear power plants?

Back in 2017, the Russian branch of Greenpeace tried to interfere with work on the Akademik Lomonosov under construction, stating: “Accidents at any nuclear power plant can have very serious consequences, and in the case of a floating nuclear power plant, a special vulnerability to the elements and terrorist attacks is added to the list of threats. The operation of loading fuel and launching reactors actually in the center of the city exposes the townspeople to unjustified risks, the city is not ready for possible emergencies of this kind."

At first glance, the situation looks strange. In the world, only one accident at a nuclear power plant is known, which led to undeniable human casualties - the Chernobyl accident, which Naked Science wrote about in detail earlier.

Let's remind: the number of premature deaths for coal starts from one in 100 million kilowatt-hours of electricity generated from it. At the same time, today's nuclear power plants, where technological improvements have drastically raised the level of safety, do not cause premature deaths at all - not a single one a year.

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Why is Greenpeace against floating nuclear power plants, if the only alternative to this in many places, such as the Far North and distant islands, is the same coal? Or firewood and biofuel for thermal power plants, which give even more microparticles and even higher mortality than coal. Why are Greenpeace employees concerned about the standard procedure for loading fuel in the city center, but not the burning of coal, which is still steadily going on in the center of a huge number of cities?

What is coal. In the center of St. Petersburg there is a working nuclear research reactor and residential buildings around it. Why are they not worried about Greenpeace? Why did he not protest against the previous loading of nuclear fuel on ships with icebreaking reactors at the same Baltic Shipyard?

The most likely answer to this question is this: Greenpeace, unfortunately, is poorly familiar with the data on the hazards of various types of power generation and generally has little idea of ​​the technical foundations of the nuclear industry. This is easy to see from his fears about the loading of nuclear fuel: in the entire history of the nuclear industry, not a single person died in such operations. Greenpeace officials are right when they say about fuel loading at floating nuclear power plants, that "the city is not ready for possible emergencies of this kind." They are right for the simple reason that during the loading of fuel in history there have not yet been cases that pose a threat to the health or life of people. No city can be prepared for a threat that doesn't exist.

We are grateful to the State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” for help in creating the material.

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