Belarus power station connected to grid; Britain completes fusion facility

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Belarus’ Astravets nuclear power station (Source: ROSATOM)

The first unit of Belarus’ Astravets nuclear power station has been connected to the country’s power grid and has started producing electricity, Russia’s state nuclear corporation ROSATOM said in a statement on Nov. 3.

“The arrival of the first ‘atomic’ kilowatt-hour of electrical energy into the unified energy system of Belarus is a historic event that marks the beginning of the atomic era for the republic," said the General Director of ROSATOM Alexey Likhachev.

“Undoubtedly, there is still a lot of work to be done before the unit is put into commercial operation, but even today we can talk about the success of the project of the Belarusian NPP, the first nuclear power plant of III + generation, built using Russian technologies outside of Russia.”

On Aug. 7, the first fuel assembly was loaded into the reactor core of Unit 1. Then, on Oct. 11, at the stage of physical start-up, the reactor was brought to the minimum controlled power level (less than 1% of the nominal). On Oct. 23, the Belarus government cleared the plant to start powering up from 1% to 50%. 

Commissioning of Unit 1 of the plant into commercial operation is scheduled for the first quarter of 2021, ROSATOM said. 

“Evidence is mounting that to keep on a sustainable and low-carbon energy path we need to rapidly accelerate the amount of new nuclear capacity built and connected to the grid globally. The 2.4 GW of new nuclear capacity in Belarus will be a vital contribution to achieving this goal,” Sama Bilbao y León at the World Nuclear Association said.

Britain completes fusion research facility

British land regenerator and property developer, Harworth Group plc, has finished the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) nuclear fusion technology research facility at its Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) development in South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, the company said in a statement Oct. 5. 

The completion of the around 20,700 metre square unit, comprising of two floors of office space and a research laboratory on the ground level, triggers UKAEA taking a 20-year lease with Harworth. 

“The UKAEA will use the facility to develop and test joining technologies for fusion materials and components – for example novel metals and ceramics. These will then be tested and evaluated under conditions simulating the inside of a fusion reactor (including high heat flux, in-vacuum, and strong magnetic fields),” the statement said. 

The new facility is being funded at part of the UK government’s Nuclear Sector Deal delivered through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with an additional £2 million ($2.6 million) of investment from Sheffield City Region’s Local Growth Fund. 

The site will help UK companies win contracts as part of the key international fusion project ITER under construction in the south of France and aims to eventually enable technology development for the first fusion power plants. 

“This is another key milestone for the new facility hit on-time and I’m delighted with the quality of what Harworth and its contractors have delivered. The modern facility is a fitting base for Fusion Technology as we ramp up our efforts to enable the delivery of sustainable fusion power,” Damon Johnstone, Head of UKAEA Yorkshire said. 

MAST Upgrade achieves first plasma

The UKAEA’s Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak (MAST) Upgrade has achieved “first plasma” for the first time after a seven-year build, the UKAEA and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy said in a joint statement Oct. 29. 

The £55-million project was funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, which is part of the UK Research & Innovation and the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. 

The MAST Upgrade comes ahead of Britain’s prototype fusion power plant, of the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP), which aims to be completed by 2040 and will go toward research for the Iter, the fusion megaproject in the south of France which is attempting to show fusion power on a large scale. 

The UKAEA-designed STEP, which saw initial public funds of £220 million, will be based on the MAST Upgrade’s “spherical tokamak” fusion concept and could offer a route to a compact fusion power plant. 

“We want the UK to be a world leader in fusion energy and to capitalize on its amazing potential as a clean energy source that could last for hundreds of years,” UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway said in the statement. 

Fusion, which powers the sun and the stars as hydrogen atoms fuse together to form helium and energy, has been promising an almost inexhaustible source of energy with little waste for decades but, until just recently, has faced seemingly unsurmountable engineering challenges.

Poland seeks EU approval for aid for plant

Poland plans to request that the European Commission approves state aid for the construction of a nuclear power station, the minister responsible for energy infrastructure Piotr Naimski said during a conference Oct. 22, according to Reuters. 

Poland aims to build between 6 and 9 gigawatts if nuclear energy capacity and to build its first power plant by 2033, though is still examining financing schemes. 

Earlier in October, Poland and the United States entered talks over a 30-year Intergovernmental Agreement to cooperate on the development of its civil nuclear power program, including an accord whereby Poland will buy $18 billion in nuclear technology from U.S. companies.

By Reuters Events Nuclear