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Procedure to check Belarusian nuclear power plant's first unit's readiness for operation explained

The licensing of the Belarusian nuclear power plant for the sake of commercial operation is a very lengthy process that began back in 2017. Its vital components include the expert evaluation of safety parameters, evaluation of conformance with requirements, and the evaluation of the readiness of the operating company and its personnel. Representatives of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry (Gosatomnadzor) came to BelTA's press center to explain what has already been done and what the nuclear power plant has yet to go through before the license to operate the first unit is granted.

Safety evaluation and conformance evaluation

Documents that substantiate the nuclear and radiation safety are reviewed in the course of the expert evaluation. “A positive conclusion on these documents from an external expert organization is a requirement for getting the license. The Emergencies Ministry determines the choice of the documents. Resolution No.46 of 17 August 2018 is in effect now. It stipulates requirements for various facilities that use nuclear energy,” said Sergei Tretyakevich, Deputy Head of Gosatomnadzor's Nuclear Safety Regulation Office.

As far as units of the Belarusian nuclear power plant are concerned, an expert evaluation needs a considerable number of documents, including a safety substantiation report, a failure probability analysis of the first level and the second one, programs on ensuring quality in the course of commissioning and operating the unit, programs for various stages of the commissioning process, guidelines on arranging experiments, and various operations manuals. According to Sergei Tretyakevich, they are already close to 150,000 pages while the total volume of these documents will be roughly 200,000 pages.

The procedure for arranging the expert evaluation is stipulated by Council of Ministers resolution No.1781 of 7 December 2010. In 2017 Gosatomnadzor put together a specification of requirements that contains over 500 questions. The covered topics include the safety of the site, buildings and structures, the reactor, power supply, and operation. The energy and nuclear research institute Sosny of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus is in charge of the expert evaluation. Experts from various Belarusian organizations as well as the Russian Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service (Rostechnadzor) contributed to this work.

The evaluation of conformance with requirements and conditions of the license is another important stage. This evaluation focuses on the physical readiness of the facility and the implementation of design solutions directly at the site. “About 300-400 tests at various power levels are performed at every stage of the nuclear power plant's unit's commissioning process in order to verify conformance with the parameters and calculations of the safety substantiation documents,” noted Vigen Marukhyan, Head of Gosatomnadzor's Nuclear Safety Regulation Office.

Readiness of the operating company and the personnel

A nuclear power plant unit cannot operate safely and reliably without qualified and experienced personnel. Gosatomnadzor's permit to do the work involving the use of nuclear energy is one of the tools that allows the agency to make sure the personnel are properly selected and trained. Executives and people responsible for technical processes, the inventorying of nuclear materials and radioactive waste, oversight over nuclear and radiation safety need such permits.

In order to get the permits, employees of the state enterprise Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant had to complete tailor-made training programs, pass rigorous medical exams, psychological tests for resistance to stress and for the ability to work as a team. A Gosatomnadzor commission evaluated their knowledge. Operators had to demonstrate their practical skills on a full-scale simulator.

“The procedure to issue permits for the first unit began in February 2019 and completed in April 2020 before fresh nuclear fuel was delivered to the site of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Permits were granted to over 70 executives and people in positions of responsibility, who are vital for ensuring nuclear and radiation safety,” said Natalya Gorelik, Head of Gosatomnadzor's Licensing and Permits Office.

The Belarusian nuclear power plant is expected to complete the first part of the pilot commercial operation stage by late March. Conformance evaluation will take place after that. By that time all the works relating to the expert evaluation of safety parameters have to be finished and the operating company's readiness to do its job has to be evaluated. Gosatomnadzor will prepare a conclusion, which will be discussed at a session of the Emergencies Ministry board. The body will decide on granting the license or not, said Gosatomnadzor Head Olga Lugovskaya.

The Belarusian nuclear power plant is expected to be ready for the final inspection before the license to operate the first unit is granted In late April – early May.