Lithuania’s Ignalina nuclear power plant passes decommissioning milestone

By Axel  Reiserer

Lithuania’s Ignalina nuclear power plant passes decommissioning milestone

Exterior shot of the Lithuanian Ignalina nuclear power plant

Spent nuclear fuel can be removed and deposited in new storage facility

The decommissioning of Lithuania’s Ignalina nuclear power plant has passed a key milestone with the award of an operating licence for a new interim storage facility for spent fuel from the plant’s two RBMK-1500 reactors.

The licence permits the start of hot trials during which casks will be loaded with spent nuclear fuel and transported to the storage facility. All the plant’s used fuel is to be moved to the facility by the end of 2022. About 190 specially designed containers with about 16,000 used fuel rods will be stored at the facility.

Lithuania closed unit 1 of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in 2004 and unit 2 in 2009. The decommissioning is financed by an international donor fund managed by the EBRD.

Vince Novak, EBRD Director, Nuclear Safety, said: “We have seen outstanding progress in the implementation of the project in recent years. The operation licence marks a milestone achievement and will allow us to proceed on time and on budget. We are grateful to the Ignalina team, the contractors, the government of Lithuania, the European Commission and the donor community.”

The International Ignalina Decommissioning Support Fund, established in 2001, is funded by the European Commission as well as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland. To date, the fund has received more than €750 million.

The hot trials will initially commence with 10 casks which will be moved to the storage “in real conditions”. Each stage of the hot trials – from loading used nuclear fuel into the casks, to their transportation to the new facility – "will be tested to demonstrate that all design and safety requirements are fully met," the Ignalina nuclear power plant said.

The defuelling will then continue and the formal start of the industrial operation of the storage is scheduled after approval of the final safety analysis report by Lithuania’s nuclear regulator in October 2017.

Darius Janulevicius, General Director of the Ignalina nuclear power plant, said: “We are very proud to have achieved this important milestone in the world-wide first decommissioning of RBMK-1500 reactors. This was achieved as a result of the great efforts and close cooperation of all the project parties. We are particularly grateful to the European Commission and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development which, through their support, have enabled us to overcome project challenges and to achieve this excellent result."

In addition to financing the decommissioning of the Ignalina nuclear power plant the international donor fund has also financially supported energy sector projects in Lithuania in line with the country’s energy strategy. These include updates to Lithuania’s power and gas sectors strategies, the flue-gas desulphurisation facilities for environmental upgrade of the Lithuanian power plant, the construction of a new state of the art 455MW combined cycle gas turbine power plant, and the development of the power interconnection project between Lithuania and Poland.