The EBRD multilateral bank plays a central role in a number of decommissioning projects underway to answer European nuclear safety concerns as Patrick Reynolds reports.


Later this year, hot testing is to begin for the new dry storage facility for spent fuel at Ignalina NPP, in Lithuania, where some tests of the reactor building are ongoing. Regular operations are due to commence by late 2017.

The interim dry storage facility project is part of the decommissioning activities that have been underway for that last few years at the 1500MW Ignalina plant. The two generation units at Ignalina NPP were shutdown in 2004 and 2009, respectively. They were the last, and only, RBMK-1500 (graphite moderated tube reactor) units in the EU.

Funding for the nuclear safety work at Ignalina NPP is managed by the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

In total, the interim dry storage facility will house 17,000 nuclear fuel assemblies from the closed units when it is completed after hot testing. As described by EBRD, the dry storage facility is ‘crucially important’ for the safe decommissioning of Ignalina NPP. It has a design life of 50 years minimum, holding 190 storage casks.

Further activities in the decommissioning programme at Ignalina NPP include the treatment, processing and storage of solid radioactive waste from the plant’s operational phase which lasted about 26 years, and waste generated during decommissioning. The solid waste management and storage facilities are undergoing cold trials.

Hot trials of the new radioactive waste management facility are to start in January 2017 and regular operations from mid 2018,
says Balthasar Lindauer, deputy director of EBRD’s Nuclear Safety Department.

Although not a central feature of EBRD’s core mandate, the bank has become a central player in nuclear safety in parts of Europe and is fund manager for the decommissioning and associated works at Ignalina and some other projects – Kozloduy NPP (units closed in 2002 and 2006), in Bulgaria; Jaslovske Bohunice VI NPP (units closed in 2006 and 2008), in the Slovak Republic; and, involvement in confinement and decommissioning works at Chernobyl NPP, in Ukraine.

While full ownership and responsibility for the decommissioning programmes and the constituent projects rest with the power plants themselves, along with the relevant decommissioning agencies and others, through its funding management function the EBRD oversees them in a hands-on way, says the bank. The focus is to ensure donor funds are spent efficiently for the intended purposes, it adds.

To execute the central role, the EBRD’s acts as Fund Manager. Its Nuclear Safety Department has a team of about 25 professional staff that are managers (some with nuclear backgrounds), procurements specialists, administrators and support personnel, explains Lindauer.

He told NEI that further support comes from elsewhere in the bank on procurement, legal and environmental aspects, but both the bank itself and also donors on the projects receive support from independent advisory bodies of experts during the implementation stage. The bank also hires consultants as required.

“It is huge challenge," says Lindauer, "but the bank team is dedicated and professional."

Lindauer adds that the bank’s strength in nuclear safety is oversight of project delivery. There are many diverse aspects to the EBRD team’s tasks but they are all related, he says.

Some projects for the team are unique, such as the New Safe Confinement project with its equipment and systems at Chernobyl NPP where an accident destroyed one of the RBMK reactors (Unit No 4) in 1986. Other projects are more similar, such as dealing with spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, respectively – such as at Ignalina NPP.

The dedicated funds for works at Ignalina, and other decommissioning activities underway – at Kozloduy NPP and Jaslovske Bohunice NPP – are managed by EBRD under the umbrella name of International Decommissioning Support Funds (IDSFs). Lindauer says, typically, the bank request that recipients of funds set up dedicated project management teams for the nuclear safety projects.

EBRD is "deeply involved" from project idea through to implementation, he adds.

Decommissioning at Ignalina NPP

Ignalina NPP was built during the 1970s when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union area of influence, and its two generating units were commissioned in 1983 and 1987.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc group of countries, Lithuania became independent in 1991 and four years later sought membership of the EU. Nuclear safety was a key aspect of the accession negotiations, and one of the conditions was early closure of Ignalina NPP which then supplied the "vast majority" of electricity generated in the country, says Lindauer.

Even though Ignalina NPP had not been in operation for long by the time of the accession talks, the design of the power plant is similar to that of the Chernobyl NPP and so presented a nuclear safety concern to EU.

However, closing such a project of that design but having such significance to the local energy market has had both political and technical challenges, says Lindauer.

But much progress has been made, and the latest focus of work is on the interim dry storage facility (Project B1), and the solid waste retrieval and sorting facilities (Project B2) and solid waste treatment and storage facilities (Project B3/4).

Further ongoing works include the design of the near-surface repository for low and intermediate level short-lived waste (Project B25-1).

The cold trial of B1 in the near future is to demonstrate the functionality of equipment and systems. The interim dry storage facility
is being built by a joint venture of German companies Nukem and GNS, and the overall cost is approximately €200 million. The nuclear (hot) trial is scheduled to commence in the third quarter of 2016 and the facility is scheduled to be fully operational about a year later.

Also in cold trial phase is the B2/3/4 project, which is being built by Nukem in a €184 million task. The complex is designed for the retrieval, treatment and interim storage of 120,000m3 of low and intermediate level waste.

Following the design works for B25-1, according to the programme schedule it could be that construction approval for the project might be received later this year from the Ministry of Environment. Other ancillary facilities are already in place.

Earlier works also included modernisation of Ignalina NPP’s technical documentation archive (completed in 2005), and reactive power compensation at the plant’s power junction (completed in 2008). By 2014, the work had been completed to develop the engineering, planning and licensing documentation, procurement of tools for dismantling and decontamination of the plant’s major equipment and systems, and also personnel training.

Funds for decommissioning

Nuclear safety activities at Ignalina NPP were initially supported through the first, common, fund serving a number of nations – the Nuclear Safety Account (NSA). Then the dedicated Ignalina IDSF was established in 2001 to deal with decommissioning of the plant, and is managed by EBRD.

The Ignalina fund was created by EBRD and received contributions from the EU and a number of European governments (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and UK), and has a total of 17 members. Lithuania – like Bulgaria and the Slovak Republic with respect to their decommissioning funds – is a member of a fund without obligation to make a cash contribution.

Managed by EBRD, the Ignalina IDSF has a value of €820 million to cover specific projects as well as supporting Lithuania in its energy system transformation following the required closure of the plant, says Lindauer.

He explains that the idea for IDSFs comes from recognition of costs for the countries to deal with the legacy of key nuclear safety challenges in their transition from the Soviet era, and light of the EU’s insistence for particular changes and the consequential activities needing to be done. Those activities are decommissioning and helping with support change in the affected energy sectors due to the loss of nuclear generating capacity, respectively, explains Lindauer.

He says that in addition to decommissioning activities at Ignalina NPP, the Ignalina IDSF also supports construction of new – not replacement – capacity in the form of a 455MW combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plant operated by Lietuvos Energia AB. The CCGT plant was also funded by EBRD and commercial banks, and was completed in 2012. It is able to meet up to a quarter of the country’s electricity demand.

Also of strategic importance to the Lithuanian energy market was the formation of the open Baltic power market and integration with the NordPool market. Further aspects of the energy sector transformation in Lithuania include the new transmission interconnection with Poland (LitPol Link project) by LitGrid AB with an associated reconstruction and extension of Alytus substation to become a 1000MW back-to-back transformer station.

In a statement, LitGrid’s CEO and chairman, Daivis Virbickas, said the changes "ensure diversification and better security of supply" as such projects change the status of Baltic countries from being "energy islands to the important hub of energy flows."

Works are well advanced on the LitPol Link, which is supported by co-financing from the European Commission. Trial operation of the transmission line started in recent months.

Lindauer says there are similar aims to support energy market transitions in other countries: in the Slovak Republic there is a programme of grid modernisation; and, in Bulgaria there are a number of energy saving (demand-side management) projects, such as building rehabilitation, as well as power plant modernisation.

“It’s about assisting change," says Lindauer. The objective is not exact replacement of lost capacity from shutting down and decommissioning the nuclear power plants.

From its key involvement in the decommissioning projects and associated activities, it is clear that EBRD is a major player in nuclear safety, "and I hope central to the process," adds Lindauer.

Gunter Grabia, senior manager with the bank’s nuclear safety team, has described in a statement that shutting down a reactor is the "easy part," adding that the decommissioning process is "fiendishly complex."

“It’s a big challenge, but one that we relish," says Grabia.