New Uses for Nuclear Equipped Ships, Subs Investigated

Moscow ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA, 5 Aug 95 p 9
Interview with Doctor of Technical Sciences Valentin Dolgov conducted by Sergey Alekhin, St. Petersburg

The entire nuclear undersea fleet of the Soviet Union was born within the walls of a building modest in its appearance on one of the streets remote from the center of St. Petersburg. Until recently the mere mention of the name of this institution in the press was simply inadmissible. Today, like all firms of a similar rank, Malakhit is going through difficult times.

The naval office has fallen into the ground swell zone, barometers promise economic bad weather, but compass needles indicate to the firm's collective the only acceptable course today--conversion. According to the strategic arms limitation agreement, a certain number of Russian nuclear submarines with missile complexes on board must be utilized. The menacing nuclear-powered submarine vessels developed through scientists' labor await their turn in the other world, though very many of them have not yet sailed even for one-half of the prescribed period.

Specialists at the naval office did not begin to observe indifferently how ships built by the vast collective would be turned into metal scrap. Today in the Malakhit box there are many very interesting developments. We asked Doctor of Technical Sciences Valentin Dolgov, director of work on nuclear electric power stations, to tell ROSSIYSKAYA GAZETA readers about some of them. We would like to note that Valentin Nikolayevich's specialty is a field totally new for Malakhit.

[Alekhin] Valentin Nikolayevich, how are nuclear submarines to be used for peaceful purposes?

[Dolgov] We carry out work in three directions. The first includes the problem of application of power installations of nuclear submarines as sources of electric and thermal power. Tests conducted in Sakhalin Oblast confirmed the possibility of use of submarines as stationary floating electric power stations of 3- to 5-MW capacity. Such a station can provide coastal regions with electric power for 3 to 5 years. At the same time, the cost of generated power with due regard for expenditures on reconstruction and operation will be at least fivefold lower than that of electric power stations of the same capacity on organic fuel.

According to Malakhit's evaluations, the total cost of planning and work performed directly at the plant for the reequipment of submarines will amount to about 10 million U.S. dollars and their length will not exceed 1 and 1/2 years.

Consolidated calculations of the economic efficiency of the project as applied to Iturup Island show that expenditures on the reconstruction of nuclear submarines into an electric power station are recovered in less than 2 years and at the existing rates of rise in prices of oil products and their transportation to the place of destination even this period can be shortened by approximately one-third.

Our proposal received a positive evaluation at a conference with the first vice-governor of Sakhalin Oblast, in which managers of all interested structures, including the inspectorate of the Russian Federal Oversight of Nuclear and Radiation Safety and the Committee on Ecology and Nature Utilization, participated. A program for the realization of the project was adopted. Unfortunately, however, its fulfillment was stopped owing to natural calamities in Sakhalin.

Work on the development of floating nuclear electric power stations belongs to the second direction. Research in the volume of a technical proposal executed by Malakhit according to a contract with the Rosenergoatom concern showed the fundamental possibility of developing a floating AES [nuclear electric power station] of 50 MW capacity in the shortest possible time. Experience in the construction and operation of nuclear power installations of nuclear submarines with reactors cooled by a lead-bismuth liquid- metal coolant and of fast-neutron power reactors will be utilized. Incidentally, for this exceptionally important work completed in 1994 and accepted without remarks the Rosenergoatom concern did not pay Malakhit a single kopeck.

[Alekhin] What does a floating AES represent?

[Dolgov] It is not a self-propelled vessel, which can be towed, for example, to the shore of a remote island, or to some not easily accessible region. For example, the planned Kruiz-50 station will be 85 meters long and 18 meters wide and have a draft of 4.5 meters. The station's displacement will be 6,650 tonnes. Service personnel will be placed on board under comfortable conditions.

The development of a floating AES does not require a large volume of scientific research and design work. The basic elements of a nuclear power installation have been developed and tested and will function under less "tense" conditions than on submarines. The high safety of a floating AES is ensured mainly by the properties of the installation's internal self-protection, which rule out such serious accidents as an explosion of the reactor and loss of the coolant. The use of a fast-neutron reactor in the structure of a floating AES makes it possible to operate the station in cycles of 7 or 8 years without a reactor overload. The placement of the reactor installation in a hermetically sealed container rules out the discharge of radioactive substances into the environment during normal operation and the most serious project accidents. The dose load on the population is lower than the natural radiation background by several orders.

[Alekhin] Possibly, the planning of underground nuclear stations is Malakhit's most interesting conversion program. They are not built anywhere in the world. Why do our scientists design AES in the depth?

[Dolgov] Nuclear technologies of the next decade must meet higher-level requirements, the most important of which is safety. There is a need for AES, which rule out the possibility of dangerous radiation accidents connected with an uncontrolled prompt-neutron reactor runaway, stopping of the cooling of the active zone, and seal failure of the first circuit, as well as in case of fire and external effects.

[Alekhin] What must be done so that the underground nuclear electric power station may meet these requirements?

[Dolgov] The new station will be based on the use of nuclear installations with a liquid-metal coolant, which has the maximum achievable safety and self-protection. In installations with a liquid-metal coolant, in principle, there are no reasons for the occurrence of serious accidents, which could lead to a reactor explosion, destruction of the active zone, and escape of considerable radiation into the environment. The AES is to be placed in geologically stable formations, such as granites, Cambrian clays, and saline deposits. This will ensure a higher level of station resistance to external effects and will be an additional barrier on the path of radioactive discharge. The power unit of the underground AES will consist of two autonomous modules of a total capacity of 440 MW. It is optimum in terms of the circuit, arrangement, and conditions of installation. It corresponds, which is very important, to sizes of underground tunnels, vertical mines, and inclined shafts developed by underground railway builders. Malakhit workers propose to utilize the vast experience of subway builders in the development of underground nuclear electric power stations.

[Alekhin] Within what time will it be possible to build the first station?

[Dolgov] According to joint evaluations by specialized enterprises, the length of the establishment of new- generation stations will be 8 to 10 years from the moment of the beginning of financing.

The first steps in the realization of the project point to the promising nature of this field of nuclear power engineering. During the examination by the administration of Kaliningrad Oblast of the proposed concept of construction of an underground AES two conditions were set for Malakhit. First, to receive an official confirmation of the "suitability of geological formations of the Kaliningrad region for the construction of underground stations" and, second, to clarify the attitude of Kaliningrad's residents toward nuclear power engineering. In the absence of financing Malakhit managed to enlist leading scientific research and planning organizations in this field in an expert examination of engineering, geological, and hydrological characteristics of the soil of the Kaliningrad region. They prepared a number of independent reports generalized in the decision of the Scientific and Technical Council on Geological Ecology of the North-West region. The answer--positive: An underground AES can be built in the region.

Having familiarized itself with these results, the administration of Kaliningrad Oblast made a statement, which contains an agreement in principle to the construction of an underground AES in its region.

The Finnish firm IVO International became interested in the concept of the creation of an ecologically pure, safe, and economically efficient energy source. It signed a protocol on joint activity in the field of new energy technologies. In accordance with this protocol the firm undertook a search for sources of financing for the development of a business plan for an underground AES. According to a joint evaluation, this will require about 1 million Finnish marks (250,000 U.S. dollars).

During a visit to St. Petersburg in April of this year V.V. Gerasimov, minister of fuel and energy of the Belarus Republic, entrusted Malakhit with the development under contractual conditions of proposals for the construction of an underground AES in his republic.

The Department of Science and Higher School of the St. Petersburg Municipal Council also positively evaluates the concept. A.M. Yelyashevich, its director, even promised financial support for the work on the first stage performed by Malakhit.

Thus, the conversion program in the field of nuclear power engineering has received quite weighty support. It remains only to put the numerous agreements and promises into practice and with the funds received to continue work on the development of technologies of the 21st century.