Peaceful Atom: a Report from Kalinin NPP

October 2013

Ten nuclear power plants are currently operated in Russia. They are listed among the most guarded facilities in the country. We had an opportunity to visit Kalinin NPP, that is near the city of Tver, together with Press Club Chistaya Energiya ("Clear Energy").


“Monster” in Power House

Kalinin NPP, situated in the north of Tver region near the town of Udomlya, is the largest electricity producer in the Central Russia. The distance from here to Moscow is 360 kilometres, and to Saint Petersburg it is 320 kilometres. The plant has four operating power units with water-water energy reactors (WWER), which were successively launched in 1984, 1986, 2004 and 2012. The 30-year original design service life of the first unit has been extended to 2025.

Massive cooling towers, each of them being 50-storey building tall, emerge in the horizon from a distance. They cool the water from the reactor thus reducing a temperature effect on a cooling pond. Finally, we enter the high security area. After a lengthy inspection at the checkpoint under scrutinizing looks of armed security guards with guns, each one of us is given a pass, a hard hat and...ear plugs.

Access to the nuclear reactor is restricted, so we visualised it from explanations of employees and models in Kalinin NPP Museum, which we had visited in the town before. On the other hand, it is possible to see a real fuel element at hand – a heat producing element of the reactor in the form of an elongated metal tube containing uranium cells inside.

Guided by the senior shift supervisor, we go to the power houses of the first line and power unit No.4. Running motors make floor tremble and the noise is very high. That is where our ear plugs come in handy. The power house is surprisingly unmanned. Turns out, everything is controlled remotely.

A roaring turbine sprawled on the floor like an ancient monster with a hundred of tentacles. This very thing converts nuclear energy into electricity that eventually travels to our households. The installation is so huge that it is impossible to see it all in one glance. The top is hidden somewhere between crawl spaces in an entanglement of condensers, pipelines and pumps.

Radiation is Normal

The main control room (MCR) is the "brain" of the nuclear power plant. Its left section controls and monitors the operation of the turbines; the right one does the same for the reactor. Now and then relays click, lamps blink and recorders operate. It seems it is impossible to make heads or tails out of all these instruments – hundreds of buttons, sensors, levers and displays... One of these devices will stop the reactor in mere four seconds if an emergency protection key is inserted and turned. What power and responsibility the operator is vested with!

Only the best employees who worked for many years in the nuclear power industry are empowered to control the plant. Apart from checking their competence, the employees have to undergo psychological assessments: a person must be able to quickly respond to emergency situations and must be completely healthy and stress-resistant.

At any NPP, and the Kalinin one is not an exclusion, safety issues are addressed on a priority basis. Not so long ago, an all-inclusive emergency response exercise was held in Udomlya. New mobile equipment was tested. Diesel generators, electric pumps and engine-driven pumps were installed at the plant after the Fukushima accident to increase NPP resistance to extreme impacts.

Another not insignificant issue is radiation. What is a level of radiation exposure of those who work at NPP or lives close to it? We failed to hear any spooky stories from employees of the nuclear industry. "Background radiation in the vicinity is only seven microroentgen per hour; this is less than in Moscow," Alexander Shenberger, Senior Shift Supervisor of Kalinin NPP remarks. "Sensors of radiation situation automatic control system are installed in 30-kilometre sanitary protection zone. Radiation is subject to ongoing monitoring. I'll tell you what, values of natural background radiation in the surroundings of Kalinin NPP have not changed over the years of its existence. By the way, Russian Fishing Cup was held at the cooling pond last summer."