Updated at 01:25,03-03-2021

Russian nuclear energy company ready to replace accident-hit reactor pressure vessel

Maryna Nosava, Naviny.by

Russia's Nuclear Energy State Corporation (Rosatom) is ready to replace an accident-hit reactor pressure vessel for the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant with a new one if such a request is made, Aleksandr Lokshin, first deputy chairman of Rosatom, said in a statement posted on its website on Monday.

The Belarusian energy ministry de facto confirmed last week that a 330-ton reactor pressure vessel for the plant's first power unit was accidentally dropped from a height to the ground at the construction site on July 10.

While tests show that there are no technical obstacles to using the key piece of equipment after the accident, Rosatom acknowledges that the Belarusian government may want to have the vessel replaced to calm the public, said Mr. Lokshin.

"If such a decision is made we are ready to take it into account as we understand the special importance of public acceptability during the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant," he said.

If Minsk insists on having the equipment replaced, a near-finished reactor pressure vessel that has been built for the second power unit will be installed in the first unit, said the executive, warning that such a decision would delay the project.

Mr. Lokshin said that the accident happened on the night between July 9 and 10, when the reactor pressure vessel had been lifted from its storage location and was being moved. A crane failure left the equipment suspended at a height of four meters for more than 30 minutes. As a result, the vessel became unbalanced and one of its ends "touched the ground," he said.

Most of the vessel remained hanging in the air and it is misleading to use the word "drop" while describing the accident, the more so as the vessel was moving toward the ground at a "pedestrian's speed," said the executive. There is video footage of the accident, he added.

He blamed the accident on violations of safe slinging guidelines by employees of the subcontractor tasked with moving the equipment.

"The subcontractor has been given corresponding punishment and its employees responsible for the violations have been suspended and will never be allowed to work at our nuclear sites," said the statement.

The accident caused no damage to the vessel, he said, citing the findings of additional tests, including "ultrasound metal examinations" and weld examinations.

The Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant is currently under construction in the Astravets district, Homyel region, some 10 miles from the Lithuanian border. Its two reactors are to have a total generating capacity of up to 2,400 megawatts. The first reactor is expected to be put into operation in November 2018 and the other in July 2020.

AtomStroyExport, a subsidiary company of Rosatom, is to bear full responsibility for the project as the prime contractor.