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VATESI: All safety issues shall be resolved before start of operation of the Belarusian NPP Unit 1

On 7 September 2020, the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Belarus (MES) announced that the pressure boundary tests of the Unit 1 were started at Belarusian NPP. Also, the Minister of Energy of the Republic of Belarus has declared during the 64th IAEA General Conference about the power start-up of the 1st Unit of the NPP being planned on 7 November 2020.

Taking into account the above mentioned information, Lithuanian State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate (VATESI) in official letter of 23 September 2020 to MES (Belarusian institution, responsible for nuclear safety regulation) has underlined its expectation of receiving in due time all relevant official information from MES on the following decisions to be taken by Belarusian authorities: decision for start of performing physics experiments at a minimally controlled level; decision on power start-up; decision on start of the trial operation; decision of the start of commercial operation.

In the letter it was also noted, that on 30 July 2020, just before loading of nuclear fuel to the first unit’s reactor, the licensing procedure concerning commissioning of NPP was changed in Belarus and five commissioning stages were introduced: first loading of nuclear fuel to reactor core, subcritical tests, physics experiments at a minimally controlled level, power start-up and trial operation. VATESI asked MES to clarify what kind of safety documentation shall license holder submit at each commissioning stage in order to obtain special permission (license) from MES and what is the timeframe for regulatory body to produce a precise and comprehensive review and assessment before issuing such authorizations.

In addition, VATESI noted that in accordance with IAEA safety standards commissioning has the objective of demonstrating that the nuclear power plant as constructed meets all safety requirements as described in the safety analysis report (SAR) and asked about the status of SAR for Belarusian NPP and its connection with the above-mentioned commissioning stages.

In order to start commercial operation of NPP the IAEA safety standards foresee that “before the authorization of routine operation at full power, the regulatory body should complete the review and assessment of the results of commissioning tests and their analysis and the updated final safety analysis report”. At the same time, the Belarusian licensing procedure identifies that “not later than one year after the completion of the trial operation stage, the final version of the SAR (FSAR) for NPP should be developed, which should take into account the results obtained at the stages of physical, power start-ups and trial operation of the NPP unit”. VATESI asked to clarify what would be the basis and timeframe for MES decision to allow commercial operation of the first unit of the Belarusian NPP in this case.

VATESI noted the crucial importance to ensure a safety oriented decision-making process in all phases of the startup of the Belarusian NPP. Taking into consideration safety concerns indicated by ENSREG and other international experts, suspension of commissioning of the first unit of the Belarusian NPP until the completion of ENSREG peer review of Belarusian National Action Plan and resolution of all indicated safety issues would be a demonstration of strong leadership and adherence to the - safety first - principle.

VATESI also reminded that is still waiting for response to its several previous letters where safety issues related to the site selection and assessment, design robustness against malevolent crash of large civil airplane, seismic design, stress tests recommendations, probabilistic safety assessment and others were raised.
VATESI once again noted the importance of urgent implementation of all earlier indicated safety improvement measures and indicated expectation of getting information about the progress in this implementation.