Reactor No 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia has started commercial operation, state nuclear corporation Rosatom announced Monday. The reactor is a powerful sodium-cooled fast-breeder and its operation marks a step by Russia toward developing a closed nuclear fuel cycle, a subject of concern among some environmentalists and nonproliferation experts. Rosatom described the achievement as “one of the most important events of the year for Russian nuclear power.” Beloyarsk No 4 has been billed in the Russian media as being capable of using waste from traditional nuclear reactors, thus reducing the amount of radioactive waste that needs to be stored in a permanent sealed repository. Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s executive director and nuclear physicist said he was concerned that the reactor’s reliance on mixed uranium oxide fuel fashioned from plutonium could–if such reactors found their way to worldwide use – pose serious nuclear proliferation problems. Bøhmer was also keeping an eye on the reactors sodium coolant system. “Sodium is very reactive when it comes into contact with water,” he said. “Other sodium-cooled reactors have had large challenges with its coolant. This could also happen with the BN-800 reactor.
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