Ural Federal University: The World’s Most Efficient and Safe Nuclear Plants Created with the Participation of Scientists and Graduates of UrFU

We continue our series of publications dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Ural Federal University. This time we will tell you about the truly unique department of Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources.

Everything started with Beloyarka

The most productive and safe NPPs in the world are the outstanding result of the activity of students and specialists of the Department of Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources. Its history started in 1964 when the first power unit at Beloyarsk nuclear power plant (BNPP) with the thermal neutron reactor AMB-100 was put into operation. The Soviet Union was planning accelerated development of nuclear power, the need for specialists in design, installation, adjustment, operation, diagnostics, equipment repair and maintenance of nuclear power plants increased dramatically.

Therefore, four years earlier, the USSR Ministry of Higher Education had decided to train engineers in the Ural Polytechnic Institute (now UrFU) to major in “Design and Operation of Nuclear Power Plants”. At that time, an appropriate specialization was organized at the Thermal Power Plants Department, and the first group was formed from the third-year students of this department, who continued their studies according to the new curriculum. Immediately after admission and introductory courses the students went to the construction of the first power unit of BNPP. Then, back in the classrooms, they had a clear and detailed idea of what they would dedicate their professional lives to.

A year later, in October 1961, the Nuclear Power Engineering Department was opened at UPI, the second one in the USSR (the first one was organized at Moscow Power Engineering Institute). That was also the time when the first two groups of students were admitted to the new department. It occupied less than 70 square meters and employed five professors. At the beginning of the department was Anatoly Aleksandrov – a prominent physicist, one of the leaders of Soviet atomic project, associate of the legendary Igor Kurchatov, future president of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, thrice Hero of Socialist Labor. With Aleksandrov’s help the department received two wagons of necessary equipment, which later served for two decades.

The first head of the department was Evgeny Ratnikov, a graduate of the power engineering department of UPI, during the war he was the chief engineer of the trust Uralenergomontazhproekt that was engaged in placing evacuated power plants, in the early 1950s he was the rector of Sverdlovsk Mining Institute. Anatoly Aleksandrov was the one who persuaded Ratnikov, the author of the book Nuclear Power in the National Economy, to head the new department.

Evgeny Ratnikov was the head of the department for more than a quarter of a century, the author of several major inventions and monographs, many textbooks and scientific articles, devoted to advanced cycles and schemes of nuclear power plants, problems of heat exchange and hydrodynamics of cores of high-temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors. Under his supervision PhD theses of the first director of BNPP Vladimir Nevsky and the chief engineer of the plant Gennady Shasharin summarized the experience of mastering and subsequent successful operation of the world’s first nuclear superheated steam reactors AMB-100 and AMB-200. Ratnikov’s work received well-deserved recognition both in the Soviet Union and abroad, and he was awarded the honorary titles of Distinguished Higher School, Honored Power Engineer of Russia, and full member of the International Energy Academy.

By 1963 the department had trained the first 18 graduate nuclear engineers. Since 1965 the Department has graduated 25 nuclear engineers annually, since 1980 – 40-50, and later – 75 specialists, including those who were involved in servicing unique for Soviet Union and Russia BN-600 and BN-800 fast neutron reactors at Beloyarsk NPP.

Over all years of its activity the department has graduated over 2.5 thousand specialists. Since the first year students of the department have not only thoroughly studied all types of nuclear plants used and designed in our country and in other leading nuclear powers such as USA, Great Britain, France, Japan, but while studying at the university they took part in construction of domestic nuclear power plants knowing their structure not only in theory but also in practice. This explains the exceptional competence of the department’s graduates, their quick adaptation to real production conditions and their professional success.

Among them are David Pashayev, Hero of Russia and President of the Russian Nuclear Shipbuilding Center, Mikhail Bakanov and Ivan Sidorov, directors of Beloyarsk NPP, Sergey Krylov, director of Smolensk NPP, Yury Nosov, Boris Lebedev, Valery Budzievsky and many others. It was the graduates of the department who launched the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the elimination of the accident at it. Vitaly Tolstonogov led the Chernobyl NPP during its 14-year post-accidental operation and decommissioning, other graduates of the department are currently involved in directing both the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the facility “Shelter” – protective sarcophagus over its destroyed unit. Graduates of the department work at all operating NPPs and those under construction in Russia and Ukraine, at many research and design organizations, as well as at plants and enterprises of the nuclear industry.

Many graduates actively participated in the economic and political life of the country. Thus, Victor Shtager headed the Ministry of Energy and Housing and Communal Services of the Sverdlovsk region, worked as deputy chairman of the regional government, Georgy Leontiev was a member of three convocations of the Russian State Duma.

Not by atom alone

From 1987 to the present, that is, for almost 35 years, the department has been headed by its student Sergey Shcheklein. A recognized scientific authority in the field of safety, diagnostics, and control of thermophysical processes at nuclear power plants, Sergey Evgenievich is the author of several monographs and textbooks, dozens of inventions, and hundreds of scientific articles. Professor Shcheklein is an Honored Power Engineer of the Russian Federation, full member of the International Energy Academy and the Nuclear Society of Russia. In 2016-17 his name, along with the names of his department colleagues Alexander Popov and Oleg Tashlykov, was among the authors of the top 100 best inventions in Russia and in the top 100 most cited domestic scientists in the field of nuclear technology.

In the second half of 1980s and in 1990s, the Department was noted for large-scale research and development work aimed at improving the efficiency and safety of nuclear power plants, prolongation of service life of nuclear power plants, creation of the corresponding university training center, the only one in Russia.

Since 1998, by order of the government of Sverdlovsk region, the department has been training specialists in non-traditional and renewable energy sources and energy conservation. The number of graduates in this specialty is several hundred. Since 2000 they have designed and put into operation 15 large-scale installations within the framework of the renewable energy development program.

“For example, this is a 100 cubic meter biogas plant designed for round-the-clock and year-round operation, manufactured at the Roskosmos State Corporation enterprise and put into batch production; these are wind power plants of various sizes and capacity, as well as installations based on solar collectors – for the needs of Russian military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan,” says Sergey Shcheklein.

The Energy Efficient House with Renewable Energy Systems Project, implemented by scientists of the department in Rastushchy village of the Sverdlovsk Region, which proved the possibility of using such technologies in regions with a sharply continental climate, was awarded the National Ecological Award named after Vernadsky (now the teachers and graduates of the department live in the house equipped on the site of an abandoned cowshed). Author of more than a hundred inventions in the field of alternative energy Alexander Popov was awarded the title of Honored Inventor of Russia.

Since 2012, the department has been known as the Department of Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources. The total area occupied by it has increased over the past six decades by more than 20 times. The department is equipped with a unique training complex – small-scale specimens, mockups, benches, etc. – on installation, adjustment, diagnostics and repair of reactor equipment of various types. There is a constant introduction of new forms of teaching students, their special, physical and mathematical, environmental and economic training is improved, and research is expanded.

Employees and graduates of the department have published over 200 monographs, educational and methodical books ( including English, Arabic, Vietnamese), have received over 150 patents for invention, have defended about 100 candidate and doctoral dissertations, have published several thousand scientific articles in Russian and international journals. The department is considered one of the best in Ural Federal University in terms of publication activity in 2021.

Developments of the department (for example, software and hardware complexes for NPP equipment diagnostics) are appreciated in Russia and abroad. The department is the rightful organizer and active participant of all-Russian and international conferences on the development of nuclear and alternative energy, energy conservation, and the energy of the future. It has a long-standing and close cooperation with the leading scientific and engineering organizations of our country (including the famous Kurchatov Institute, subdivisions of the Academy of Sciences), with universities in Russia, Germany, the Czech Republic, China. Graduate students from Armenia, Tajikistan, China, India, Bangladesh, Iraq, Egypt, Ghana study at the department.

In 2013, by the decision of the Rector’s Office and the Academic Council of UrFU, the department was awarded the status of the university’s Leading Research School “Problems of Safety and Efficiency of Nuclear Power Plants. The scientific school is represented by more than 70 candidates and doctors of science, many of whom work in the department. Today it is a large center for training of scientific and engineering staff and carrying out research and development work for enterprises of nuclear industry. Special attention is paid to advanced types of nuclear power plants, closed fuel cycles, methods of diagnostics of processes and state of equipment, technologies of improving the reliability of power supply for own needs of nuclear power plants in emergency situations using renewable energy sources. The department performs especially complicated works of NPP repair and decommissioning.

New Horizons

At the present time the ties of the department with the main enterprise Beloyarsk nuclear power plant are being strengthened. Unprecedentedly long and productive work of the power unit BN-600, commissioned in 1980, in great measure is conditioned by cooperation of the department with subdivisions of Baloyarsk NPP, beginning from the stage of designing and construction of the power unit. This is promoted by activity of simulator complex and training-research site of the department, its branch at Beloyarsk NPP, joint scientific researches which have resulted in several monographs, tens of articles, reports and dissertations defended.

Thus under direction of professors Nikolay Oshkanov, Arnold Sheinkman and Anatoly Karpenko scientific direction “Physical and thermal-physical problems of NPP safety with fast-neutron reactors” was created, advanced research works were carried out, scientific basis for diagnostics of NPP equipment state was laid.

Graduates of the department make up 80% of the management of Beloyarsk NPP: the department is still the main source of scientific and engineering staff for BNPP, including for servicing the most modern unit 4 with BN-800 reactor, commissioned in 2015. The fourth-generation safety power unit with a BN-1200 fast-neutron reactor is waiting in the wings. The creation of its design, as director of BNPP and then head of the design office, was led by Nikolay Oshkanov, Honored Power Engineer of the Russian Federation, winner of the Russian State Prize and the Russian Government Prize for Science and Technology.

“The Americans, the French, and the Japanese went through a similar path of creating fast-neutron reactors. However, they traditionally train narrow specialists and when they switched from models to real nuclear facilities, a lot of unforeseen effects appeared. Our approach has always been to train a wide range of specialists, to thoroughly improve the facilities even before they are put into operation. This is why already the first reactor at BNPP was several decades ahead of its counterparts, and was distinguished by its unique efficiency, cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness. The third and fourth reactors operating at BN-600 and BN-800, as well as the BN-1200 reactor, have unprecedented levels of environmental cleanliness and safety,” emphasizes Sergey Shcheklein.

One of the newest areas of the department’s activity is the creation of structures that operate on solar energy. In this area there is wide cooperation with foreign colleagues from countries with great potential for solar and wind energy – Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Tajikistan. Another innovative direction – application of nuclear energy for water desalination – is also being developed with the active participation of foreign postgraduate students of the department.

Among the perspective spheres of scientific and engineering activity of the department “Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources” are the creation of organometallic radiation protective materials, which are necessary to ensure radiation safety of NPP equipment and even flights to the nearest planets from Earth – Venus and Mars; further improvement of NPP equipment decontamination methods, which allow to decrease rapidly its radioactivity level tenfold, while reducing radioactive waste volumes hundreds of times. Such technologies are extremely demanded in decontamination processes for equipment and nuclear power plants being decommissioned as a whole.

At the recent solemn conference devoted to the 60-th anniversary of the department more than 20 lecturers and employees were thanked by the rector of UrFU, the state corporation “Rosatom” and the concern “Rosenergoatom” received awards – medals “For Contribution to Nuclear Industry Development”, “For Contribution to NPP Safety” as well as letters of thanks from the governor of Sverdlovsk Region, managers of Rosatom, Rosenergoatom and Rostechnadzor.

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