On June 28, 2019, loading of additional cobalt absorbers into Unit 3 reactor started at Smolensk NPP. This is the final stage of primary loading in Rosenergoatom’s large-scale project envisaging commercial production of cobalt-60 (Co-60) that is highly demanded on the international market.

Co-60 isotope manufacturing project at Smolensk NPP was launched in September 2017, when the first batch of additional cobalt absorbers was loaded in Unit 1. In July 2018, additional cobalt absorbers were loaded in Unit 2. 

Cobalt irradiation takes five years to get the required activity level. After extraction of irradiated items from the reactor, specialists will divide the cobalt absobers into elements and load them into transport containers. The final treatment of products before their shipment to the customer will be made at Leningrad NPP that has been producing Co-60 for over 20 years and has the necessary technique base and extensive experience. 

Radioisotopes have a wide range of application including nuclear medicine, X-ray therapy, sterilization of medical items and food, polymeric material strength improvement, quality control of metal products, industrial waste treatment, stimulation of crop and vegetable yield. Co-60 isotopes will be extracted from Unit 3 in five years in the amount sufficient to sterilize over 446.5 thousand tons of special-purpose medical and cosmetic products; pasteurize about 744 thousand tons of spices or 2.3 million tons of meat, over 1 million tons of crops, 55 million tons of vegetables and potatoes.

Nikita Konstantinov, Deputy Director General – Director for Business Development at Rosenergoatom informed the journalists that the Russian nuclear industry played a crucial role in the international supplies of cobalt isotopes with Rosenergoatom being the world leader in isotope generation with up to 20% share of annual supplies on the global market. “Cobalt absorbers loading in the eighth RBMK unit marks the fulfilment of our international obligations under the contract with Nordion, a major global supplier for irradiation centers. This confirms and maintains positions of ROSATOM represented by Rosenergoatom as a reliable and dependable partner on international markets. We have plans to expand isotope business with various isotope products, including use of irradiation capabilities of different-type reactors, contributing to achievement of ROSATOM’s strategic goal of creating new products for Russian and global markets,” Nikita Konstantinov noted.

Pavel Lubensky, Director of Smolensk NPP in turn noted that loading the new generation absorbers in Unit 3 was a key event of 2019. “Using the unique properties of RBMK (high power channel-type reactor), Russian nuclear engineers are able not only to continuously provide consumers with electricity but also produce the most valuable and increasingly demanded products in the course of operation,” he pointed out.

Alexander Abaimov, Deputy Chief Engineer for Safety and Reliability at Smolensk NPP: “Unlike other countries, where nuclear power units with tank-type reactors are widespread, we have unique power units with RMBK-type reactors. Their main distinguishing feature lies in the possibility of fuel reloading in each of the individual channels without interrupting the electricity generation process. Among fuel channels, there are channels with dysprosium absorbing rods. Instead of dysprosium, it is possible to load absorbers with natural cobalt Co-59. During reactor operation, natural cobalt not only efficiently absorbs neutrons, but is also transformed into cobalt Co-60, which is so valuable in medicine and national economy and is highly demanded in Russia and worldwide.”