The start of hot testing on 10 September was approved by the Ukrainian regulator following the successful completion of previous system-wide trials of the facility, constructed by an international consortium led by the US company Holtec and financed by the international community through the Nuclear Safety Account, managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The processing and storage of the spent nuclear fuel at Chernobyl is one of the key remaining tasks at the site. While the 1986 accident destroyed reactor 4, the more than 21,000 fuel assemblies used in the RMBK-type reactors 1, 2 and 3 were removed in the following years and provisionally stored in a wet pond facility.
The new ISF-2 will replace the current site storage arrangements, providing safe storage for a minimum of 100 years. A purpose-built special train will transport the spent nuclear fuel assemblies to the ISF-2 facility where they will be cut, dried and packaged into double-walled canisters in the specially designed processing facility and – finally – transferred to the newly constructed onsite storage modules.
A total of 232 double-walled canisters will be stored and monitored for a minimum of 100 years in the individual concrete modules.
ISF-2 cost €400m and was financed with contributions by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UK and the US The EBRD manages the international donor community’s funds for Chernobyl and has also made financial contributions to this effort.
In May, Ukraine said there had been delays to the project because of the coronavirus pandemic and also in restoring railway lines that will be used for transporting the spent fuel to the facility.
Holtec took over the ISF-2 project in 2011 after a multi-year demonstration to the EBRD and the Ukrainian regulator that it had the necessary technologies to deal with Chernobyl’s waterlogged RBMK fuel and onerous fuel confinement requirements.
The project had begun in the late 1990s but stalled when the initial contractor’s technology was shown to be inadequate. The partially constructed facility and major civil equipment structures remained idle for nearly a decade.