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Romania’s National Nuclear Program for Heavy Water

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Sfetcu, Nicolae. (2022) “Romania’s National Nuclear Program for Heavy Water”, in Telework, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.31449.39526, https://www.telework.ro/en/romanias-national-nuclear-program-for-heavy-water/

 

Abstract

After the Second World War, Romania felt the need to develop its own energy system, of much greater power, and as independent as possible from the influence of the Soviet Union. In order to achieve Romania’s energy independence with the help of nuclear energy, in 1969 the first National Nuclear Program was approved. It provided for the development of the national energy sector based on technological research, under the coordination of the State Committee for Nuclear Energy established by State Council Decree no. 870 of December 30, 1969, simultaneously with the decision to build a pilot plant for the production of heavy water (Uzina G), with Prof. Marius Sabin Peculea as General Director, for the development of a technology for the production of heavy water.

Keywords: heavy water, Romania, National Nuclear Program

 

Romania’s National Nuclear Program for Heavy Water

Nicolae Sfetcu

 

After the Second World War, Romania felt the need to develop its own energy system, of much greater power, and as independent as possible from the influence of the Soviet Union. This is the first phase (pre-paradigm) of Kuhn’s theory, (Kuhn 1996) in which the future direction of Romania’s evolution in the energy field is foreshadowed. The preceding theories and ideas will coagulate in the future National Nuclear Program (Programul Nuclear Național)[1].

The Romanian nuclear program actually began in the 1950s, when a joint Soviet-Romanian company, named “SovRom – Quarţit”, started operations in the Bihor project, in Băiţa, where uranium was extracted, then exported to the USSR below the market price , a total of approx. 18,000 tons of uranium. (Bădileanu 2019)

Since the founding of the Institute of Atomic Physics (Institutul de Fizică Atomică – IFA) in 1956, the research of this institute has been directed towards the technologies of reactors with natural uranium and heavy water, (Glodeanu 2007) through research at the IFA Cluj Branch for heavy water and graphite, and at IFA Măgurele for uranium dioxide technology. (Bădileanu 2019) During the years 1964-1966, there were numerous comparative studies at the IFA and the Institute of Energy Studies and Design (Institutul de Studii și Proiectări Energetice – ISPE), including power plants from England, France, Sweden and the USSR. The conclusions led to the reactor with natural uranium and heavy water, highlighting as arguments the fact that the entire fuel cycle can be carried out in the country, as well as heavy water, no heavy boiler facilities are required, small sizes and costs of reactors, strict standards of security, the in-process accumulation of plutonium for future fast neutron reactors. Relatively small unit powers were considered a disadvantage. (Glodeanu 2007)

In 1957, Romania put into operation the first research reactor in the countries of Eastern Europe. (Bădileanu 2019)

In 1967, commercial negotiations began with AECL Canada for a 600 MW CANDU unit, with Siemens (RFG) for a 340 MW reactor, and with ASEA-ATOM Sweden for a 400 MW Markiven unit. (Glodeanu 2007)

According to (Bădileanu 2019), the reactor with natural uranium, moderated and cooled with heavy water (CANDU type PHWR) was preferred, as enriched uranium was too expensive, in reactors with natural uranium the fuel cycle is simpler, there were already researches in Romania for the industrial units related to the fuel cycle and special materials that could be obtained in the country, the PHWR-CANDU branch allowed for refinement, it was safer from a nuclear point of view, and the reactor can be adapted to various nuclear fuel cycles.

The Design Institute for the Petroleum Industry (Institutul de Proiectări pentru Industria Petrolului – IPIP) in Ploiești drew up the project for a heavy water separation and production facility, on the basis of which the National Nuclear Program (Programul Nuclear Național – PNN) was drawn up based on three criteria: the independence of nuclear energy production, the participation of the Romanian industry in the program, and the development of indigenous technological research. (Proca 2015)

In order to achieve Romania’s energy independence with the help of nuclear energy, in 1969 the first National Nuclear Program was approved. It provided for the construction, until 1980, of nuclear units of 1000 MWe, and the further development of this sector based on technological research, under the coordination of the State Committee for Nuclear Energy (Comitetul de Stat pentru Energia Nucleară – CSEN) established by State Council Decree no. 870 of December 30, 1969, (Consiliul de Stat 1969) simultaneously with the decision to build a pilot plant for the production of heavy water (Uzina G), with Prof. Marius Sabin Peculea as General Director, for the development of a water production and separation technology heavy. According to Marius Peculea,

“Since the end of 1968, at the Institute of Atomic Physics (IFA) in Cluj there were three pilot plants in operation for the manufacture of deuterium or, in a broader sense, for the separation of heavy water; two of the installations were based on water-hydrogen isotopic exchange, the third was a vacuum isotopic distillation of water. The water-hydrogen isotopic exchange pilot plant operated at two temperatures (bitherm) and two pressures (bibar) represented the set of technological knowledge accumulated over years of activity by the staff of the Cluj Institute, knowledge confirmed by exceptional experimental results, unique at that time, worldwide”. (Proca 2015)

In this context, although a contract with the USSR for VVER 440 reactors had already been signed in 1970, Romania began negotiations for the development of nuclear reactors with both Canada and the Soviet Union. For independence from the Soviet Union, the CANDU type of nuclear reactor from the Canadians was preferred, taking into account the difficulty of enriching natural uranium for Soviet reactors, but also the previous results of Romanian research. (Camera deputaților 2000) The State Committee for Nuclear Energy (CSEN), led by Professor Ioan Ursu, coordinates research and development work in the nuclear field. (Glodeanu 2007)

According to Mircea Turtureanu, the project director of the heavy water plant, at the beginning of his career at CSEN, all kinds of fanciful programs were discussed regarding the construction of the heavy water plant, which was called „Programul Dunărea“ (“Danube Program”). (Turtureanu 2016)

The original plan was to build four nuclear reactors, three of the natural uranium and heavy water type of 600 MWe each and the fourth based on enriched uranium and normal water with a power of 400 MWe. Initially, the reactors with natural uranium and heavy water were proposed, in 1970 to be built on a site in Hârşova. The expected capacity of the heavy water plant was 360 t/year, with the obtaining of heavy water through isotopic exchange in the H2S-H2O system, which forms the basis of Lummus’ offer for Romania. For the heavy water plant, the location in Malaia, Vâlcea county, on the Lotru river was initially considered. (Turtureanu 2016)

According to (Gheorghe 2013), in the 1960s and 1970s, Romania “successfully sold its image as an ‘independent maverick’ to the Western world in an effort to secure nuclear technology assistance… U.S. can improve its tactics by drawing a few lessons from the U.S.-Romanian NCA negotiations” Documents from archives in Bucharest, Ottawa and Washington on Romania’s efforts to obtain nuclear assistance in the 1960s and 1970s suggest that Romania managed to attract to its side much more powerful players in international politics. (Fuhrmann 2009)

As early as 1964, American analysts identified Romania’s potential to become nuclear. (Murray 1964) The US signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Romania in 1969 for a research reactor, highly enriched uranium fuel, a heavy water plant and scholarships for Romanian scientists in the US, and approval for a heavy water reactor from Canada[2]. Romania’s attitude towards the Soviet Union increased its chances of obtaining a CANDU heavy water reactor. In November 1966, the Canadian Ambassador to Belgrade, Bruce Williams, reported in Canada that “Romania’s overtures to us in the nuclear field [are] a similar manifestation of a desire to establish economic independence of Mcow [Moscow].” (Gheorghe 2013) Bruce Williams was one of the main supporters of the sale of Canadian nuclear technology to Romania[3].

The US Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, pleaded for the application of a “policy of differentiation” in Romania. Washington’s support was necessary for Romania to overcome the obstacles imposed by the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (CoCom), which regulated East-West trade, and the Mutual Defense Assistance Control Act (Battle Act) of 1954. In 1968, Rusk gave the Canadians the green light for the nuclear agreement with Romania: “if Canada and Romania could agree on something, there would be no squawk out of the USA administration”. (Gheorghe 2013

In 1970, negotiations were held with the Lummus-USA company for the construction of a heavy water plant with a capacity of 400 tons/year and with AECL for a 600 MW reactor, but in the end the transaction was completed by the Romanian side. Instead, by Decision of the Council of Ministers (HCM) 148 of 17.02.1970 (Consiliul de Miniştri 1970), the State Committee for Nuclear Energy (CSEN) was established, and approved the construction of the heavy water pilot plant (Uzina G, with the name „Instalație pilot experimentală de fabricare a hidrogenului sulfurat” (“Pilot facility hydrogen sulphide manufacturing experimental plant”), establishing its location in Govora by HCM 197 of 02.03.1970; the creation of the Institute of Nuclear Energetic Reactors IRNE in Pitești (Mioveni), and the ore concentration and carbon dioxide manufacturing plant natural uranium in Feldioara.

Discussions with the Canadians resumed in 1974, with a license agreement for the construction of CANDU-type units being finalized in 1976. In 1978, three contracts were signed with AECL: license, engineering, and technical assistance for a 700 MW nuclear power plant in Cernavodă.

On August 9, 1976, the first quantity of heavy water with a concentration of 99.9% was produced at “Uzina G”. (C.N.M.A.G. 2018)

In 1977, when an agreement was signed between Romania and Canada, Romania expressed its desire to buy 20 CANDU reactors, then reducing their number to four, with the option for Romania to build other reactors on its own under the license agreement with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), the number of reactors being later reduced to two. The license contract was finalized in December 1978. In February 1981, Romania signed contracts with the Italian firm ANSALDO for the conventional components of the nuclear power plant and with the American firm General Electric for the plant’s turbogenerator. (Bădileanu 2019)

Within RENEL, by Romanian Government Ordinance no. 15 of 1993, the Nuclear Energy Group was formed, which included the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant, the Pitești Nuclear Fuel Plant, the ROMAG Drobeta Turnu-Severin Heavy Water Plant, the Bucharest Nuclear Engineering and Objectives Center, and the Pitesti Nuclear Research Institute.

Bibliography

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Notes

[1] Although the social and political context was important in the evolution of the nuclear strategy and the history of heavy water in Romania and in the development of the scientific and technological research community, I avoided addressing these aspects by focusing on the economic and, in particular, on the scientific and technological aspects.

[2] Minutes of conversation between Emil Bodnăraş and the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bucharest Liu Phan, January 28th, 1965, Bucharest, Romanian National Historical Central Archives (ANIC), Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party (CC RCP), Foreign Relations Section (FRS), folder 4/1965; Minutes of conversation between Emil Bodnăraş and the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Bucharest Liu Phan, July 20th, 1965, Bucharest, ANIC, CC RCP, FRS, folder 4/1965. (Gheorghe 2013)

[3] Telegram from the Canadian Ambassador to Belgrade, Bruce Williams, to the Ministry for External Affairs, March 18, 1968, NCA, RG 20, Vol. 1644, 20-68-Ra Pt. 2

 

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