After years of preparation on an international scale seldom seen, legacy waste from Russia’s nuclear power submarines and more than 100 nuclear reactors is being shipped from a base on the Barents Sea to be reprocessed at a plant in the southern Ural Mountains.
The waste, accumulating at Andreeva Bay in north-west Russia since the 1980s, has caused international consternation, especially in Norway, which is just 34 miles – 55 kilometers – from the storage site that now includes more than 22,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. Some of the dry storage casks holding the waste have leaked. Reportedly, some of the storage casks were kept outdoors, exposed to the harsh northern climate year after year.
The effort to clean up the waste has been years in preparation and included help from Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Contributions also came from Finland and Denmark.
The European Bank has financed the project for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) through the Nuclear Window program, part of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership.
Pierre Heilbronn, Vice President for Policy and Partnerships at the EBRD said he was “particularly pleased to see that nation put aside their differences to resolve such crucial issues on the legacy of the nuclear-powered fleet in the north of Russia.”
“The project in Andreeva Bay is a remarkable example of international cooperation on matters of global environmental importance,” he said. “I am proud that the EBRD played such an important role in this process which has passed a crucial milestone with the first shipment today,” he said.
Some of the preliminary work on the project was parceled out to various countries. Norway provided support for infrastructure improvements and the decontamination facility. The United Kingdom provided support for the new spent fuel management facility at Andreeva Bay, including engineering and construction support. The specially-designed transport ship, Rossita, was built in Italy, which also financed the shipbuilding, which was done under guidelines provided by the United Nations-based regulator the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Russia’s state-owned nuclear power giant Rosatom, through subsidiary Sev-ROA, is providing transportation and reprocessing services. For the first shipment, “works are going by regulations in a normal mode. In one day, seven spent fuel assemblies were unloaded and placed in a storage and transportation container,” said Sev-RAO Director Valery Eremenko.
Several innovative structures were built specifically for the project. Besides the project-specific ship manufactured in Italy, a specially designed 50-ton trolley is being used to move canisters from the storage site at Andreeva Bay on the ship. Once the ship arrives at the northern port of Murmansk – a service base for Russia’s ice-breaker fleet – it will be moved by specially designed railway cars for shipment inland to Chelyabinsk in the southern Ural Mountains.
The first seven spent fuel assemblies repackaged and shipped are the first of many. It is expected to take several years to finish the project, which will require 3,143 transport canister shipments. The canisters, however, once they are emptied at the reprocessing plant, can be shipped back to Andreeva Bay for re-use.