Nuclear waste may be stored in the Pacific

Three years ago, American company US Fuel & Security Inc. presented plans to utilise US atolls in the Pacific Ocean for storage of spent nuclear fuel. Now the plans have been extended to include Russian-American joint ventures, and are gaining substance through backing by the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energi (Minatom) and leading international nuclear engineering companies, reports Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Commersially, the European market is considered the most interesting at the outset, while spent fuel from USA, Japan and South Korea should come later. In addition to the planned storage facilities, there are also plans for a fuel fabrication plant on a Pacific atoll. Minatom and German Siemens are to be the partners in this part of the project.

USFSI initiated the project some three years ago, and has spent a few million dollars on it since then. If successful, the company estimates an annual turnover of 120-140 million USD. USFSI counts on charging its potential clients one million USD per year for each ton of spent fuel delivered for storage. To ship the fuel to the storage facility, the company plans to build a fleet of some 40 specially designed vessels, writes Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Minatom reactions to the project was generally positive. One of the Ministry’s officials claimed that the project might help solving the global problem of spent nuclear fuel handling, as well as reinforce the non-proliferation policy.

In addition to Minatom and Siemens, project negotiations have been held with such companies as General Electric and Westinghouse. While the plans presume governmental backing from nuclear powered nations, they do not include state funds.

Minatom’s active participation in the scheme is a bit suprising, considering that a fuel production plant may damage the market for Russian nuclear fuel producers, while Russia’s closed nuclear fuel cycle limits the need for spent fuel storage.

Thus, some employees of Minatom believe that it would be better to realise the plans for a storage facility on Novaya Zemlya – an option that has been a matter of discussion for the last 5 years. The idea of depositing radioactive waste and other nuclear materials in the permafrost, has attracted a number of Russian institutions. Allthough the Novaya Zemlya project is the most researched among several domestic storage options, it seems to have reached a standstill – in part due to lacking funds, and partly because the project hardly would satisfy the requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Igor Kudrik

igor@bellona.no