Government report indicates Norway wants to ship radioactive waste to Russia in ‘unacceptable’ move

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Waste from the two research reactors are in need of new temporary storage and the and the Trade and Industry Ministry has appointed a technical committee to examine the possibilities. The Committee, in its report, has suggested, among other things, sending the waste to Russia’s Mayak Chemical Combine, the country’s long ailing central reprocessing facility in the southern Urals.

“It would be totally irresponsible to send the Norwegian nuclear waste to Mayak in Russia,” Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s nuclear physicist and director said bluntly.

Bøhmer is a member of the Phase 2 Committee, which on the basis of the report from the technical committee, will decide the fate of the Norwegian nuclear waste.

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“We are against Norway producing nuclear waste in the first place, but now that this waste exists, we are concerned that it will be taken in hand in the best possible manner,” said Bøhmer.

The Trade and Industry Ministry’s technical committee has decided that further temporary storage, and hence further foot-dragging in solving the problem, is not desirable, and recommends that the waste be sent abroad for reprocessing such that it can be stored in a more stable fashion than it is currently.

There are three places in the world where this can be done: the; La Hague in France, Sellafield in England and Mayak in Russia. Mayak was initially designed for a reprocessing throughput of 400 tons of spent nuclear fuel a year but can barely make 100, leading to dangerous backlogs that become simply storage for radwaste.  

Further, most of the nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel produced in Russia cannot even be reprocessed at the facility, such as spent fuel assemblies from Russia’s VVER-1000 reactors, the current workhorse of Russia’s nuclear industry. Indeed, Mayak deals primarily with highly enriched spent fuel from Russia’s decommissioned submarines.

The Norwegian Trade and Industry Ministry has asked the committee to exclude consideration of Sellafield for political reaons and instead explore the possibilities for export and reprocessing of the waste from the research reactors to Mayak and La Hague.

Bellona’s Bøhmer is therefore extremely displeased with the reasoning behind the situation.

“So long as Sellafield is to be considered inappropriate, so should Mayak,”he said. “We know there are large leaks associated with reprocessing at Mayak and that they are already dealing with huge challenges of waste.

‘Naive’ about Russia

Bøhmer says that the technical committee has been naïve in doing purely technical reviews of Mayak, which are based on assurances from the Russian side.

“The should among other things create a fund for environmental cleanup in the area, but in a country as corrupt as Russia, it is extremely doubtful as to whether money coming in would ever end up where it should,” he said.

Ethical responsibility

Bøhmer is also critical that the situation will throw open the doors for the permanent treatment of Norwegian waste in Russia.

“This would be totally unacceptable,” said Bøhmer. “This is Norwegian waste and we have an ethical responsibility to deal with it in Norway,” he said.

Ola Innset

ola@bellona.no

Charles Digges