As reported by Bellona Web on March 13, the vitrification facility for high level liquid wastes at Mayak reprocessing facility in Siberia was taken out of operation on January 14. The facility was 2,5 years past its operational limits when closed down. Based on this, Gosatomnadzor – the civilian Russian nuclear inspection – suspended the reprocessing plant’s license to operate. According to Gosatomnadzor, the license was based on the condition that high level liquid radioactive waste generated through the reprocessing process is glassified. As long as this condition is not fulfilled, operation of the plant is prohibited.
–Mayak has storage capacity for high level radioactive liquid waste for 2 years to come, said Mayak press-centre official Evgenij Ryzhkov to Bellona Web. –Fuel received from foreign countries with operating reactor installations of Russian design, such as Ukraine, Hungary, Slovene and Bulgaria, is reprocessed as scheduled, he added. Thus, only the reprocessing of fuel delivered from nuclear power plants with VVER- 440, BN-600, and BN-350 reactors, as well as some of the research reactors and maritime reactors from the Russian Navy and nuclear ice-breaker fleet, has been suspended. According to mr. Ryzhkov, this will not influence the fuel shipment schedules to Mayak.
The Ministry of Atomic Energy – Minatom – expects the first of two new vitrification facilities at Mayak to be commissioned by the end of this year. The second facility should be finished by the middle of 1998. These projects are financed by Minatom, with funds received through weapons grade uranium sales to the US. Currently, 18.2 million USD is required to complete the construction of the first vitrification facility. According to mr. Ruzhkov, the final funding is hard to get hold of. Besides Minatom resources, the Mayak plant itself is searching for possible financial sources.
Meanwhile, the Mayak administration is attempting to obtain an intermediate operating license based on a project which presumes safe operation of the reprocessing plant without an operational vitrification facility. Apparently, Mayak wants to store high level liquid waste in tanks while waiting for the new virtrification facility to be commissioned. Neither mr. Ryzhkov nor Gosatomdazor officials in Moscow could name a date for the reprocessing facility to be put into operation again.