Rosatom-Bellona seminar on Global Partnership progress shows signs of hope

MOSCOW – A Monday seminar arranged between Bellona and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom in Moscow yielded encouraging results in how to deal with remaining nuclear Cold War legacy sites – particularly the storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste – on Russia’s northerly Kola Peninsula.

At the seminar entitled “The Condition of Nuclear and Radiologically Dangerous Installations in Northwest Russia: Problems and Perspectives for Solutions,” Rosatom sought to demonstrate its progress under the Global Partnership program, under which G-8 countries 10 years ago pledged $20 billion to Russia over 10 years toward remediation of Cold War legacy sites in the former Soviet Union, presenting several reports.

Bellona general manager and nuclear physicist, Nils Bøhmer, who was in the Russia capital for the seminar was pleased with the results.

“The information we heard today allows us to draw the conclusion that work that has been performed has improved the radiological situation in northwest region and planned further actions are cause for optimism,” he said. “In my opinion, the information exchange between Rosatom and representatives of non-governmental organizations must be continued in the future – such an approach allows a better understanding of the details of the problems we are discussing.”

The installations under discussion over the weekend are sites that fall under Rosatom’s decommissioning and cleanup purview and the seminar was attended by some 40 people from Rosatom management, and representatives of Norwegian, Swedish, Russian governmental, scientific and NGO sectors, as well as the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which has played a key financial roll in many of the projects

“This seminar has the potential to define where we stand in realizing these projects,” said Bellona’s Alexander Nikitin. “Knowing this, we can define what directions we need to work in and what the solutions will be.”

The event, said Nikitin, who chairs Bellona’s Environment and Rights Center Bellonain St. Petersburg, was an opportunity for Bellona and the NGO community and Rosatom – which is financing and carrying out the decommissioning projects – to compare notes and come to a common point of view.

Over the period of the Global Partnership’s timeframe, noted Niktin, a majority of the designated projects to rehabilitate radioactively dangerous sites have been accomplished – especially those concerning nuclear submarines: 47 subarmine reactors have been removed and placed for storage at Sayda Bay; some 50 tons of nuclear fuel has been removed and 23 nuclear installations dismantled. Some $1.4 billion (40 billion roubles) have been allocated by foreign countries toward these project and another $700 million (20 billion roubles) by Russia.

Andreyeva Bay

Andreyeva Bay, the former naval technical base come solid radioactive waste storage facility has undergone many improvements, but problems also remain. Andreyeva Bay is one of the hottest radioactive spots in Northwest Russia and work deadlines are hard to meet.

Founded in between 1960 and 1964, Andreyeva Bay’s task was to remove, store and ship for reprocessing at the Ural Mountains Mayak Chemical Combine spent nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines.

After a 1982 accident in the spent nuclear fuel storage, Russia Ministery of Defense decided to reconstruct the facility. But the turbulent political and economic conditions of the 1980s and 1990s scuttled the plans. Andreyeva Bay was assigned to Minatom, Rosatom’s precursor, in 2000.

The beleaguered facility, which is nearby the Norwegian border is of special concern to Oslo. Norway’s Deputy Ambassador in Moscow, Bård Svendsen, noted that the two countries had cooperated on solving the Andreyeva bay issue for many years.

“Over these years, much has been done and much remains to be done,” said Svendsen. “Norwegian authorities will continue this work, which costs some €10 million euro a year.” 

According to Rosatom’s deputy head of Department for Project Implementation and Nuclear and Radiaiton Safety, Anatoly Grigorieyev, the last 10 years have seen the installation of constant radiation monitoring and significant improvements in the conditions in which radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is stored.

A new installation for working with spent nuclear fuel is expected to be installed at Andreyeva Bay in 2014, and by 2015 the fuel is slated for removal – the same year a facility for handling radioactive waste should be installed, he said in remarks reported by Regnum news agency.  

“The work we have planned will allow for the territory to be brought up to suitable conditions within 10-15 years,” said Grigorieyev.

Gremikha

Vladimir Romanov, deputy director of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said that studies conducted by his institute confirm that the radiological conditions at Andreyeva Bay and at Gremikha – the second onshore storage site at the Kola Peninsula for spent nuclear fuel from submarines – are indeed on the mend.

“We have not discovered contamination beyond the sanitary protective zones of the installations [and] conditions at the installations themselves are constantly improving thanks to Rosatom’s efforts,” he said. “The effects of radiation on personnel are within accepted norms, and natural factors account for most of that,” he added, meaning that radiation that personnel is exposed to is accounted for by natural background radiation. 

According to Valery Panteleyev, head of SevRAO, the Northwest Russian firm responsible for dealing with radioactive waste Some 846 spent fuel assemblies have been taken from storage at the former naval based to the Mayak Chemical Combine for reprocessing thanks to infrastructure built for fuel unloading purposes. 

Panteleyev said Gremikha still currently is home to used removable parts from liquid metal cooled reactors submarine reactors, spent fuel assemblies, a reactor from an Alpha class submarine and more than 1000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste.

Panteleyev said that by the end of 2012, all standard and non-standard fuel will have been sent to Mayak from Gremikha. He said that between 2012 and 2020 the removable parts of the liquid metal cooled reactors would also be gone, and that during the period between 2012 and 2014, 4000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste would also be removed to long term storage at Saida Bay.

If all goes according to schedule, the Gremikha site will be rehabilitated by 2025.

Sayda Bay

Rosatom also presented detailed reports on an international project to build long-term storage for reactor compartments at the Saida Bay storage site for aged submarine reactors.

Panteleyev said none of the achievements at either Saida Bay or Gremikha would have been possible without international help.

The projects are being completed with funding from Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and the EBRD.

“These countries are investing in the creation of infrastructure for handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, dismantlement of nuclear vessels of the atomic fleet and in the infrastructure for the safe storage or reactor compartments,” said Panteleyev.

Answering critics who say SevRAO is dragging its feet in fulfilling the rehabilitation programs, Panteleyev criticize us, saying we work slowly. However I can say that from the beginning our priority tasks have been to build reliable physically safe storage, and to do that with maximum safety to personel.

The Lepse

Another item of special concern at the Bellona/Rosatom seminar was the disposition of the floating spent nuclear fuel vessel, the Lepse. A former technical support  vessel, taken out of service in 1988 the Lepse presents the biggest nuclear and radiation risk of all retired nuclear service ships in Russia. The Lepse’s spent nuclear fuel storage holds – in casks and caissons –  639 spent fuel assemblies, a significant portion of which are severely damaged.

Extraction of these spent fuel assemblies presents special radiological risks and technical innovation. The vessel is currently moored at Atomflot in Murmansk, the base of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet.

Mikhail Repin, group director for the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, said work on the Lepse is divided into three categories: transfer of the vessel to the ship repair yard Nerpa in the Murmansk Region, fixing it to an assembly based, removing the spent fuel and dividing into blocks. The work is expected to be complete by 2012.

But the barriers to enacting this project, however, remain largely bureaucratic.

“One gets the impression that international and Russian bureaucrats are capable of muddling any project, as shown by the experience with the Lepse,” said Bellona’s Niktin. The project of dismantling the Lepse have remained on paper since 1995.

The Lepse was built in 1930, and the vessel has been afloat for 75 years, said Repin.

Among results that have been achieved with the Lepse, argued Repin, were that analysis of the diagrams of the project have been completed, the base schedule coordinated, risks assessed, and transport options weighed.

The toughest part remains safely removing the fuel.

According to Anatoly Tsubannikov, a representative Aspect Konversiya, a consortium of companies dealing with ;arge scale technological projects in the nuclear field, some 313 spent fuel assemblies in canisters remain aboard the Lepse along with 307 more spent fuel assemblies in caissons. The remainder of spent fuel assemblies remain in irremovable canisters.

The equipment necessary for removing the spent fuel assemblies must be fabricated for specifically this project. The equipment must first ensure the safety of the workers, meaning the work will have to be done essentially remotely to ensure minimum exposure.

Svendsen, was optimistic that the talks had gone well saying in closing remarks that, “cooperation with Russia on issues of nuclear and radiation safety are one of three spheres of our bilateral relations where we have managed to achieve noticeable results.”

“Much has been done over these years and much remains to be done. Norway for its part will continue apply all efforts toward the support of the current work in the future,” he said.