Sayda Bay’s radioactive waste conditioning shop gets the go-ahead

Sayda Bay.
Sayda Bay.

Publish date: November 30, 2016

MURMANSK – A workshop capable of dealing with 10,000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste has cleared the hurdle of a state environmental impact assessment at Sayda Bay in Russia’s north.

The Russian Federal Agency for Natural Resource Usage, or Rosprirodnazor, said on it’s website, in Russian, that the expert commission on such assessments determined the site was up to regulation.

The Murmansk branch of the agency published a statement saying the site was approved to condition and manage radioactive waste at Sayda Bay under the auspices of SevRAO, Northwest Russia’s nuclear waste handler.

Denis Pleschenko, head of communications for RosRAO, said the Sayda Bay site, which currently houses 100,000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste, would put in for a license to accept waste for temporary storage from other locales around Northwest Russia.

This waste will then be transferred from Sayda Bay to Russian’s National Operator for Radioactive Waste for long-term storage. Pleschenko said the site would be able to temporarily store low and medium level civilian radioactive waste from the Kola Nuclear Power Plant and the Atomflot nuclear icebreaker port.

The license will have to come from the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Oversight, or Rostekhnadzor, said Pleschenko.

saida_nuclear_waste_management_facility-e1480522806881 The Sayda Bay radioactive waste conditioning shop.

This license would be granted for 10 years, and, in accord with current legislation, the site would have to apply for it again from scratch after that period.

“The shop currently operates, and will continue to operate on a license from [state nuclear corporation] Rosatom to handle so-called military radioactive waste from Gremikha and Andreyeva Bay,” Pleschenko told Bellona in an interview. He said the Sayda Bay site could also handle radioactive waste from nuclear submarines.

“So much military radioactive waste has collected in the area that it will guarantee Sayda Bay a load for several decades,” Pleschenko said.

In the summer of 2016, a public hearing took place in the closed military city of Zhezhogorsk near Sayda Bay on whether to approve the operation of the radioactive waste conditioning shop.

The hearing failed to generate much interest. Representatives of environmental organizations who did attend said the installation wasn’t especially dangerous, even when packed to capacity.

“Knowing the situation in Sayda Bay, we didn’t really doubt that the environmental assessment process would end positively,” said Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Rights Center (ERC) Bellona. “The technology that’s there that was installed with the help of German engineers and the most recent work of Russian’s nuclear waste handler at the site didn’t ring any warning bells among the public. “

Nikitin further said that “if we remember that in comparison the current safety situation at Sayda Bay is estimated to be of several orders better than it was at the end of the 1900s and the beginning of the 2000s.”

What’s more after temporary storage?

Despite the fact that there is no environmental objection to temporarily storing radioactive waste at Sayda Bay, it’s worth remember that it’s a temporary facility and that it’s located above ground.

“No matter how much as we close our eyes, no matter how glad we are for contemporary construction for radioactive waste storage, there’s already another subject – where will we build a long-term storage point for radioactive waste from Northwest Russia?” said Andrei Zolotkov, a nuclear expert with ERC Bellona.

Zolokov said that the chances were very high that a site in Northwest Russia would indeed be selected for radioactive waste storage.

“As soon as there is a serious conversation about whether we are able to accepts large quantities of radioactive waste in our territory from other areas, like, for instance, the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, that’s when they’ll take the site out of commission,” said Zolotkov.