Radwaste processing plant at Russian military shipyard catches fire

Publish date: September 2, 2010

Written by: Igor Kudrik

A fire broke out at the radioactive sorting plant at Polyarny shipyard on the Kola Peninsula on the morning of August 27th. The fire was extinguished several hours later. Reports indicate a rise in the background radiation on the plant’s premises and Russian are officials keeping a tight lid on information.

The scope of the fire which broke out at the shipyard is still unclear. The reports available suggest that the fire started in the terminal connecting workshops for sorting of solid radioactive waste and a workshop used for putting radwaste into casks. According the independent weekly Russian Novaya Gazeta, some 40 microroentgen per hour of radiation were meaured in the area of the fire. But the levels elsewhere in the shipyard were around 17 micro roentgen, which is the usual background level. It took two hours to put out the fire.

Russian Emergency Services Ministry representatives in Murmansk told Bellona web that the fire caused by loading a truck, which led to a fire that took around 15 minutes to put out.

Officials at the plant kept mum about the incident when contacted.

The shipyard in Polyarny, also known as Shkval, or shipyard No. 10, repairs and refuels Russian nuclear powered submarines. The shipyard has also decommissioned nuclear submarines and has both laid up submarines and service ships moored at by its peer plants.

Polyarny is a restricted-access area called in Russian by the acronym of ZATO, which stands for “closed administrative territorial entities” – or closed cities dealing with secretive scientific or military procedures.   

The Polyarny Shipyard has been plagued by the unfortunate incidents. As recently as May 24th, a ship used to transport spent nuclear fuel sank by the moor plant at Polyarny.

A solid waste processing plant was commissioned in Polyarny in 2004 by the efforts of the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) program. The plant includes facility to process solid radioactive waste, metal cutting facilities and press, which allows a reduction in the volume of the waste. The waste is stored in casks on the territory of the shipyard.