Russian-Norwegian commission on radwaste holds first meeting in Moscow

Igor Kudrik
1998-07-31 12:00

Russian-Norwegian commission on radwaste holds first meeting in Moscow

As a follow-up of the agreement signed in late May between Russia and
Norway on radwaste clean-up in north-western Russia, a joint commission
headed by Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister åslaug Haga and Russian
Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Nikolay Yegorov held its first meeting in
Moscow this week.

The agreement signed on May 27 in Moscow between the governments of Russia and Norway focuses on a list of 10 projects related to the Northern Fleet, nuclear-powered ice-breakers and Kola Nuclear Power Plant – all located in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk counties. In addition, the agreement waives the participating parties’ liability in case of an accident, and exempts foreign assistance from taxes and custom tariffs.

On July 29-30, a commission, established within the framework of the
agreement, held its first meeting in Moscow. The commission, headed by
Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister åslaug Haga and Russian Deputy Atomic
Energy Minister Nikolay Yegorov, assembled representatives from the
Russian Navy, Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom), Murmansk Shipping
Company and other experts from both sides. The commission has pointed out
three priorities among the list of submitted projects: Lepse pilot
project, construction of a set of railway cars for spent fuel shipment, and
cleanup work in Northern Fleet’s radwaste storage site Andreeva Bay,
located on the Kola Peninsula. In addition, a number of other common
efforts were discussed.

Andreeva Bay and spent nuclear fuel handling

According to Nikolay Yegorov, the cleanup projects in the Northern Fleet
would require some $1,5 billion. “Matters worsen every year… and could turn
into a catastrophe,” RIA Novosty quoted Yegorov as saying.

The Commission focused primary on cleanup projects in the Northern
Fleet’s storage facility for radwaste and spent nuclear fuel in Andreeva
Bay, north-western part of the Kola Peninsula. The discussed projects
relate to handling of liquid and solid waste as well as spent nuclear fuel.
The problem parties faced was a blank refusal from the Russian Navy
representative, who took part in the meeting, to grant international
experts access to Andreeva Bay. However, the Norwegian side was assured
that all necessary documentation for preparing feasibility study, including
photos and video-footage, would be provided. In the meantime, Minatom would
continue to work on formalities to take over the responsibility for
Andreeva Bay from the Navy. This process would reportedly be finished by
the end of this year, thus offering a possibility for international
experts to enter the premises of Andreeva Bay storage site.

Norway has promised long ago to provide Russia with four special railway
cars to transport spent fuel to the Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk County for
reprocessing. This project was listed as a separate item in the
bilateral agreement. Yegorov referred to this project as of “high
priority.” Yegorov’s interest rests on the intention to provide Mayak
with fuel for further reprocessing activities. Currently, four western
companies work on a project to build a new storage facility for
maritime spent nuclear fuel at Mayak in a joint effort. This particular
project has also been mentioned in the Russian-Norwegian agreement
referred to as “establishment of an interim storage facility for spent
nuclear fuel from ships’ reactors at the production association Mayak. ”
However, the Western participants and Minatom have not reached an
agreement on whether the fuel placed into the planned store may be further

The Bellona Foundation has been critical of the Norwegian Foreign
Ministry for taking into consideration only one option for spent fuel handling – reprocessing at Mayak. Bellona believes the most cost- and
time-effective way to handle spent fuel would be to build an interim
storage facility on the Kola Peninsula. This question has been raised by
Bellona in talks with Norwegian parliament members last year. The
discussions will be continued this year, so the Norwegian participation in supplying Russia with a set of railway cars remains unclear.

“The Lepse pilot-project was on the priority list,” Mikhail Filippov,
head of radiation safety department at Murmansk Shipping Company, who took
part in the meeting said in an interview to Bellona-Web.

Lepse is a retired service ship for the nuclear-powered ice-breaker fleet based in Murmansk and operated by Murmansk Shipping Company (MSCo). The ship contains 640 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, most of them in too
bad condition to be reprocessed. In 1994, the Bellona Foundation initiated a project to solve the Lepse problem. In a tender issued by the
European Commission in 1995, two companies won – French SGN and British AEA Technology. Later, a TACIS-funded feasibility study was conducted by SGN and AEA Technology to determine how to remove and safely dispose of the spent nuclear fuel stored on board Lepse. The project has not gone any further since. MSCo plans to submit the study conducted by the Western
companies for review by Russian institutions, and to resume the work of the Lepse Project Coordination Committee established at a meeting in Tromsø, Norway, last summer.

Liquid waste processing facility at Atomflot
Although not on the priority list, a liquid waste processing facility at the nuclear-powered ice-breaker base Atomflot in Murmansk is a separate item in the Russian-Norwegian agreement.

About four years ago, a trilateral cooperation was launched between the United States, Norway and Russia to increase the capacity of an existing liquid radioactive waste (LRW) processing facility located at Atomflot –
the Murmansk Shipping Company-operated base for nuclear-powered ice-breakers in Murmansk. The commissioning of the facility was postponed
several times. The latest deadline was set to be October this year, but a new delay is looming again. This time, the Russian State Nuclear Inspection Agency (GAN) demands that the project should include the final
stage of processing – conversion of the high concentrated liquid waste generated as a result of treatment – into a solid form. It would
require additional funding which the project lacks at the moment. Approached with the question of funding increase at the commission meeting, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister åslaug Haga promised to look into the
issue and to provide additional funding as required.

The facility is currently capable of processing LRW of various degrees of activity, with an annual capacity of some 1200 cubic meters. Upon completion of the trilateral project, the capacity will have been expanded to 5000 cubic meters of LRW a year.

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