CHELYABINSK (Bellona Web): While Norway, Sweden and the Nordic Investment Bank are setting up a $50 million funding package for a new interim storage for spent fuel at Mayak reprocessing plant, the local administration in Chelyabinsk says it will never be built. In an interview with Bellona Web, Vice-Governor Gennady Podtyosov even claims he has never heard about the proposed new storage for submarine spent nuclear fuel. Moscow and the Nordic Governments have negotiated such storage for several years, but nobody bothered to ask the locals. It was not surprise, as Moscow has no tradition of including the local authorities in their planning in terms of the Mayak plant that has been the main production facility for plutonium for the top-secret Soviet nuclear weapons program for decades.
The Western Industrial Group initiated the plan to help Russian Nuclear Minister, or Minatom, with building a new interim spent fuel storage at Mayak as a part of the work to remove spent fuel from the naval bases and laid up submarines at the Kola Peninsula. The present spent fuel storage in Andreeva Bay at Kola is run-down and filled to capacity. In addition, the spent fuel is still held in more than 100 naval reactors onboard submarines laid up at several bases and shipyards. In Mayak, naval spent fuel has been reprocessed since the late 70ties. The current problem is lack of interim storage and railway cars to ship the fuel from Kola in the Russian Arctic to the Mayak plant in the South Ural, a distance of around 3.000 kilometres.
Norway has already provided $25 million to build four new railway cars for the transportation. The TK-VG-18 railway cars are currently under construction at a plant in Tver and are scheduled for completion in March 2000. Some 65.000 spent fuel assemblies are stored at the Kola Peninsula in Andreeva bay, as well as in laid up submarine reactors and onboard service vessels. The planned new interim storage at Mayak will have a capacity of 6.000 spent fuel assemblies, but the capacity is enough since the spent fuel will be reprocessed constantly after a short storage period.
Interviewed at his office, downtown Chelyabinsk, Vice-Governor Gennady Podtyosov was surprised by the question about the Chelyabinsk administration’s viewpoint of the planned new storage. He immediately grabbed the phone and called the chief engineer at Mayak, located in the closed city of Ozersk some 40 kilometres north of Chelyabinsk. Mayak confirmed the plans.
"This plan has never been presented for the Governor before. We are strongly against the construction of such new interim storage for spent naval fuel at Mayak," Podtyosov said. The struggle between Moscow and the local authorities is clear. Podtyosov underlines that Minatom in Moscow and Western governments can discuss what ever they want but without the Governors signature the project will never materialise.
The Chelyabinsk authorities shares this opinion with the State Committee on Environment, which concluded in 1989 and 1991 that no additional nuclear storage facilities should be build at the Mayak site.
Besides the fact that Minatom and the Western Industrial Group agree upon the idea to construct a new interim storage at Mayak, there is still a disagreement which technology should be applied. The Industrial Group insists on building a new dry storage, which they claim will be cheaper. On the other side, Minatom, with support from Mayak, wants to complete a wet storage, the construction of which started several years ago at Mayak. According to the chief engineer at Mayak, the proposed dry storage from the Western side does not satisfy the Russian safety requirements.
Several sources from the Western side told Bellona Web that a possible compromise could be to build a dry storage on the existing wet storage foundation. Minatom has agreed to do a safety evaluation of the project, while Mayak still insists that the only possible solution is to complete the wet storage.
CTR might contribute to dry storage option
This year, the American Co-operative Threat Reduction (CTR) program started funding shipment to Mayak of spent nuclear fuel, derived from the decommissioned submarines in the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet. The U.S. government has granted CTR the right to ship and reprocess fuel from 15 strategic submarines. It is further conditioned, however, on co-operation on the development and licensing of a dry storage facility at Mayak. The dry storage will be preliminary designed to hold fuel derived from another 15 submarines CTR will pay the decommissioning of. All in all, CTR’s objective is to dismantle 31 strategic submarines, but the assessment is underway whether CTR program should cover the dismentelment of Russian general-purpose submarines as well. Once endorsed, the CTR’s need for a dry storage at Mayak will increase, since the further official U.S. support to reprocessing at Mayak is unlikely to happen.