The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP)

Publish date: October 4, 2002

Written by: Zackary Moss

The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) is an initiative aimed at co-ordinating efforts to tackle environmental problems in north-west Russia, especially environmental problems due to radioactive waste.1

The NDEP’s objective is to promote co-ordination between Russia, donors and International Financial Institutions (IFIs), and raise funds for priority projects. By the end 2002, the European Commission, or EC, will produce a Northern Dimension Action Report, whose main purpose will be to give an up-to-date picture of the implementation of the Northern Dimension Action Plan approved by the EC in summer 2000. The first step in this direction was the pledging conference for the NDEP Support Fund in Brussels on 9 July 2002. At this conference, initial contributions totalling €110m to the Support Fund were pledged, of which €62m are earmarked for nuclear projects.2

Nuclear safety in the NDEP region3
While the NDEP aims to address the specific regional development challenges in Northern Europe, including harsh climate conditions, long distances and living standard disparities, the environmental challenges occurring from nuclear waste in north-west Russia are of importance here. Improving nuclear safety in north-west Russia is essential to the development of the region, and a necessary factor in safeguarding against environmental hazards. This is because the environment in the NDEP area, including the Arctic region, is particularly vulnerable to pollution. Air and water pollution have reached a critical level, and the seas of the northern region, the Baltic and Arctic/Barents, are particularly sensitive to environmental problems because of their cold temperatures and low salinity.

The NDEP Support Fund: Nuclear Safety Window projects
In April 2002, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) prepared a draft project fiche for potential projects to be implemented with support from the NDEP Support Fund entitled "Barents Sea Programme against nuclear pollution–NDEP". This gives an overview of the situation in north-west Russia, as well as broad range of projects for nuclear safety; including: infrastructure, Spent Nuclear Fuel, or SNF, Building 5 and radioactive waste at Andreeva Bay; Lepse; an interim storage facility for SNF; interim storage for radioactive waste; and a repository at Novaya Zemlya. These projects are based on their impact on environmental risk reduction in the NDEP region.

All projects require the successful completion of the ongoing Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation, or MNEPR, negotiations before the individual projects can be implemented on a large scale.

The NDEP Support Fund
On 11 December 2001, the Board of Directors of the EBRD, which will manage the Support Fund, approved the rules of the Support Fund. On 9 July 2002, the NDEP Support Fund was launched at a pledging conference in Brussels co-chaired by the EC’s External Affairs Commissioner Chris Pattern; Russian Vice-Minister of Finance, Sergey Kolotukin; and the President of the EBRD, Jean Lemierre. At this conference, the Russian Federation, the EC and five countries (Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden) announced initial contributions totalling €110m to the Support Fund of which €62m are earmarked for nuclear projects: the EC pledged €50m, while Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Russia each pledged €10m.

Given the launch of the NDEP Support Fund was conditional on a minimum €100m, Bellona considers the €110m pledged marks a milestone in the process of improving the environment.

Origin and structure of the NDEP
In March 2001, the EBRD, the Norwegian Investment Bank (NIB) and the World Bank created the NDEP to launch a new approach to promoting and financing environmental investments. The European Investment Bank (EIB) joined the NDEP when their mandate was extended to environmental loans in Russia. The NDEP includes the EC, the Russian Federation and the IFIs active in the region. One of the NDEP’s priority areas is to tackle the environmental problems from radioactive waste in north-west Russia, so it is necessary to promote co-ordination between Russia, donors and IFIs, and raise funds for priority projects. There are two main pillars of the NDEP: an organisational structure, the Steering Group, and a funding mechanism, the Support Fund.

The Steering Group of the NDEP–the EC, Russia, the EBRD, the NIB, the EIB, and the World Bank–will co-ordinate the work of addressing the region’s environmental problems, including those caused by nuclear waste. The Steering Group has identified 12 potential environmental projects with an investment cost of €1.3bn as well as 16 nuclear waste management projects exceeding €500m. The Steering Group has prepared a priority list of nuclear waste management projects to clear-up radioactive waste at a cost of €500m. The Steering Group will also make proposals to the Assembly of Contributors of the Fund, which will decide the allocations of grant funds. It will work with the Assembly of Contributors to oversee the implementation of projects.

The NDEP Support Fund aims to mobilise grant co-financing from donors to leverage long-term loans from the IFIs. The grants hope to have a demonstration effect on environmental investment in the area, as they will make possible larger loans that will finance the major share of the investments. The NDEP Support Fund has two windows, one for nuclear safety and one for environmental projects. The nuclear safety window relies on grants and do not require loans.

Developing projects in the NDEP region4
Presently, there are huge amounts of SNF from nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear-powered ice breakers, as well as radioactive waste, in north-west Russia. The Russian military has some 250 surface and submarine nuclear-powered vessels; about two-thirds of them are based in north-west Russia. Out of the 191 laid-up nuclear-powered submarines in Russia, 115 are located at Northern Fleet bases. 71 are laid-up with fuel onboard, 10 without fuel and 32 have been dismantled. By the end of 2001, SNF from 118 reactors was in storage at onshore bases and nuclear service ships, with a further 130 reactor cores still onboard the retired submarines. From 1967-1981, the Russian Navy scuttled six reactors in the Kara Sea with SNF onboard. 248 reactor cores are stored at Northern Fleet bases, equivalent to 99 tonnes of SNF.5

Between 1959 and 1992, nine civilian nuclear-powered vessels were built in the Soviet Union; eight icebreakers and one container ship, all operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company (MSCo) and based at Atomflot 2km from Murmansk. The base handles fresh fuel and SNF.

In total, there are approximately 300 naval reactors and some 60,000 SNF assemblies in north-west Russia. None of the fuel assemblies are stored according to international safety standards. Another 10,000 are expected from re-fuelling submarines and icebreakers in the in the near future, highlighting the need for a storage facility for SNF and radioactive waste.

Andreeva Bay: located in the Zapadnaya Litsa Bay, 80km from Murmansk and 55km east of the Norwegian border, this site was established in the 1960s to service nuclear submarines and store naval SNF and radioactive waste. This site has the highest concentration of naval SNF and radioactive waste in north-west Russia. Here, SNF is stored in three concrete tanks, as well as in old transport casks on an open site. According to Minatom’s head design establishment responsible for SNF management at Andreeva Bay, this site has 21,640 SNF assemblies containing 35 tonnes of fuel material. Assuming that each reactor core contains 233 nuclear fuel assemblies, this is equivalent to 93 reactor cores. Storage constitutes 95% of the activity at the base, and the infrastructure does not meet international safety standards. Minatom has estimated the cost of re-establishing only the infrastructure at Andreeva Bay necessary to manage the existing SNF and radioactive waste at $9-$13m. This could be implemented over two years.

Gremikha Base: located on the east side of the Kola Peninsula, some 350km east of the mouth of the Murmansk fjord, this base is the second onshore storage site for SNF from the Northern Fleet. According to Bellona Report Vol. 3, around 800 elements from pressurised water reactors are stored in Gremikha, containing 1.4 tonnes of nuclear fuel materials. A further six reactor cores from liquid metal cooled reactors from Project 705 (Alpha class) submarines are stored onshore. There are 19 nuclear-powered submarines laid-up at this base with a total 38 reactors with their SNF, all of which are docked at piers. No part of the storage site meets the normative requirements for radiation safety. The base is in an isolated location and has no road or rail connections, and much of the work to secure the radioactive waste has to be done onsite.

The infrastructure at Gremikha is in a similar condition to Andreeva Bay. Although the amount of SNF at Gremikha is lower than at Andreeva Bay, its remote location and lack of land-based communications would make any project implementation there extremely difficult. In addition, a solution should be found for the 19 submarines laid-up with SNF onboard.

SNF of naval origin in north-west Russia: only one designated reprocessing facility exists in Russia, Mayak, in the southern Urals, which does not operate according to international standards. The location and infrastructure at Andreeva and Gremikha require SNF to be transported by ship to Atomflot, then by train to Mayak. Bellona recommends an interim storage facility for SNF in the Murmansk area because: a significant part of the SNF is damaged and cannot be reprocessed at Mayak; the SNF from liquid metal cooled reactors from the six Alpha Class submarines cannot be reprocessed at Mayak; the transport capacity at Mayak would be insufficient to meet the planned rate of decommissioning; and the reprocessing rate at Mayak is lower than needed to act as a buffer store.

Establishing a Regional Federal Interim Store for SNF would cost $50m with a capacity of about 35,000 fuel assemblies and take five years to implement. Mimatom estimates the cost of transporting the SNF at Andreeva Bay to licensed casks for transport and storage at $80-$95m to be implemented over ten years, although SNF may be removed in 4-5 years.

SNF onboard Lepse and Lotta: these two service ships belong to the civilian fleet operated by MSCo. Both ships were designated to service icebreakers and submarines. Lepse, taken out of service in 1989, is docked in Murmansk harbour with 639 fuel assemblies onboard. This corresponds to 2.5 reactor cores, mainly from the nuclear icebreaker Lenin. Lotta is used both for buffer storage of SNF and interim storage. Lotta is also equipped with a handling facility for transferring SNF to transport casks. There are 4,400 fuel assemblies onboard the two ships.

Supplements to the Lepse project to cover the transport and storage casks for the SNF, waste management and decontamination of the ship would cost $10-$20m, taking 3 years. Storage casks to facilitate the removal of SNF from Lotta would cost $10-$15m, taking 1-2 years.

Non-strategic submarines: the Northern Fleet has 72 non-operational non-strategic submarines, 27 of which have been de-fuelled. Some of those have been dismantled. 45 non-strategic submarines are laid-up with SNF onboard, some afloat at their piers in north-west Russia. A number of those afloat have low buoyancy and require floatation aids; indeed, Minatom has expressed concern regarding the situation at the bases. Addressing this requires the upgrade of an existing naval base at a cost of $7-$15m over three years. Bellona suggests that funding for de-fuelling and decommissioning non-strategic submarines should be made available, as they represent a major environmental threat.

Solid and liquid radioactive waste: the handling of both solid and liquid radioactive waste during transport, storage and disposal requires Gozatomnadzor (GAN) approved containers. While the necessary decisions in Russia for the establishment and location of a storage facility have not yet been taken, the need is recognised. The cost of an interim storage facility with a 30,000m3 is $11-$17m, taking two and a half years to commission. It would be prudent to have a conditioning facility in operation. And the completion of the liquid waste processing facility at the Atomflot base, which has been under construction for the past six years, is advisable.

The establishment of a 50,000m3 capacity repository for low and intermediate level waste at Novaya Zemlya would cost $70m and take five years to implement. It would cost $11-$17m for a 30,000m3 Regional Federal Interim Store for conditioned radioactive waste in the region, taking three years.

Managing solid and liquid waste at Andreeva Bay, especially Building 5, which contains highly contaminated radioactive sludge and is heavily contaminated, is a priority. Minatom estimates the cost of managing the radioactive to be $8-$10m, but this does not include the removal of material in B5 and remediation of the base. Bellona believes the retrieval and conditioning of the silt and sludge at this site is the most urgent task to be implemented regarding the radioactive waste, although no cost is available. Bellona therefore recommends a feasibility study be conducted at the earliest available opportunity.

The retrieval and conditioning of the solid waste at Andreeva Bay would cost $5m assuming that half of the cost estimated by Minatom is allocated to solid waste management. This would take four years to implement, the same as the treatment and conditioning of the liquid waste at the Bay at a cost of $5m. Bellona recommends the continuation of projects at Andreeva Bay: the removal of SNF at the base; the retrieval and conditioning of sludge in Building 5; and the conditioning of solid and liquid waste.

Submarine compartment store at Saida Bay: there are some 48 reactor compartments from the Northern Fleet’s dismantled nuclear submarines afloat at Saida Bay, located in the western part of the Kola Peninsula. The design life of some of the compartments has already expired; in fact, Minatom has seriously questioned their ability to remain buoyant. A land-based interim storage facility is an alternative to the current storage method. While Minatom has a 120 compartment storage facility on the design table, a removal and conditioning feasibility study should be conducted first. The planning and construction of a 120 compartment storage facility would cost more than $100m with an implementation time of two years.

Bellona welcomes the €62m earmarked for nuclear projects at the NDEP Support Fund Pledging Conference. Indeed, Bellona has continuously monitored the environment in north-west Russia and has on many occasions advocated the need for the type of projects now advocated by the NDEP Support Fund.

Because the implementation of projects in north-west Russia is dependent on the successful conclusion of MNEPR, Bellona recommends that the draft document be signed by all parties as soon as possible. Any further delay in signing MNEPR acts as an impediment to the NDEP.

1. See the Council of the European Union ‘Action Plan for the Northern Dimension’, Brussels, 14 June 2000, NDEP
2. ‘The NDEP: Pledging Conference for the NDEP Support Fund’: IP/02/1024–Brussels, 9 July 2002, NDEP
3. The NDEP region includes the EC countries and seven partner countries: Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland and the Russian Federation.
4. NDEP project costs and implementation times are from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, ‘Barents Sea Programme against nuclear pollution–NDEP’, 22 April 2002
5. All information on SNF is from the Report for Cabinet Meeting. Minatom: ‘Nuclear and Radiation Safety of Russian’, Moscow, pp.22-23, 28, 58-59, in Bellona Report Vol.3 – 2001, the Arctic Nuclear Challenge