Russia, Ukraine: spent fuel feud

Publish date: February 18, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Russia and Ukraine reach an interim agreement on spent fuel transactions.

Ukraine will be paying more per kilogram of spent nuclear fuel shipped for long term storage in Siberia this year, the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported. The rate is a $45 increase in comparison to prices last year.

In early December 1998 Krasnoyarsk County governor, Aleksandr Lebed, said the mining and chemical combine in his county would not accept spent nuclear fuel from Ukraine for "small money;" so the rate was increased $45 to $330 per kilogram.

Governor Lebed insisted that the world price for storing spent fuel was between $700 and $1000, "while we accept fuel for $285 [per kilogram]," Lebed said.

The deadlock over a suitable fee has lasted three months, during which Russian nuclear minister, Yevgeny Adamov, and Ukrainian cabinet leader, Valery Pustovoytenko, tried several approaches with the rebellious Krasnoyarsk governor. A compromise was reached last month when Ukraine agreed to a small increase, although still far below of the international going rate for spent fuel.

The Ukrainian state-owned nuclear operator sent in $57 million worth of spent fuel to Russia in 1998. The company still owes its Russian contractors $13 million yet plans to ship $105 million of the radioactive cargo this year.

Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine (KMCC), located in Zheleznogorsk, includes an underground radiochemical plant with three reactors; two are now closed and the third produces electricity for the city. The plant was commissioned in 1964 to reprocess spent fuel from its own reactors, from which it derived weapon grade plutonium.

Construction of a RT-2 reprocessing plant for the combine is 30 per cent complete and needs $4 billion to be finished. The plant was designed to deal with fuel from VVER-1000 reactors and has a storage facility with a capacity of 6000 tons.

Ukraine considers dry storage

Russian officials say the price for accepting spent fuel will go up in the coming years to meet international standards. In response, the Ukrainians announced plans to build a dry storage facility of their own, extending the scope of potential environmental harm.

Ukraine operates 14 nuclear reactors; most of which are the VVER-1000 type handled by the Krasnoyarsk Combine. Last month, information agencies reported Ukraine was constructing a storage site for spent fuel at Zaporozh’e nuclear power plant. The plant has six VVER-1000’s in operation. Its spent fuel will be stored in ferro-concrete casks, quite unlike the water pools storage method applied at the Krasnoyarsk Combine.

RT-2’s life hangs in the balance

The decision of Krasnoyarsk’s governor to raise the price was not welcomed at the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy. "It is unrealistic to raise the price of storage to $800 or $1000 per kilogram since, if the terms are such, it would be more profitable for Ukraine to build its own storage facility," Yuri Bespalko, a spokesman for the Nuclear Ministry, said to ITAR-TASS.

The Ukraine is one of the few customers of the incomplete RT-2 reprocessing plant and helps it survive. Kozloduy nuclear power plant in Bulgaria is another customer and operates two VVER-1000. Russia operates seven of the type, but its plants have failed to make regular payments to the Krasnoyarsk Combine while in an economic netherworld of their own.

Management at Krasnoyarsk Combine have been vocal and persistent while lobbying for amendments to Russia’s body of environmental laws that would make it possible to import spent fuel for storage. Such amendments were scheduled for discussion yesterday in the Russian Federal Council, upper chamber of the Russian parliament. If the proposed changes are not passed Krasnoyarsk Combine will have to stick to the few regular customers it has. Losing Ukraine would not bode well for the combine. With Ukraine’s adoption of a dry storage solution RT-2’s chances of extending its commission are slim.