Russian icebreaker fleet to dismantle vessels at Sayda Bay under new plan

Arktika_icebr The Arktika nuclear icebreaker, which is soon slated for dismantlement. Credit: Wikipedia

Russia’s nuclear icebreaker port Atomflot is examining the possibility of dismantling nuclear icebreakers at Sayda Bay’s facility of SevRAO, the country’s northern nuclear waste handler, according to a highly placed Atomflot official quoted in Russian media.

Sayda Bay currently serves as a storage site for the hulls and reactor compartments of decommissioned nuclear submarines.

Andrei Zolotkov, an expert on Russian icebreakers and nuclear safety with Bellona, called the new plan more “far-sighted” than previous icebreaker dismantlement operations that have been carried out at the Nerpa nuclear shipyard near Murmansk.

Nikolai Mantula deputy head of Atomflot’s special manufacturing and stationing division told the AtomEkpo conference in Moscow last week that Russia’s Federal Target Program for nuclear and radiation safety for 2016 to 2030 included dismantling a number of decommissioned nuclear icebreakers, the Russian news portal reported.

The specific icebreakers to be dismantled under the new scheme at Sayda Bay, said Mantula, are scheduled to be the Sibir, the Rossiya, and the historic Arktika, which set a record by spending an entire year at sea without putting into port.

In 2012, Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom contracted the Onega Research Manufacturing and Technological Bureau devised an engineering plan for nuclear icebreaker dismantlement at the Nerpa shipyard.

saida_future_SNF_management_plant The site of Sayda Bay's future spent nuclear fuel management facility. (Photo: Andrei Zolotkov/Bellona)

But Mantula confirmed that plan had changed, and that Onega had already worked out a technical and economic investigation of Sayda Bay’s suitability for icebreaker dismantlement. He added that the Sayda Bay variant will be cheaper as well.

Zolotkov said dismantling nuclear icebreakers at Sayda Bay instead of Nerpa made more sense because Nerpa was geared toward repairing – not dismantling – vessels, despite the large number of nuclear submarines the shipyard has dismantled in the past several years.

“But that’s not it’s primary purpose,” said Zolotkov in an email interview. “[Submarine dismantlement] there was more of a temporary factor, as the shipyard infrastructure suited this purpose well.”

But nuclear icebreakers headed for dismantlement have already been stripped of their nuclear components, said Zolotkov, which makes them more suitable candidates for dismantlement at Sayda Bay’s SevRAO facility.

“The goal of dismantling icebreakers is to separate all ‘clean’ constructions on the vessel, leaving only the reactor compartment for long term storage,” said Zolotkov. “A reactor compartment such as this, just as reactor compartments from nuclear submarines, should be stored at Sayda Bays industrial storage complex.”

Zolotkov sited the recent dismantlement of the Volodarsky, another nuclear service ship that spent decades on and offloading nuclear fuel from Atomflot’s vessels. The Volodarsky was safely dismantled at Sayda Bay last year.