Lebed stops nuclear fuel shipment

Publish date: November 24, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexandr Lebed has ordered a halt to a shipment of spent nuclear fuel from Ukraine to the RT-2 storage in Zheleznogorsk. Lebed demands more payment from Ukraine.

Spent nuclear fuel elements from the VVER-1000 reactors in the former Soviet Union has for years been sent to the central storage in Zheleznogorsk (former Krasnoyarsk-26) in Siberia, awaiting reprocessing at the half-buildt RT-2 plant. In October, Lebed sent Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov a telegram, stating that he would not allow further shipments of spent nuclear fuel to enter Krasnoyarsk territory unless the price was raised to $500 per kilogram, up from $285 now, writes The Moscow Times. Lebed’s deputy, Aleksandra Kulenkova, said Ukraine has not paid adequately for Zheleznogorsk’s services, settling its debts by barter in vegetable oil or other foodstuffs.

The spent nuclear fuel shipment that Lebed denied to receive should have departed from the Ukrainian Zaporozhskaya nuclear power plant. According to Russian law, it is illegal to import spent nuclear fuel for disposal in Russia. But the Russian Ministry of Nuclear energy (Minatom) has claimed that the spent fuel is reprocessed into new fuel for export. Construction of the reprocessing plant RT-2 in Zheleznogorsk was abandoned before the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it is unclear when, or even if, the plant will be operating. The water-cooled spent fuel storage is located some few metres from the RT-2 construction site. Today, the storage is one-third full.

While the storage in Zhelezhnogorsk only accept spent nuclear fuel from VVER-1000 power reactors, the Mayak reprocessing plant in South-Ural receives spent nuclear fuel from both naval reactors and VVER-440 reactors in the former Soviet Union and some east-European countries, among them Bulgaria. Last week, environmental groups in both Russia and Bulgaria signed an appeal to their governments and parliaments to cancel plans for transportation of spent nuclear fuel from the Bulgarian nuclear power plant Kozloduy to Mayak in Russia.

"No nuclear transport and reprocessing should be allowed anymore for its highly negative environmental, political and financial impacts," said Polina Kireva, representative of the Bulgarian environmental group "Za Zemiata." Bulgaria presently pays $620 per kilogram of spent nuclear fuel sent to Mayak, but Russian officials says this price will be increased to $1,000 per kilo in the nearest future. The price does not include transport expenses.

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