Three years ago, the Russian Government adopted Decree no. 773, dated 29 July 1995, "On the Rules of Receiving for Further Reprocessing of Spent Nuclear Fuel from Foreign Nuclear Power Plants at the Russian Plants and Returning of the Radioactive Waste Generated in the Process of Reprocessing". The rules concern only Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine (thus not Mayak), and covers spent nuclear fuel from any kind of nuclear plant – not only those of Soviet or Russian design. The only factual requirement for spent fuel imports thereafter is that the Krasnoyarsk plant must have the technical ability to reprocess it.
Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine (KMCC), located in Zheleznogorsk, includes an underground radiochemical plant with three reactors (two now closed, the third is used for production of electricity for the city). The plant was commissioned in 1964, to reprocess spent fuel from its own reactors in order to obtain weapon grade plutonium.
In the early Eighties, as part of the general program to expand the services available to civilian nuclear power projects, it was decided to build a new reprocessing plant – the RT-2 – at Zheleznogorsk, to deal with fuel from VVER-1000 reactors. Other reactor fuels (excluding RBMK and naval metal cooled reactor fuel) was to be dealt with by the RT-1 (also known as Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk County). Construction of the RT-2 began in 1983. In addition to the VVer-1000 reprocessing facility, the RT-2 was to comprise a spent fuel wet storage facility, waste disposal facilities and a plant to produce MOX fuel. Eventually, only the wet storage was completed and entered service in 1985 with a capacity of 6,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel.
The reprocessing plant was due for completion in 1997-98, but funding was cut drastically in 1985 and stopped completely in 1989. In January 1995, a presidential decree authorised Krasnoyarsk to seek foreign investors. The Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom) was hoping to close contracts on the reprocessing and temporary storage of spent nuclear fuel from South-East Asia (South Korea, India, Japan) and Europe to generate the funds. The plan did not work and was eventually dropped. In addition, an expert commission in October 1996 decided that nothing more could be done until a full environmental impact study was completed. The plant is 30% complete and is being prepared for further construction – given funding dropping from the sky…
"Laws are written to be altered"
The KMCC was left with a storage facility for VVER-1000 fuel, which is today 30% full, and with a governmental decree permitting them to import "foreign fuel" for reprocessing. The only thing preventing them from earning money was the lack of reprocessing plant RT-2.
Both the Russian Environmental Law (part 3 of Article 50) and Presidential Decree no. 773 dated 29 June 1995, prohibit storage of foreign nuclear and radioactive waste on the territory of the Russian Federation. In addition, the presidential decree obliges Minatom to return any radioactive waste, generated in the process of reprocessing, to the country of origin within 30 years.
"The laws are written to be altered later," decided the KMCC, and made a plan on how to make money without the RT-2. The plan was simple enough: accept foreign spent nuclear fuel for long term storage and get paid for it. The two customers who came within the scope of the Combine’s market analysts were Japan and South Korea.
The RT-2 plant could be built later – i.e. when the first payment came from the rich customers. Meanwhile, an interim measure was proposed – to build an additional dry store with a capacity of 8,000 tons in order to expand the range of services.
New county administration
The only issue to be dealt with was the composition of the deputies in the previous Krasnoyarsk County Deputies’ Council. They were somehow "green" all over and did not meet with enthusiasm the proposal made by Combine’s businessmen. However, the Combine was relieved with the election of Aleksandr Lebed as Governor of Krasnoyarsk and the subsequent election of a new Krasnoyarsk Deputies County Council, which ceased to be too "green."
A few weeks ago, the management at KMCC and the local city administration both undersigned an application to the Krasnoyarsk County Deputies’ Council. The applicants want the County Council to file a request to the State Duma to emend the Environmental Law of the Russian Federation. Part 3 of article 50, which is the part proposed to be emended, effectively prohibits storage of foreign radioactive waste on the territory of the Russian Federation. The presidential decree, which obliges the return of the waste of reprocessing back to the country of origin, can be dealt with later. A new decree can be written, for example, extending the 30-year obligation of radwaste delivery to 50 or 100 years – by that time the Combine apparently hopes to complete the RT-2 plant.
"The very fact that such a proposal has popped up says that there is a backing of the project in Lebed’s administration," says Vitaly Khizhnyak, a former employee of the Combine and now state nuclear inspector, to Bellona Web.
"In addition to South Korea and Japan, the contracts reached with India and Iran assume spent fuel delivery to Krasnoyarsk from the plants to be built with Russia’s assistance," adds Khizhnyak.
There has been no response to the Combine’s request so far. If in fact the law is emended, the idea might get supporters at the Mayak reprocessing plant as well. At least, there will be no more headaches at Mayak in respect to the sending back of wastes generated during its reprocessing.