Spent fuel train arrived in Krasnoyarsk

Publish date: December 8, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

A train with spent nuclear fuel from Ukraine arrived at the RT-2 storage in Zheleznogorsk on November 27, just one week after Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexandr Lebed stated that his Krai*) would not admit Ukrainian nuclear waste.

The spent nuclear fuel shipment that Lebed refused to receive comes from the Ukrainian Zaporozhkaya nuclear power plant. Its arrival to Zheleznogorsk (former Krasnoyarsk-26) in Siberia is confirmed by the Krasnoyarsk branch of the State Nuclear Inspection (Gosatomnadzor) and by local environmental activists.

The reason why Lebed tried to stop the shipment from Ukraine was that it was underpaid. Lebed wanted twice as much for receiving the spent nuclear fuel, and he wanted it to be paid in cash, not by barter agreements, as it has been lately. Ukraine settled its debts by barter in vegetable oil, other foodstuffs and even by providing winter boots to the employees at the Zheleznogorsk nuclear complex.

This was not the first disagreement between Krasnoyarsk Krai*) and Ukraine on the payment for spent nuclear fuel. In 1992, Krasnoyarsk refused to send casks to Ukraine for shipping spent fuel from the VVER-1000 reactors. The cask transportation was halted for almost two years. The RT-2 storage in Zheleznogorsk is the only central storage for spent nuclear fuel from VVER-1000 reactors ever built in the former Soviet Union.

Russian environmental activists say the transportation of spent nuclear fuel from abroad to storage in Russia violates the federal legislation. The law states that it is not allowed to import nuclear waste for disposal in Russia. The Russian ministry of nuclear energy (Minatom) claims that it does not violate the federal legislation since the fuel is to be reprocessed into new fuel for export.

"This statement is highly controversial. Spent nuclear fuel from Ukrainian VVER-1000 reactors cannot be reprocessed in Russia," says Vladimir Slivyak, head of the Anti-Nuclear Campaign of the Socio-Ecological Union. Construction of the RT-2 plant in Zheleznogorsk – the only reprocessing facility in Russia that would have been able to reprocess spent fuel from this type of reactor – was halted in 1989. At the time the project was halted, the facility was 30-40% complete.

"But the present economical crisis (in Russia) has given Minatom one more reason to lobby the government to allow further transportation of foreign nuclear waste into Russia in exchange for hard currency," says Slivyak.

While Lebed demands more payment for receiving spent nuclear fuel from Ukraine, environmental groups in Krasnoyarsk fear he would also start lobbying to receive spent nuclear fuel from other countries in exchange for hard currency. Located in eastern Siberia, Krasnoyarsk is an easy place for countries like South Korea and Japan to ship its spent nuclear fuel.

*) The Russian word "Krai" is used here, as it denotes a region with more inner self control than a county, yet less than a republic.