Bulgarian spent fuel policy questioned

Publish date: June 17, 1999

Written by: Vladimir Slivyak

Experts insist on shutting down four Kozloduy reactors, stop fuel shipments to Russia.

"Reactors No. 1-4 at Kozloduy nuclear plant can not be upgraded to the Western standards and must be immediately shut down," reported Bulgarian press quoting Michael Marriotte, a spokesman for the US-Russian expert group that visited Kozloduy nuclear power plant on 2 June.

Experts from both Eastern and Western countries inspected both the reactor units and waste treatment facilities on site. The group expressed scepticism toward shipment of spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing – the policy Bulgaria is currently pursuing.

"Transportation of spent fuel to Russia would not solve the problem of high-active waste management in Bulgaria and must be immediately halted," Steve Frichman and Vladimir Slivyak told Sofia’s based Trud newspaper.

Steve Frichman is a nuclear waste consultant for the state of Nevada, while Vladimir Slivyak works for Russian Socio-Ecological Union.

Earlier in 1998, under a heavy pressure from Bulgarian and Russian environmental groups, Bulgaria suspended shipment of spent fuel from Kozloduy to Russia for reprocessing. Since the beginning of this year, Bulgarian officials have been trying to negotiate with the republic of Moldova and Romania two different routes for shipment but both countries rejected such proposals.

In 1997, Russia and Bulgaria signed an agreement stipulating further reprocessing of spent fuel, which derived from no. 1-4 Kozloduy’s VVER-440 reactor units.

"Another round of negotiations with Russia on spent fuel from VVER-1000 units no. 5 and 6 is scheduled for the end of this year," Krasimir Nikolov, a general manager of Kozloduy NPP, told the experts.

Nikolov also confirmed that waste, which derived from the reprocessing, would be shipped back to Bulgaria, as Russian regulations require.

Yevgeny Adamov, Russian Nuclear Minister, said last year that his ministry (Minatom) wanted foreigners to pay around $1,000 per kilo of spent fuel for reprocessing services.

Nikolov responded by saying, "this [$1,000] price is too high for Bulgaria to foot, even $620 per kilo that Bulgaria paid last time was very high."

Kozloduy NPP sends its spent fuel for reprocessing to the Mayak plant in Chelyabinsk County. The area around the Mayak plant is the most radioactively contaminated on Earth. But Kozloduy NPP engineers believe there is another option available, namely long-term dry storage.

The dry storage in casks would allow the long-term storage of spent fuel on site and would prevent its shipments across Romania, Moldova and Ukraine to Russia. It would also allow Kozloduy NPP to solve the issue of limited storage space for spent nuclear fuel.

A person responsible for radwaste management at Kozloduy NPP said that the plant was prepared to expand the spent fuel storage on site. With the protests coming from the Republic of Moldova and Romania, Bulgaria will be simply forced to adopt this option.

The dry storage is also cheaper than shipments. Ed Smeloff, director of the U.S.-based Sacramento Energy Utility, estimated that storage in casks for the amount of spent fuel from two VVER-440 reactor cores would cost around $18 million in the U.S. Bulgaria paid $18,7 million for just one train laden with spent fuel to Mayak in September 1998.

As for now, Kozloduy NPP officials say they would review the possibility of dry storage given the political decision to halt transportation is taken.