Norway funds, Russia digs

Publish date: September 17, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Two Norway-sponsored radwaste management projects completed in north-west Russia.

Russia has completed two projects funded by Norway to upgrade radiation safety at naval sites in north-west Russia. Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Jarle Skjørestad, toured Murmansk and Severodvinsk last week to inspect the progress.

Trench in Andreeva Bay
The first project was designed to stop a brook from streaming through an old storage building (Building no. 5) for spent nuclear fuel located in Andreeva Bay, Kola Peninsula. The brook was carrying radioactivity out into the Litsa Fjord.

In Andreeva Bay there is the largest and the only operational storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in the Northern Fleet. The first storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, Building 5, was taken into use in 1962. In February 1982, the storage building suffered an accident. Around 3.000 cubic meters of water containing activity of around 3.000 Ci leaked out into the Litsa Fjord as a result of the accident. The accident was fully recovered only by the end of 80-s. Spent nuclear fuel was removed and transferred to hurriedly reconstructed three large underground concrete tanks located nearby Building no. 5. The tanks were originally designed to be a part of a liquid waste processing facility that was never put into use. These tanks are the only operational spent fuel storage in the Northern Fleet today.

The Building no. 5 was emptied of spent fuel, but radioactivity is still captured inside. A part of spent fuel assemblies were destroyed and fell down. It made it almost an impossible task to lift them up after the 1982 accident.

The situation was worsened by the fact that a small brook, streaming through the infamous Building no. 5, was carrying out radioactivity further into the Litsa Fjord.

Using a project drafted by the St. Petersburg-based Vedeneev Scientific Research Institute for Hydrotechnics, Norwegian Foreign Minister decided to support it and earmarked NKr 6,429,600 (around US$817,000) in 1998. The idea was simple – to dig a trench around Building no. 5, thus preventing the brook streaming through it. The peculiar side with the project was that representatives from Norway were not allowed to inspect the work on site. All what was required from Norway was to cash out money and receive a report supplied with pictures when the work is done.

The work is reportedly done, indeed. The trench is there. The Engineering Centre for Environmental Safety in Zaozersk, a closed military city 10 kilometres from Andreeva Bay, that was responsible for construction works, even managed to save a part of funding and built a roof over the three spent fuel storage tanks described above. This part was not stipulated by the trench-digging-project and was an initiative from the Russia side that Norway was not aware of.

Both western and Russian experts involved into the project admitted unofficially that the project would do no good or bad, and it is far from the final solution to this problem. The full evaluation of the situation in Adreeva Bay and western funding of the solutions there is only possible when western experts are allowed to inspect the site. It is, however, complicated as long as Andreeva Bay is a subject to the Russian Defence Ministry.

At the reception in Norwegian Consulate in Murmansk, organised to celebrate completion of the project, Murmansk County Governor, Yuriy Yevdokomov, said the paperwork was underway to transfer the Navy’s radwaste site under the supervision of the Russian Minister for Atomic Energy by the end of 1999, early 2000. This timeframe is, however, highly questioned by both Russians and Westerners involved into nuclear clean-up projects in Russia.

Liquid waste tanks commissioned in Severodvinsk
The second project was in Severodvinsk where Norwegian company Kværner was managing a project to upgrade the so-called ‘object 159’ at Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk. The object consists of two type A-02 tanks for low-active liquid waste, each with a capacity of 500 cubic meters. The tanks are located near the planned liquid waste processing facility and will serve as a buffer. The upgrade began in May 1998 and was completed as planned in August this year. Norway used $4,3 million on the project.