Casks for submarine spent fuel

A prototype cask for storage and transportation of spent nuclear fuel, derived from nuclear powered submarines, was presented to a big gathering of Russian, American and Norwegian officials and a crowd of 70 reporters at Izhora plants, Leningrad County, Tuesday.

This 40-ton metal-concrete cask is a part of AMEC program, the acronym for Arctic Military Environmental Co-operation. AMEC was established by Norwegian, American and Russian defence ministries in 1996 to solve environmental hazards associated with military activities in the Arctic. AMEC’s primary mission was to fill the gaps in the Co-operative Threat Reduction, or CTR, – a program run by the U.S. Department of Defence -on issues of direct relevance to environmental protection.

Russian Defence Ministry representative, Boris Alekseev, said at the presentation that Russia had covered two thirds of the project expenses. The U.S. footed the rest of the bill. Norway, which earlier had pledged to commit $685,000 to the project, has not earmarked money yet referring to bureaucratic problems.

Deputy Nuclear Minister, Valeriy Lebedev, present at the ceremony, said Izhora plants would manufacture 12 casks this year and 88 during the first part of the year 2000. Lebedev also said that from 4 to 12 casks are required to defuel one submarine. All in all, it is necessary to manufacture from 210 to 430 casks to have enough capacity to defuel around 150 laid up nuclear powered submarines in the Russian Navy, around 90 of them are scattered along the cost line of the Kola Peninsula. Each cask has a price tag of $150.000 and a lifetime of 50 years.

But cask manufacturing solves only a part of the problem, as a storage site for casks is not ready yet. Lebedev said that his ministry is evaluating a number of locations, such as Andreeva Bay, Gremikha or Nerpa shipyard at the Kola Peninsula and Kamchtka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.

It remains unclear, however, whether Russia is still persistent to ship spent fuel to Mayak plant in South-Ural for reprocessing. Both the representatives from the Defence Ministry and Nuclear Ministry stressed the urgency to construct an intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at the Kola Peninsula.

According to Lebedev, the Russian government earmarked $20 million this year to decommission nuclear powered submarines. Next year, the government has pledged to commit around $40 million. Decommissioning of submarines today, however, is mainly funded by the United States through CTR program. Scrapping of nine submarines has been paid for by CTR this year. In addition, seven strategic submarines have been cut with American funds the past few years.

Lebedev said that this year Russian Navy plans to defuel eight submarines. Next year, given the cask project functions well, reactors 18 submarines will be emptied of spent fuel.