Slovakia suspends shipment of spent nuclear fuel to Russia

Publish date: January 25, 2000

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Slovakia suspends shipment of spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing, plans to adopt dry storage option.

Shipment of around 300 tons of Slovakian spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing was abruptly halted by the Slovakian Ministry of Economy. Ivan Miklosh, the deputy head of the ministry, said the deal was damaging for the country’s economy what prompted its suspension for indefinite time.

Slovakian spent fuel was to come from the Soviet designed reactors at Bohunice nuclear power plant. Slovak Electricity Utilities company was on contract with its Russian counterpart Tenex (also known as Joint Stock Company Techsnabexport) to ship 10 train sets loaded with spent fuel to Russia. The first train was to departure late January last year. But in the end of 1999, Slovak Electrical Utilities said it was not able to pay for shipment and insisted on funding the deal through restructuring the debt of the Soviet Union (now Russia) to Slovakia. The debt is said to be around $1 billion.

The first week of January, a new energy sector development strategy was approved in Slovakia. The country today faces two alternatives regarding management of spent nuclear fuel. The first alternative that assumes shipment of spent fuel to Russia would roughly cost $6 billion. The price tag for the second option – construction of a dry storage – is around $1,7 billion. This particular deference drew the attention of the Slovakian Ministry of Economy that pushed through to suspend the deal.

Slovakia is among the four countries that keep shipments of spent fuel for reprocessing at the Mayak plant in South-Ural (the others are the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Ukraine). All four are evaluating viability of such policy.

In 1995, Finland decided to build a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel generated at the Soviet-designed Lovisa Nuclear Power Plant. Hungary claimed it would to halt shipments and working on completing a dry storage.

Russian NGOs applauded the decision made by Slovakian government and expressed their hopes the deal would never be resumed.

“The plans to ship nuclear waste to Russia are not economically viable and environmentally dangerous,” Vladimir Slivyak, the co-ordinator of antinuclear campaign of Russian Socio-Ecological Union, said to Bellona Web. “They started to understand it in Slovakia but not in Russia,” Slivyak added.

The refusal of Slovakia to go on with the deal will be yet another blow for the Russian reprocessing industry. Such situation is greeted by the Russian NGOs since the Mayak reprocessing plant has been and still is the main contributor to the radioactive contamination of the area around.

Slovakia operates five VVER-type nuclear reactors: Four at Bohunice nuclear power plant and one at Mochovce nuclear power plant.