Spent nuclear fuel arrived at Zheleznogorsk

Publish date: November 9, 2001

Written by: Rashid Alimov

The first special train carrying spent nuclear fuel from Bulgaria arrived at the Mining and Chemical Combine near Krasnoyarsk on November 8th. Spent fuel from the sister-country Bulgaria is not foreign, the Combine representatives say.

Bear trapped in atomic rings

A large batch of spent nuclear fuel from Bulgaria delivered for storage at the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) in Zheleznogorsk near Krasnoyarsk.

The Combine representatives say, the special train brought 96 fuel element assemblies from the Kozloduy nuclear plant in Bulgaria, built by the Soviet Union. On November 8th, the MCC workers began unloading the train and placing the assemblies in the storage pool.

Accident at TransSib

Throughout Russia, the train went without any incident, the MCC representatives claim.

But at the same day it was reported that in midnight between November 7th and 8th an accident had occurred at the Trans-Siberian railway, where the nuclear train was to pass.

Between the Krasnoyarsk and Kemerovo counties, 14 tank-wagons came off the tracks. One kilometre long railway was damaged, the railway traffic was halted for 12.5 hours.


“We tried to find out, where the nuclear train was last night and whether it had been damaged as a result of the accident at the TransSib, – Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of Ecodefence! envirogroup, said on Thursday, – but the authorities said they have no information about that. The train could be in Kemerovo county, where the train crash happened, or could have been delayed at the frontier for the paper work.”

In Mr Slivyak’s opinion, secrecy and lack of coordination between the official departments makes railway transportation of nuclear materials even more serious. The Ecodefence! representatives insist, Russian authorities must adopt the Western experience of informing people about hot cargos passing – people have right to know, what danger they are exposed to.

Earlier, on October 24th, envirogroups of six towns, situated along the TransSib, carried out protest actions against spent nuclear fuel imports, saying that safety of Russian railroads is poor.

The nuclear bills

The MCC representatives stress, the spent fuel deliveries “have no relation” with the laws, approved by the State Duma in June, regulating spent nuclear fuel imports to Russia from foreign NPPs.

On June 6th, the State Duma approved in the third reading the bills, which legalised and structured the proceedings for storage of foreign nuclear waste in Russia. But even these laws require environmental evaluation for each such shipment. The laws do not say a word about special sister-country status of Bulgarian spent fuel.

But no evaluation was carried out. No licence was acquired – in the mid-October the State Nuclear Regulatory harshly told the Ministry for Nuclear Energy (Minatom) that an official licence is required to carry out such activity.

Minatom has no legal foundation for this import from Bulgaria, it has only a desire to get $25.5m for 41 tonnes of spent fuel. By the way, these figures disclaim Minatom’s promises of huge revenues on the import operations (amounting to $20bn).

It can be calculated that Bulgaria paid $620 for one kilogram of spent nuclear fuel. Minatom used to say it would take not less than $1000 per kilo.

Now Minatom negotiates with Bulgaria two more trains bringing spent fuel from Kozloduy next year. And at the same time, the ministry admits, no reprocessing is planned for the next 30 years: radioactive waste is taken for storage.

Bulgaria’s electricity is generated from the following sources: thermal power plants account for 48 percent; 32 percent by the Kozloduy nuclear power plant; 14 percent by independent suppliers; and, 6 percent by hydroelectric plants.


Zheleznogorsk, also known as “Iron City”, is situated approximately 50km north of Krasnoyarsk on the eastern side of the River Yenisey in Krasnoyarsk county, Siberia. The city has a population of 90,000 and was known by its code name Krasnoyarsk-26 until 1994.

The Mining and Chemical Combine with its three plutonium producing reactors and a radiochemical plant are well shielded 250m to 300m underground. The first reactor was shut down on June 30th 1992, and the second followed on September 29th the same year and the third (AD-2) has been in operation since 1964.

In 1985, a facility to store spent nuclear fuel from the VVER-1000 reactors (third generation of Russian light water reactors) was taken into use. This storage facility is right next to the half-completed RT-2 reprocessing plant. At present the facility stores a total of 3,000 tonnes of spent fuel while it has a capacity of 6,000 tonnes.

In june, 2001 Krasnoyarsk Biophysics Institute proved that Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine suffered at least two serious accidents 30 and 20 years ago. The MCC representatives admitted that after decades of secrecy, adding the Combine influence can be traced by spots with high level of cesium-137 content down to Igarka town in the Russian Arctic. According to scientists, Yenisey River is polluted with radionuclides for the length of 1,500 km, down to the Arctic Ocean.


The bear trapped in atomic ring

The first shipment of spent nuclear fuel after President Putin signed the bills, allowing nuclear waste imports shows that no laws are followed by Minatom. Even those, passed under pressure of Minatom itself. President, who said in summer, that he would personally control each spent nuclear fuel import contract, seems to have heard nothing about the nuclear waste coming from Bulgaria.

Minatom has legalised its corporative business, which is under no independent control. The revenues of this business will be diverted to support post Soviet vast nuclear weaponry complex, which has been mostly useless after the cold war was over. Whereas the future generations will enjoy taking care of the hazardous waste for the coming thousands of years.

Zheleznogorsk, where radioactive waste will be stored at least during the next 30-50 years, has a shocking emblem. It’s the Russian bear, encircled in nuclear orbits. The orbits seem to be tightening. Would the bear manage to get out from the atomic rings?