NF: Reprocessing vs. storage

Publish date: February 6, 2003

In the mid to late 1990s, the pace at which spent nuclear fuel is transported and processed has slowed drastically.

This is largely due to a sharp increase in the cost of transporting and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel following a change in the billing policy of Mayak Chemical Combine. Starting from January 1, 1991, Mayak Chemical Combine required full coverage of its expenses.

An overview of the number of special transport trains from 1984 to 2000 is given in the table below:

1984: 10 special trains 586 containers
1985: 9 special trains 503 containers
1986: 3 special trains 155 containers
1987: 7 special trains 386 containers
1988: 6 special trains 329 containers
1989: 7 special trains 426 containers
1990: 4 special trains 235 containers
1991: 3 special trains 216 containers
1992: 3 special trains 216 containers
1993: 4 special trains 280 containers
1994: 1 special train 12 type TK-18 containers
1995: 4 special trains 48 type TK-18 containers
1995: 4 special trains 48 type TK-18 containers
1996: 4 special trains 48 type TK-18 containers
1997: 2 special trains 24 type TK-18 containers
1998: 4 special trains 48 type TK-18 containers
1999: 5 special trains 60 type TK-18 containers
2000: 7 special trains 84 type TK 18containers
An overview of the number of spent nuclear fuel trains

As may be seen from the table, there was an increase of shipments in the year 2000. There are several reasons for this. The second train built by Norway was taken into operation, CTR obtained permission from the United States Congress to fund the shipment of fuel from 15 decommissioned SSBNs, and finally Minatom used a part of the profit from its sales in the USA of highly enriched uranium to fund the transportation of spent fuel to the Mayak reprocessing plant.

As stated earlier, there are 248 reactor cores currently stored in the Northern Fleet. Even seven train shipments correspond only to 17.5 reactor cores. Even if the were to be increased to 10 trains per year, it will still take more than 25 years to transport all of the fuel to Mayak. On the other hand, the reprocessing facility at Mayak does not have the capacity to accept such amounts of spent fuel. In 2000, the reprocessing line at Mayak was operational for only 25% of the 400-ton per year capacity it was designed for. These kinds of reprocessing goals can only be attained by overhauling and upgrading the reprocessing line.

In addition to this comes spent nuclear fuel that Mayak Chemical Combine is unable to accept for reprocessing, including:

  • All spent nuclear fuel from reactors with liquid metal cooled reactors;
  • Damaged and/or defective fuel assemblies, that is, parts that are bent or have broken cladding. This is especially true of the fuel assemblies that are stored in Storage Pool No. 1 at Gremikha and at unshielded locations at Gremikha and Andreeva Bay as well as the three spent fuel storage tanks in Andreeva Bay;
  • Furthermore, there are a number of laid-up first generation submarines that may have considerable percentages of damaged spent nuclear fuel within their reactors.
  • All spent nuclear fuel with zirconium cladding.

    Bellona researchers believe that as much as 40% to 50% of the 21,640 spent fuel assemblies stored in Andreeva Bay are damaged and hence cannot be reprocessed at Mayak. This may also be true of the 52 reactor cores stored onboard first generation submarines.

    Bellona considers that an alternative option might be to build a intermediate storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at the Kola Peninsula. This option is discussed at length in Chapter 6 ‘Regional storage facilities on Kola’.