NF: Transportation of spent nuclear fuel

Publish date: February 6, 2003

In accordance with the "closed cycle" policy of the former Soviet Union, the expectation is that all spent nuclear fuel should be reprocessed and used again.

Behind this policy lay the expectation of a uranium shortage in the future. In reprocessing procedures, the spent nuclear fuel assembly is dissolved in an acid solution, and uranium and plutonium is separated from the other elements. This uranium can then be used in the production of new fuel assemblies for RBMK type reactors for nuclear power plants. To that end, a resolution was passed in the middle of the 1960s to build a production facility at the Mayak Chemical Combine for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. This was the beginning of the RT-1 reprocessing facility.

The first technological system for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel both from VVER type pressurised water reactors (nuclear power plants) and from naval reactors (nuclear icebreakers and submarines) was started in 1976. Spent fuel assemblies were removed from the reactors and forwarded to the RT-1 reprocessing facility on special railroad cars. In 1973, the first specially modified train from the Northern Fleet consisting of nine cars, ran from Murmansk to Mayak.

Because the storage facilities for spent fuel assemblies located at Andreeva Bay and at Gremikha are not connected to the railway, there were two steps in the process of forwarding spent fuel assemblies from the submarine reactors to the reprocessing facility at Mayak:

  • Establishment of a loading area whereby containers of spent nuclear fuel could be transferred from Northern Fleet service ships and transported to the railway;
  • Preparation of service ships to carry the containers of spent nuclear fuel by sea from Andreeva Bay and Gremikha to the transfer loading area.

    Four locations were considered as possible transfer loading points. The location that was finally selected is situated at Sevmorput shipyard not far from Base 92, and is known today as Atomflot.