Public hearings held in Murmansk on ecological rehabilitation of Andreyeva Bay

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Andreyeva bay has for decades held some 32 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the Russian Navy’s Northern Nuclear Fleet and the Murmansk-based nuclear icebreaker fleet, most of it in leaking and crumbling concrete bunkers.

The more that 50 people who took part in the hearings – including representatives of environmental organisations, the Zaozersk Region where Andreyeva bay is located, Rosatom and SevRAO and the Norwegian consul general – to discuss investment projects to develop nuclear waste reprocessing facilities at the former military base.

The main aim of the project is to deal with SNF, which accounts for 99 percent of the radioactivity housed there, and the public hearings were the first of their kind to take place in the region.

It was particularly important that the hearings took place at the investment stage of the project, said Bellona-Murmansk Chairman Andrei Zolotkov, as the timing would add flexibility and make it possible to modify and change plans of organisations that are working on SNF storage issues.

A short history of Andreyeva Bay
The Navy’s coastal technical base at Andreyeva Bay – which is a mere 50 kilometers from the Norwegian border – was established in 1961 through 1963, and was meant to store fresh and used nuclear fuel, including nuclear waste from nuclear submarines in Russia’s Northern Fleet.

Since 1993, the base has ceased taking in SNF and nuclear waste for storage, and the base was taken out of service. Responsibility for cleaning up the base – which holds about third of the radioactive waste found on the Kola Peninsula – was transferred from the navy to SevRAO.

But the former base has since turned into one of Northwest Russia and Scandinavia’s biggest environmental headaches. Storage conditions for SNF and nuclear waste at Andreyeva Bay are woefully substandard by modern standards. Routine leaks have killed off marine life and contaminated both soil and groundwater.

No one, including the officials who are in charge of its care, suggest the area is safe, the BBC reported in an interview with Zolotkov and other authorities involved in the project. Spent fuel is kept in non-standard cases, and the composition of the fuel is, for the most part, unknown.

The rehabilitation project includes the construction of a closed building with facilities to unload and repack the SNF into standard containers, and, further, into special transport containers.

These containers will be taken by boat to the Atomflot state enterprise in Murmansk – the base for Russia’s state-owned icebreaker fleet run my the Murmansk Shipping Company – where they will be unloaded onto specially designed trains and sent thousands of kilometers overland for reprocessing at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Southern Urals, Russia’s single reprocessing plant.

“(The Atomflot storage facility) is the most important facility on the Kola Peninsula,” said Zolotkov to Bellona Web. “Implementing this project means liquidating the consequences of the Cold War.”

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According to Zolotkov, the amount of radioactivity that has accumulated in Andreyeva Bay is comparable to the fallout from the Chernobyl accident.

Rehabilitation work in Andreyeva Bay
At present, experts from SevRAO are carrying out an ecological rehabilitation programme at Andreyeva Bay with help from European donor nations.

In May 2006, the Murmansk Regional administration, Norway’s northern Finnmark province and SevRAO signed a contract to develop a project for reconstructing a loading point for SNF to be removed from Andreyeva Bay that is projected to be built by 2007.

The British government is also chipping in with the construction of radiation free areas, as well the procurements and installation of post-radiation exposure sanitation premises. Britain is also footing the bill for the construction of a radio-ecological laboratory.

Previously, Andreyeva Bay has seen planning work and construction of an administrative centre, known as a the Norwegian Village, as well as roads, plumbing, technical locker rooms and physical protection mechanisms. The main financial sourcing for this ongoing work is the Norwegian government.

Keynote speakers at the public hearings on Andreyeva Bay included Vladimir Rozhdestvensky, lead project engineer at the State Electricity Scientific Research Institute, and Anatoly Demin, a deputy section head form the same institute. Commentaries on the environmental effect of the project came from Bellona Murmansk’s Sergei Zhavoronkin, whose report noted weak points in the project and gave an assessment of the impact work at Andreyeva Bay would have on the environment.

“We said that even the ground in this area is slightly radioactive, and therefore carrying out further work in Andreyeva Bay would be dangerous,” said Zhavoronkin’ colleague Zolotkov.

Anna Kireeva

anna@bellona.ru