Andreyeva Bay – Time to avert a catastrophe

Figure illustrating possibility for chain reaction in Andreyeva Bay.

Publish date: June 6, 2007

Written by: Alexander Nikitin

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

Bellona’s position and proposals

Bellona’s position with regard to the dangerous situation in existence at Andreyeva Bay is as follows:

Given the history of inaction and negligence on the part of officials from various levels, Andreyeva Bay today presents an extremely hazardous storage site where it no longer seems possible to control the condition of the SNF in storage and, by extension, manage the storage process and ensure nuclear and radiation safety at the site.

Both substantial funds and quite a long period of time – 25 years – have been lost on conferences, discussions, construction of fences or other sites at Andreyeva Bay, which serve no purpose but “cosmetic.” There is now no telling of how much time is still allowed us until the fuel in storage is destroyed completely and the situation reaches the point that scientists are sounding alarm bells about. Russian experts now openly warn that a spontaneous chain reaction is possible at Andreyeva Bay and that once it occurs, all of the SNF contained in a cask will be released from its storage compartment, which will lead to heavy radioactive contamination of not only the storage blocks, but the surrounding area as well.

Evaluating the potential environmental damage of such a discharge, Rosatom characterises it as a “beyond design basis accident” – meaning that the maximum effective radiation dose expected to hit the population in the first year after the accident at the boundary of the sanitary protection zone limited to 100 metres – even considering the worst-case scenario weather conditions – will not exceed 40 microsieverts, or twice as high as the acceptable levels. The calculations assume that only one cask with SNF is involved in the chain reaction.

In Bellona’s opinion, these calculations are so overly optimistic as to qualify for criminal negligence. It should be taken into account that one explosion in one compartment could trigger chain explosions in neighbouring compartments. And if the above calculations of potential contamination were performed by Rosatom using the force of a possible explosion as a starting point, then these estimations must be multiplied by at up to 3,059 – in full agreement with the number of SNF casks in storage in the tanks. This would mean that the sanitary protection zone could extend several thousand times as wide and the radiation dose could be several thousand times as high than those assessed in Rosatom’s environmental impact study, as no less than some 20 million curies is likely to be released as a result of the accident.

According to Bellona’s estimations, the situation at Andreyeva Bay remains insecure. The processes occurring within the dry storage blocks are not subject to any control simply because there is no accessing the SNF. Consequently, the spent fuel’s condition is unknown and the progress of the fuel’s degradation that experts are warning about is a matter of no reasonable prognostications. Taking into consideration that most of the SNF has been stored in the dry storage blocks for around 25 years, its margin of safety – and by extension, of time allowed before its full destruction – is practically impossible to determine.

Bellona has no knowledge of what research has been undertaken to establish the existing level of danger or the margin of time still left to try to take the situation under control. In our opinion, a simulation study must be performed to determine the likely dynamic of the process occurring within the tanks and appraise the threat level. We have to estimate the limits of time allowed us to plan the necessary actions and make sure that the project proposed can be fulfilled within this time frame. Should calculations warrant it, an even more urgent plan of action needs to be developed.

Bellona proposes to examine the possibility of pumping the leaked water out of the dry storage blocks. This could at least help the current situation in the short term.

Bellona believes that the project of SNF removal from the dry storage blocks as presented by Rosatom risks prolongation, has implicit commercial underpinnings, and is not aimed at ensuring safety of the stored SNF as urgently as the current circumstances require. Because no tender has been announced to carry out the project proposed by Rosatom as it was developed, Bellona cannot be certain that the suggested plan is the safest and most reasonable of all the options available.
Bellona believes that Rosatom’s project lacks necessary information on the main operations envisioned in the plan and is unclear on:

· Exactly how the half-destroyed casks with spent fuel rod assemblies would be extracted out of their storage compartments;

· Exactly how the “shedding” of the nuclear fuel would be prevented;

· Exactly how the formation of the homogeneous mixture that experts are warning about would be stopped;

· Exactly how and where the damaged spent nuclear fuel – which constitutes the majority of the SNF in storage in the dry storage blocks – would be moved;

· Whether the infrastructure presumed to accept the damaged SNF outside the Andreyeva Bay site – containers, transport means, storage facilities etc. – is ready for the management of this kind of material;

· Whether there are technical norms and standards or a legislative basis to support such an operation.

According to Rosatom, a new radioactive waste management complex must be built in Andreyeva Bay.

Bellona believes this decision would be a mistake for reasons specified above.

In light of these assessments, Bellona concludes that the situation in existence at Andreyeva Bay can be called nothing short of unprecedented as there are no examples anywhere else in the world of such methods of storage of spent nuclear fuel or such practices of utter lack of control over its condition.

On account of the extreme complexity of the safe SNF removal project at Andreyeva Bay and the severe danger of the present situation, Bellona intends to:

1. Address the President of the Russian Federation, who bears the responsibility, under the Constitution of the Russian Federation, to protect the nuclear safety of the state, with a demand to take the situation of the nuclear hazard at Andreyeva Bay under his control and undertake measures to resolve the threat;

2. Insist that Russia and the international community adopt a proactive approach with regard to ensuring safety at the storage facilities at Andreyeva Bay.

3. Study the possibilities to file a lawsuit against the authorities responsible for the current situation in Andreyeva Bay.


In 1995, Bellona compiled a report entitled “The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination.” With this report, Bellona was first organisation of any kind to make public any data pertaining to the environmental conditions at the onshore technical base at Andreyeva Bay, the Northern Fleet’s former naval base on the Kola Peninsula and a largest site of storage of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel (SNF) in Europe. At the time, all facts relating to the technical base at Andreyeva Bay were classified and the information contained in Bellona’s report was not entirely without errors. Despite the inaccuracies, it was already clear 12 years ago that Andreyeva Bay was a time bomb and the detonator was ticking. Yet Bellona’s report came as a complete surprise even to then-governor of the Murmansk region, Yevgeny Komarov. Initial efforts to ensure safety at the storage site were impeded by the fact that the base was within the jurisdiction of the Russian Navy and absolutely no access to the base was allowed to civilian personnel. Still, the government of the Russian Federation acknowledged the importance of the problems accumulated at the Andreyeva Bay site and understood the dangers of the situation. In its Decree No. 518 of May 28th, 1998, the government ordered that the former onshore technical base of the Russian Navy undergo environmental rehabilitation.

Five years after Bellona’s report came out, and two years after the 1998 decree, the Russian government issued yet another document – Directive No. 220-p of February 9th, 2000. Under this directive, Andreyeva Bay was transferred into the purview of the then-Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), later transformed into the Federal Agency for Atomic Energy (Rosatom). A special structure was fomred to implement preparatory and practical works on the sites of onshore technical bases. The new state-owned structure, dubbed the Federal State Unitary Enterprise “Northern Enterprise for the Management of Radioactive Waste,” or SevRAO, was headquartered in Murmansk and has a branch, called SevRAO Branch 1, in the closed administrative territory of the town of Zaozersk, which carries out environmental rehabilitation efforts at Andreyeva Bay. Andreyeva Bay was opened for access by foreign investors. Several nations – including Great Britain, Norway and Sweden – expressed their willingness to take part in the environmental rehabilitation project to take place at the former naval base.

In this document, Bellona will present its analysis of the ecological situation at Andreyeva Bay at the present time, outline its position regarding the technical, technological and economic decisions made in relation to the nuclear waste storage site, and give its assessment of what has been done to enhance safety at the site in the past 12 years.

1. Environmental conditions

In the 12 years that have passed since Bellona published its report on the dangerous situation at Andreyeva Bay, the organisation’s researchers have been denied every opportunity to visit the onshore technical base there. Therefore, all the data concerning the environmental conditions at Andreyeva Bay will be presented here using information collected from various sources, including monitoring data received in 2004 and 2006 by Russian scientific centres – the Dollezhal Research and Development Institute of Power Engineering, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Nuclear Safety Institute and the Kurchatov Scientific Centre – as well as data made public by Rosatom during public hearings in October 2006.

The measurements of radioactivity of the Andreyeva Bay onshore base was carried out with the financial help of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.

1.1. Radioactive waste (spent nuclear fuel, solid radioactive waste and liquid radioactive waste) in storage at the onshore technical base at Andreyeva Bay

Storage location

Number of casks
Number of fuel rod assemblies

Tank 2А

Tank 2B
Tank 3А

Containers of Type 6 (42 containers)

Containers of other types
Mass of spent nuclear fuel, in tonnes

~ 32

Table 1: Spent nuclear fuel (SNF).

Storage location

Number of fuel rod assemblies
Tank 2B (without casks)
Tank 2B
(non-design-basis casks)
Facility 7А

Table 2: Highly radioactive solid radioactive waste (SRW) — control rod drives.

Experts estimate that the total radioactivity of the spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste in storage at Andreyeva Bay reaches approximately 1018 Becquerel, or some 27 million Curies. To put this figure in perspective, the overall radioactivity of the release of radioactive substances during the Chernobyl accident was around 50 million curies.

1.2. The radiological condition of the area’s buildings and territories, and of the water in the basin of Andreyeva Bay

Because of leaks in the Andreyeva Bay site’s buildings and facilities, the environment is subject to radioactive contamination through the migration of radioactive substances into groundwater and the surrounding atmosphere. Among the most contaminated sites at the base are the former SNF storage facility (Building 5), the dry storage tanks (Tanks 2A, 2B and 3A) and the territory around them, the solid radioactive waste (SRW) storage facility (Building 7 and its facilities 7A, 7B, 7D, and 7F), and the liquid radioactive waste (LRW) storage facility (Building 6).

bodytextimage_andreeva_rad_map.jpg Photo:

There are no simple calculations to tell when the fuel concentration in that homogeneous mixture may reach its 5 or 10 percent.

1.4. SRW and LRW storage sites

The SRW in storage at Andreyeva Bay is contained in the seven storage facilities of Building 7 and at three open-air sites, as well as in two tanks of a storage site designed to accommodate liquid radioactive waste (Building 6). Tanks containing SRW in Building 6 are filled with groundwater. An inventory survey of the SRW in storage has shown that it is practically impossible to determine the precise quantity of the waste, its composition and radioactivity – that is, whether the waste is of low, medium or high radiation levels. The maximum level of radiation near Building 7, where the majority of the SRW is contained, reaches 3,000 microsieverts per hour.

LRW is stored in four tanks in Building 6. These tanks are made of concrete and steel and are fully buried underground. Three of them, however, are prone to leaks and the LRW contained in them is slowly seeping into groundwater beneath.



Primary radioactive waste, in cubic metres



Secondary radioactive waste, in cubic metres



Total, in cubic metres



Table 4: Reprocessable LRW and SRW.

Type of packaging

Total number

Container UKT1A-6


Container NZK-150-1,5P


Container NZK-400-03


Container KT-2000


Container KT-6000


Barrels (as part of packages)




Filter containers


Table 5: Radioactive waste packaging nomenclature and quantities.

The LRW in storage today (amounts of accumulated LRW specified above) are accommodated in:
• regular storage facility (Building 6);
• LRW storage tank (Facility 2C);
• basement of Facility 6;
• compartments of dry storage blocks for spent fuel rod assemblies, Facilities 2А, 2B, and ЗА;
• reservoirs of the buried SRW storage facilities;

New LRW deliveries are expected:
• during the works on unloading spent nuclear fuel rod assemblies;
• during the works related to SRW management;
• during decontamination of transport means;
• during the works performed for rehabilitation of buildings and facilities.

1.5. Ground and underground waters

During the drilling of wells in the area surrounding Building 5, water from three water-bearing layers was found at the site. Radiation measurements showed that all of the samples could be classified as low-level radioactive waste. The specific radioactivity of Cesium-137 in the water from all three aquifers reached 2.4•103 Becquerel per kilogram, and the specific radioactivity from Strontium-90 was 9•102 Becquerel per kilogram.

Well 4071 revealed rock-layer water at the depth of 13 metres. The radioactivity of Strontium-90 concentration in the water was 90 Becquerels per kilogram, which qualified the sample as low-level LRW.

Wells 11 and 12 revealed a layer of radioactive soil as thick as 1 metre, which – according to the Russian code of Sanitary Rules for Radioactive Waste Management (SPORO-2002) – would have a preliminary classification of low-level SRW. The depth at which the radioactive soil was found in both wells corresponds approximately to the level at which the bottoms of the dry storage blocks are located. The contamination may have been caused by radioactive water leaking beyond the site of the dry storage blocks.

The specific radioactivity of Cesium-137 concentration in core samples taken at the depth of 6.5 metres near a water-bearing horizon reached 6•103 Becquerels per kilogram, therefore, this part of the soil is low-level SRW.

Results of surveys undertaken on Wells 4099, 4100 and 4101 showed the presence of a radioactivity leak from Facility 7. The leak is carried by fissure-vein water of the rock layers buried at the depths of between 1.5 metres and 1.6 metres. Strontium-90 in the water samples accounted for a specific radioactivity of 5.4•104 Becquerels per kilogram. The soil samples showed a specific radioactivity of 5.5•103 Becquerels per kilogram from Cesium-137, and a specific radioactivity of 3.9•104 Becquerels per kilogram from Strontium-90.

Therefore, practically all the soil on which the temporary storage facility at Andreyeva Bay stands, along with the underground water-bearing levels, is in fact low- or medium-level radioactive waste.

1.6. Seawater and the basin of the bay

In 1997, the radiological conditions in Andreyeva Bay were evaluated with the help of radiation-monitoring measurements and tests of samples of the shoreline soil. The results of these surveys were used to compile a map of Cesium-137 contamination of bottom sediments in the coastal areas of the bay. In 1999, further monitoring was conducted with regard to radioactive contamination of the bay water as radionuclides were leaking with the water of the creek that flowed into the bay from Building 5. The creek was diverted with a dam the same year.

In accordance with the results of the research in the bay basin, five zones with abnormal levels of contamination by technogenic radionuclides were revealed. The main sources of contamination were identified to be the territories including the area of the creek and the open storage site for SNF and SRW.

Later monitoring studies, carried out in 1996, brought evidence that radionuclides were migrating into the Motovsky Gulf. There is no information on the results of any further studies undertaken in the area.

2. What caused the situation at Andreyeva Bay? Bellona’s assessments and proposals

Twenty-five years have passed since 1982, when an emergency situation first occurred at Andreyeva Bay and the possibility of a nuclear accident first became painfully manifest.

Bellona believes that a situation of radiation and nuclear danger subject to no management – and therefore, no control – has been created at Andreyeva Bay as a result of mistakes and inaction on the part of the structures of Rosatom (previously Minatom) and the Ministry of Defence, as well as the regional and site administrations, all responsible for the nuclear and radiation safety in the region.

Spent nuclear fuel

In Bellona’s opinion, the current problems with SNF at Andreyeva Bay are the result of the following:
• With no relevant research results or authorisations in place, the temporary dry SNF storage block has been turned into a long-term storage facility that does not meet any requirements or standards of nuclear safety;
• Over the whole period of storage, practically no control has been exercised over the conditions of storage of SNF in the dry storage blocks, for both objective and subjective reasons;
• A practice of cover-ups was used when it was revealed that water had leaked into the dry storage blocks; consequences of these leaks were not assessed and therefore, no measures were undertaken to remove them;
• Starting from 1996, when the emergency conditions at Andreyeva Bay received global attention and financial support started pouring in, only “cosmetic” measures were attempted, which, on the whole, did little for the nuclear safety at the site;
• Even today, the administration of the region underestimates the clear and present danger and refrains from taking any concrete steps to gain control over the situation with the spent nuclear fuel in storage;
• Rosatom’s plan to rehabilitate Andreyeva Bay, presented by agency officials at the 2006 public hearings, demonstrates substantial defects as it fails, in particular, to gain an accurate assessment of the condition of the damaged SNF in storage or offer reasonable suggestions for its safe removal from the dry storage blocks.

Solid and liquid radioactive waste

In Bellona’s opinion, projects suggested today with regard to radioactive waste management at Andreyeva Bay are not safe, economically substantiated or generally effective.

Conditioned solid radioactive waste is planned for storage at Andreyeva Bay for a period of 50 years. Prior to that, the already accumulated and newly generated radioactive waste is supposed to be reprocessed in the very same Andreyeva Bay for 15 years. Various installations for SRW reprocessing – evaporation, separation, compression, fragmentation, decontamination and locking into concrete monoliths – have been created at various plants and bases of the Kola Peninsula and the city of Severodvinsk, at the Ship Repairing Yard No. 10 in Polyarny, at Atomflot, the nuclear-powered fleet maintenance base in Murmansk, and at military shipbuilder Zvyozdochka. Another $300m SRW and LRW management complex is planned for construction in Andreyeva Bay, with the projected operation term of 50 years. However, Rosatom’s project says nothing of how this complex will be taken out of operation when its service term expires.

In Bellona’s view, this decision seems strange, to say the least, for the following reasons:

• No alternative options for radioactive waste management have been considered – for instance, using the capacities already in existence for conditioning of solid radioactive waste and reprocessing of liquid radioactive waste;
• The option of building a regional interment site for solid radioactive waste for the burial of all radioactive waste accumulated at Andreyeva Bay and other storage sites for an indefinite period of time;
• No consideration is given to the fact that the sites slated for future construction – Buildings 1 (for LRW reprocessing), 201 (roofed storage facility No. 1), 202 (roofed storage facility No. 2), 203 (reprocessing site), 205 (conditioned SRW storage facility) and 67 (SRW storage facility) – will themselves in time turn into solid radioactive waste and will have to be decommissioned again;
• The SRW management project as it is envisioned today does not solve the problem, but leaves it for future generations to deal with;
• Buildings proposed for construction by the project look like temporary structures that will not meet safety standards and will not prevent future leaks of radioactive waste.

The following materials have been used to write this document:
1. «Atomnaya Energia», v.101, issue.1, July 2006
2. Proceedings from public hearings on remediation of Andreyeva Bay, Murmansk, October 2006.
3. «The Russian Northern Fleet – Sources to radioactive contamination», Bellona report, 1996.

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