An interview with SevRao head Valery Panteleyev: ‘We will be obligated to observe all safety measures’

frontpageingressimage_ingressimage_2-1..JPG Photo: SevRao

Bellona
It has been some time since the first project was implemented in Andreyeva Bay, when the water stream under Building 5 was isolated. Russia’s partners in Norway then agreed to finance the project and accepted a report on it based on photographs made. This was at the time when the onshore technical base was still under the purview of the Russian Navy. According to media reports, many other projects have been implemented since then. Can you list them in the chronological order? What donor countries participated in these projects and how did they contribute to solving the problems associated with the ecological remediation at the former naval base?

Panteleyev
Isolating that creek was the objective of the first joint project implemented with Norway’s help. We were planning to cut radioactive water discharges by five to 10 times. Thanks to the work done there, these discharges have practically ceased. As of today, there are no discharges from under Building 5.

We (SevRao) took the site over in 2000. At that moment, almost all of the infrastructure there was inoperative: There was no heating or water supply, no plumbing, the electric power supply was unstable. Physical security was in such a condition that each summer we detained a few dozens people roaming the territory, picking mushrooms.

We had to create tolerable conditions for the people working there. We have built a complex of administrative and on-site facilities.

There was a problem transporting personnel to the base, as the road was virtually absent. We have built a road and also a water pipeline to provide for a steady supply of water. This water is meant for technological use – extinguishing fires, etc. We also started to fortify physical security at that time.

Together with Norway, we have put up a transformer substation, guardhouses, and a check-point, conducted a radiological inspection of the facilities.

We have completed the construction of the physical security perimeter; it was finished and approved last year and is now fully in operation.

As per our contracts with Great Britain, we have dismantled the old buildings and structures. Two portable sanitary and decontamination stations were built (they allowed working at different facilities). Building 5 has been taken out of operation; it was examined, and the issue of what to do with it now is under consideration.

A temporary equipment decontamination station has been built. We have three dry storage blocks, and one of them lacked roofing. The station was built for the decontamination of equipment used during the construction of the block’s cover. We felt bad about dismantling this station, so it was upgraded so we could use it in the future.

Two permanent sanitary and decontamination stations have been built, designed for 88 people each and located (one) near the SRW (solid radioactive waste) storage yard and (the other near) the dry storage area. A permanent equipment decontamination station has been built at the SRW [storage] yard. A radiochemical lab has been accredited. Today, it is one of the most up-to-date laboratories on the Kola Peninsula.
We are now approaching the third stage of our work, the wharf. It has been examined (using Britain and Norway’s funds). We are upgrading the wharf, preparing it for transporting the (spent) fuel out.

The wharf will be completed this year. The old wharf has been dismantled. The new wharf has been examined and a project has been created to upgrade it. Right now works are being done on the wharf, and we are preparing it to send off (spent) fuel shipments. All works will be completed this year.

A preliminary project (declaration of intent and a feasibility study) has been developed to build a complex for the management of the (spent) fuel, SRW and LRW (liquid radioactive waste). Designing work is under way, and this year we are planning to start construction of the buildings and structures for (spent) fuel management.

Partial inventory has been taken of the (spent) fuel. Complete inventory will be performed during the fuel’s removal. But we already now know what kind of fuel that is, what it looks like, and what we can now remove it. We opened the (storage) compartments to find out if it was defective or good fuel (there).

The Swedish partners have helped us with dosimetric equipment, individual protection kits etc. In my mind, a large amount of work has been done.

Bellona
The Federal State Unitary Enterprise SevRAO is the main subcontractor working with remediation projects in Andreyeva Bay. A very wide scope of works is now in front of you – removing more than 100 reactor cores that used to be part of nuclear-powered submarines. Qualified personnel are required to perform this task. Where do you find these people? It’s not an easy thing to do, finding them in (the restricted-access community of) a closed administrative territory unit.

Panteleyev
We have plenty of qualified personnel. The (Russian naval) fleet has been going through cutbacks. People who used to serve on submarines are turning to us for jobs – electricians, turbine operators, nuclear energy specialists, dosimetrists. Their average age is 40. These are adults, people who understand what safety means. Over 200 people work in Andreyeva Bay, and more than 400 people work at SevRAO. I am not saying that there are no problems with personnel – it’s like with any other structure (of this industry), but we are solving these problems. Our personnel undergo special training. Myself, I get re-certified every three years.

Bellona
Could you tell more about the funds going into the works in Andreyeva Bay from foreign countries and from the Russian budget? Maybe you could at least give some ballpark figures of what is being spent now.

Panteleyev
In ballpark figures, it’s in the order of hundreds of millions of roubles. The Russian part of that is far over 100 million roubles; donor countries are ready to invest similar funds. But we are as yet in no hurry to take them. I don’t know for sure yet how much money will be needed to complete the complex and start working safely. To begin with, we need a project that will pass all kinds of evaluations (an environmental impact study, a safety evaluation etc).

The funds coming this year will be enough to carry out all works planned for the year. Altogether, that will be funds from Norway, Sweden, Italy, Great Britain, and France. In very simplified terms, Great Britain’s responsibility area will be (spent) fuel management, Norway’s is infrastructure, Italy’s will be SRW and LRW, and Sweden’s will be the issue of low-level radioactive waste, public relations, and training personnel in radioactive safety. All of these countries are ready to invest as much as will be needed. But safe implementation of works requires time. So the funds that we have now are quite sufficient.

Bellona
What about the diplomatic tensions with Great Britain – can they create any problems with financing works in Andreyeva Bay?

Panteleyev
I don’t know. I am not the person to be asking that. Anything could happen, but I don’t want to make conjectures.

Bellona
Is there any project aimed at the removal of (spent nuclear fuel) from the temporary storage facility in Andreyeva Bay?

Panteleyev
No, what there is is options, options preferable from the point of view of what could be safest. It is too early to talk about that yet. All options have been examined, all possible scenarios that could take place have been examined. Right now we are getting ready to design and build appropriate systems and mechanisms that will allow us to do everything safely.

Bellona
We know that a decision has just been taken to try channel-by-channel removal of SNF from their storage casks. This will definitely prolong the process of transporting the fuel to Mayak. What are your thoughts on the time frame for the implementation of this work?

Panteleyev
Do you yourself understand what channel-by-channel SNF removal means? Let’s not go into details of technology. As [SevRAO] head, it makes absolutely no difference to me what type of fuel removal it will be.

For us, the most important thing is safety. If channel-by-channel discharge is safer, then we’ll go ahead with that. I don’t like it myself that everything is taking so long, but in the end, it all comes to safety. I got my fingers burnt once with that (risk of) radiation exposure of personnel in Gremikha. We’re not working like that anymore.

Bellona
What is planned for Andreyeva Bay now – a “brownfield” or a “greenfield”?

Panteleyev
There is going to be no “greenfield.” It will be a “brownfield.”

Bellona
Are there any plans to move radioactive waste and SNF from Gremikha to Andreyeva Bay?

Panteleyev
No, there are no plans like that. It will simply make no sense.

Bellona
When do you plan to start deliveries to Mayak?

Panteleyev
In very rough estimations, in 2012 or 2013, but I’d like that to happen sooner. The problem is that international projects take a long time to fully come through, to get approved after all expert evaluations.

Bellona
Is Mayak actually ready to accept such a quantity of (spent) fuel, even if deliveries are spread over several years? The plant’s fuel reprocessing capacity is insufficient. That means there has to be space to accommodate it at Mayak’s storage facilities. Or has this problem not been considered yet? Is there any agreement with Mayak with respect to accepting all of the fuel from Andreyeva Bay?

Panteleyev
I’ve never been to Mayak, and I can’t speak for the plant. It should be able to reprocess (the SNF), this is what it was created for. The (SNF) quantity is not so large. There was a time when up to 12 trainloads used to be sent for reprocessing per year, which allows one to make the conclusion that Mayak’s capacity is quite sufficient to accept the fuel for reprocessing. So this is not a problem. The problem is to get prepared for that.

Besides, it’s only 2008, and we won’t start the deliveries before 2011. As for the prices, it’s too premature to talk about this yet. We don’t know how much (reprocessing) will cost in three to four years, but I’m sure the state will have enough funds to implement these works.

Bellona
See, this is what the situation looks like: (You are saying): “Yes, I know that the end destination is Mayak. But I haven’t been there, I am not responsible for them, and I have no idea whether the plant is capable of reprocessing this amount of fuel.”

Paneleyev
I never said that. If this technological plan is being worked at and worked out, then it means they are capable of reprocessing (the fuel). And that before two years ago 12 trainloads used to be sent there… it is unlikely that such an amount of fuel is being stored there. I am positive that if the fuel is capable of being reprocessed, it will be reprocessed.

I will repeat it again, it is still too early to discuss this. No one knows what will happen in the future. What if by then, the plant will be having an “underload”?

Bellona
Last year, there were talks about building a special vessel to transport (special SRW transport containers) out of Andreyeva Bay. Is there such a project in development?

Panteleyev
Yes, there is such a project, there have been negotiations with Italy. The project is moving along, it is in the designing stage.

Bellona
Can one state as a fact that the transports will be made by the new vessel?

Panteleyev
Why are you ruling out the Imandra or the Lotta, though? Nothing can be said definitely at this point. All options are being considered.

Bellona
We all know that there is water in two of the SNF storage tanks. Under the stress, which happens cyclically, the SNF claddings are getting destroyed. Have there been any examinations of the SNF in all the tanks and any calculations made to establish the rate of the claddings’ disintegration?

Panteleyev
There have been examinations of the tanks. There is no disintegration (of the claddings), it is all under control. There are no bugabears there.

Speaking of why we have been dillydallying with the fuel for so long, all scenarios are being considered, even of what could happen theoretically. As of today, the probability of an accident is infinitesimal. For it to take place, several facts would have to coincide all at the same time, and it would have to be such facts, at that, that such a scenario is practically impossible. Sometimes, at press conferences, we are accused of not working well enough – building some kind of fences, while the deed is not being done. I have already talked about the volume of works (done) with foreign partners alone, not even emphasising what we have managed to do using the Russian funds.

The very fact that we have eliminated six sites where radioactive waste was being stored without authorisation, right in the open, and, as a result, the ecological conditions have been significantly improved, that already says a lot.

We have built a road, our personnel gets transported to the site relatively safely two times a day, (there is) a stable supply of electricity, water. The first and foremost problem is the physical security (perimeter) around the site containing nuclear fuel. We undergo physical security inspections yearly, during which attempts take place at unsanctioned entry to the site. The results of these inspections show that the site is under solid protection.

Bellona
There have been assertions that the highest risk of a spontaneous chain reaction may occur during the operation involving the removal of the fuel from the tanks. What measures are you planning to make provisions for in order to reduce the probability of a spontaneous chain reaction during SNF removal?

Panteleyev
The occurrence of such a risk is impossible. If we realise that even the smallest risk exists, we will leave this operation aside. We will make sure to follow all safety measures so that this doesn’t happen.

Anna Kireeva

anna@bellona.ru

Maria Kaminskaya