Nuclear clean up ‘Master Plan’ for Northwest Russia lagging behind targets and lacking funding


Publish date: May 23, 2008

Written by: Anna Kireeva

Translated by: Charles Digges

MURMANSK – Representatives of the environmental community and the nuclear industry finally came together at the same table for a long awaited meeting to forward the so-called Master Plan for speeding up the tempo of ridding Northwest Russia of sources of radioactive contamination.

The meeting revealed, at least to environmentalists and engineers involved in realising the project, that for the most part, the Master Plan is far behind targets, lagging in comprehension of pressing issues, and lacking in funding.

Of particular concern to environmentalists is the current lack of any working plant about what should be done with Andreyeva Bay, a former naval spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste storage facility on the Kola Peninsula near Russia’s border with Norway.

The venue was an expanded meeting of the Public Council on Issues of Safe Nuclear Power Use which hosted a conference called “Speeding the Reduction of Threats in Northwest Russia,” which chiefly concerned developing comprehensive systems for radiation monitoring and improving emergency reactions in the Murmansk Region.

The Strategic Master Plan
The Strategic Master Plan has been developed over many years with the sole purpose of addressing Northwest Russia’s nuclear woes, and was developed as a compass for the formulation of so-called federal target programmes to underpin the adoption of strategic decisions and prioritising them. The plan also serves as a foundation for choosing specific installations as beneficiaries of international funding. The plan also encourages the mass media to evaluate how effective international funding is working.

The Master Plan began development in 2004 with financial help from the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Remos Kalinin, who heads the Institute for the Problems of the Safe Development of Atomic Energy, said that it has been outlined that the decommissioning and environmental rehabilitation of all installations in Northwest Russia is to take place by 2025.

“We already won’t make that,” he said,

Submarine decommissioning practically finished
Some of the work toward eliminating threats of nuclear contamination in Northwest Russia are already reaching the finish line. A storage facility for spent nuclear fuel that cannot be reprocessed from Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet has been built and is in use. One hundred nuclear submarines have been decommissioned, leaving only 15 to go, and 140 active zones of spent nuclear fuel from submarines have been taken out of the region.

Andreyeva Bay has undergone detailed engineering and radiological surveys, and a facility for transferring spent reactor parts from nuclear submarines has been built at Gremikha base.

Still a long way to go
But that work which has been complete accounts for only a minor percentage of that which still has to be done.

The work on submarines is the only part of the project that is going at a noticeable pace, with only about 20 to 25 percent of the work remaining.

However, some 85 to 90 percent of the decommissioning work remains for nuclear service vessels, which are ships that were used to fuel and de-fuel submarines at sea, and are highly contaminated. Almost nothing has been done to decommission surface vessels with nuclear power installations, and some 95 percent of this work remains.

Projects to construct temporary nuclear waste storage facilities at Andreyeva Bay and Gremikha are only 10 to 20 percent along the road. Transporting spent nuclear fuel out of the region has been completed to only about 40 percent, and only 10 to 20 percent of radioactive waste has been hauled out.

The cost of liquidating all traces of the Cold War in Northwest Russia will be about €2 billion, said Kalinin at the Public Council meeting.

Radiation monitoring and emergency response to nuclear accidents in the region are complete to the point that potentially dangerous installations are under round the clock supervision and the system has been updated, said Vladimir Kiselyov of the Institute for the Problems of the Safe Development of Atomic Energy.

“This is a pilot project,” said Kiselyov. “It doesn’t exist in other regions.”

Lack of work plans and funds
“The ‘light projects,’ in which we include breaking up submarines are fundamentally finished,” said Andrei Ponomarenko, Bellona-Murmansk’s nuclear and radiation safety coordinator.

“The situation at Andreyeva Bay remains extremely tough. As yet, there is still no plan to unload the spent nuclear fuel from the vat storage containers. The fuel in storage continues to degrade, which is ripe for the eventuality of an emergency situation,” he said.

In 1982, a leak from one of Andreyeva Bay’s storage pools for spent nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines developed. Radiation began to make its way to the Barents Sea. A decision was taken to urgently unload this fuel into three large dry storage units. The fuel was loaded into metal pipes, put into the containers, and the gaps between the pipes sealed with cement.

It was planned that such an arrangement would serve for three or four years. By now, it has been a quarter of a century. At present, 3059 cases of spent nuclear fuel – the equivalent of some 22,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies. There is also an enormous amount of liquid and solid radioactive waste at the installation.

Things at Gremikha, where spent nuclear fuel from liquid metal reactors and radioactive waste, are also growing more serious.

“According to information from the Council meeting, plans for Andreyeva Bay will likely be complete by next February of next year, but it is still unclear if this will be a complete working plan or just suggestions from engineering institutes,” said Ponomarenko.

Igor Kudrik, Bellona’s expert on Russian naval nuclear installations pointed out other urgent problems.

“Another problem which is worth paying attention to is working with the defective spent nuclear fuel, of which large quantities are stored at Andreyeva Bay,” said Kudrik.

“In accord with Russia’s strategy of a closed nuclear fuel cycle, all spent nuclear fuel from portable nuclear energy installations (such as submarine reactors) must be reprocessed. This is done at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Southern Urals, which has earned the distinction of being the biggest environmental problem in the region. It is stated unambiguously in the Master Plan, without consideration for alternatives, that spent nuclear fuel must be brought to Mayak. Amid all of this, there is the proviso there must be a different solution for defective spent nuclear fuel. Today there is no solution for it,” he said.

Moreover, according to Bellona’s data, about half the €2 billion cost of the Master Plan will have to go to Andreyeva Bay – and this is just according to preliminary evaluations. Neither the Russian budget or the budgets of donor nations contain this kind of money.

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