Norway dismayed it was given no heads up on SNF shipment – Bellona questions how much more to come

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Publish date: September 27, 2009

Written by: Charles Digges

Norwegian nuclear authorities are upset that Norway's ship monitoring and guiding unit was not informed that a vessel carrying spent nuclear fuel passed through its waters en route from Poland to Murmansk’s Atomflot port last week, Norway’s nuclear safety authority said Friday.

The size of the load and the two decade long renewable contract under which it was shipped to Russia also has Bellona experts scratching their heads, as it could portend another major spent nuclear haul dump on Russia territory.

The spent nuclear fuel load represented the first time spent nuclear fuel from another country had put into dock in Murmansk.

"Neither the Polish not the Russian officials informed Norway about what the cargo on the vessel was," said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s nuclear physicist and daily manager.

Per Strand, head of Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, also expressed surprise to the Barents Observer newspaper when confirming the vessel did not inform Norway about its cargo.

"We were not informed by Polish authorities about the nuclear waste cargo that passed the Norwegian coast," he said

bodytextimage_Nils-Boehmer-bredde-lite.jpg Photo: (foto: tone foss aspevoll/bellona)

The ship put into Murmansk on September 20th carrying spent fuel assemblies from a now defunct Polish Maria nuclear research reactor, run by Polatom, under an agreement signed by Russia and Poland. The reactor went into service in 1974.

The fuel rods were transported in containers and transshiped in to specially retrofitted trains that took them further to the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Southern Urals near Murmansk.

Though practice since 2004 under the Russian-American Global Threat Reduction Initiative has made repatriating spend research reactor fuel, common, nuclear industry expert Igor Kudrik of Bellona pointed our that the last load of nuclear material from Poland – which was carried out under the Global Threat Reduction reactor to Russia – was merely 8.8 kilograms and was airlifted.

"In 2007 they airlifted the uranium from Poland," said Kudrik. 

"Here they used the ship which says something about the volume of the cargo. The Russian officials are revealing no info about the cargo – even the countries where the ship was passing by knew nothing about the it," he said.  

"Bellona will be forwarding an official request to Rosatom to get the answers around this transport."

In other words, now that contracts for the import of depleted uranium hexafluoride will soon be running out, Russia’s state nuclear corporation may have found another sweetheart deal to store nuclear waste from outside its borders – and while the debate over whether or not the processes is repatriation or simple waste storage rages, the material will keep arriving and piling up.

The MCL Trader itself also raises safety concerns after it ran aground in 2008 while en route from Sweden’s Halmstad to St. Petersburg, Russia near the Danish island of Bornholm. The captain and and the chief engineer of the vessel were drunk at the time of the accident and arrested by Danish authorities.