According to a GAN official, no violations of safety regulations for handling spent fuel have been documented in 1997 or the first half of 1998. On the other hand, the official admitted that the situation with handling of spent nuclear fuel is not improving. On the contrary, in some instances, the conditions are "close to critical."
Russia has nine operating power-producing power stations with a total of 29 reactors. Three nuclear power plants – Kursk, Leningrad and Smolensk – operate on 11 RBMK-type reactors. Fuel from those reactors is now stored in on-site facilities at the plants. Stores are almost full, as this type of fuel cannot be reprocessed in Russia. The VVER-type fuel is not shipped regularly to Mayak for reprocessing either, due to both financial and technical constraints.
The situation is most acute, according to GAN, at Beloyarsk NPP. At that location, no decision has been taken on handling the spent fuel from two closed reactor installations. Beloyarsk NPP is currently operating one BN-600 reactor, after shutting down one AMB-100 and one AMB-200.
GAN silences at least two incidents
Having stated that there were no incidents involving nuclear fuel in 1997/1998, GAN has failed to mention at least two incidents occurred in 1997.
On March 4, 1997, an incident took place at the store for spent nuclear fuel of Leningrad NPP. One of the absorber rods stuck in a container caused troubles during reloading operation.
In the end of July, an incident occurred at the Dimitrovgrad Research Institute for Atomic Reactors. Discharge levels 18-fold above the norm lasted for a week. Cracks in the nuclear fuel cladding caused the incident, which led to heavy contamination of the water in the primary circuit. As a result, radioactive gases gushed through the ventilation system into the environment.