To solve the immediate danger in the Northern and the Pacific fleets emanating from the decaying storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel and laid-up nuclear submarines with fuel still inside, the Ministry for Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation (Minatom) has approved a proposal to store fuel temporarily in metal-concrete casks.
The cask in question is a prototype developed by KBSM. This cask was initially to be used for RBMK fuel at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant. However, the casks are not limited to this type of fuel, and can be utilized for storage of maritime fuel from nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear-powered ice-breakers after minor modifications. The cask is 5 meters high and 2,5 meters wide, with a capacity of 95 spent fuel assemblies. It can be used both for medium-term storage of fuel (up to 50 years) and for transportation.
The project on supplying the Russian Navy with the casks was funded through AMEC, the acronym for Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation. According to Yegorov, the U.S. would fund manufacturing of 60-100 such casks in 1999, to be split between the Northern and the Pacific fleets.
Minatoms intent to use casks for interim storage of maritime spent fuel does not, however, mean that fuel reprocessing at the Mayak plant is no longer on the agenda. Minatom will proceed to work towards shipping all maritime spent fuel to Mayak for further reprocessing. Currently, two international projects are in the pipeline that both assume that Russia will continue to keep the door to reprocessing open: The delivery to Russia of a set of four special rail cars for nuclear fuel transportation and construction of a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel at Mayak
Civilian service ship to work for the Northern Fleet
The civilian service ship Lotta, used for refueling and storage of spent fuel from nuclear powered ice-breakers based in Murmansk, will apparently be used to service decommissioned nuclear submarines. Lotta has a capacity for 21 submarine reactor cores. Much of the fuel on the Lotta is contained in zirconium cladding. This type of fuel cannot be reprocessed in Russia.
Zirconium fuel is supposed to be unloaded and placed into storage casks, which will be consequently stored on the territory of Atomflot – the nuclear powered ice-breakers base in Murmansk. The casks are of the same design as those developed under the AMEC initiative. After emptying Lotta’s storage tanks, the ship will go to Nerpa shipyard on the Kola Peninsula to load fuel from the submarines scheduled for scrapping. The whole operation is funded by the CTR (Cooperative Threat Reduction) program, referred to as well as Nunn-Lugar program. CTR has reportedly received funding to scrap four submarines in the Northern Fleet and two in the Pacific Fleet in 1998.