Nuclear train leaves Severodvinsk

Publish date: April 30, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Trickle of spent nuclear fuel shipments to Mayak begins
Igor Kudrik, Alexey Klimov
1999-04-30 12:00

Nuclear train leaves Severodvinsk

Trickle of spent nuclear fuel shipments to Mayak begins

A long anticipated trainload of spent nuclear fuel left Severodvinsk, in Arkhangelsk, in early April carrying its hazardous cargo over 3,000 kilometres of railways to the Mayak reprocessing plant in Siberia.

Unloading of container with used nuclear fuel
The unloading of container with used nuclear fuel from service ship project 2020 Malina class takes place at on of Severodvinsk Shipyards.

Mayak customarily accepts the spent nuclear fuel of Russian submarine and icebreaker reactors for reprocessing. Officials say 10 trainloads per year are necessary to catch up with the growing amount of fuel removed from decommissioned submarines.

Spent fuel in north-west Russia originates from naval and civilian icebreaker bases in Murmansk and Severodvinsk and up until 1994, financial arrangements between the Northern Fleet, Murmansk Shipping Co. (icebreaker fleet operator) and Mayak were not necessary. Having faced funding shortfalls, Mayak plant began demanding payment for its services.

Today one trainload costs $1-1,5 million. The money is supposed to come from the state, but it is always late. In addition, old but available rolling stock was replaced in 1994 with just four examples of the modern TUK-18 rail casks, drastically reducing the volume of spent fuel shipments. One train equipped with TUK-18’s can transport roughly 580 fuel assemblies, or 2-2,5 reactor cores.

In 1998, only three shipments took place: the April trainload is the first of this year. The slow removal of spent fuel from temporary storage in north-west Russia has some worried.

“We wrote a letter to (Russian Prime Minister) Yevgeny Primakov, and received an answer from a Deputy Nuclear Minister who promised to supervise the issue,” Leonid Kuratov, head of Severodvinsk’s Environmental Committee, told Bellona Web. “This train is the first result.”

Kuratov said Severodvinsk was expecting one more train in May.

‘Ideally, we count on three more trains this year,’ Kuratov added.

The train reportedly took spent fuel from PM-63, a service ship with a storage for 1,400 fuel assembles, or about six reactor cores. The ship is in very bad shape and in great need of repair: which is not possible until the spent fuel aboard has been removed.

The train reportedly included an experimental railway car in tow, said to be built at Mayak, raising the number of cars to five.

Norway is currently building four TUK-18 railway cars in Russia, having allotted $3.1 million for the project. The cars will be ready in the spring or summer of 2000. Many experts question the viability of the spent fuel route to Mayak, advocating instead the construction of a storage facility in the Kola Peninsula.

Meanwhile, Murmansk Shipping Co. remains without short-term plans to send spent fuel to Mayak, citing the lack of a payment schedule with the government as their reason.

Read more: