Liquid waste issue in the Russian Navy remains unresolved

Publish date: July 28, 1999

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Commissioning of liquid waste processing facility postponed in Russian Far East. Situation mirrors Russian Northwest.

The final testing of the barge for processing of liquid radioactive waste in the Russian Far East has been postponed until August this year. Initially, the barge was to be put into operation in 1996. The team of six executives from American company Babcock &Wilcox was laid off.

In autumn 1993, the Russian Pacific Fleet dumped around 800 tons of liquid radioactive waste in the Sea of Japan. This action caused a stir on the international level and Japan pledged financial aid to Russia to process liquid waste.

In 1994, Russia and Japan reached an agreement on this question and launched a tender for companies to bid for the right to deliver a floating facility for the processing of liquid waste. The barge itself was designed in Russia, while the processing facility was delivered by the U.S. company Babcock & Wilcox. The price tag for the barge was around $21 million.

The non-propelled barge with a displacement of 5,000 tons was build at Amursky shipyard in the Russian Far East. The processing facility had a capacity of 7,000 cubic meters per year. The service time of the facility is 20 years.

The sediments generated after processing are mixed with concrete and can be safely stored in containers. In October 1996, the barge was licensed by the Russian Environmental Ministry. The barge then proceeded to Vostok shipyard located on the western side of the Shkotovo Peninsula, some 40 km east of the city of Vladivostok, to undergo testing. The final destination was Zvezda shipyard, but the local population caused an uproar saying that the barge is dangerous for the environment.

Subsequently, the local labour unions demanded privileges for the residents of Bolshoy Kamen, a settelment near Zvezda yard, because people there would have to live near a "dangerous object." Nobody, however, was particular concerned with the presence of laid-up nuclear submarines moored at Zvezda.

On August 17, 1997, an overwhelming majority of Bolshoy Kamen’s population (some 90 %) voted against the facility at the Zvezda yard. The local Duma, however, later overruled the "people’s will."

The barge was finally towed to the Zvezda yard and stationed there. The Russian side says that during testing of the facility, various failures were discovered which were to be removed by the Americans from B&W working on site. But the chief of the nuclear safety department at Zvezda yard, Aleksandr Kiselev, told the local press that the Americans were not willing to fix the problems pointed out by the Russian regulatory authorities. Finally, this year six senior American executives who worked with the project were laid off.

On July 14 this year, the barge was scheduled to process its first few cubic meters of radioactive waste as part of its testing, but the operation was postponed until August so far. The Russian side explains the delay by the inability of the American group to meet all the recommendations put forward by Russians.

Situation mirrors Russian north-west
A liquid waste processing facility on the other border of Russia, in Murmansk, is also a subject of delays. Some five years ago a trilateral cooperation was launched between the U.S., Norway and Russia to increase the capacity of an existing liquid radioactive waste (LRW) processing facility located at Atomflot – the Murmansk Shipping Company (MSC)-operated base for nuclear-powered icebreakers in Murmansk.

The facility was scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 1997. The completion was postponed, as the price tag for the project increased by $750,000, and problems related to the tax exemption for funds transferred to Russia remained unsolved. The new commissioning date was set for April 1, 1998, but then postponed again.

This week, a delegation from the United States arrived in Murmansk to watch the progress at the construction site, but that progress is slow. Officials at Murmansk Shipping Company say the commissioning is unlikely to happen this year. No specific reasons were provided.