Submarine spent fuel cask manufacturing delayed

Publish date: January 23, 2000

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Prototype 40-ton spent fuel cask enters site-testing phase; manufacturing seems to be delayed.

A prototype cask for spent nuclear fuel, derived from nuclear powered submarines, is travelling along with Russia’s only spent fuel transport train. The cask arrived with the train on January 4, 2000, to Murmansk and was tested at Atomflot base – a spent fuel loading point.

In Murmansk, the cask was loaded with mock spent fuel with the use of the crane facilities of Atomflot base – the home base for nuclear powered ice-breakers – and service ship Lotta. Lotta is the only vessel in Murmansk County capable of handling TK-18 spent fuel casks that are currently in use.

The cask was presented to a big gathering of Russian, American and Norwegian officials at Izhora plants, Leningrad County, in late October 1999. This 40-ton metal-concrete cask is a part of AMEC program, the acronym for Arctic Military Environmental Co-operation. AMEC was established by Norwegian, American and Russian defence ministries in 1996 to solve environmental hazards associated with military activities in the Arctic. Russian officials said at the ceremony that Izhora plants would manufacture 12 casks in 1999 and 88 during the first part of the year 2000. There were no reports that the promised casks were actually manufactured and it sounds doubtful that they will be in a short period of time because the prototype has just entered the site-testing phase.

Even if Izhora plants start eventually manufacture the casks, it will only solve a part of the problem, as a storage site for casks is not ready yet. These casks were designed both for transportation of spent fuel and up to 50-year storage. The latter was prompted by the fact that Russian Mayak reprocessing plant in South-Ural is not coping with the amounts of spent nuclear fuel taken out from the reactors of decommissioned submarines. Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry, or Minatom, is evaluating a number of locations, such as Andreeva Bay, Gremikha or Nerpa shipyard at the Kola Peninsula and Kamchtka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. No definitive decision has been made yet.

Currently, the cask is being shipped to Mayak to undergo testing there and then is expected to proceed with the train to Severodvinsk – another spent fuel reloading point in north-west Russia.