Submarine spent fuel shipment underway

Publish date: January 17, 2000

Written by: Igor Kudrik

Submarine spent fuel is being shipped from Murmansk; another Delta-II is being prepared for decommissioning.

The spent nuclear fuel transport train arrived to Murmansk on January 4 and is shortly to departure for the Mayak reprocessing plant. Meanwhile, at Severodvinsk – the train’s apparent next destination – a Delta-class submarine is being prepared for defuelling.

This year’s first train consisting of four railway cars is being laden with spent nuclear fuel that mainly derived from the defuelling of a Victor-II class submarine. Spent fuel from this submarine was taken out by a civilian ship Imandra, operated by Murmansk Shipping Company, at Nerpa shipyard at the Kola Peninsula in November-December 1999. This defuelling was called an ‘experiment’ by officials and was designed to obtain a practical experience for a civilian ship to unload fuel from general-purpose submarines. Altogether, around 500 fuel assemblies were removed from the two reactors of Victor-II (K-476). The train is capable to take 588 naval fuel assemblies, or 2-2,5 submarine reactor cores.

Last year, the train made at least five trips to the Mayak plant taking spent fuel from Murmansk, Severodvinsk and from the Pacific Fleet in the Russian Far East. Transportation of at least 12 reactor cores (around six submarines) was covered by the Co-operative Threat Reduction program (CTR) – an American initiative tasked to secure former Soviet Union’s weapons of mass destruction. The funding of the shipments required a waiver from U.S. policy which prohibits that American funds be spent on support of reprocessing. The permission was limited to spent fuel from 15 strategic submarines. Their dismantlement was also funded by CTR.

Delta-II to be defuelled
A Delta-II class submarine (K-421) is prepared for defuelling and earmarked for decommissioning at Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk County. Delta-II is a strategic submarine commissioned in 1975. The dismantlement of the submarine will be funded by CTR. All in all, CTR has plans to fund scrapping of 26 Russian strategic submarines of Delta-class in the Northern Fleet and the Pacific Fleet.

So far, 14 strategic nuclear powered submarines have been dismantled at Zvezdochka shipyard. Another four will be dismantled in the course of this year. In addition, negotiations are complete for CTR funding to construct a land based spent fuel transfer facility and storage pad for transport casks at Zvezdochka. When this pad is completed in June 2001, the rate of the submarine being defuelled is expected to increase.