NF: Decommissioning process

Publish date: February 7, 2003

Until 1986, there were no formal plans for decommissioning obsolete nuclear submarines. In 1986, the Central Committee of the Communist party and the Supreme Soviet ratified Decree No. 095-296 which laid down formal procedures for decommissioning and dismantling inactive nuclear submarines.

The decree contained the following main points:

  • Weapons and other important equipment to be removed. Vessels to be laid-up with reduced crew in suitable locations.
  • Fuel elements to be removed from the reactor.
  • Decommissioning of vessel by cutting out the reactor compartment. Non-contaminated metal to be reused.
  • Sealing and transporting the reactor compartments to suitable locations for long term storage. Storage to be undertaken where radiation safety is maintained and can be verified.

These guidelines have been followed until today. In connection with this, a special decree governing safety routines for laid-up nuclear submarines was ratified in early 1988. It was not until 1991, under the precepts of Resolution No. 714/13/0105, that the Russian Navy adjusted its guidelines for delivering inactive submarines for dismantling.

In July 1992, the Russian government ratified Decree No. 514, which called for the trial decommissioning of nine nuclear-powered submarines; including two attack submarines, four ballistic missile submarines and three Alfa class attack submarines with liquid metal cooled reactors. The work was to be done at shipyards, which now fall under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy, but at the time answered to the Ministry of Military Industry. The submarines defuelled by the navy were transferred to the shipyards for the period of the decommission work. The cut out reactor sections, sometimes filled with solid radioactive waste, were returned to the navy, whose responsibility was to provide their safe storage. All the reactor compartments were towed to Sayda Bay at the Kola Peninsula for storage afloat.

The approach rested on the assumption that the shipyards would receive as payment for their work in decommissioning the submarines the proceeds from the sale of scrap metal and even earn some profit. The navy, facing harsh economic times, expressed great displeasure with such an approach, and demanded a part of the profit. The navy also demanded that part of the retired submarines should be transferred back to the shipyards, (which also fell under the auspices of the Defence Ministry), so that they too could also earn money.

The commercial aspect of the decommissioning work soon proved to be futile. The experience with the nine dismantled submarines showed that external funding was required to proceed with decommissioning work, while the sale of scrap metal covered only 20% of expenses.