The first shipment of spent nuclear fuel has left the base in Andreeva Bay in north-west Russia, marking a crucial milestone in overcoming the legacy of the former Soviet Northern Fleet and its nuclear-powered submarines.
Under an international initiative financed by the Nuclear Window of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) over 22,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies, which are currently stored at Andreeva Bay, will be retrieved, packaged and removed from the site. The process is being carried out by SevRAO, part of Russia’s state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom.
The Nuclear Window is part of the NDEP’s Support Fund which was set up in July 2002 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to pool contributions from donors for the improvement of the environment in north-west Russia.
The spent nuclear fuel comes from over 100 reactors from more than 50 nuclear submarines and has been stored at Andreeva Bay for the past 35 years. The radioactive material is currently held in dry storage units, some of which are damaged and leaking. The base was closed in 1992 and poses a serious environmental risk.
The strategy for removing the spent fuel from the dry storage units was developed by Russia and international experts under funding from the United Kingdom in 2002 and included building an enclosure over the dry storage units, retrieval of the spent fuel using a machine to provide protection for staff at all times, and repacking the spent fuel into new canisters. The canisters are subsequently transferred to specialised 40-tonne casks for further transportation.
The casks will be stored in the so-called accumulation pad and then transported to the pier by a purpose-built 50-tonne trolley. A specially designed pier crane will load them onto the Rossita, a ship built in – and financed by – Italy and designed to standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the transportation of spent nuclear fuel.
From Andreeva Bay the casks will be shipped by the Rossita to Murmansk. Here the cargo will be moved to purpose-built railway wagons and transported to its final destination, the nuclear reprocessing plant Mayak in Chelyabinsk near the Ural Mountains. Mayak has the necessary infrastructure and skilled resources for the final handling of the spent nuclear fuel.
Pierre Heilbronn, EBRD Vice President for Policy and Partnerships, said: “The project in Andreeva Bay is a truly remarkable example of international cooperation on matters of global environmental importance. It is particularly pleasing to see that nations put aside their differences to resolve such crucial issues as the legacy of the nuclear-powered fleet in the north of Russia. I am proud that the EBRD played such an important role in this process which has passed a crucial milestone with the first shipment today.”
The NDEP’s Nuclear Window was established in 2003 with the goal of delivering environmental improvements and reduction of risks associated with the nuclear legacy in North-West Russia. The programme supplements Russian, multilateral and bilateral projects and is funded by the European Union and Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom. To date, the Fund has received €165 million in contributions. The EBRD is managing the Fund.
In addition, the effort in Andreeva Bay is supported by bilateral contributions: the EU supplied a nuclear-materials accountancy system and new canisters for spent fuel assemblies. Norway built the decontamination facility, the pier, roads and other supporting infrastructure. The United Kingdom funded the design and construction of major spent fuel management facilities. Italy provided facilities for radioactive waste management and constructed the Rossita vessel. Sweden supported the development of the design for solid and liquid radioactive waste management. Russia is responsible the transportation and treatment of the spent nuclear fuel in Mayak.
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