The first shipment of seven spent fuel assemblies previously in storage at Andreeva Bay in north-west Russia is underway, according to project organizers.
The shipment represents the first seven of 22,000 spent fuel assemblies that are a legacy of waste left from more than 50 nuclear powered submarines and more than 100 different reactors that have been held in storage in the northern site since the 1980s. Reportedly, some of the canisters storing the waste have developed leaks, which lead to an international effort to clean up the storage facility and remove the fuel to another location.
The base in Andreeva Bay is about 55 kilometers – 34 miles – from Norway, which has been involved in the cleanup effort with financial support. Funds for the re-packaging and shipping effort has come from the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP)'s Nuclear Window project, financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Significant funding was also provided by the United Kingdom in 2002 to finance preliminary studies and planning for the move and for an enclosure to house the spent fuel, some of which was in casks that were open to the elements.
Moving the fuel to a specially-designed ship, the Rossita, which was built in Italy to International Atomic Energy Agency standards, is being facilitated by a 50 metric ton trolley built for the project.
The spent fuel is headed to Murmansk, a service base for Russia's ice-breaker fleet. From there, the new canisters will be moved by specially built railway cars for the trip to their final destination, a reprocessing plant in Chelyabinsk in the south Ural Mountains.
The canisters, once emptied, will then be shipped back to Andreeva Bay for re-use.
EBRD Vice President for Policy and Partnerships Pierre Heilbronn noted it was “particularly pleasing to see that nations put aside their differences to resolve such crucial issues on the legacy of the nuclear-powered fleet in the north of Russia.”
Funding for the project also came from Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany and Norway, as well as the European Union.
The international effort includes parceling of tasks to complete the mission. The decontamination facility and infrastructure support was provided by Norway. Contribution for waste management came from Sweden. The design of the spent fuel management facility was provided by Britain, which also financed construction of the facility. Russia is financing the transportation and reprocessing components.
Sev-RAO, a subsidiary of Rosatom, is in charge of transportation, which begins at the base at Andreeva Bay, which is located on the coast of the Barents Sea on the Kola Peninsula. According to Sev-RAO Director Valery Eremenko, the first shipment has proceeded safely.
“Works are going in accordance with regulations in a normal mode. In one day, seven spent fuel assemblies were unloaded and placed in a storage-and transportation container,” he said.
It will take 3,143 transportation containers to move the entire stockpile of 22,000 spent assemblies. The project is expected to take several years.
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