Cook pledges help for Russian clean-up

31 March 1999

The UK is ready to allocate Russia over £3 million ($4.8 million) to tackle the problem of nuclear waste from decommissioned Northern Fleet submarines, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said during a visit in early March to Murmansk in northern Russia.

“Today I can announce a British programme which will help tackle this pressing problem. We will be committing over £3 million to improving the management of Russian nuclear waste and most of it will be used to produce storage facilities for waste nuclear fuel”, Cook told a press conference.

“Britain will be discussing with Russian authorities how part of our programme can bring new possibilities on stream”, he said, adding that the nuclear waste problem has an international perspective.

Some of the money will go to removing spent fuel currently stored on a barge in Murmansk harbour. The Lepse has more than 600 fuel elements in its hold, some of which are damaged, making removal more difficult. A consortium headed by AEA Technology and SGN of France, is preparing safety and environmental reports which will form the basis of future plans to remove the fuel.

The total cost for cleaning up nuclear sites in the Russian north west is around $400 million, according to BNFL.

An interim storage site for Russian waste is proposed to be constructed at Mayak, central Russia, and is estimated to cost around $100 million. BNFL is also working with the Norwegian government to tackle the problems of waste at the Russian Navy’s Andreeva Bay facility and has a team at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Station. In the nuclear fleet the process of recharging and repairing civilian ships with atomic devices alone forms up to 1200 m3 of liquid radioactive waste annually.

“Here there is definitely an environmental risk, and there are grounds for the European community to approach it responsibly,” Cook noted. He promised to do everything he could to involve all Western countries in a solution.

Western officials continue to complain that Russia’s desire to keep foreigners out of its military bases and bureaucratic red tape are hindering efforts to deal with the waste.

“Part of the problem is the lack of openness and the fact that we’re getting close to what they see as the heart of their defence sector,” Cook said.

Russia has transferred responsibility for the treatment of nuclear waste from military to civilian control but as yet there is little sign of change. The UK also wants Russia to sign a memorandum of understanding which would both grant tax-free status to imported technology used to help clear up the mess and also indemnify contractors.



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