Unloading used nuclear fuel from the Russian floating technical base Lepse will begin in the second half of 2018, and a special protective cover is now being constructed to assist this work and improve safety, Anatoly Zaharchev, head of the Complex Utilisation of Nuclear Submarines project office at state nuclear corporation Rosatom, said on 13 March.
Lepse provided technology and refuelling to the nuclear icebreaker fleet from 1963 to 1981. Since 1981, it has been used for the storage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, and was formally taken out of service in 1988.
It currently holds 639 used fuel assemblies, some of which have been damaged, and unloading parts of these assemblies in the normal way is not possible. The decommissioning of Lepse is being implemented with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
In 2014 Lepse was moved to a special dock at the Nerpa shipyard in Snezhnogorsk (Murmansk Oblast) and in 2016 was partly dismantled and Nerpa is building storage for the relatively clean portion of the bow section, which should be completed this year. Some sections are being transported to other storage sites in Murmansk by the newly commissioned specialist ship, Itarus, built for Russia by Italy. Currently work is underway to erect a shelter over the Lepse’s dry dock. This will house a workshop tasked with removing the used fuel assemblies, which will then be sent for reprocessing at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Urals Chelyabinsk Region. Nerpa’s engineers are expected to finish unloading the fuel rods in 2020.