Spent fuel imports in 3 years

30 July 2001

It will be at least three years before the first consignment of imported spent fuel arrives for storage at Krasnoyarsk, said Russian atomic energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev.

To make the project feasible, the storage capacity at the Krasnoyarsk Mining and Chemical Combine in Zheleznogorsk will have to be increased to 30,000t to cope with the expected imports, he said. The plant currently has intermediate pool storage with a capacity of 6000t, which can be increased to 8600t. A dry storage facility is being designed, and construction is expected to cost $300-450m million, which will come from the initial payments for the imports.

However, construction in Zheleznogorsk of the RT-2 reprocessing plant, frozen over 10 years ago, will not be resumed. The spent fuel will be stored at Krasnoyarsk and processed at the Mayak Chemical Combine near Chelyabinsk.

Answering critics concerned about use of the revenue from the imports, Rumyantsev said the special commission chaired by Dr Zhores Alferov (Physics and Mathematics), a Nobel Prize winner and State Duma deputy, would act as a watchdog. The commission will be responsible for the safety elements of each contract and financial flows. Money would first go to “a bank in which the state has a share, such as Sberbank, Vneshekonombank or Vneshtorgbank, and from there to the federal treasury within a matter of one day.

“A quarter of the money will be dispatched to the regions that will store and process nuclear fuel wastes, and 75% will be spent on state environmental programmes.” However, nobody knows how much money can be earned from the project. “We don’t have a serious business plan,” Rumyantsev admitted.

Prices vary from $800 a kilogram (with the return of processed materials, which amount to 1% of the imported material) to $1500 dollars (if the remainder is to be utilised in the processing country). Russia can hope to get a “maximum of 10% of the nuclear spent fuel market, but the real figure will be 5%, or 10,000-20,000t a year.” Alferov said that he hopes that some of the money expected from the import project could finance solar experiments. “As energy options, solar power is the cleanest. But the law is the law. No research money is being devoted to solar power, so I took this position because nuclear power is the next cleanest thing available. The 21st century is the century of nuclear energy, not only in Russia but around the world.” Rumyantsev said spent fuel is “a valuable raw material, which only three countries in the world can handle. Russia is one of them. We have already lost the Finnish market and now we are losing the Czech Republic and Hungary. Britain and France are pushing us out of them.” Under existing obligations, Russia will import 400-500t of spent fuel a year, “but we want to double the figure”. He points out: “If all nuclear fuel wastes that accumulated on this planet are brought together, they will constitute a 10-story two-block building. The wastes imported to Russia will equal one floor and after processing we will have only radioactive wastes that can be fitted into a bathroom. Moreover, experiments are being carried out on the complete liquidation of even these small quantities.” A full news update on the country’s spent fuel bill is on page 14.

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