Andrey Golin, director general of Russia’s Federal Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety (FCNRS) said on 27 April that new facilities in Andreeva Bay, in the Murmansk region, are ready to begin management of used nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines. The basic infrastructure for unloading and subsequent removal of used nuclear fuel from the submarines has been completed. FCNRS was contracted to construct a building to hold in dry storage more than a hundred submarines reactor cores comprising some 22,000 fuel assemblies
Anatoly Grigoriev, head of international technical assistance in the Office of International Programmes for radioactive waste projects, used nuclear fuel and decommissioning of nuclear and radiation hazardous objects at state nuclear corporation Corporation Rosatom praised the professionalism of the Russian companies involved in the project. These included the Federal Medical and Biological Agency (FMBA), RosRAO, SevRAO and others. Grigoriev also commended the key role played by FCNRS.
He said FCNRS had participated in the construction of two-thirds of all the facilities in Andreeva Bay, which were built in hazardous radiation conditions. Not every contractor had agreed to undertake such work but FCNRS was able to provide the organisation of the work for all contractors involved legal support, monitoring of the work, and ensuring nuclear and radiation safety. Work would now begin to unload the submarine used fuel to safe temporary storage then to transport for reprocessing at Production Association Mayak in Ozersk. The work was supported by grants and practical assistance from the European Union countries and Norway.
In 1995, Norway launched a Plan of Action on nuclear safety in northwest Russia, and in 1998 a Joint Norwegian Russian Commission on Nuclear Safety was established. Norway has since granted more than NOK1.5bn ($175m) into nuclear safety projects in Russia. Norway paid for much of the new infrastructure at Andreeva Bay, including buildings, electricity, physical protection, roads and harbour facilities, as well as for four of the special rail wagons to transport the containers to Mayak and for new sea marks along the coast of the Kola Peninsula. The vessel that will transport the fuel to Murmansk is was financed and built by Italy.
The naval base in Andreeva Bay was set up in the early 1960s to provide maintenance services for nuclear reactors of Northern Fleet submarines. The coastal maintenance facility also stored radioactive waste of nuclear submarines, surface ships with nuclear propulsion units and nuclear submarines’ support vessels. However, the facility stopped accepting used fuel and radioactive waste in 1993.
After an accident at the nuclear waste storage facility in 1982, when water was found to be leaking from the storage pool, the used fuel elements were transferred to the three dry storage tanks as a temporary measure, but have remained there for more than 30 years. The Defence Ministry made a decision to upgrade all the facilities at that time, but the project was stalled as a result of the Soviet collapse and subsequent economic crisis. Work only resumed in the late 1990s with Norwegian financing and other international support. Russia and Norway signed contracts worth RUB100m ($2.9m) in 2014 to develop a system to deal with used fuel and radioactive waste at the Andreeva Bay storage facility. Agreements to develop the necessary infrastructure were signed between the leadership of Finnmark and SevRao, a branch of Rosatom’s radioactive waste department, RosRao.
Russia plans joint efforts with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority to withdraw all nuclear waste from Andreeva Bay by 2020, according to FMBA Head Vladimir Uiba. The first shipment of used fuel is scheduled to leave Andreeva Bay for the Atomflot base in Murmansk on 27 June. From there, it will be sent by train for reprocessing at Mayak in the South Urals.
Transferring the used fuel assemblies, some of which is damaged, from their current canisters in the concrete tanks to new transport containers is a complex operation. Some 14 transport containers are already reported to be in Andreeva Bay ready for the work to start.