RUSSIA Russia’s nuclear inspectorate, Gosatomnadzor (GAN) has rescinded a licence issued to the St Petersburg Izhora Works for production of containers for spent fuel from nuclear submarines. The company put the first 12 containers on display on 7 April but the GAN department head Aleksandr Kolesnikov unexpectedly declared that he was prohibiting production of the containers and cancelled the company’s manufacturing licence, because the required technical documentation had not been presented to that department for expert examination.

Nuclear officials were astounded by the ban. The director of the department of security and emergency situations at the Ministry of Atomic Energy (Minatom), Valeriy Ageyev, said GAN had no right to study and inspect a “TUK MBK-VMF product” (the new container) since the authority’s oversight is limited to civilian production. Moreover, he said that it is only possible to evaluate the safety of the container by knowing the composition of nuclear submarines’ fuel, which is classified information.

GAN argues that the containers will be stored outside military units (for example, in Severodvinsk the fuel is stored in a warehouse in the centre of the town), which makes them a civilian issue. “We cannot stand around with machine guns near a lathe,” said Kolesnikov. “But if production is not stopped we will take our case to the office of the public prosecutor.” Izhora does not want to stop production. Managing director Yevgeniy Sergeyev has even said that GAN is working for the plant’s competitors. He is concerned that this will “Give away a prospective market for ecological equipment to foreigners, particularly to the German firm, GNB”.

The plant planned to manufacture more than 200 new containers, with the US covering the cost of most of them.

Minatom and the Ministry of Defence began to design a container for long-term storage and transport of spent fuel more than a year ago. The inter-branch centre Nuklid, which placed the order with Izhora, served as contractor. So far R23 million ($800,000) has been spent developing the technology to manufacture the containers. Of this, R15 million was provided by Minatom and the rest by the US and Norway under a programme of military co-operation in the Arctic. The technology was designed by Izhora specialists and accepted by the IAEA. The Norwegians had agreed to store the containers along their borders.

In February, the plant concluded a contract with Minatom for 36 containers, each costing $140,000, to store fuel from multi-purpose vessels. Nina Yanovskaya, director of Nuklid, said that 180 more containers for fuel from missile-launching submarines would be paid for by the US government, and planned to sign the contract in June. Nuklid estimates that 350-400 containers will be needed to store fuel from 180 submarines decommissioned from the Northern and Pacific Fleets.

Rejecting the containers will complicate plans to unload spent nuclear fuel from 18 submarines this year. Of these, 12 are in the Northern Fleet and nine in the Far East, according to deputy nuclear minister Valeriy Lebedev. Russia plans to complete the dismantling of all decommissioned nuclear submarines and the removal of their fuel by 2007. At the present time, around 150 vessels are awaiting attention. Lebedev says the spent fuel will be transported to the Mayak chemical combine in Chelyabinsk, while whatever the plant is unable to process will be kept at temporary storage sites. Minatom plans to set up four depots; three at the Northern Fleet and one in the Far East.

•The French company SGN and the Japanese companies JGC and Mitsui are to work out a plan, together with the Zvezda naval yard in the Russian Far East, to secure laid-up nuclear powered submarines. The work starting in May includes a feasibility study for a nuclear fuel retrieval facility, dismantling studies for a Victor-class submarine and rehabilitation and conversion studies for a vessel to transport radioactive waste containers and spent nuclear fuel casks.