A second shipment of 240 canisters with spent nuclear fuel from Kozloduy NPP to the Mayak plant in western Siberia for reprocessing is scheduled for the beginning of 1999. The price tag for reprocessing alone, excluding transportation and insurance expenses, amounts to $18.7 million.

Between 1979 and 1988, Bulgaria sent 21 shipments of spent nuclear fuel to Mayak. Russia handled the spent nuclear fuel on the so-called ‘zero-value’ principle, assuming that the value of the plutonium and uranium extracted from the fuel covered the reprocessing expenses. After the Soviet collapse the Mayak plant started to demand money for reprocessing. Bulgaria then suspended its shipments. However, in November 1997, faced with a shortage of on-site spent fuel storage facilities, Bulgaria was forced to renew the contract with Russia.

The first train of 8 carriages carrying 240 VVER-440 spent fuel assemblies sealed in containers left Kozloduy in mid September 1998. Bulgaria pays $640 per kg of fuel to be reprocessed at Mayak. The total cost was $18.7 million in addition to insurance and fees for transit through Moldova. At present, spent fuel assemblies from Kozloduy are kept in “wet” interim storage facilities on site. The storage facilities for VVER-440 reactors’ fuel are almost full, while the two VVER-1000s have some storage space left. Without shipments to Russia, all the onsite storage facilities will be full by 2001.

Even if this problem is resolved, Bulgaria may face steeper charges in future. Yevgeny Adamov, Russian nuclear minister, recently proposed increasing the price for reprocessing from $620 to $1000 per kg. Bulgaria is one of four countries continuing to ship spent fuel to Mayak. The others are the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine. In 1995, Finland decided to build a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel generated at its Soviet-designed Loviisa Nuclear Power Plant. Hungary is likely to halt shipments soon with a new dry storage facility under construction but plans one last shipment, possibly next year.

By 31 March next year, the Bulgarian State Committee on Energy, together with the Bulgarian Academy of Science, has to prepare a national strategy for the safe management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste over the next 50 years.

Protesters arrested Three protesters including Vladimir Slivyak, head of the Anti-Nuclear Campaign of the Socio-Ecological Union, were arrested in Moscow on 9 December after unfolding a “No more nuclear waste” banner in front of the Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy while a meeting on further shipment of Bulgarian spent fuel to Russia was in progress. All three were released after being fined by the Moscow District Court for arranging an “unauthorised action”.