Russia’s Production Association Mayak in Ozersk is to begin reprocessing spent uranium-zirconium fuel used in icebreakers. It has so far not been possible to process this fuel, which has accumulated for decades in storage.

"The uranium-zirconium fuel is one of the most difficult to process, but in the next one and a half years this problem will be solved", Mayak Deputy General Director Dmitry Kolupaev told the AtomEco-2015 conference on 9 November. The technology is being developed to tackle this problem on an industrial scale, he said. "This is a major project which will provide an opportunity for Mayak to become the world’s only company, which can process all types of spent nuclear fuel."

Mayak was established in 1949 to produce weapons-grade plutonium for the Soviet nuclear weapons programme. The facility now reprocesses used fuel from VVER-440 reactors, research reactors and some submarine types. Most icebreaker fuel is of the cermet type in which uranium oxide particles are dispersed in an aluminium matrix. However, there are reportedly approximately 20 cores of 90% enriched, zirconium-clad, uranium-zirconium fuel which was produced for the Arktika-class icebreakers, in storage. This type of fuel is no longer manufactured. After one to three years of storage, uranium-aluminium used fuel is shipped to Mayak where it is reprocessed in the naval fuel line of the RT-1 reprocessing complex. RT-1 cannot currently handle uranium-zirconium fuel.

Mayak is also planning to commission a new solid radioactive waste (SRW) reprocessing facility in 2021 as part of the federal target programme "Nuclear and Radiation Safety in 2016-2020 and until 2025" (FTP NRS-2), according to the environmental safety report of Mayak for 2014 published on 8 October. The facility is to have a throughput capacity of 2000 cubic metres a year. It will reprocess SRW of all categories, types and activity levels from main and auxiliary productions of Mayak.

In 2016-2017 the working documentation will be prepared as well as the design documentation for non-standard equipment. Construction must be completed in 2020. Startup and adjustment, pilot operations of SRW reprocessing and commissioning of the facility are planned for 2021. The environmental safety report lists wastes currently in in long-term SRW storage facilities. These include 918 cubic metres (365t of low-level radioactive waste; 271 cubic metres (101t) of intermediate waste; and -133 cubic metres (147t) of high-level waste.