Russia’s NO RAO reports on radwaste facilities in Chelyabinsk and Sverdlovsk

26 August 2021

Russia’s national operator for radioactive waste management, NO RAO, on 18 August gave a presentation and took part in discussion of the environmental safety report for 2020 in the Chelyabinsk region. The event took place simultaneously at three venues - in Ozersk, Chelyabinsk and Moscow, bringing together representatives of the public, experts, authorities and the media by video communication.

The main report was presented by Ekaterina Shilova, environmental expert of NO RAO. She spoke about the environmental activities of the enterprise in 2020 and noted that during the reporting period, there were no violations of standards and maximum permissible values ??of environmental impact indicators for all existing and construction facilities of the national operator.

Tatyana Evseenkova, Deputy Director of the Scientific Research Institute for Ecological Problems, spoke about the innovations in Russian environmental legislation that come into force on 1 September 2021.

Construction of the final isolation point near Ozersk for radwaste of classes 3 and 4 with a total capacity of 225 cubic metres has been underway since the beginning of August. At this stage, preparatory work is being carried out: the construction site is being cleared, R&D is being carried out to refine the process of filling the buffer material and a number of other activities. The first storage compartments near Ozersk are planned to be commissioned in 2025.

Public hearings on preliminary materials of an environmental impact assessment for the facility were held in 2016. Public hearings on the materials for the justification of the licence for the siting and construction of the facility followed in 2018. In 2019, Glavgosexpertiza approved the design documentation, and also allowed the construction of a storage facility, and in 2020, NO RAO received a licence for the location and construction of the facility.

On 19 August, NO RAO presented and discussed the environmental safety report for 2020 in the Sverdlovsk region. The event took place at the Museum and Exhibition Centre in Novouralsk and at the NO RAO Central Office. The main report was again presented by Ekaterina Shilova, who spoke about the environmental aspects of the enterprise's activities in 2020 as part of the reconstruction of the final isolation point for radioactive waste near Novouralsk. She noted that, during the reporting period, there were no violations of environmental standards and maximum permissible values ??of environmental impact indicators for any NO RAO facilities, including those under construction.

The chief specialist of the department of nuclear, radiation, industrial safety and labour protection Vladimir Novoselov spoke about the work of the department. He gave examples of studies and sampling results at the final isolation point and noted that this activity is being carried out by a specialised company that has the appropriate licence.

Tatyana Evseenkova discussed the changes in Russian environmental legislation, which are about to come into force. Members of the public council of Rosatom, who took part in the event, made a number of proposals for filling out the report on the environmental safety of the enterprise.

Public hearings on the materials relating to the licence for the construction of new storage facilities for the near-surface station for the final isolation of radioactive waste of classes 3 and 4 were held in February 2017 at the Novouralsk recreation centre (Novouralsk, Sverdlovsk region). The final isolation point for radwaste classes 3 and 4 (solid low-and-intermediate radioactive waste) began operation in November 2016. The first stage of the storage facility is designed to hold up to 15,000 cubic metres for up to 300 years. The total volume of the final isolation facility will be 55,000 cubic metres. The storage is intended for final disposal of the waste without the intention of their subsequent retrieval. It can accept up to 300 cubic metres a year.

The facility has a system of safety barriers, each of which consistently prevents radionuclides from entering the environment, thus excluding the possibility of radioactive waste getting into the environment, No Rao said. Reconstruction of the facility began in 2018. The storage facility is expected to operate until 2036. After the closure of the facility, constant monitoring of the state of the environment will be organised at its location and in the adjacent territory.

The Chelyabinsk region includes Production Association Mayak in Ozersk, originally established in the late 1940s to produce plutonium for the Soviet nuclear industry. Current activities include production of components of nuclear weapons; transportation and processing of used fuel; production and sale of isotope products; mechanical engineering and instrument making; research and production activities; and the solution of nuclear legacy problems. Like weapons production sites worldwide, there was little attention to safety in the early years and unregulated disposal of HLW left large areas highly contaminated. This was exacerbated in 1957 by the explosion of a waste tank. Mayak has since faced a huge remediation task, with which it is making positive headway.

Since 2011, all enterprises are required to dispose of solid radioactive waste at final isolation points, such as the facility now being established in Ozersk. The facility is primarily intended to accommodate radioactive waste generated at Mayak, but will also take waste from other generators. It will be operated by NO RAO.

The Sverdlovsk region includes the Ural Electrochemical Combine (UECC) in Novouralsk, a key uranium enrichment facility. The repository will store waste generated by UECC, which manufactures enriched uranium hexafluoride fuel for NPPs. All wastes are packed in special containers. The repository is a reinforced concrete structure, 140 metres long and 24 metres wide, built at a depth of seven metres. Once the repository is filled it will be covered with earth and planted with grass. At the site is equipped with environmental monitoring systems and a few test wells. The storage is capable of withstanding a magnitude 6 earthquake.

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