Finnmark Governor insists installation of new navigation marks along Russia’s heavily militarized Kola Peninsula coast must be completed before allowing shipment of spent nuclear fuel.
A high-ranking Rosatom source in Moscow says to BarentsObserver that work on several key important projects supposed to take place this summer in Andreyeva Bay are postponed because the contract is still not signed.
“Phurchase and installation of technical equipment for decontamination of spent nuclear fuel management, procurement and network utilities and construction of internal roads are postponed,” says the source who want to have his identity kept secret.
Rosatom is Russian state nuclear corporation and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry’s main partner in joint safety projects.
Contract on safety cooperation postponed
Planed for signing in May, the contract that stipulates what Norway’s County Governor of Finnmark will pay for was delayed until August and is now again postponed. A letter revealed to BarentsObserver shows the deep disagreements between the parties.
“I hereby inform you that Finnmark Governor Kjønnøy has decided to cancel the meeting and the signing of the contract on the 25th of August,” reads a letter signed by Chief Engineer Per-Einar Fiskebeck with the Office of the Finnmark County Governor.
Fiskebeck argues that the cancelation comes because Russia’s Navigation Department does not want to include a sentence into the text stating that spent nuclear fuel shipment from Andreyeva Bay to Murmansk should not be allowed until the tasks in the current contract are completed.
Commenting on the letter, County Governor Gunnar Kjønnøy confirms to BarentsObserver that he would like to see the navigation marks included in the contract.
“It is our position that the agreed investments in the shipping lane must be completed before shipment take places,” he says.
No influence on shipment safety
With a price tag of NOK 24 million (€2,6 million), Norwegian paid beacons and buoys are to be placed inside the Northern Fleet’s waters. The Office of the County Governor of Finnmark argues that it will make the shipment of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel safer.
Nuclear safety experts in charge of the Andreyeva Bay clean-up don’t agree.
“The modernization will have no influence for the loading and transportation of spent radioactive fuel. The current condition of the navigational marks ensures safety for boat traffic,” the Rosatom source says.
Another source close to the project says it might very well happen that the shipment of spent nuclear fuel from Andreyeva Bay will start even though the Norwegian paid navigation marks en-route to Murmansk are not yet installed.
The navigation marks will earliest be installed by 2017.
Norwegian money for Russian military waters
Nuclear safety expert Nils Bøhmer with the Bellona Foundation in Oslo questions the need for new navigation marks along the Kola coast.
“First of all, we could ask how smart it is to spend Norwegian taxpayers’ cash on securing a ship lane that mostly is used by Russian military vessels. Secondly, by insisting on the project we now see a delay on removal of spent nuclear fuel from Andreyeva Bay; that increases the risk for accidents and radioactive releases from the storage,” Nils Bøhmer argues.
Per-Einar Fiskebeck confirmed to BarentsObserver in the spring that the navigation marks to be paid by Norway will be owned and operated by Russia’s military Northern Fleet.
Nuclear waste in critical condition
Some 23,000 spent nuclear fuel rods from submarines and 32 tons of radioactive waste are stored inside the rundown facilities. Andreyeva Bay is located in the Litsa fjord, some 50 kilometres from Russia’s northern border to Norway.
An accidents at the site could cause radioactive contamination on both sides of the border.
“The condition for the spent nuclear fuel is already critical and the need for action is on overtime. All further delays are bad news,” says Nils Bøhmer.
Norway has together with other nations cooperated with Russia on a plan to first secure and then remove both the uranium fuel and the solid radioactive waste from the area. In this work, County Governor of Finnmark has been the key partner in upgrading the infrastructure up-front of the yet-to-come removal of hazardous cargo.
“For 2015 it is pledge up NOK 18,4 million (€2 million) for work related to the projects in Andreyeva Bay,” says Ingar Amundsen, Head of section for international nuclear safety with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA). His agency oversees Norway’s spending on nuclear safety cooperation with Russia on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In total, Norway has spent some NOK 2 billion (€216 million) since the cooperation started 20 years ago.
One year delayed
County Governor Gunnar Kjønnøy writes in an e-mail to BarentsObserver that the plan now is to sign the contract by the end of the month. It is, however, doubtingly that much of the scheduled work can be done this year since winter in the high north is just around the corner.
The Rosatom source says the lack of contract may formally postpone removal of the spent nuclear fuel with one year.
Shipment of spent nuclear fuel from Andreyeva Bay should originally start in late 2016, early 2017. The uranium fuel will first be transported by the special designed transport vessel “Rossita” to Atomflot in Murmansk, and further by rail to Russia’s reprocessing plant Mayak in the South Urals.
First built in the early 1960 to serve as a storage for spent nuclear fuel from the Soviet Union’s first nuclear powered icebreaker “Lenin”, more facilities were added to Andreyeva Bay throughout the 1970ies and early 80ies to store spent nuclear fuel from the navy. It is assumed that the spent nuclear fuel from nearly 100 submarine reactors are stored at the site.
An unknown amount of the uranium rods are partly damaged and the radiation inside the storage tanks will cause challenges when the removal work starts.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Report warns more Arctic shipping will increase warming, affect health, Radio Canada International
Finland: Finnish air pollution shortens life, Yle News
Greenland: Study finds increase in litter on Arctic seafloor, Blog by Mia Bennett
Russia: Russian metal giant pays pocket fluff in pollution fines, Barents Observer
Sweden: Stockholm cleans up and passes air quality test, Radio Sweden
United States: Mining corporation a no-show in court as environmental criminal case moves forward, Alaska Dispatch News