Russia: Decades-long nuclear accident cleanup to enter critical phase in 2023

An undated photo of a Russian 1960’s era November class nuclear attack submarine. Spent nuclear fuel assemblies are stored in rusty tubes at the Andreeva Bay storage site. (Reuters/Ho/WAW/CRB)
Donor countries agree to fund an additional study on how to extract the damaged spent nuclear fuel from Tank 3A in the Andreeva Bay storage site, where a nuclear accident occured in 1982.

Unloading work at Tank 2A and 2B will go on until 2023 before possible work on unloading the dangerous mess at Tank 3A can start.

Andrey Zolotkov, a nuclear expert with the environmental group Bellona says YES with capitalized letters when asked by the Barents Observer via Skype whether Tank 3A poses the biggest risk in the cleanup work.

Equal to Chernobyl
A general view shows a New Safe Confinement (NSC) structure over the old sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, April 5, 2017. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

The British nuclear engineering company Nuvia has calculated the total radionuclide inventory in the three tanks to be equal to the remains of Reactor No. 4 inside the Chernobyl sarcophagus. Some 22,000 spent fuel assemblies are stored in the tanks, coming from 90-100 reactor cores powering the Soviet Navy’s Cold War submarines sailing out from the Kola Peninsula from the late 1950s till 1982. Nuvia says it is some six tonnes of fissile uranium-235 in the fuel, about two times the amount of fissile material inside the exploded Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine.

Tank 3A does also pose the highest risk for radiation doses to working personel and ways to do the job with robotics has to be developed. Nobody want people to stay too long near the destroyed assemblies and get exposed.

Another deemed challenging job ahead is to locate and secure the six damaged spent fuel elements on the floor of Building No. 5 in Andreeva Bay. The building served as a storage-pool for the spent fuel assemblies before 1982, but due to a water-leak and rusty wires, many fuel assemblies fell to the floor. That was the reason why the assemblies were hastily moved over to the tanks 2A, 2B and 3A. In that process, however, six damaged fuel assemblies and some uranium powder from others were left on the floor. Today, they pose a serious radiation hazard risk.

Funding from Europe and Canada

The nuclear cleanup work in Andreeva Bay on the Barents Sea coast is financed by the so-called Northern Window of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP), a cooperative program with Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation Rosatom.

Norway has over the last two decades financed infrastructure improvements in Andreeva Bay making the removal of spent nuclear fuel possible.

The NDEP’s funded work started in 2003. Additional to the European Union, nuclear legacy cleanup work in North-West Russia is funded by Sweden, Finland, Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Andreeva Bay is located about 55 kilometers from Russia’s border to Norway in the north.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Test clean energy solutions in south before implementing them in Arctic communities: report, Radio Canada International

Finland: Nuclear plant construction in North Finland goes ahead despite lack of permit, Yle News

Norway: Eni must stop operations on Barents Sea “Goliat” platform, say environmentalists, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia lacks space for Arctic nuclear fleet – will it get worse?, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Volvo to go all electric starting in 2019, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. transportation secretary announces efforts to speed up project development in Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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