Experts discuss plan to lift nuclear waste from Russian Arctic seabed

K-27 lies on the seafloor in Stepovogo Bay. These underwater photos of the hull are taken by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities during an expedition to the area in 2013. (The Independent Barents Observer)
Experts are discussing the framework for safe lifting of dumped reactors from four submarines and uranium fuel from one icebreaker reactor in the Kara Sea, in addition to one sunken nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea.

Russian and European experts agree that the dumped Soviet-era nuclear reactors in the Kara Sea can’t stay on the seafloor forever.

The Soviet Union used the waters east of Novaya Zemlya to dump accidental reactors, spent nuclear fuel and solid radioactive waste from both the navy and the fleet of nuclear-powered civilian icebreakers.

About 17,000 objects were dumped in the period from the late 1960s to the late 1980s.

Most of the objects are metal containers with low and medium level radioactive waste. The challenge today, though, are the reactors with high-level waste and spent uranium fuel, objects that will pose a serious threat to the marine environment for tens of thousands of years if nothing is done to secure them.

According to the Institute for Safe Development of Nuclear Energy, part of Russia’s Academy of Science, the most urgent measures should be taken to secure six objects that contain more than 90% of all the radioactivity.

It is the information site for Russia’s submarine decommissioning program that informs about the plans.

The reactors from the submarines K-11, K-19 and K-140, plus the entire submarine K-27 and spent uranium fuel from one of the old reactors of the Lenin-icebreaker have to be lifted and secured.

Also, the submarine K-159 that sank north of Murmansk while being towed for decommissioning in 2003 have to be lifted from the seafloor, the experts conclude.

Special priority should be given to the two submarines K-27 in the Kara Sea and K-159 in the Barents Sea.

The study report made for Rosatom and the European Commission has evaluated the costs of lifting all six objects, bringing them safely to a yard for decommissioning and securing the reactors for long-term storage.

The estimated price-tag for all six will €278 millions, of which the K-159 is the most expensive with a cost of €57,5 millions. Unlike the submarines and reactors that are dumped in relatively shallow waters in the Kara Sea, the K-159 is at about 200 meters depth, and thus will be more difficult to lift.

Lifting the K-27, transporting to a shipyard for decommissioning and long-term storage in Saida Bay will come at a price of €47,7 millions the report reads.

The work can be done over an eight years period, according to the expert.

But, as the expert-group underlines, the €278 millions funding does not exist in any Russian Federal budgets today.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: MLA worried hydro expansion in Northern Canada is ‘subsidy’ for mining project, CBC News

Finland: Nuclear waste company plans major investment at disposal site in southwest Finland, Yle News

Iceland: Arctic Council creates new expert group on nuclear emergencies, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: Traces of radioactive iodine detected near Norway-Russia border, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: New ship to handle all nuclear waste from Rosatom’s operations in Russian Arctic, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Environmentalists praise ruling on nuclear waste site in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Russia’s floating nuclear power plant worries Alaskans, Alaska Public Media

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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