Some Breakthrough in Nuclear Waste Management in Russia

Checkpoint in closed city Zheleznogorsk, 2011. Image from wikipedia

Russia could be moving closer to shutting down its infamous and highly contaminated Mayak Chemical Combine – Russia’s only spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility – as the government builds a new pilot spent fuel storage and reprocessing facility in the closed city of Zheleznogorsk, near Krasnoyarsk, called RT-2. The Zheleznogorsk facility was once home to one of Russia’s 13 weapons grade plutonium production reactors…The pilot facilities at Zheleznogorsk – known as Krasnoyarsk-26 during the Soviet era – fall under the purview of an industry division called the National Operator, as established by Russia’s 2011 law “On handling spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.  The law further stipulates that all spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste produced prior to 2011 is the government’s financial responsibility, where beyond 2011, the bills go to individual nuclear power plants.

Alexander Nikitin, Chairman of the Environmental Right’s Center (ERC) Bellona in St. Petersburg, who has visited the Zheleznogorsk site twice this year, said after the AtomEco conference held late last month in Moscow that the facility is designed to hold and reprocess two of Russia’s thorniest types of spent nuclear fuel: that produced by VVER-1000 reactors and the spent fuel that comes from RBMKs [Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy, “High Power Channel-type Reactor” is a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor designed and built by the Soviet Union.]  Russia has neither been able to store or reprocess fuel from the Chernobyl-type RBMK – one of the oldest, and most fatally flawed reactor lines in Russia’s civilian line up.

The Zheleznogorsk facility will also be capable of storing spent fuel from VVER-1000 reactors in wet storage. The spent RMBK fuel will be held at RT-2 in dry storage.  Spent VVER-1000 fuel is already arriving at Zheleznogorsk from reactors at the Balakovo, Kalinin, Novovoronezh and Rostov nuclear power plants. RBMK fuel will come from the Leningrad, Kursk, and Smolensk plants.

In all, RT-2 is designed to hold some 50,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Russia currently hosts some 23,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel, the majority of it stored on site at the reactors that produced it.

The reclamation of fuel from Soviet built reactors in former Soviet satellite states, which Russia is obligated to take back and either reprocess or store, is also slowing down… In the case of Hungary, for example, the local government has found it more economical to store the fuel itself than to repatriate it to Russia, easing up somewhat the amount of foreign spent fuel flowing to the country.

But Russia’ state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has finally – and publically – reached the conclusion that Mayak and its legacy of overwhelming radiological pollution is no longer viable…

Nikitin, was told during his visits to RT-2 that the pilot facilities are slated to push through their first batches of reprocessed VVER 1000 and RBMK fuel – while producing no residual radioactive waste – by 2018.  If the test runs prove successful, RT-2 could move on to industrial scale storage and reprocessing   But Nikitin and Rosatom have their doubts about the rosy predictions of the National Operator. For one, Nikitin is skeptical of the value of reprocessing RMBK fuel..

Charles Digges,New spent nuclear fuel storage and reprocessing site in Siberia could end contamination from Mayak,  Bellona,  Nov. 14, 2013

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