Tag Archives: Lepse ice-breaker

Floating Nuclear Graveyard Rests

Lepse in Nerpa shipyard where decommissioning takes place. image from https://thebarentsobserver.com/

Russia: The Lepse service vessel, Russia’s waterborne atomic graveyard, has inched a step closer to complete dismantlement as officials say they will begin extracting nuclear fuel rods from its irradiated holds in September 2018 — a long awaited development involving robotic technology, thousands of technicians and a small city of radiation shelters surrounding the vessel’s hull.

The vessel, which technicians are carefully pulling apart at the Nerpa Shipyard near Murmansk, was used to refuel Russia’s nuclear icebreakers at sea – a job that eventually turned it into one of the world’s most dangerous radioactive hazards. Since its retirement, it has become a flagstone in Northwest Russia’s legacy of Cold War nuclear waste.

Removing spent fuel from the vessel ­– including the extraction of several damaged assemblies ­– is among the most complex nuclear cleanup operations Russia has ever undertaken. When it’s completed in 2020, it will be a decades-long culmination of high-tech preparation paid for by marshaling millions of dollars from nearly a dozen western countries, (the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development) often in the face of trying political circumstances.

The new phase in the Lepse dismantlement also marks another step toward cleaning up naval and civilian nuclear debris in Northwest Russia. Almost exactly a year ago, the first containers of spent nuclear fuel that accrued over fifty years at Andreyeva Bay were hauled away for storage. Both are projects that Bellona has long advocated for.

During its career, the Lepse amassed 639 spent nuclear fuel assemblies in its holds, many from refueling the Lenin, the flagship Soviet icebreaker, between 1965 and 1967. The bulk of those fuel rods are damaged, and defy removal by conventional means.

Excerpts from Charles Digges, Anna Kireeva,  Russia to start breaking down one of its most radioactive ships next month, Bellona. org, Aug. 1, 2018

Nuclear Waste Issues in Russia

Andreyeva Bay, the former naval technical base come solid radioactive waste storage facility has undergone many improvements, but problems also remain. Andreyeva Bay is one of the hottest radioactive spots in Northwest Russia and work deadlines are hard to meet.  Founded in between 1960 and 1964, Andreyeva Bay’s task was to remove, store and ship for reprocessing at the Ural Mountains Mayak Chemical Combine spent nuclear fuel from nuclear submarines. After a 1982 accident in the spent nuclear fuel storage, Russia Ministery of Defense decided to reconstruct the facility. But the turbulent political and economic conditions of the 1980s and 1990s scuttled the plans. Andreyeva Bay was assigned to Minatom, Rosatom’s precursor, in 2000.  The beleaguered facility, which is nearby the Norwegian border is of special concern to Oslo. Norway’s Deputy Ambassador in Moscow, Bård Svendsen, noted that the two countries had cooperated on solving the Andreyeva bay issue for many years.  “Over these years, much has been done and much remains to be done,” said Svendsen. “Norwegian authorities will continue this work, which costs some €10 million euro a year.”  According to Rosatom’s deputy head of Department for Project Implementation and Nuclear and Radiaiton Safety, Anatoly Grigorieyev, the last 10 years have seen the installation of constant radiation monitoring and significant improvements in the conditions in which radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is stored.  A new installation for working with spent nuclear fuel is expected to be installed at Andreyeva Bay in 2014, and by 2015 the fuel is slated for removal – the same year a facility for handling radioactive waste should be installed, he said in remarks reported by Regnum news agency.  “The work we have planned will allow for the territory to be brought up to suitable conditions within 10-15 years,” said Grigorieyev.

Vladimir Romanov, deputy director of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency, said that studies conducted by his institute confirm that the radiological conditions at Andreyeva Bay and at Gremikha – the second onshore storage site at the Kola Peninsula for spent nuclear fuel from submarines – are indeed on the mend…. According to Valery Panteleyev, head of SevRAO, the Northwest Russian firm responsible for dealing with radioactive waste Some 846 spent fuel assemblies have been taken from storage at the former naval based to the Mayak Chemical Combine for reprocessing thanks to infrastructure built for fuel unloading purposes.  Panteleyev said Gremikha still currently is home to used removable parts from liquid metal cooled reactors submarine reactors, spent fuel assemblies, a reactor from an Alpha class submarine and more than 1000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste.  Panteleyev said that by the end of 2012, all standard and non-standard fuel will have been sent to Mayak from Gremikha. He said that between 2012 and 2020 the removable parts of the liquid metal cooled reactors would also be gone, and that during the period between 2012 and 2014, 4000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste would also be removed to long term storage at Saida Bay.  If all goes according to schedule, the Gremikha site will be rehabilitated by 2025.

Rosatom also presented detailed reports on an international project to build long-term storage for reactor compartments at the Saida Bay storage site for aged submarine reactors.  Panteleyev said none of the achievements at either Saida Bay or Gremikha would have been possible without international help.  The projects are being completed with funding from Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain and the EBRD.  “These countries are investing in the creation of infrastructure for handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, dismantlement of nuclear vessels of the atomic fleet and in the infrastructure for the safe storage or reactor compartments,” said Panteleyev….

Another item of special concern at the Bellona/Rosatom seminar was the disposition of the floating spent nuclear fuel vessel, the Lepse. A former technical support vessel, taken out of service in 1988 the Lepse presents the biggest nuclear and radiation risk of all retired nuclear service ships in Russia. The Lepse’s spent nuclear fuel storage holds – in casks and caissons – 639 spent fuel assemblies, a significant portion of which are severely damaged.  Extraction of these spent fuel assemblies presents special radiological risks and technical innovation. The vessel is currently moored at Atomflot in Murmansk, the base of Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet.  Mikhail Repin, group director for the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, said work on the Lepse is divided into three categories: transfer of the vessel to the ship repair yard Nerpa in the Murmansk Region, fixing it to an assembly based, removing the spent fuel and dividing into blocks. The work is expected to be complete by 2012.  But the barriers to enacting this project, however, remain largely bureaucratic.  “One gets the impression that international and Russian bureaucrats are capable of muddling any project, as shown by the experience with the Lepse,” said Bellona’s Niktin. The project of dismantling the Lepse have remained on paper since 1995.  The Lepse was built in 1930, and the vessel has been afloat for 75 years, said Repin… The equipment necessary for removing the spent fuel assemblies must be fabricated for specifically this project. The equipment must first ensure the safety of the workers, meaning the work will have to be done essentially remotely to ensure minimum exposure.

Nuclear Waste in Russia, for more info see Bellona

See also Nuclear Waste and Secrecy