Russia begins fuel unloading of Northern Fleet

18 May 2017

Russia has started unloading used fuel from nuclear submarines in Andreeva Bay, the former base of the Northern Fleet, a unit of the Russian Navy responsible for the defence of the north-western part of the country. The work is organised by RosRAO - a Moscow-based Rosatom subsidiary that provides commercial back-end radioactive waste and decommissioning services.

RosRAO has its northern centre, SevRAO, in the Murmansk region, where Andreeva Bay is located. SevRAO is engaged in remediation of the sites of Northern Fleet bases, and dismantling of retired nuclear-powered naval ships and submarines. In May 2014, SevRAO signed a RUB100 million ($1.85 million) contract with Norway's Finnmark to upgrade the Andreeva Bay storage facility. This was set up in the 1960s but closed after an accident in 1982, and resumed operation with Norway's support in the late 1990s.

Regular shipments of used submarine fuel from Andreeva Bay storage to the Mayak facility in Ozersk for reprocessing are due to start this year, and 22,000 naval fuel assemblies are expected to be shipped by 2024.

Andreeva Bay fuel unloading - 250 (RosRAO)
Workers on the fuel unloading project in Andreeva Bay (Image: RosRAO)

SevRAO director Valery Eremenko said in a RosRAO statement yesterday that seven used fuel assemblies, equivalent to one batch, had been unloaded in a single day and would be placed in a transport container. Radiation levels during the operation remained within required limits, Eremenko said, and the time needed met expectations evaluated at the development stage.

"It's worth noting that the first batch is just that and there is a lot of work ahead of us," he said. "We're confident that during the handling of the used nuclear fuel we will be able to acquire additional operational skills, improve certain production processes and thereby speed up its export."

Sending used nuclear fuel from Andreeva Bay for further processing is scheduled for the end of June, RosRAO said.

Andrey Golini, general director of Russia's Federal Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, said in the RosRAO statement yesterday the fact the unloading operation was conducted in "normal mode" reflected the "well-coordinated work" of its specialists, who prepared the entire infrastructure for handling the used nuclear fuel, of RosRAO, which carried out the unloading, and of the design and technical solutions implemented by a large team from other Rosatom subsidiaries and contractors.

Vladimir Luzin, director general of RosRAO, described the unloading of the first batch of used nuclear fuel as "a landmark event", the culimination of ten years of design and development work, and "an example of successful multilateral international cooperation in solving the complex problems of the 'nuclear legacy' of north-western Russia, enhancing nuclear and radiation safety and improving the environmental situation". He added: "One can say with confidence that another important step has been taken in the work of Rosatom's enterprises to solve environmental problems in the Arctic zone."

Rosatom and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development manage their so-called Nuclear Window program - part of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership, which originates from the European Union's Northern Dimension Initiative to promote cooperation between countries of the Baltic and Arctic Sea regions. The objective of Nuclear Window, which started in May 2003, is to provide funding for projects that will mitigate the legacy of the operation of nuclear-powered ships and submarines of the Northern fleet in Russia that are at different stages of decommissioning.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News