Used fuel assemblies, which had been lying for decades at the bottom of Building 5, an ageing used fuel store at Russia’s Andreeva Bay in the Arctic northwest, have been removed and secured. The complex operation that was the first of its kind, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced on 26 November.

The used fuel, which was removed from 100 reactors from some 50 nuclear submarines, has been in dry storage units at Andreeva Bay for 35 years, some of which were damaged and leaking. The base was closed in 1992.

Under an international initiative financed by the Nuclear Window of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) more than 22,000 used fuel assemblies from nuclear submarines, stored at Andreeva Bay, are being retrieved, packaged and removed from the site. The process is being carried out by SevRAO, part of Russian state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom.

The Nuclear Window is part of the NDEP's Support Fund, set up in July 2002 by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to pool contributions for the improvement of the environment in northwestern Russia. The EBRD-managed fund, managed has received €165m in contributions, with funding from the European Union and Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands Norway and the UK.

Following the latest operation, radiation levels at the facility fell by over 40%, which will allow for further decommissioning within the framework of the NDEP Nuclear Window. The used fuel will be transported to Atomflot, near Murmansk in north west Russia, for onward transportation, safe storage and reprocessing at the Mayak nuclear facility.

The Andreeva Bay base was built in the 1960s to service nuclear submarines. Following an accident in Building 5 in 1982, water leakage from one of the pools for spent fuel caused widespread contamination. In 1988-89, the majority of fuel from Building 5 was transferred to the three dry storage tanks at the site and the building was abandoned.

However, a significant volume of radionuclides remained in the sludge at the bottom of the pools and six spent fuel assemblies remained at the bottom of one of the pools in Building 5. Following a radiological survey of the storage facility, urgent repairs of the building’s roof were performed and shielding was installed.

Tackling the removal of the remaining spent fuel was complicated as the damaged assemblies required special operations. Specialised remote handling equipment had to be manufactured. After tests on a mock-up facility the removal was successfully completed by the end of October 2019.

Simon Evans, EBRD Associate Director, Nuclear Safety, said: “This is a major step towards making Andreeva Bay environmentally safe and secure and testimony to what can be achieved through international cooperation. This successful operation follows other milestones, like the recent first shipment of spent nuclear fuel from the former service ship Lepse. We congratulate our Russian partners as well as the donor community for their commitment to overcoming a legacy which remains legacy and has to be dealt with under extraordinarily difficult conditions.”

The EBRD is the only international financial institution with expertise in managing nuclear decommissioning funds. The Bank’s engagement started in 1993, with urgent safety upgrades of nuclear power plants. Today, the EBRD manages six other nuclear decommissioning funds in addition to the NDEP Nuclear Window, including the Chernobyl Shelter Fund, which is its biggest undertaking.

Date: Friday, 29 November 2019
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