The first containers of used nuclear fuel assemblies removed from the Lepse floating technical base at the Nerpa shipyard have been transported to Murmansk, Russia. The fuel is being removed under a programme managed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and will be sent to Mayak for reprocessing.

The first batch of transport containers with used fuel assemblies sent from Nerpa Shipyard (Image: EBRD)

The Lepse was a service ship for the Soviet icebreaker fleet from 1934 to 1988. It was used to refuel the nuclear icebreaker fleet from 1963 to 1981 and has since been used for the storage of used fuel and radioactive waste. The vessel was moved in September 2012 to the Nerpa shipyard in Snezhnogorsk in the Murmansk region of Russia for dismantling. It held 639 damaged and distorted used nuclear fuel assemblies which could not be removed from their specialised storage facilities and represented a serious radiological hazard for the region. Its decommissioning is being carried out with the support of the London-headquartered EBRD.

The Lepse was dismantled to form two large storage packages, one of which held the used fuel and was moved into a containment shelter constructed for defueling operations and equipped with removal tools. The fuel is to be sent for reprocessing at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Urals.

The EBRD announced today that the first shipment of six casks of used fuel assemblies was transported on board the Serebyanka service ship from the Nerpa shipyard to Atomflot's site in Murmansk. From there it will be transported for long-term safe storage at the Mayak nuclear facility. It is planned that a further five shipments of fuel will be completed by mid-2020 ensuring the complete removal of all used nuclear fuel from the Lepse.

"With the first successful shipment of spent nuclear fuel from the Lepse service ship to Murmansk an international nuclear safety programme for north west Russia has reached a new milestone," the EBRD said.

"The fuel removal process is an immensely challenging operation and the culmination of many years of international collaboration to address the legacy of the Lepse," said Simon Evans, EBRD associate director of nuclear safety. "The EBRD has managed the international support funds for over 10 years to support the mitigation of this risk. Today is an important milestone in removing a serious danger to the people and the environment of Barents Sea region."

The EBRD-managed programme is financed by the NDEP Nuclear Window, an international fund with contributions from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK. Other projects are the supply of a system for the handling and transport of 22,000 used fuel assemblies from the coastal technical base in Andreeva Bay, built in the 1960s to service nuclear submarines of the former Soviet Northern Fleet, the removal of used fuel assemblies from the pool-type store in Andreeva Bay and the removal of used nuclear fuel from reactors of Papa-class nuclear-powered submarines.

In addition, the EBRD also manages six other nuclear decommissioning funds, including the Chernobyl Shelter Fund as the biggest undertaking. The latest fund is the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia, established in 2015 to assist Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by uranium production in these countries.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Thursday, 26 September 2019
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