Nuclear waste removal starts in Andreeva Bay

Earlier this week, the first seven of totally 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements that are stored in some dilapidated concrete tanks were taken out. The tanks make up the most hazardous Cold War heritage in the Russian north.

Andreeva Bay is a dedicated nuclear waste facility for the Soviet Northern Fleet, located in the Litsa fjord on the Barents Sea coast of the Kola Peninsula. In distance, neighbouring Norway is 55 kilometres away. Established in the 1960s, the location soon became a dump for both spent nuclear fuel from submarine reactors and solid radioactive from the fleet. From the 1990s, the site has attracted huge international attention since most waste were stored in poor conditions, partly outdoor.

Concerns of nuclear accidents and radioactive leakages are also why Norwegian authorities over the last two decades have granted millions in aid to secure and clean up the site. Next month, Norway’s own foreign minister, Børge Brende, goes to Andreeva Bay to oversee the removal of nuclear waste.

3,000 container transports

SevRao, the Federal State Unitary Enterprise for radioactive waste management in the Russian north, is in charge of the work. Director Valery Eremenko says in a statement that the first unloading went safe.

“Works are going in accordance with the regulations in a normal mode. In one day, seven spent fuel assemblies were unloaded and placed in a storage- and transportation container,” Eremenko tells.

With seven assemblies in each container, a total of 3,143 container transportations will be needed before the 22,000 elements in the three storage tanks in Andreeva Bay are empty. That will take years. Many years.

First, the duel-purpose containers will be shipped by the special purpose vessel “Rossita” from Andreeva Bay to Atomflot, the service base for Russia’s fleet of civilian nuclear powered icebreakers in Murmansk.  Here, the containers will be unloaded from the vessel and placed in special-design railway wagons for transport to Mayak, a reprocessing plant just north of Chelyabinsk in the South-Urals. Empty containers will be sent north again for more spent nuclear fuel in a continuing roundel.