Getting Rid of Floating Chernobyls
(RIA Novosti, by Viktor Litovkin) — I’d like to start with
figures. During the Cold War, the Soviet
Union built more nuclear-powered ships than any other country
– about 250 nuclear missile submarines, five surface ships,
including several heavy missile cruises of the Admiral Ushakov
class, eight ice-breakers, the most famous of which bore Lenin’s
name, and one lighter carrier ship Sevmorput.
no infrastructure was built for scrapping these ships after
decommissioning. There was no system for the storage and disposal
of liquid and solid spent fuel and other radioactive waste.
a result, Russia has inherited a huge problem of cleaning its
territorial waters and lands of what people have dubbed the "floating
Chernobyls." The sinking of any decommissioned submarine
with nuclear fuel may trigger a major ecological disaster.
spent fuel of all nuclear submarines amounts to 25 million
curies. The aggregate weight of all radioactive construction
materials slated for disposal exceeds 150,000 tons, and that
of metal, about 1.5 million tons. A special "atomic train" will
have to make a hundred trips to get this spent fuel from the
Northern and Pacific fleets, and take it to the Mayak waste
treatment plant in the southern Urals. However, it can make
10-15 such trips annually.
one more figure, which is indispensable for understanding the
scale of the problem – $4 billion will have to be spent on
nuclear waste disposal and recovery of contaminated territories.
has been dealing with the scrapping of nuclear submarines and
surface ships for many years. Its annual spending for the purpose
stands at about 2 billion budget rubles (about $70 million)
per year. Substantial help is coming from the United States
under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Before 2001,
the U.S. earmarked $40 million a year for the purpose. Now
that the disposal of the decommissioned strategic nuclear submarines
has almost been completed, this assistance has been reduced
to $20 million. But other countries have increased their help
under the Global Partnership program. In 2004, the relevant
figure was $74 million. This comprehensive effort has allowed
Russia to scrap 133 nuclear submarines, including 90 subs in
its Northern Fleet and 43 in its Pacific Fleet.
head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power Sergei Antipov,
the number one domestic expert on submarine dismantling, believes
that although by 2012 Russia will have disposed of its submarines,
it will still have to remove spent fuel from coastal storage
facilities, and recover contaminated territories. These tasks
will be very time-consuming.
problem is not limited to the shortage of funds allocated by
donor countries, even though it is part of it. After the approval
of the Global Partnership program in Kananaskis, Canada, the
G8 promised to earmark $2 billion for this purpose. But only
$438.5 million worth of working contracts have been concluded
up to now. A mere $313.48 million have been received by disposal
facilities. Meanwhile, Russia has been increasing its contribution
to submarine utilization every year and has already spent at
least $400 million to this end, including $290 million since
Kananaskis. It is planning to bring its share in the Global
Partnership to $850 million by the year 2012.
the main headache is the enormous scale of what still has to
be done. Moreover, it is also essential to ensure the safety
of the disposal effort.
Germany is helping Russia to build coastal storage platforms
for reactor compartments, on the Kola Peninsular, Saida Bay.
It should be ready by 2010. A total of 120 compartments with
submarine nuclear reactors will be kept on open grounds, losing
floating dock will also have to be built for delivering these
compartments to the platforms from the Nerpa Shipyard near
Murmansk, which dismantles submarines. Railway carts are a
must for transporting compartments, which weigh 1,600 tons.
There should also be premises for repairing reactor compartments
and coating them with anti-corrosion materials. Houses for
the service personnel will have to be assembled as well.
pot is kept boiling. The Germans have already spent half of
the allotted sum of 300 million euros, and the first platform
for 40 compartments was supposed to be opened this summer.
But Federal Agency for Nuclear Power officials asked their
German colleagues to expand the storage area for another 30
compartments in order to keep 150 compartments instead of 120
in the Saida Bay. The Germans have accepted the proposal, and,
hence, the construction of the platforms will be somewhat delayed.
and Norway are greatly helping the northwest of Russia in dismantling
submarines and ensuring safe storage of spent nuclear fuel.
Their money was used to dispose of two Project 949 Granite
submarines and two Project 671 Shchuka submarines. The Andreyev
Bay is being decontaminated. It contains one of the world’s
biggest storage facilities for more than 20,000 reactor clusters.
Italy is also joining the effort. It will allot 360 million
euros to build a facility for the procession and storage of
radioactive waste in the Andreyev Bay, and special containers
for the removal of fuel from the village of Gremikha, located
some 350 km from the Kola Gulf.
the past, this village housed a big base of nuclear submarines,
which left about 800 contaminated reactor clusters with 1.5
tons of radioactive materials. Gremikha is not connected with
Murmansk by a land road – only by air or sea. This makes it
impossible to transport clusters to the Mayak plant by railway.
of submarines from storage facilities to disposal plants is
also a problem, which is slowing down their scrapping. In the
north the distance is no more than 500 km, but in the Far East,
the distance from the Kamchatka Peninsular, where submarines
are kept, to processing plants in Primorye Territory is 2,500
km. Unlike the Polar Circle, in the Far East the only way is
to ship submarines by sea. The journey of one submarine costs
no less than $1 million.
is the reason why the Far East is somewhat behind the north
in implementing the submarine disposal schedule. In the Arctic,
only 30 out of 120 have not been dismantled, whereas in the
Far East, the relevant figures are 34 and 77.
has promised to precipitate submarine disposal in the Far East.
In the 1990s Japan helped to build a ship for the storage and
procession of liquid radioactive waste, and funded the disposal
of one submarine in 2004. After Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan,
Tokyo paid for the scrapping of another five submarines. Although,
some people in Japan claim that Russia is spending the money
of the Japanese taxpayers not only to get rid Russia of the
old submarines, which spell ecological disaster for the ocean
and its fish, but also to develop more modern combat ships.
This has nothing to do with reality, but is always hard to
all its difficulties, Russia is abiding by its commitments
in good faith, said Sergei Antipov.