Russia constructing purpose-built ship for sailing nuclear waste along Northern Sea Route

Storage for spent nuclear fuel in Zheleznogorsk by the Yenisei River in Siberia.  (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)
Storage for spent nuclear fuel in Zheleznogorsk by the Yenisei River in Siberia.
(Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Russia will build a special purpose ship for voyages with radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel along the Northern Sea Route.

Construction starts in 2020 of the 140-meter-long (about 460-feet-long) ice-classed vessel, approved for carrying irradiated nuclear fuel and High-Level radioactive waste, Izvestia reports.

Beneath the deck, it will be space for 40 to 70 special transport containers for spent nuclear fuel and the upper deck has space for containers with radioactive waste. The design, named INF-2, is made by Krylov State Research Center in St. Petersburg, a design bureau that has Russia’s latest generation of nuclear powered icebreakers, submarines and warships on its list of merits.

In addition to sailing along the north coast of Siberia, the nuclear waste cargo vessel can make voyages up the Siberian Rivers like Ob and Yenisei, where several of Russia’s nuclear facilities are located, like the storage and planned reprocessing plant in Zheleznogorsk (former Krasnoyarsk-26).

Today, all transport of spent nuclear fuel from icebreakers, submarines and nuclear power plants from northwest Russia to the reprocessing plant in Mayak north of Chelyabinsk go by train through the most inhabited areas of Russia.

Andrey Zolotkov, a nuclear expert and former head of the environmental group Bellona in Murmansk says the news that such cargo vessel will be built raises many questions.

“When stating that radioactive waste will be transported out of the Arctic and the Far East, where, interestingly will it then be taken?” asks Zolotkov. He does not immediately see an urgent need for transportation of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, but agrees that transport to locations along the Siberian rivers could be an option.

“But, maybe they link this vessel to the plans for new floating and smaller nuclear power plants in the Arctic.”

Andrey Zolotkov, who earlier worked on board Atomflot’s service vessel Imandra, says the icebreaker fleet will need a new service vessel as well in the future.

“Such vessel could very well replace Imandra for storage of spent nuclear fuel from icebreakers,” he says.

Krylov State Research Centre says on its portal that one of the tasks for such vessel could be to transport the spent nuclear fuel from Bilibino nuclear heat power plant in Pevek on the Chukotka Peninsula. Bilibino is the world’s northernmost nuclear plant and shutdown procedure is likely to start in 2019. As a replacement, Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, the Akademik Lomonosov will be placed in Pevek.

Another task for such new vessel, supposed to be operated in a consortium consisting of Rosatom and the military, could be to transport solid radioactive waste to a future repository. Location of such repository is yet to be decided; one option under consideration and approved by county authorities in Arkhangelsk is the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya.

There are today stored tens of thousands of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste both on the Kola Peninsula, in Severodvinsk by the White Sea and at naval yards in the Far East.

On the Kola Peninsula, the Italian built vessel Rossita is later this year ready to start transport of containers with spent nuclear fuel out of the Andreeva Bay. The containers will be taken to Atomflot in Murmansk where they will be reloaded to railcars for transport further to Mayak. Rossita is not suitable for voyages along the Northern Sea Route or into the river systems in Siberia.

Earlier, the Russian Northern Fleet had its own transport and storage vessels of the Malina-class (Project 2020) for spent nuclear fuel from submarines.