Breakthrough in clean-up of Russia's Andreeva Bay

By Anton Usov

First shipment of spent nuclear fuel leaves Andreeva Bay

  • Spent nuclear fuel removed from Building 5 at Andreeva Bay
  • Radiation levels dramatically reduced
  • Major step to make former service bay of Soviet Northern Fleet safe

A longstanding and unique challenge to retrieve abandoned, highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel assemblies was completed as part of a decade-long international collaboration to address nuclear and radiological risks at Andreeva Bay.

The nuclear fuel assemblies, which had been lying for decades at the bottom of Building 5, an old spent fuel store, have been removed and secured in a complex operation that was the first of its kind. Following the successful operation, radiation levels at the facility have fallen by over 40 per cent.

This drop in radiation levels will allow further decommissioning tasks to be performed and remove one of the most significant radiological risks to the Barent Sea region.

The spent fuel will be transported to Atomflot, located near Murmansk in the north west of Russia, for onward transportation, safe storage and reprocessing at the Mayak nuclear facility in the Urals.

It is part of a comprehensive programme to overcome the legacy of the former Soviet Northern Fleet. The EBRD-managed NDEP Nuclear Window is an international fund financed by contributions from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The Andreeva Bay coastal 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 unit 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 even more 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 the NDEP Nuclear Window as well as six other nuclear decommissioning funds, including the Chernobyl Shelter Fund as its biggest undertaking.

The latest fund is the Environmental Remediation Account for Central Asia, established in 2015 to assist the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by uranium production in these countries.