First successful shipment of spent nuclear fuel from Lepse in north west Russia

By Anton Usov


  • First successful shipment of spent nuclear fuel from Lepse
  • Milestone for nuclear safety in north west of Russia
  • Programme financed by NDEP Nuclear Window and managed by EBRD

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 Lepse was a service ship for the Soviet icebreaker fleet from 1934 to 1988. The vessel was moved in September 2012 to the Nerpa shipyard for dismantling. It held 639 damaged and distorted spent nuclear fuel assemblies which could not be removed from their specialised storage facilities and represented a serious radiological hazard for the 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 United Kingdom. Other projects are the supply of a system for the handling and transport of 22,000 spent 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 spent fuel assemblies from SNF pool-type store in Andreeva Bay and the removal of spent nuclear fuel from reactors of Papa-class nuclear-powered submarines.

Simon Evans, EBRD Associate Director, Nuclear Safety, 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. The EBRD has been 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 Lepse was dismantled at the Nerpa shipyard to form two large storage packages (LSPs) one of which was with the spent nuclear fuel inside and moved into a containment shelter constructed for defueling operations and equipped with removal tools.

The first shipment of six casks of spent fuel assemblies was transported on board the Serebyanka service ship from Nerpa shipyard to Atomflot for onward transportation and long term safe storage at the Mayak nuclear facility in the Urals. It is planned that a further five shipments of fuel will be completed by mid-2020 ensuring the complete removal of all spent nuclear fuel from the Lepse.

The EBRD is fund manager of the NDEP Nuclear Window. In addition, the Bank 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 the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to remediate some of the most dangerous sites left by uranium production in these countries.