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Lepse fuel assemblies removal in northwest Russia completed

By Axel  Reiserer

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Milestone in nuclear safety reached thanks to EBRD-managed decommissioning fund

A milestone in nuclear safety was reached in north-west Russia today with the successful completion of the final shipment of spent nuclear fuel assemblies from the former Soviet service ship Lepse.

During its period of service 1934 to 1988, the Lepse served as a refuelling vessel for the nuclear icebreaker fleet. When the ship was taken out of service it held 639 damaged and distorted spent nuclear fuel assemblies representing a serious radiological hazard for the region which includes Murmansk, a city of 300,000 people.

As many spent fuel assemblies could not be moved, the decision was taken to carve up the ship. This process began in 2012 when the Lepse was transferred to the Nerpa shipyard for dismantling. In the following years two large storage packages were created, one of which contained the spent nuclear fuel and was moved into a containment shelter constructed for defuelling operations and equipped with removal tools.


Withdrawn from service in 1988, the Lepse steadily deteriorated in dock, posing a threat to the environment and local population. The EBRD has been at the very heart of the project to retrieve the spent fuel - and make safe the Lepse’s legacy.

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The spent fuel assemblies were transported on board the Serebyanka service ship from the Nerpa shipyard to the service base Atomflot. With the arrival of the sixth and last shipment, the final task funded related to the Lepse through the EBRD-managed Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) Fund has now been completed. From Atomflot the spent fuels will be transported to the Mayak nuclear facility in the Ural Mountains for long-term safe storage.

The programme is financed by the NDEP Nuclear Window, an international fund with contributions from BelgiumCanadaDenmarkthe European UnionFinlandFranceGermanythe NetherlandsNorway 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 (SNF); the removal of spent fuel assemblies from the SNF pool-type store in Andreeva Bay; and the removal of spent nuclear fuel from reactors of Papa-class nuclear-powered submarines.

Balthasar Lindauer, EBRD Director, Nuclear Safety, said: “The successful final shipment of fuel is the culmination of over a decade of international collaboration to address the legacy of the Lepse. This has been a technically complex and challenging task given the uncertainties associated with both the conditions of the old storage facility and spent nuclear fuel. Its successful completion advances nuclear and radiological safety in the region, addressing a serious danger to the people and the environment of the Barents Sea region.”

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.

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