NDEP Nuclear Window

Arctic steamer

The Nuclear Window is a special arrangement within the NDEP Support Fund for activities to manage the legacy of the operations of the Soviet nuclear fleet in North West Russia.

The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) originated from the European Union’s Northern Dimension initiative which promotes cooperation between the countries of the Baltic and Arctic Sea regions. The NDEP finances environmental projects for the initiative, from a dedicated multilateral fund and loans from several international financial institutions.

The NDEP Support Fund was established in July 2002 by the EBRD to pool contributions for the improvement of the environment in north-west Russia. Supporters of the Fund are the European Union and 12 countries: Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United Kingdom. In 2003 the Nuclear Window (NW) of NDEP was established with the objective of delivering environmental improvements and reduction of risks associated with the nuclear legacy in North-West Russia. To date, contributors have provided €165 million to the Nuclear Window.

The programme became operational in May 2003 following the signing of the Multi-Lateral Nuclear Environmental Programme by all parties. It is correlated with the G-8 Global Partnership initiative against the proliferation of weapons and materials of mass destruction (Kananaskis Summit, Canada, 2002), which gave priority to the safe and secure decommissioning of Russian nuclear submarines.

The Nuclear Window supplements Russian, multilateral and bilateral funded programmes aimed at the decommissioning of nuclear-powered vessels, provision of safe and secure infrastructure for nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel and the environmental rehabilitation of the sites in the region.

Given the complexity of the situation and the pressing safety, security, environmental and financial challenges the development of a comprehensive strategy for the region - the Strategic Master Plan (SMP) - was an important first task. The SMP was completed in 2007 and complemented by a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The plan serves as the basis for the selection of NDEP NW-funded projects and is an official planning document for the Russian Federation.

NDEP Nuclear Window funded projects include:

  • The construction of facilities  and the provision of equipment for the safe and secure handling and transport of spent nuclear fuel located in the dry storage units from the former coastal technical base at Andreeva Bay. This major project will be completed in 2017 and the shipment of spent fuel to the nuclear reprocessing plant in Mayak in the Ural Mountains will start.
  • Decommissioning of a derelict and heavily contaminated former spent fuel storage facility (building No. 5) at Andreeva Bay which still contains six spent fuel assemblies (out of a total number of over 20,000 which had been transferred to the dry storage units). The building represents a significant radiological and environmental risk. A contract has been signed (May 2017) for the development of remote controlled retrieval equipment to recover the spent fuel assemblies and place them into canisters ready for removal from the building.
  • Removal of spent nuclear fuel from the reactors of the Papa class submarine (NPS 501) with the help of specialised equipment. Following the manufacture and supply of the defueling equipment and preparation of the supporting infrastructure, both reactors were successfully defueled and the process was completed in 2015.
  • Decommissioning of the service ship Lepse which contains a large amount of spent fuel and radioactive waste from icebreakers. NDEP NW funding was used to safely tow the ship from Murmansk to Nerpa shipyard where it was dismantled to leave two large storage packages (LSPs).  The aft LSP containing radioactive waste has been removed to the Saida Bay facility which is financed by Germany under the global partnership agreement. Infrastructure and equipment required for the safe removal of the spent fuel from Lepse will be completed in 2017.
  • Installation of environmental and radiation monitoring systems in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions.

The works in Andreeva Bay are an excellent example of multi-lateral cooperation in resolving the challenges caused by Russia’s complex nuclear legacy.

The United Kingdom funded the design and construction of some of the major SNF management facilities as well as the extensive decommissioning of redundant facilities and the provision of health physics, decontamination and monitoring stations.

Norway has upgraded the site infrastructure with active commissioning of the equipment maintenance and decontamination facility and the construction of the pier, roads (including land access to the site) and other auxiliary systems and engineering networks as well as of a canteen, change facility and physical protection of the site.  Norway also provided emergency planning expertise and training and support to the regulatory authorities.

Italy is providing facilities for radwaste management, diesel generators and has constructed a transport ship to remove SNF from the site.
Sweden has supported the development of the design for solid and liquid radwaste management and co-funded a number of projects with the UK as well as bilateral support for the provision of key items.

The European Commission supplied a nuclear materials accountancy system for the site and new canisters for re-packing the retrieved spent fuel assemblies.

The Russian Federation has supplied equipment for the preparatory stages of SNF handling, operates the site, oversees safety and security aspects and will utilise the facilities to retrieve the fuel and transport it to Mayak.

Spent Nuclear Fuel Transportation System in Andreeva Bay

Building No.5 in Andreeva Bay served as a wet storage facility for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) discharged from nuclear submarine reactors. When leaks developed in the ponds in the 1980s, the fuel was urgently transported to three dry storage units (DSUs) nearby and has been kept there since. Water has entered the storage units and many of the storage cells are flooded. Water analysis has shown that the storage units are leaking radioactivity into the ground.

Under NDEP Nuclear Window a system for the handling and transport of the 22,000 spent fuel assemblies (SFA) – equivalent to 100 submarine reactor cores – from the dry storage units in Andreeva Bay has been established that allows for their safe removal from the DSUs, repackaging into new canisters and transfer to dual purpose storage/transport casks for transport off-site.

Projects include:

  • Procurement and installation of nuclear rated cranes for the accumulation pad for the casks, the DSU enclosure and the pier;
  • construction of an accumulation pad for the casks;
  • procurement of the SNF retrieval equipment;
  • construction of the DSU enclosure building providing containment, shielding radiation monitoring and alarm systems;
  • supply of a special vehicle to transport SNF casks from the DSU enclosure to the accumulation pad;
  • establishment of a trolley system to transport flasks within the DSU enclosure and casks from the accumulation pad to the pier; and
  • supply and installation of a new transformer station for the site.

Most of the key facilities and equipment were completed and installed at the end of 2016:

  • The fitting out of the DSU enclosure with ventilation, water, radiation monitoring and power supplies is complete and the overhead cranes and the trolley have been installed.
  • The transformer station construction has been completed.
  • Installation of the SNF retrieval machine in the DSU Enclosure was completed in April 2017.
  • The infrastructure for the transformer installation will be ready in December 2017.

In addition, comprehensive integrated operational trials of the facilities and systems required to support the recovery of SFAs from the cells of the DSUs were successfully undertaken in December 2016. The retrieval machine was controlled from a temporary location in the building.

After transportation from the DSU Enclosure the casks containing the SNF will be stored in the accumulation pad. From here they will be transported to the pier using a 50 t-trolley and loaded by the pier crane onto the special spent nuclear fuel transport ship Rossita, provided to Russia by Italy under the G-8 global partnership agreement.

The casks are special certified 40 tonne casks to ensure fuel safety during further transportation and storage in accordance with standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. From the Russian port Atomflot the casks will be transferred to purpose built railway wagons and transported to the reprocessing plant Mayak in Chelyabinsk.

Building No 5

Building No 5 is a pool-type storage facility for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from submarine reactors at the former coastal base at Andreeva Bay in the Kola Peninsula in Russia’s North West.

The base was built in the 1960s to service nuclear submarines of the former Soviet Northern Fleet and closed down in 1992. The site is heavily contaminated and poses a serious risk to the environment.

Following a leakage in the pools some 30 years ago, the SNF was transferred to three dry storage tanks at the facility where it is still located.
Building No 5 is in a poor physical state and heavily contaminated with radioactivity. Six spent fuel assemblies (SFAs) remain in one of the small pools which are responsible for the high gamma-radiation levels at the top of the pool.

The NDEP NW project aims to remove the SFAs to a temporary storage location in Andreeva Bay to ensure the nuclear safety of Building No 5. The work will also result in a decrease of background radiation in the technological hall and provide improved radiological safety for the future decommissioning work.

The first stage in the removal of the SFAs is to recover them from the bottom of the pool where they are located amongst debris and sludge. Here they will be placed into a vertical container which is suitable for lifting from the pool. This work has to be done via remotely controlled operations because of the high dose rates generated by the SFAs.

A contract for this work was signed in May 2017. The timescale for completion is approximately 19 months.

Defueling of the Papa-Class Submarine

The submarine NPS 501 was a Papa-class nuclear powered submarine of the Soviet Union, built in 1969 and decommissioned in 1989. It was the only submarine of this class built in the Soviet Union and has a unique reactor design. Special equipment was manufactured for the unloading of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from the reactors but this was unsuccessful. In 2010, the ship was partially dismantled. The fore and aft sections were removed and a three-compartment reactor unit was formed to ensure safe storage afloat.

Following the conclusion of a tender for the contractor and the development and approval of the design documentation, safety case and environmental impact assessment the three-compartment reactor unit was moved to the floating dock at Zvyozdochka shipyard, Severnodvinsk, on 25 December 2013.

Following the manufacture and supply of defueling equipment and the supporting infrastructure both reactors were successfully defueled by March 2015. The associated radioactive waste management activities have been completed and SNF was transported to Mayak under US funding in June 2015.

The three-compartment unit was prepared for transportation and transported to Saida Bay in July 2015.

Decommissioning of Lepse

The dry cargo ship Lepse was built in 1934 and re-equipped in 1961 for use as a nuclear service ship, i.e. a floating maintenance base for supporting the operation of the civil nuclear icebreaker fleet of the then Soviet Union. In 1988, Lepse was taken out of service and in 1990 it was classified as a berthing ship, with the port of Atomflot near Murmansk as its anchorage place.

The specialised storage facilities on board Lepse contain spent fuel assemblies (SFA) with a cooling period of nearly 40 years. A considerable amount of high and intermediate-level liquid radwaste was stored in the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) storage facility channels, in special tanks and in the cooling circuit. A large number of containers with solid radioactive waste were arranged in the ship’s compartments.

Unloading of the SFA from Lepse is a complicated task which requires a specially developed process using non-standard tools and equipment. 

In the mid-nineties, Lepse was recognised as an environmental hazard to the region by Russia and the international community.  The NDEP Assembly approved financing for Lepse decommissioning in November 2007.  The EC TACIS funded feasibility study served as a starting point for implementation of this complex project.

The first major milestone and a significant hazard reduction was achieved when Lepse was towed to the Lepse shipyard in 2012 and subsequently placed on a dry dock.

To date, a number of activities have been carried out:

  • Solid radioactive waste was removed from Lepse and processed at the port of Atomflot;
  • Lepse was placed in the floating dock at Atomflot and repairs were made to the hull;
  • The integrated technical design for the defueling of Lepse was completed and approved by the regulatory authorities. The agreed concept is to dismantle Lepse leaving two “large storage packages” (LSPs), one containing solid radioactive waste and prepared for interim storage at the waste complex at Saida Bay and the other containing the SNF tanks prepared for placement in a “shelter” for subsequent defueling.
  • Lepse was towed to the Nerpa shipyard in September 2012.
  • After the infrastructure at Nerpa shipyard was upgraded for the tasks ahead, Lepse was partially dismantled afloat.
  • In mid-December 2014 about 60m3 of ILW liquid waste from the fore section of the ship were pumped out. This was transferred to special tanks on the slipway and treated at Nerpa.
  • Lepse was dismantled into two LSPs in August 2016. The aft LSP has been transferred to Saida Bay.
  • A contract to construct the Lepse shelter has been placed and the work is underway, scheduled for completion in 2017. The fore LSP has been prepared for installation in the shelter.
  • A contract to manufacture and supply the specialist equipment for defueling operations is scheduled for completion in 2017.