NDEP Nuclear Window

Arctic steamer

The Nuclear Window is a special multilateral funding mechanism within the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) Support Fund for activities to manage the nuclear legacy from the operations of the Soviet-era nuclear powered vessels in North West Russia.

The Nuclear Window complements Russian and bilateral funded programmes aimed at the decommissioning of nuclear-powered vessels, provision of safe and secure infrastructure for nuclear materials and the safe removal of spent nuclear fuel from the region.

In 2003 the Nuclear Window (NW) of Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (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.

Key Areas of Concern

The main areas of concern are Andreeva Bay, Lepse and the Papa-class nuclear powered submarine reactors.

The Andreeva Bay Coastal Technical Base was built in the 1960s to service nuclear submarines of the former Soviet Northern Fleet and closed down in 1992.  
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.

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 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 had a unique reactor design.  As such it had not been able to defuel the reactors and this posed a nuclear and non-proliferation hazard in the region (Archangelsk).

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 639 spent nuclear fuel assemblies (SFA). Unloading of the SFA from Lepse is a complicated task which requires a specially developed process using non-standard tools and equipment. 


Key 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 (~€60 million) was essentially completed in 2017 and the shipment of spent fuel to the nuclear reprocessing plant in Mayak in the Ural Mountains is in progress.  Over 20,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies will be removed over a period of several years.
  • 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 ((SFAs) 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. Remotely operated equipment to retrieve and remove the SFA from the building has been development and successfully trialed in a mock-up facility.  The installation and commissioning of the equipment will take place to enable the recovery and removal of the SFAs in 2019.  The total project cost is about €5 million.
  • Removal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) 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, the SNF was transported to Mayak (under US funding) and the reactor compartment  was formed into a three-compartment unit and subsequently transferred to Sayda Bay in Murmansk region for long-term storage in 2015.  The total project cost was about €12 million. 
  • Decommissioning of the service ship Lepse which contains a large amount of spent fuel from icebreaker defueling operations was safely towed 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 nearby Sayda Bay facility for long-term storage. Infrastructure and equipment required for the safe removal of the spent nuclear fuel from Lepse was completed in 2018 and the start of the SNF removal operations is planned for late 2018.  It will take some 18 months for all of the SNF to be removed from the storage tanks and transported to Atomflot (Murmansk) and then to Mayak. The total project cost is about €53 million.