– IT IS THE NUCLEAR ENERGY MINISTRY THAT HAS BEEN IN CHARGE OF THE MATTER SINCE JANUARY 1, 1999
Three months ago Nuclear Energy Ministry found in its lap the problem of destruction of nuclear submarines withdrawn from combat duty. All organizational work on transfer of the task from the Defense Ministry was completed by January 1, 1999, in accordance with the governmental resolution “On Measures Speeding Up Destruction of Nuclear Submarines and Surface Combatants with Nuclear Reactors Withdrawn from the Navy” (May 28, 1998). On many occasions Nuclear Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov announced that “We can handle destruction of nuclear submarines.” According to the minister, it is Nuclear Energy Ministry that is now responsible for all nuclear submarines withdrawn from combat duty, and maintenance of their crews until the submarines’ transfer to plants for cutting up.
Functions of state monitoring of nuclear and radioactive safety at work with the nuclear submarines are implemented by the Defense Ministry’s Directorate of State Monitoring of Nuclear and Radioactive Safety, and the Nuclear Energy Ministry is a coordinator of all work. According to the official data released by the Nuclear Energy Ministry, 157 nuclear submarines have been withdrawn from combat duty so far (95 of them at the Northern Fleet). Fuel, approximately 100 tons in all, has been taken off 65 submarines only. Experts maintain that resolution of the problem of nuclear and radioactive danger at the Northern and Pacific fleets will require between $1.5 and 2$ billion. Even with this kind of money available, initial work will take about ten years, and complete rehabilitation of the involved regions will take even longer.
According to Adamov, Nuclear Energy Ministry’s experience and technologies will build up radioactive safety and resolve the problems of destruction. The concept itself of handling nuclear wastes is supposed to be changed. Currently, attempts are made to take the wastes to Mayak processing plant, and nuclear submarines await their turn years. Nuclear Energy Ministry proposes unloading the wastes first and foremost, cutting out reactors from the hulls, and placing the wastes in special sarcophagi where they can be safely left for 50 or 60 years. As for the processing, Adamov is confident that Russia has the best technology in the world: The wastes are “burned” in special reactors operating on fast neutrons.
Lack of money is the only problem Nuclear Energy Ministry is facing. The problem that prevents the ministry from handling the wastes. According to the ministry, “neither in 1997 nor in 1998, budgets set aside a single ruble” for construction of special processing plants and sarcophagi.
Adamov does not think that budget will ever set aside enough for destruction of nuclear submarines, “The situation will hardly improve radically.” That is why he expects to “earn the money”, for example, by way of handling wastes from foreign nuclear power-plants.
Adamov: That’s a lucrative business, you know. Take a look at France and Great Britain…
The minister says that his subordinates made some calculations and discovered that the money thus earned will be enough for salaries, improvement of technologies, and even for an environmental protection program.
Russia also expects assistance from abroad in the matter. For the time being, foreign investments into destruction of nuclear submarines withdrawn from active service are triple Russian.
A spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Ministry: We are helped by the United States, Norway, and Japan. Sweden, Finland, and the European Union are about to lend us a hand too…
The man added that the Russian-Norwegian agreement signed on May 1998 stipulated allocation of $30 million.
The money is supposed to be spent on unloading and closing of the old and overfilled sarcophagus at the Andreeva Guba (Murmansk region) and construction of a provisional new one there. Moreover, a new sarcophagus for wastes from nuclear submarines is supposed to be constructed at Mayak plant in the Chelyabinsk region. A special ship and four boxcars are supposed to be constructed for sarcophagi transportation. Modernization of the liquid wastes sarcophagus in the Arkhangelsk region is planned as well, according to Vytaly Nasonov, Director of the Informational Directorate of the Nuclear Energy Ministry.
Nasonov says that the total sum of non-budget funds exceeds $200 million. (About $30 million from Norway, about $10 million from Holland, $30 million or so from Japan, plus donations from the United States, European Union, etc.)
There is another way of attracting the money, Nasonov says. He advocates creation of a Radioactive Wastes foundation under the auspices of the North-West Association and development of the system of insurance from nuclear damage and radioactive danger.
Nuclear Energy Ministry appraises situation with radioactive wastes in Russia as critical, particularly so at the Northern and Pacific fleets and at Mayak plant. Nevertheless, “nobody is going to dump” the wastes into the sea, specialists say.
In the past, the Soviet Union dumped the wastes mostly into the Karsk Sea and the Sea of Barents not far from the Novaya Zemlya testing ground. There are seven locales where sarcophagi with only solid wastes were buried there. Not long ago Russia discarded the practice and signed the London Convention on prevention of sea pollution (1972). Scandalous dumping of liquid wastes (0.31 Curie) into the Sea of Japan in October 199 was the only violation but the move was necessitated by a critical situation: The sarcophagi were filled to the brim and could spring a leak.
Since then, state of affairs with hot wastes has remained virtually unchanged. Every year Northern and Pacific fleets generate between 18,000 and 20,000 cubic meters of liquid wastes and 6,000-7,000 cubic meters of solid wastes. Built in 1960 and 1962, sarcophagi for solid wastes are still exploited and are almost full already. Liquid wastes are processed, but not in the quantities to make any considerable difference.
Nuclear Energy Ministry has worked out a plan of amelioration of the situation which includes among other things prompt unloading of nuclear wastes from submarines and construction coastal technical containers which is supposed to be completed by 2005.
Deputy Nuclear Energy Minister Nikolai Yegorov emphasizes that because of the shortage of funds specialists resolved not to send the wastes to Mayak right away (as it had always been done) but construct metal-concrete coast complexes for their storage first. The problem is, the ministry has only one special railroad echelon which can make only a dozen trips a year (taking up nuclear wastes of a submarine each time). And Mayak’s capacities allow it to handle between 10 and 12 echelons.
Americans propose their help in Mayak modernization. Washington pledged to invest in construction of a sarcophagus for wastes from active and withdrawn nuclear submarines Mayak intended to build. Last summer some American experts went to the Chelyabinsk region and okayed the procedure of wastes handling Russia had been deploying for years (the wastes were transported from the Northern and Pacific Fleets, processed, and stored). Experts are of the opinion that a new sarcophagus is a must for a “speedier” unloading of wastes from nuclear submarines and “amelioration of the state of affairs” in the vicinity of naval bases. The work is estimated at between $20 and $30 million.
Equipment for destruction of liquid wastes from nuclear submarines is being installed at Zvezda plant in the Far East. In 1999, the plant intends to double the number of submarines scheduled for dismantling and make it four submarines a year. It became possible with the transfer of the destruction and processing functions to the Nuclear Energy Ministry. The work is implemented within the framework of governmental resolution No 518 which stipulates the transfer of dismantling directly to representatives of industry.
Zvezda director: Of all disarmament articles, allocations for destruction of nuclear submarines are always the largest… and that is why shortage of funds is felt so painfully here.
Zvezda’s northern counterparts, Zvezdochka and Nerpa defense enterprises, find themselves in a similar situation.
The resolution also dictates transfer to Zvezda’s management of all nuclear submarines written off at the Pacific Fleet in the Far East with replacement of the crews. Change of financial sources and increase of the volume of work will call for a double workforce at the plant (to 1,000 or 1,2000 employees). Moreover, Zvezda’s modernization (planned to be completed by 2003 and financed by Americans within the framework of conversion programs) will allow facilitation of new directions of work (ships repair and construction).
In other words, we see a beginning of resolution of the problem of nuclear submarines withdrawn from active duty, even though complete resolution is still a matter of distant future.