Reactor 1 at the Catawba Nuclear Station has been fired up and running with fuel containing weapons-grade plutonium for more than a week, and everything is going according to plan, a company official said.
The reactor was loaded with mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel on June 5 and is now running at 100 percent, said Steve Nesbitt, an engineer with Duke Power, at a meeting last week with the Rock Hill Sierra Club chapter.
"So far, we have seen that the fuel is behaving exactly as expected," Nesbitt said.
The nuclear power plant on Lake Wylie is testing the fuel as part of a program to rid 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the U.S. stockpile. The same will be done in Russia.
Four MOX fuel lead test assemblies were shipped to the Catawba plant in May and loaded into the reactor. The assemblies will be tested for approximately three years to determine if the fuel can be used safely and effectively in commercial nuclear reactors.
The four test assemblies produce enough energy to provide power to 20,000 homes, Nesbitt said.
Should the program be successful, Duke plans to apply for a full MOX program that could be up and running by 2012. Under that program, as many as 76 MOX fuel assemblies could be used in each of Catawba's two reactors as well as in the reactors at McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman, north of Charlotte.
The Catawba plant is the only U.S. commercial nuclear reactor using MOX fuel and the only in the world using MOX containing weapons-grade plutonium.
The Henry's Knob group of the S.C. chapter of the Sierra Club questioned Nesbitt as to how Duke Power could be confident in the safety of this type of MOX fuel since it has never been used in a commercial nuclear reactor. A member of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, which fought Duke's application to start the program, peppered Nesbitt with accusations that the company was placing the public in greater risk by using MOX fuel.
Nesbitt responded that nuclear power plants cost billions of dollars to build and that Duke Power would not jeopardize one of its plants by using fuel it was not completely confident in. Outside of Duke Power's own assessment of the safety of the MOX program, Nesbitt said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had to give its approval before the program began.
As for the safety issues, Nesbitt said one of the missions of Duke Power is to protect residents in areas where it operates power plants. Also, he said he lives within 10 miles of the Catawba plant and would not risk the safety of his family if he were not confident in the MOX program.
The Henry's Knob group is planning to hold a panel discussion on the MOX program in September. They hope to have representative present from the Blue Ridge group as well as Duke Power.
1. Russia Ratifies Agreement with Italy on Disposal of Russian Nuclear Submarines
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On Friday, the State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian Parliament) ratified an agreement between the governments of Russia and Italy on disposal of decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines, and on safety of the treatment of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.
Four hundred and seventeen deputies voted "Yes," and one deputy abstained from voting. Nobody voted "No."
The document was signed in Rome in 2003.
In accordance with the agreement, the Italian side promises to provide Russia with gratuitous financial assistance in the amount of up to 360 million euros in the course of 10 years for implementation of projects on disposal of nuclear submarines, nuclear-powered surface ships and vessels for technical support of nuclear-powered ships.
In addition, the funds will be allocated for processing, transport, storage and conservation of nuclear waste materials and spent nuclear fuel. It is also planned to finance the creation and maintenance of the security system around nuclear facilities, the creation and maintenance of infrastructure for disposal of nuclear submarines, and the treatment of nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel.
In its turn, the Russian side promises to free the financial assistance provided by Italy from custom duties, taxes on profits and other duties and levies.
The document envisions the creation of a managing committee consisting of two representatives from each side in order to ensure cooperation and control over the proper implementation of the agreement.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, the Russian government's official representative on this issue, the ratification of the agreement is a priority in the sphere of spent nuclear fuel disposal.
Similar agreements have been signed earlier with the U.S., Britain, Canada, Japan and Norway, Kislyak said.
In the last three years, Russia disposed of 31 decommissioned nuclear submarines.
Kislyak also said that Russia was currently conducting negotiations on important agreements in the sphere of mutual cooperation with other countries on the utilization of nuclear submarines with spent nuclear fuel.
In particular, an agreement with Canada is being prepared, and the Canadian side promises to allocate up to 1 billion Canadian dollars for a period of 10 years. Part of this sum (about 300 million Canadian dollars) will be spent on the development of analytical programs on strengthening safety measures during utilization of nuclear fuel.
Kislyak also believes the number of countries cooperating with Russia on this issue will grow steadily.
1. Uranium to Make Atom Bomb Sold to Four Italians
BBC International Monitoring/Corriere della Sera
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"During the month of September 2004 I was approached by an Ukrainian national, whom I know by the name of Sasha, who wanted to sell me a briefcase containing radioactive material, and, more precisely, uranium for military use." There is enough testimony by Giovanni Guidi, a Rimini businessman, and by other defendants - Giorgio Gregoretti, Elmo Olivieri and Giuseppe Genghini - to fuel a spy story [preceding two words published in English] worthy of a novel by Le Carre. Involved is a briefcase containing five kilos of highly enriched uranium, half of which would be enough to build an atomic device, which remained for months in a Rimini garage. A briefcase, however, which eluded investigators, and which managed to get back into the hands of the Ukrainian national, who perhaps is still in Italy. Together with another briefcase having a similar content, and a third believed to conceal a tracking system. The entire kit geared to the assembly of a small tactical atomic bomb.
A mystery story fuelled by information supplied the Rimini police department by a consultant of the Mitrokhin committee, Mario Scaramella, who, acting on behalf of the agency presided over by Paolo Guzzanti, was trying to track illegal funds from the former USSR that had transited through [the Republic of ] San Marino. The two defendants' defence attorney warns that this "could be the trial of the century, but also the century's biggest hoax". The mystery, however, continues, and emerges from the testimony of the defendants, who were questioned Wednesday [8 June] night and all day Thursday, and subsequently released with the charge of possession of war weapons.
The uranium was allegedly contained in a hermetically sealed, black, leather briefcase, along with a photo illustrating its content. Five uranium bars weighing one kilo each. Sasha delivered the briefcase to Guidi. "My precarious economic situation induced me to accept," explains the 46-year-old Rimini businessman, who is married to a Russian woman, and runs an import-export firm that has dealings with Russia and Ukraine. Guidi in turn informed Giorgio Gregoretti, who "placed it [the briefcase] in a cardboard box, which he subsequently stored in his garage." There it remained until it was placed in the trunk of Gregoretti's car, where it was seen by Elmo Olivieri, a financial consultant. Time passes "without their finding anyone interested in the material", says Guidi, and the Ukrainian "asks for the briefcase back".
Guidi also testified that "even another briefcase was to arrive" from the warehouse of a multinational firm in Basel. At which time he makes another bid, this time asking for 60/70,000 euros, in addition to bank guarantees sealed by a three-million-euro credit letter. "We often went to San Marino," but nothing came of it, says Guidi. At this point, the three decide to ask for Genghini's help, "who in the past had proven to be a war-material expert", says Guidi, who reports having learned from Genghini himself that the uranium was worth 30m euro per kg.
Genghini admits having spoken of radioactive material, but "geared to hospital use". Later, according to Guidi, Olivieri mentions a prospective purchaser: a Swiss multinational. Then, the affair gets muddled. Guidi boasts of being protected by the intelligence services, and claims he was threatened on 2 June. The only sure thing is that the Rimini police, headed by Sebastiano Riccio, start looking for the "atomic" briefcases on 9 June, as soon as they learn that the defendants are planning to transfer to Lugano. The case is by no means closed, with search operations still under way.
1. Ivanov Denies Russia, U.S. Plan to Check Each Other's Nukes
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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has denied rumors that there are plans for Russia and the United States to inspect each other's nuclear facilities.
"This has never even been on the agenda," Ivanov told Profil in an interview to be published in the magazine's next issue.
"There is the Nunn-Lugar program, which has existed since 1993 and outlines technical assistance to Russia in physically guarding some provisional storage facilities for nuclear ammunition that is subject to disposal," Ivanov said.
1. Swiss Court Finds Russian Ex Minister's Arrest Illegal
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Yesterday the Swiss federal criminal court found the arrest of Russian atomic energy ex-minister illegal and ruled to release him. Yevgeny Adamov's Swiss lawyer Stefan Wehrenberg told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the court in Bellinzona had found that the arrest violated international law and ruled to pay Mr. Adamov a compensation for the injury. The court made choice in favor of international law, which guarantees immunity of foreign witnesses, not Switzerland's obligations to extradite persons that are being wanted. Mr. Adamov came to investigators of his own accord to testify in the case of his daughter, Irina Adamova, who is accused of money laundering in Switzerland.
On Thursday the federal criminal court upheld the complaint of Mr. Adamov's lawyers of May 17 about the actions of the Swiss federal justice department, which had sanctioned the ex-minister's arrest in Bern.
Nevertheless Mr. Adamov will remain in custody, as the justice department has already asked the court to postpone his release till it lodges an appeal to a higher instance, the federal court in Lausanne.
In court, the lawyers contested the legitimacy of Mr. Adamov's first arrest on May 2 on the request from the United States, but on Thursday he was arrested again, this time on Russia's request.
Upon this request, the justice department issued a warrant for his arrest on June 7. Mr. Adamov's lawyers do not rule out appealing this arrest in the federal criminal court. If both arrests are found illegal, he will be released.
The Moscow city court in its turn on Thursday found the warrant for the ex-minister's arrest, issued by the Moscow Basmanny court, legal, overruling the complaint of his Russian lawyer Timofei Gridnev.
Mr. Adamov, who was Russian atomic energy minister in 1998-2001, was arrested in Bern on May 2 upon request of the U.S. Department of Justice. The United States has not sent a formal request for his extradition yet, but may do it before June 30.
Russia's extradition request was received on May 17. It was based on an arrest warrant issued on May 14 by the Basmanny court.
The Russian Prosecutor General's Office charged Mr. Adamov with fraud and excess of powers.
The American authorities accuse the ex-minister and his business partner, U.S. citizen Mark Kaushansky, of embezzling $9 million, the American government hadallocated for Russian nuclear safety projects.
If extradited, Mr. Adamov faces up to 60 years of imprisonment and a $1.75 million fine.
2. Swiss Court Orders Release of Former Russian Nuclear Minister
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A Swiss court ruled Thursday that former Russian nuclear energy minister Yevgeny Adamov should be released from detention, but he remained in prison pending an appeal from the Swiss Justice Ministry, a spokesman said.
The Federal Criminal Court upheld an appeal from Adamov, but the ministry immediately appealed the decision to the country's supreme court. Adamov will remain in custody until the court rules on that appeal, said Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli.
"The federal supreme court hasn't responded yet, but at the moment he's still in detention," Galli told The Associated Press.
Lawyers for Adamov, who was originally arrested in Switzerland on a U.S. warrant, appealed May 17 against his detention on the basis that Switzerland violated his immunity as a former minister.
Lanny Breuer, Adamov's American attorney, told a news conference in Washington that the Swiss court found that Adamov's arrest was illegal and violates Swiss and international law.
"This decision shows that without question that the Swiss courts are independent and have shown, in our view, great wisdom," Breuer said. "The rule of law in Switzerland remains strong despite, in our view, the overreaching of the United States government and the United States Department of Justice."
In Washington, Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra declined to comment on the ruling or its future implications. He said the department does not "comment on extradition on specific cases."
He referred questions to the U.S. Attorney's office in Pittsburgh, which didn't return a message.
At the United States' request, Adamov was arrested May 2 during a visit to his daughter in the Swiss capital Bern. He has since been indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury in Pittsburgh on conspiracy to transfer stolen money and securities, conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering and tax evasion.
The United States says he diverted up to $9 million from U.S. Energy Department funds intended to improve Russian nuclear security.
Russian authorities, concerned that he could divulge nuclear secrets if extradited to the United States, have demanded he be sent instead to Russia to face allegations concerning the illegal appropriation of money intended for nuclear security.
In Moscow the Russian Foreign Ministry and prosecutor general's office declined to comment on the Swiss court ruling.
The United States still has yet to file for Adamov's extradition but has until June 30 to make an official request.
1. NATO Hails Russia's Proposal to Hold Joint TMD Exercise in 2006
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NATO welcomes Russian defense officials' proposal to hold a joint command-and-staff Theater Missile Defense (TMD) exercise in Russia in 2006. This is according to the communique that the Russia-NATO Council issued after its latest session in Brussels Thursday.
Both sides are looking forward to the seminar on nuclear strategy doctrines that is to be held in Germany in July, as well as to Russia-NATO Council members' attendance, in the observer capacity, at a nuclear emergency exercise in the United Kingdom in September, the communique says.
Speaking at today's session of the Council, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stressed the need to boost cooperation between his country and the North Atlantic alliance in the TMD area. Specifically, he spoke in favor of making cruise missile defense part of joint missile defense programs. NATO and Russia are now finalizing conceptual approaches to cooperation in this high-tech and sensitive area, he reported.
The Russian minister then went on to acknowledge the existence of a number of unsolved problems in missile defense cooperation between his country and NATO. The transatlantic alliance is about to create a multi-layer TMD system of its own, but Russia still has only a very general idea of that system's structure and of the timeframe put on its construction, Mr Ivanov said. He also lamented that in joint work within the Russia-NATO Council, the alliance's newest developments weren't at all taken into consideration and that the Council relied solely on the anti-missile systems already in operation in Russia and in NATO member states. "We cannot let the results of that work go to waste. They need to be taken into account as much as possible when deciding what the European ABM system should look like," the minister pointed out.
1. Moscow Keen to See Iran-EU Talks Reach Clear Result: Russian Defense Minister
Mehr News Agency
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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Saturday that Iran has taken a cautious step by continuing the suspension of its uranium enrichment-related activities.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Ivanov said that Russia is also keen to see Iranï¿½s diplomatic negotiations with Europe reach a final and clear result.
ï¿½Russia is one of the supporters of the Iran-European Union nuclear talks, which were also supported by the U.S. secretary of state,ï¿½ he said in reference to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischerï¿½s recent meeting in Washington with his U.S. counterpart Condoleezza Rice.
Fischer has called negotiations between Iran and the EU big three (Britain, Germany, and France) ï¿½difficultï¿½, but has also stated that the EU3 want to continue with the process of talks.
The Russian defense minister noted that gaining a positive impression of Iranï¿½s nuclear activities would be very pleasant for the international community.
By now, the notion that Russia and Iran are long-term strategic partners has become something of an article of faith within the corridors of the Kremlin. Since the start of strategic ties between Moscow and Tehran more than a decade ago, Russian officials of all political stripes, spurred by concerns about the rise of radical Islam in the Caucasus and Iran's role as a lucrative client for Russia's ailing defense industry, have steadily gravitated to the idea of cooperation with Iran's ayatollahs. Over time, that pragmatic partnership has also evolved into much more - a geopolitical alliance intended to counter American policy in the Middle East.
The fact that a number of Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin himself, have emphasized their solidarity with Tehran of late is a testament to the durability of these ties. In March, with the tenuous nuclear deal between Iran and the "EU-3" - Britain, France and Germany - on the verge of collapse, Alexander Rumyantsev, the head of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency, announced plans to deliver nuclear fuel to the recently completed nuclear reactor at Bushehr, the public centerpiece of Iran's nuclear program, in late 2005 or early 2006.
Just as significant, Moscow has sent unmistakable signals to the world community about its diplomatic stance on the Iranian nuclear program. Officials like Igor Ivanov, secretary of Russia's powerful National Security Council, have made clear that the Kremlin opposes taking Iran's "nuclear file" to the United Nations. "Passing the issue to the UN's Security Council, which is a political body, is hardly likely to be in the best interests of the case," Ivanov told Russian reporters last autumn. Concerns over this sort of continued solidarity were among the reasons for Secretary General Kofi Annan's recent warning to Washington that the Iranian nuclear issue could well deadlock the Security Council.
But change could be on the horizon. Russia's nuclear assistance to Iran over the past decade has been spurred by the traditional notion that such third-world proliferation was by and large a cost-free exercise. This illusion, however, is becoming harder and harder to sustain. Indicators suggest that Iran's expanding capabilities are emerging as a real and direct threat to Russian security.
According to informed estimates, Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile advances could put roughly 20 million people in the south of Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine at risk by as early as next year. Moreover, it has certainly not been lost on Moscow, the traditional driver of the Russo-Iranian relationship, that Iran's progress is also greatly expanding the potential for nuclear blackmail from the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, Russia is grappling with Iran's inroads on another front: Central Asia and the Caucasus. While carried out in response to American military deployments, new Iranian defense arrangements with Azerbaijan and Tajikistan - as well as Tehran's recent energy diplomacy with Kazakhstan and Armenia - threaten to alter the strategic status quo in the "post-Soviet space," and further loosen Russia's already tenuous grip on the former Soviet republics.
Several other issues - from Iran's continuing meddling in Iraq, where Russian companies are deeply engaged, to troubling evidence of recent Iranian support for radical Islamic groups in the post-Soviet space - have similarly become the source of considerable unease in Moscow.
Over the past decade, policy makers in Washington have attempted repeatedly to coax, cajole and bribe the Russian government into rolling back its nuclear ties to Tehran. Yet as the international community edges closer to crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has remained strangely silent on the role that Iran's chief strategic enabler can and should play in curbing Tehran's mounting international menace.
That is certainly a shame, because rallying Russia constitutes a key part of any successful containment strategy vis-ï¿½-vis Iran. And, given the foregoing strategic considerations, Washington might soon find that, with the proper inducements, it has a more receptive audience in Moscow than ever before.
1. Russia's Floating Nuclear Station Stuns Ecologists
Sydney Morning Herald
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Russian atomic engineers are determined to press ahead with a plan to build the world's first floating nuclear power station despite howls of disbelief and horror from environmentalists, who see potential not only for ecological catastrophe but also for a terrorist attack at sea.
The board of Russia's atomic energy agency, RosAtom, which met on May 25 to give the go-ahead, said it "could become a new direction in the development of atomic energy".
A ministry spokesman, Nikolai Shingaryov, told the Herald it would be a fullscale power station and would float on a barge in the White Sea off Severodvinsk in the Archangel region of northern Russian. It should be ready by 2010.
"It is absolute madness," said Vladimir Tchuprov of the Russian branch of Greenpeace. "We are categorically against it, both on ecological grounds and because of the risk of terrorism."
Russia's nuclear planners may well achieve their dream, provided they can find investors. In 2003, Russia's Atomic Energy Minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, and the chairman of China's State Commission for Science, Technology and National Defence Industries, Zhang Yunchuan, began negotiating the terms of a $US150 million ($196 million) loan from Beijing.
China and South Korea might well be persuaded to invest if Russia proves it has a market in the Third World for the floating stations. When they visited Moscow two years ago, delegations from Indonesia and India considered ordering similar power stations, but the two nations are reported to have cooled to the idea after the Boxing Day tsunami.
The Russians hope the floating nuclear power stations will solve the problem of supplying energy cheaply and easily to communities in remote regions.
Any damage caused would be less than from coal-fired plants, said the newspaper Pravda, noting that 17,000 tonnes of soot fell ever year on the city of Archangel.
The stations, which would be powered by small KLT-40 reactors - similar to those used on icebreakers - would be capable of generating 70 megawatts an hour, enough to provide heat and light for a medium-sized town.
"We have used atomic icebreakers for years without any problems," said Mr Shingaryov. "We understand society's concerns, but there will not be any contamination and the stations will be well guarded. It would be easier for terrorists to attack on land than out at sea."
The environmentalists have yet to be convinced.
Russia's Green Cross, launched by the former Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, after the shock of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, reiterated concern over the risk of terrorism and objected to official secrecy surrounding the project.
Vladimir Slivyak, of Ecodefence, said the dumping of some nuclear waste at sea would be inevitable. "[The project] is too crazy to be implemented, even in a country like Russia," he said.
The Bellona Foundation, which devotes much of its time and resources to monitoring the state of Russia's disintegrating nuclear submarine fleet near the Norwegian border, finds it hard to believe that a new nuclear project is being contemplated in roughly the same area.
The floating stations would be "a threat to the Arctic, the world's oceans and the whole concept of non-proliferation," it said in a damning report.
Russia will also have to circumvent international nuclear non-proliferation rules. Under a 1992 agreement it is banned from selling nuclear technology to states that do not submit to international controls.
1. CEG Workshop in Murmansk Brings Results For Moving on the Lepse Project
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Donor nations taking part in last monthï¿½s Contact Expert Group (CEG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a consensus that the basic decisions regarding the Lepse floating nuclear fuel storage facility will be handed over to Russia.
The Lepse, a rusted out nuclear icebreaker spent fuel storage ship that has for decades acted as a floating facility holding tonnes of damaged or corroding nuclear fuel assemblies. The vessel has been a lightning rod for international concern and efforts to coordinate its safe dismantlement. Russia will now be responsible for designing technical plans for its dismantlement and for appointing contractors to deal with the various design stage tasks. Bellona-Murmansk was present for the discussion of dismantlement possibilities that took place during the CEG workshop held from May 24th to 26th.
The group also discussed broader problems of dismantling military and civilian nuclear powered vessels in Russiaï¿½s Northwest.
ï¿½Such meetings allow us to adjust the efforts of international agencies, to exchange information, and define the development of new projects directed at the problems of decommissioning,ï¿½ said CEG chairman, Alan Heyes.
Over 100 experts from Russia, Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France, Norway and Sweden were on hand to discuss problems related to decommissioning nuclear maintenance vessels and nuclear powered.
Participants of the workshop visited the Nerpa shipyards. They had also wished to visit Sayda Bay to view progress on a future storage site for reactor chambers for dismantled submarine, but were denied permissionï¿½which could not but arouse irritation from the countries sponsoring the project.
Sayda Bayï¿½a cove on the White Sea where many submarine reactor compartments from the Gremikha former naval base are currently stored afloatï¿½is currently undergoing an overhaul that will move these reactors to onshore storage. The 300m Euro funding deal was inked between Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2003.
ï¿½We received no explanations whatsoever. It was very important for us to have a look at the scale of the work taking place,ï¿½ chairman Heyes commented in an interview with the Murman television network.
It will be better if we return after everything here is ready. On the other hand, at Nerpa we got a lot of work done and saw everything we wanted to.ï¿½
Representatives from Bellona were allowed to be present only for that part of the CEG workshop that dealt with the decommissioning problems associated with the Lepse floating maintenance vessel.
ï¿½Nevertheless, this demonstrates a change in Rosatomï¿½s attitude to representatives of non-governmental organizations, and gives us hope that Rosatomï¿½s policies in the future will keep changing towards openness as well,ï¿½ said the head of Bellona-Murmansk, Sergei Zhavoronkin.
Nuclear Maintenance Vessels
Nuclear maintenance vessels (ATOs in their Russian acronym) are used for recharging reactors of nuclear submarines and icebreakers while at sea. ATO vessels also have onboard storage compartments for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.
Significant problems in developing decommissioning strategies for these vessels are presented by their sheer variety, their significant numbers, as well as the facts that the ships are based in multiple locations across the area and belong to two different institutions ï¿½ the Russian Navyï¿½s Northern Fleet and the civil Murmansk Shipping Company.
At present there are 72 ATOs in service or in reserve, including floating containment vessels for liquid radioactive waste. More than 50 of these ATO vessels have served beyond their projected engineering life spans and await decommissioning. Of these ATOs, 28 are either damaged, submerged, or are listing on the edge of sinking.
Currently, no kind of approved and tested technology for the decommissioning of these ships exists. Long-term containment vessels for the radioactive waste generated during the decommissioning process are also lacking. During the CEG workshop, representatives from the Murmansk Shipping Company stressed that, before decommissioning work can begin, it will be imperative to create safe sites for the mooring of ATO vessels along the coast.
Problems of decommissioning the Lepse
The most problematic of the ATO vessels is the floating maintenance base Lepse. In its storage holds lie 639 heat-emitting spent nuclear fuel assemblies, some of which are damaged, making the process of extracting them by conventional means impossible.
In all, over 250 kilograms of Uranium-235, 8 kilos of Plutonium-259, and the fissile byproducts of these isotopes are stored onboard the ship, which itself was built 69 years ago. The Lepse is moored near Murmansk at the Atomflot repair and maintenance facilityï¿½some 5 kilometres north of the city of Murmansk itselfï¿½and presents a danger not only to the regionï¿½s center, but for the whole Russiaï¿½s Northwest.
As opposed to other international nuclear safety projects, which have been carried out successfully in Murmansk region, the Lepse project is moving forward with difficulty, despite the fact that over 12m Euro have been allocated to its safe dismantlement.
ï¿½In my opinion, a significant error was allowed to occur in the past,ï¿½ said Mustafa Kashka, deputy director of Murmansk Shipping Companyï¿½s Department of atomic fleet exploitation.
ï¿½From the very beginning, projects relating to radioactive waste and decommissioning of the vessels were developed by international organizations. The question of license documents, which could satisfy the demands of our oversight and control agencies, became an obstacle.ï¿½
A difference of opinion between Western contractor, Franceï¿½s SGN company, which was working to offload from the Lepseï¿½s storage holds and the Murmansk Shipping Company, which coordinates the programme from the Russian side, began to arise in 2004.
SGN insisted on the creation of a so-called ï¿½basic accountï¿½ï¿½a document, which failed to satisfy Moscowï¿½and ignored demands from the Russians to develop documents necessary for the affirmation of the project in Russia.
ï¿½Today it is clear that [SGNï¿½s] ï¿½basic accountï¿½ does not allow for the assessment of risks connected within the operation,ï¿½ said Bellona-Murmanskï¿½s Zhavoronkin during his presentation at the CEG workshop.
Therefore, the most efficient and cost effective means to accomplish this is developing variants of the project that correspond to Russian demands and are formatted to Russian normsï¿½a Russian version of the basic account. Russian documentation can be verified and evaluated by Western specialists. This evaluation should be enough to allow the donor-nations to decide which of the variants to finance.
ï¿½Otherwise the situation with the implementation of the project just turns into ecological tourism. The projectï¿½s money gets spent on signing papers and delegation visits,ï¿½ said Zhavoronkin.
In Bellonaï¿½s opinion, it is necessary to reform the Lepse decommissioning project, carefully assessing a minimum of two principle variants, one that would include unloading the spent fuel and another that would not. The variant of leaving the fuel aboard has been analyzed for Bellona by a former engineer of Murmansk Shipping Companyï¿½s Special Technical Oversight Group, Yuri Chernogorov.
In his presentation at the workshop, Zhavoronkin also recounted the history of ï¿½The Lepse village,ï¿½ a project carried out by Bellona with the cooperation of the Murmansk Shipping Company. The project completed onshore living quarters for the crew of the Lepse, which had been living on and manning the ship in preparation for its decommissioning, and had been receiving receiving elevated doses of radiation.
Of the variants for dismantling the Lepse discussed by the CEGï¿½offloading the fuel before sawing the ship up into parts and breaking the ship down prior to offloading the shipï¿½representatives of the Murmansk Shipping Company preferred the former. They said this variant would allow the liquidation of the floating, ecologically dangerous vessel over a shorter period and offloading of spent fuel from the storage holds on the Lepse into safer on-shore conditions.
At the workshop, possible locations for the decommissioning work were considered, including facilities at Atomflot and the Nerpa shipyards. Nerpa was preferred because of its experience with dismantling nuclear submarines and its developed infrastructure for carrying out such work.
The main result of the workshop was that donor nations reached the conclusion that basic decisions in handling the Lepseï¿½s dismantlementï¿½the so-called executive stage that includes preparing agreements on technical agreements and design decisionsï¿½will be transferred to the Russian side. In the coming months, Rosatom will name a consortium of Russian contractors. Each contractor will take the responsibility of carrying out a specific phase of the project.
The Murmansk Shipping Company believes this is a tried and true practice in Russiaï¿½s Northwest, and has shown positive results in building spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.
ï¿½We, for example, are in this manner already carrying out operations to build storage for spent fuel at Atomflotï¿½s base,ï¿½ said Murmansk Shipping Company head Kashka. ï¿½The construction phase of this project is already ahead of schedule, and completion of the facility is planned for April of 2006. A public environmental impact study of this project was recently carried out by Bellona-Murmansk.ï¿½
Zhavoronkin commented that: ï¿½We are hoping that public environmental impact studies and public hearings will be conducted for the Lepse decommissioning project, and we are planning to take part in them.ï¿½
Kashka told Bellona Web that he had hoped developments toward a more precise approach to dismantling ATOs would arise. Specific proposals, he said, were not discussed, as the goal of the CEG meeting was to define tasks. This, he said, was satisfactorily accomplished.
ï¿½It is possible that the discussion of specific proposals will come into the agenda of the next CEG [workshop],ï¿½ said Kashka.
The heavy nuclear cruiser Admiral Ushakov
Another issue discussed during the workshop is dismantlement of the retired surface ships that run on nuclear power. The most pressing example is the missile cruiser Admiral Ushakov, which has been moored near the Zvezdochka shipyard in Northwest Russia for the last six years. It has two reactors filled with spent fuel on board.
Experts from Zvezdochka say at least $40 m are needed to complete the dismantling of the Admiral Ushakov. project. It was originally planned to start in 1999. However, a group of Russian parliamentarians lobbied to rescue the vessel from dismantlement. They established a fund to raise money for upgrading the cruiser, but their efforts hit a wall in 1991 when it was decided by Moscow that modernising the vessel would not be expedient. The Admiral Ushakovï¿½s present condition is far less environmentally hazardous than the bulk of Pacific nuclear submarines awaiting dismantlement.
But Zvezdochka wants to get on with the dismantlement.
ï¿½The fact that the cruiser has been long left without maintenance has a negative impact on its systems and machinery,ï¿½ Zvezdochka representative Nikolay Kalistratov told the CEG workshop.
ï¿½The systems and machinery, providing buoyancy to the ship donï¿½t meet the technical standards.ï¿½
According to Kalistratov, lack of funding resulted in defects in fire protection and buoyancy systems, while corrosion is eating away at the cruiserï¿½s hull.
The main obstacles to dismantling the Admiral Ushakov are a lack of experience in dealing with such projects, which are far more involved than submarine dismantlement. The sheer size of Russiaï¿½s decommissioned nuclear powered surface vessels mean they have to be dismantled they cannot fit into docking facilities and must be dismantled while still afloat.
Furthermore, there is no legal documentation governing the recharging of reactors aboard such vessels that have never been recharged. Specialists are also wary of the large amounts of toxic waste that could be generated during dismantling procedures.
Despite this, Zvezdochka representatives say their shipyard has the experience to cope with the task. Zvezdochka proposed a plan of co-operation with donor nations and said they will organise an expert meeting to take place in the Northwestern naval city of Severodvinsk next month.
2. Report Breaks New Ground on Nuclear Threat Posed by Russiaï¿½s Northern Fleet
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Russiaï¿½s scrapped atomic submarines pose a serious nuclear threat, a British report published on Friday said, as a leading Russian environmental activist praised the countryï¿½s authorities for ï¿½unprecedentedï¿½ openness in assisting the reportï¿½s authors.
Russia must act to prevent a nuclear accident in northwest Russiaï¿½s Barents Sea region, home to 118 scrapped nuclear submarines as well as spent nuclear fuel storage sites, said Mark Gerchikov, coordinator of the report from British consulting firm National Nuclear Corporation (NNC), funded by the 60-nation European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
ï¿½Certain nuclear installations are in such a state that we cannot exclude a chain reactionï¿½ leading to a nuclear accident, Gerchikov said at the reportï¿½s presentation.
The report is notable for having been written with the cooperation of Russiaï¿½s nuclear energy ministry, after years in which the Russian state tried to quash discussion of the abandoned nuclear submarines and waste sites littering the Barents Sea area.
It focuses on two sites in Murmansk province as being of particular concern, including the Gremikha naval base, where spent nuclear fuel from Alfa class submarines is unloaded.
Radiation levels at the sites are several times higher than recommended limits, yet workers often lack adequate protective clothing, Gerchikov said.
Higher rates of illness noted among children in such areas should be studied in depth, he said.
The 40-page report won ringing endorsement at the presentation from Alexander Nikitin, a former naval officer who spent 11 months in jail on charges of treason and espionage after he published articles about the nuclear threat posed by the northern fleet.
The report is ï¿½a real turning point,ï¿½ Nikitin said.
ï¿½The atomic energy ministry has for the first time made unprecedented sacrifices, publishing secret documents for the first time,ï¿½ Nikitin said.
ï¿½This is the first attempt at dialogue with society on this sensitive problem,ï¿½ said Sergei Baranovski, president of the Russian branch of the Green Cross, an environmental group set up by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Since 1958 Moscow has constructed 450 naval nuclear reactors. Of these two thirds are located in the Barents Sea region, representing 20 percent of the worldï¿½s nuclear reactors.
Western countries and the EBRD have long been involved in trying to resolve the northern fleetï¿½s nuclear problems. In 1999 Britainï¿½s then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, paid a visit to Murmansk to highlight the problem.
The EBRD earlier this year launched a tender for carrying out clean-up work, to be paid for out of its Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Support Fund.
3. Sweden Taking Part in Radiation Safety Program at Navy Shipyards
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Sweden will take part in creation of physical protection at the shipyards Nerpa in Murmansk region and Zvezdochka in Arkhangelsk region.
The physical protection issue was discussed in Stockholm on May 16 with participation of Sweden, Norway, Canada, EBRD and IAEA. The participants came to the conclusion that it is needed $12m and $10m for Nerpa and Zvezdochka accordingly. In 2005-2006 period Sweden pledged to allocate $1m to each shipyard. Sweden also hopes to get more donor-countries through the EBRD.
At the moment the Nerpa shipyard is implementing projects with Germany on construction of the reactor compartments storage facility. Besides, the shipyard signed contracts with the UK and Norway on dismantling two nuclear submarine of Victor-III class. Total the Nerpa shipyard scrapped 37 nuclear submarines, including six sponsored by the USA, ten by Germany and two by Norway.
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