Last Cold War submarine ready for scrapping

Reactor compartments from scrapped Cold War nuclear powered submarines are stored here at a central storage pad in Saida Bay. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Russia signs contract with Italy to cover the cost for decommissioning the last remaining Northern Fleet nuclear submarine no longer in operation. But there are still more than 70 reactor compartments to be taken safely onshore to this storage in Saida Bay.


Rosatom, Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation has for years been looking for a funder to cover the costs of scrapping the last of the 120 retired nuclear powered submarines that was sailing for the Northern fleet during the Cold War. Now, Italy agrees to pay €7 million to cut out the reactor-compartment from the submarine, currently laid up at Nerpa naval yard on the Kola Peninsula, reports AtomInfo.

The United States will grant €1 million to cover the cost of transportation of the spent nuclear fuel from the submarines two reactors to Russia’s reprocessing plant in Mayak in the South Urals.

The deal is a part of the funding provided via the Global Partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction, initiated by the G8 countries in 2002.

Scrapping of Cold War nuclear powered submarines started with U.S. funding in Severodvinsk in the early 90ties and continued with rusty submarines laid up at the many naval bases and yards on Russia’s coast to the Barents Sea.  

In addition to the G8 countries, funding to scrap retired nuclear powered submarines has also been provided by Norway. The fear was that the old submarines could sink at port and cause radioactive leakages to the marine life in Arctic waters.

Although the submarines are cut up and the metal is sent to recycling, the reactor compartments are still highly radioactive and should be stored safely onshore for decades. For that purpose, a huge onshore storage pad is built in the Saida Bay, west of Murmansk towards the border to Norway.

The first stage of the facility was commissioned in 2006 at a cost of more than €150 million, as reported by BarentsObserver visiting the site. 

Today, the storage pad holds 47 reactor compartments. Head of the submarine dismantlement office of Rosatom, Anatoly Zaharchev, says to RIA Novosti that seven more reactor compartments will be taken onshore in Saida Bay in August and September this year.

“With the seven more this year, there will be 54 in Saida Bay. That is more than 40 percent of the total reactor compartments in question,” says Zaharchev. Or, in other words; 66 reactor compartments are still awaiting safe onshore storage.  

Russia has granted 50 million rubles (€1,25 million) for 2012 to prepare reactor compartments for storage in Saida Bay. The same amount will be provided in 2013.

The Russian Northern fleet still has more than 20 nuclear powered submarines in operation and several more are under testing and construction.