Prepares for Arctic nuclear waste shipping

This is the first image of what will be Russia's new ice-classed vessel for transport of nuclear waste in the Arctic.

Russian research institute designs ice-classed cargo vessel for transport of spent nuclear fuel and reactors in the Arctic. Nuclear expert is worried it could be used to import nuclear waste.


Earlier this week, BarentsObserver presented Russia’s road-map for selecting locations for nuclear waste permafrost repositories in the Barents Region. Now, the Krylov State Research Centre in St. Petersburg make public a plan for a special designed vessel for transport of nuclear waste in Arctic waters. 

The plans triggers fear in neighboring Norway.   

“I think it is very important that Norway and Russia have an open dialog about safe handling of nuclear waste in Arctic waters,” says Rune Rafaelsen, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat. 

“I suggest this topic could be raised for discussion at next week’s meeting of the Barents Ministers of Environment,” says Rafaelsen. The meeting starts on Wednesday in Inari, northern Finland.

Not safe
Nils Bøhmer is nuclear physicist with the Bellona Foundation. He says to BarentsObserver that transportation of spent nuclear fuel in Arctic waters is very difficult to perform in a safe way.  

“First of all the weather conditions are harsh and there are extra challenges due to ice-condition, for example risk of icing of the vessel itself.  There is also a lack of Search- and Rescue capabilities in the Arctic and the long distance will make a rescue operation very challenging,” says Nils Bøhmer.

Import of nuclear waste to Russia
Bøhmer is afraid the new ice-classed vessel could be used to import nuclear waste from other countries to Russia.

“Based on the number of repositories that the Russian authorities are planning in the Arctic and the plans to develop this new ice-classed spent nuclear fuel transport vessel, it is very likely that import of foreign waste to Russia will take place in the future,” argues Bøhmer. Bellona last week published their views on the Russian repository plans.

Read also: Secreat nuclear cargo shipped around Norway

Designed for non-equipped ports
The 140 meter long roll-on, roll-off vessel will make it possible to serve ports that don’t have special cranes or other facilities normally needed to handle containers with dangerous goods.  

Krylov Research Centre says in the prospect that no similar vessels allowed transporting nuclear waste exists today for Arctic waters. The vessel will have icebreaking hull and double bottom and sides for the cargo area. The designers at the center have extensive experience in both designing vessels for ice-covered waters and nuclear material. The re-designed Prirazlomnaya platform Gazprom operates in the Pechora Sea and several nuclear powered submarines and surface vessels are designed by what is today the Krylov Research Center.

Murmansk with it’s service-base for nuclear powered icebreakers is today the only harbour that today is equipped with facilities to serve the new nuclear waste cargo vessel. 

Chukotka voyage
The vessel will operate all along Russia’s northern coast. One mission is said to be the transport of spent nuclear fuel and decommissioned reactors from the Bilibino nuclear heat power plant at Chukotka, an operation planned to start in 2019.

The new vessel could also serve Russia’s floating nuclear power plants to be located in the waters north of Siberia. The first, named “Akademik Lomonosov” is currently under construction in St. Petersburg and will be towed to Chukotka when ready.  

MoU singed in Italy during Putin’s visit
Which shipyard that will build the vessel is not decided, but Krylov State Research Center and the Italian shipbuilding group Fincantieri this summer signed a framework agreement to cooperate in several maritime sectors. Fincantieri’s Muggiano yard delivered in 2011 to Russia the vessel “Rossita” aimed for safe carriage of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste from decommissioned submarines along the coast of the Kola Peninsula. “Rossita” has not yet transported any nuclear fuel and is today based at the nuclear powered icebreakers’ service base Atomflot in Murmansk. 

Last week, when President Vladimir Putin visited Italy, Fincantieri signed a MoU with Russia covering the construction of a nuclear waste disposal barge supposed to transport reactor compartments from decommissioned submarines from Severodvinsk to Saida-bay storage on the coast of the Kola Peninsula.

Read more BarentsObserver articles on nuclear safety.