Reactors stored safely onshore

Submarine reactor storage in Saida bay. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

SAIDA BAY: The reactor compartments from the five nuclear powered submarines decommissioned with Norwegian financial assistance are now safely stored onshore in the Saida bay on the Kola Peninsula.


Last week, a Norwegian delegation led by State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elisabeth Walaas, visited the Saida bay. The Norwegian representatives could see the five reactor compartments lined up on the storage pad, each marked with the submarine’s serial number.

All in all, 33 reactor compartments are currently stored at the German-financed newly constructed storage pad. This first stage of the facility was commissioned in 2006 at a cost of more than 150 million Euros.

Many more than today’s 33 compartments are waiting to be taken onshore. In the water just outside the new onshore storage site, several tens of reactor compartments from scrapped submarines are floating. Other countries are also providing financial grants for scrapping older submarines from the Russian Northern fleet. In addition to Norway, they are South Korea, Italy, Canada, United Kingdom, Japan, France and others.

In total, reactor compartments from 120 retired submarines are to be stored in the Saida bay. While still floating at the different naval bases and naval yards, the submarines represented a danger of accidents or radiation leakages, and by that constituted a threat to the marine environment.

Norway was the first foreign country to initiate financial assistance for decommissioning multi-purpose submarines from the Russian navy. From before, some 30 strategic nuclear powered submarines were scrapped with technical and financial assistance from the USA as a part of the arms reduction agreements. The work to scrap the first two Norwegian financed submarines started in the autumn 2003. The cutting of the submarines themselves took place at the naval yards in Severodvinsk near Arkhangelsk and Nerpa near Murmansk.

Another submarine that Norway gave financial assistance to the decommissioning followed in 2005 and yet another followed in 2006. All the four submarines were of the Victor-class.

The last Norwegian financed scrapping of a retired submarine was done with a co-share of the expenses’ together with the United Kingdom. This last submarine, a first generation of the November class, was originally laid-up at the closed down naval base Gremikha, east on the Kola Peninsula. From Gremikha the submarine was taken to Naval yard No. 10 in Polyarny where the spent nuclear fuel was lifted out. Then the submarine was cut up at the Nerpa yard, before the reactor compartment was taken to the Saida bay earlier this year.

The huge compartments now stored onshore in the Saida bay consists of the submarine’s reactor room, each holding two reactors where the metal in the tanks and tubes are still radioactive, even if all the spent uranium fuel is removed.

In addition to the concrete pad where the compartments themselves are placed, the facility in Saida will, when ready, consist of a pier for a floating dock, a repair hall where the enormous reactor compartments can be taken in-door for needed work, several auxiliary buildings, roads and external infrastructure. Already, the radiation protection system is in place.

It is not only compartments from submarine reactors that can be placed in Saida. Also, the radioactive parts of nuclear service vessels to be decommissioned in the future can end its days at the storage site in Saida.

As a continuation of the constructions in Saida bay it is also planned a Regional Centre for management and storage of radioactive waste. Such centre will receive, decontaminate and pack solid radioactive waste. The centre could also play a crucial role for in the entire radioactive clean-up and safety work now going on at several location on the Kola Peninsula, like the old and not satisfactory storage sites in Andreeva bay and Gremikha.

According to German estimates such radioactive management centre will cost another €300 million.