EBRD to help Russia clean up nuclear legacy

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has granted Russia over 70 million euros for disposing of scrapped nuclear ships and submarines moored at naval bases in Russia's northwest.

Russia's state nuclear corporation (Rosatom) and the EBRD signed four relevant agreements on June 5.

The EBRD is managing the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) Support Fund in the Baltic and Barents Seas. The concept was developed in 2001, when Russia and the international community decided to collaborate in dealing with the serious environmental problems in Russia's northwest.

The EU countries and partner states in the region (Iceland, Norway and Russia) combined forces, experience and funds for the task. The Northern Dimension, arguing that northern eco-system was particularly fragile, focused its attention on the environmental aspects of the project, above all nuclear safety.

The partners formulated a Strategic Masterplan for addressing the nuclear legacy in Northwest Russia, and set up a structure to implement it. The projects involved will cost as much as 2 billion euros and should be implemented by 2025.

The purpose of the Masterplan is to dismantle the scrapped submarines and other nuclear propelled vessels, and to restore the shore bases that supported the operation of these vessels into an environmentally acceptable condition.

"The largest contract, worth 43 million euros, is related to the former service ship Lepse, which contains damaged spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste and is moored in Murmansk," the bank said in a press release.

Europeans describe the ship, moored in Murmansk barely 45 km (28 miles) from the border with Norway, as a floating Chernobyl.

Lepse was laid down in Nikolayev in southern Russia in 1934 as a maintenance vessel. Under the five-year project to safely decommission it the damaged fuel and radioactive waste will be removed from the ship and taken to the Mayak chemical plant near Chelyabinsk in the Urals. After that, the ship itself will be cut into metal chips.

Another project, worth 20 million euros, will finance a system for spent fuel transport and buffer storage in Andreyev Bay, where "some 22,000 spent nuclear fuel assemblies from nuclear-powered submarines and icebreakers are kept in unsafe conditions." The project is to last three years.

The ships in Andreyev Bay, close to the Norwegian border, carry so much radioactive waste that some experts fear a minor nuclear explosion could be provoked by a spontaneous chain reaction in the barrels containing nuclear fuel assemblies. If this happened nuclear fallout would cover the Barents Sea and neighboring territories.

Russia has taken measures to reduce the risk, but has not been able to solve the problem safely. The situation in the bay is expected to improve considerably thanks to the EBRD-financed project, which provides for removing the nuclear fuel assemblies to other parts of Russia for safe storage or processing.

The third, 5.6-million euro project will finance the defueling of Papa-class submarines in order to "improve the environmental situation and reduce risks of nuclear and radiological accidents."

The fourth grant, worth 5.1 million euro, covers the improvement of the radiation monitoring and emergency response system in the Arkhangelsk Region by installing a modern monitoring and communications systems as well as emergency plans covering all nuclear hazard facilities in the region.

The project to make safe the Papa-class submarines that were scrapped upon the expiry of their service life and are now moored in the Severodvinsk naval base on the White Sea, will be implemented by the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety and Rosatom within 30 months.

The creation of the modern radiation monitoring system will take approximately the same time. It involves the introduction of modern control and communication systems and the drafting of action plans for emergencies at all of Russia's hazardous nuclear facilities. A similar system is operating in the Murmansk Region.

Russia cannot get rid of its dangerous Soviet nuclear legacy singlehanded. Aware of the threat this poses, Europe has decided to finance the relevant projects.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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