Russia begins cleaning up the Soviets’ top-secret nuclear waste dump
While Rossita left from the dock of Andreyeva Bay, which blew a long bouffonnade, a military band arrived at a signal work. On board the ship were nine sealed metal drums, each four feet high and weighing 45 tons, containing cans of spent nuclear fuel. Dozens of Russian and foreign nuclear experts have watched clapping, while a cold summer rain in the north fell into the bay at the bottom of the Arctic zone of Russia.
The ceremony, which took place late Tuesday, culminated in an international long project to begin the elimination of the nuclear fuel site, formerly a large-scale Soviet facility. Nuclear experts say Andreyeva Bay contains the largest reserves of spent nuclear fuel in the world, in fragile conditions that have disrupted the international community for years.
Spent nuclear fuel stored in the “bottle” at an outdoor site in Andreyeva Bay
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The spent nuclear fuel stored in “bottles” at an outdoor site in Andreyeva Bay.
During the Cold War period, nuclear submarines were refueled at sea and then the spent nuclear fuel was sent to Andreyeva Bay, where it was placed in a special cold storage warehouse previously transported to a reprocessing plant in Mayak , In the Urals. However, in the early 1980s, leaks occurred in the storage system, causing high levels of radioactive contamination.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, spent fuel transfers ceased, and some 22,000 spent nuclear fuel coffers were left in Andreyeva Bay in cold storage units, creating the potential for an environmental catastrophe.
“I went all over the world in almost every country that uses nuclear power and I’ve never seen anything so bad before,” said Alexander Nikitin, a former marine and ecologist who oversaw the site of the years.
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“With nuclear, everything must be done very carefully, and here, they just took the material and threw it into an even more dangerous situation.”
In the decade following the collapse of the USSR, the main concern was that poor facilities could lead to a catastrophe on the site. Nearly 250 nuclear submarines were disarmed in the wake of the Soviet collapse, and facilities like Andreyeva Bay were left in a dangerous state.
“There would not have been a big explosion, but it could have been serious,” Nikitin said. “With nuclear fuel once the process begins, there is no way to know how they will develop.”
Bay Andreyeva in northern Russia
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Bay Andreyeva in northern Russia – a previously secret nuclear waste dump. The tank containing the spent fuel, in the foreground, leaks and should be extremely costly to clean. Photo: Jan-Morten Bjornbakk / Scanpix / AFP / Getty Images
Over the next decade, security issues have also increased. “Before September 11, no one really believes that anyone would be so crazy as to try to handle spent nuclear fuel, but with the new type of terrorist threat we face, this has become a major concern,” said Balthasar Lindauer of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which manages the funds in Western donor countries to help clean up.
The installation of Andreyeva Bay was one of the many top secret facilities in the Soviet Arctic. A two-hour drive from the regional center of Murmansk along a road cut into the gas rock, still covered in snow in late June, the whole area around Andreyeva Bay is closed to all foreigners and even the Russians are not registered. A heavily armed military checkpoint on the outskirts of town keeps all those who do not have a security clearance. This is partly because Russia has a functional nuclear submarine base on the other side of the bay to Zaozyorsk.