Russian radioactive waste to be buried at the shore of the Baltic Sea

Low-and medium-level radioactive waste from North-West Russia the Russian nuclear power plant in Sosnovy Bor on the south coast of the Gulf of Finland has so far been stored temporarily. The high-active and most dangerous waste will be transported by train to Siberia.

Russia is building the country's first permanent repository for low-and medium-level radioactive waste in Sosnovy Bor. A large amount of low-and intermediate-level waste is to be buried beside the old nuclear power plant. In this waste, there are also small amounts of high-level radioactive waste in the form of Plutoniuam-239, which will emit deadly radiation in tens of thousands of years.

Approximately 40 000 rods with spent nuclear fuel is in temporary wet storage in the cooling pools of Leningrad NPP, 90 meters from the Baltic Sea. This equals about 5000 tons of high level radioactive waste. There is no economically reasonable and ecologically acceptable technology for the reprocessing of the spent nuclear fuel. So it should be treated as high level nuclear waste, and not as a raw material for reprocessing into new fuel, as it is in Russia.

Leningrad nuclear power plant  in Sosnovy Bor has produced electricity for decades to meet the needs in Northwest Russia. Now, the storage space for high-level nuclear waste is full. The Russian state nuclear company, Rosatom, is planning to send a train to Siberia  full of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel. Low and medium-level radioactive waste, including contaminated scrap metal (after the reprocessing on Ecomet-S, see box), will be buried in tunnels beneath the sea level in the Gulf of Finland. The Finnish radiation protection authorities see this as a positive project.

- This will be the first facility of its kind in Russia. And of course we support a positive development, says head of nuclear waste, Risto Paltemaa.

The plan in Sosnovy Bor is to dig tunnels in a layer of clay to a depth of 70 meters on the shore of the Baltic Sea. In the kilometer-long tunnels a total of 250,000 cubic meters of low-and intermediate-level waste will be buried. This is equivalent to 2.5 times the volume of the Finnish Parliament building.

After about 500 years, the waste in the tunnels no longer emits dangerous radiation, and will no longer pose a danger to the environment. However, this waste also includes small amounts of plutonium, which is dangerous for tens of thousands of years.

"Further from the beach"

The Russian environmental organization Green World participated in the project's environmental assessment. It demands that plutonium is not stored in the tunnels and that the radioactive waste storage will be located further away from the beach.

- The location of the tunnels is very close to the beach. I think the project is a danger to the environment in the Baltic Sea. It is not acceptable, says the president of Green World, Oleg Bodrov, from Sosnovy Bor.

The Finnish radiation protection agency has the opinion that some plutonium in the waste deposited is not a problem. If the amount is very small, as a preliminary draft of an environmental impact study says, it will not be dangerous.

- The waste can contain a concentration of plutonium up to a certain limit. All waste that is stored must have a safety assessment, which shows that the deposit is not harmful, says Paltemaa from the Finnish radiation protection agency.

Green World's president, Oleg Bodrov, is pessimistic about the Russian government's control of the waste. The problem is that during the Soviet period one did not necessarily differentiate between the high-level waste and waste with low and intermediate radioactive level.
- We have no mechanism that allows us to control what kind of waste that is deposited, said Bodrov.Oleg Bodrov is not satisfied with control of waste

A further clarification is necessary

The local environmental organization is also concerned that radioactive waste from other parts of Russia can be transferred to Sosnovy Bor. According to Green World a processing facility for radioactive metal located in Sosnovy Bor, Ecomet-S, plans to expand its business. This can lead to the import of waste to be deposited.

The City Council of Sosnovy Bor has already asked Rosatom for clarification of the project in an environmental impact assessment. The study is scheduled to be presented at a public hearing in Sosnovy Bor. The hearing has apparently been postponed by the Russian president until after the election of the Russian president in March.

The detailed design of the waste storage is scheduled to begin this year and the infrastructure should be ready next year.

Rosatom could not comment on this case because of time shortage.


BBC News / Antti Koistinen

The article is adapted from a news item published on February 11th 2012. Here is the link: