Thousands of tons of nuclear wastes to travel across Russia

Fuel waste from nuclear power plants will be placed in the new storage facility - in the depths of Siberian mines. The plans to transport thousands of tons of waste from nuclear reactors have caused fierce protests from environmentalists. However, the first train of the waste from Leningrad NPP will be sent to "dry" storage at Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Complex in the near future.

"Dry" storage is considered safer than "wet" one, when nuclear material is placed in a tank with water that acts as a defensive barrier to radiation. In "dry" storages nuclear waste is stored in special capsules and can safely and, most importantly, harmlessly to the environment, sit there for half a century.

The first "dry" storage in Zheleznogorsk was built in the fall of 2010, and today, according to head of Rosatom Sergey Kiriyenko, this complex has no analogues in the world. Prior to this the plant used temporary "wet" storage built nearly thirty years ago.

According to Sergei Novikov, director of Communications Department of Rosatom, it is much safer to keep nuclear waste in permanent, rather than temporary storage. At the "dry" storage fuel waste is stored until it is ready for processing. Today in Russia only 16 percent of the fuel waste is processed, although Rosatom plans to bring this number to 100 percent by 2020. By that time more effective ways to recycle nuclear waste will be available.

Typically, the nuclear waste and nuclear-powered submarines are sent to storage or to Zheleznogorsk, or at "Mayak" plant in Kyshtym city of Chelyabinsk region. The fuel waste from RBMK-100 (used at Chernobyl. - Ed.) is usually stored in the same place where it was used. According to the estimates by the Russian branch of Greenpeace, now 18 thousand tons of fuel waste is stored in the vaults, 10 thousand being the result of work of the RBMK-1000 reactors that are still used at Kursk, Smolensk and Leningrad NPP.

"Transportation of nuclear materials by rail is a common practice done every year. However, this year it is planned to send 96 trains, which is several times more than usual", says Vladimir Chuprov, head of energy program Greenpeace Russia. Experts of the organization believe that ideally nuclear waste must be stored in the same place where they are produced.  

Chuprov agrees that "dry" storage is safer than "wet", but notes that this practice does not eliminate risk factors such as railway track damage due to heavy load and probability of a terrorist attack at the trains passing through the major cities, such as Novosibirsk. This is why the train with fuel waste from Leningrad NPP has been targeted by the Siberian environmentalists.

"This is not the solution - it's just moving it to another region," says Oleg Bodrov, head of St. Petersburg organization Greenworld. "We have spoken with our colleagues from Krasnoyarsk, and are planning protest campaigns." Bodrov, a resident of Sosnovy Bor of Leningrad region, learned of the impending shipment of radioactive cargo from the workers of the Leningrad NPP. The train is expected to be launched in late January if everything goes smoothly, Bodrov says.

"Mayak" and Zheleznogorsk operate not only in Russia - the storage accepts nuclear waste from Finland, Slovakia and Bulgaria that obtain the fuel from "Rosatom." The import of nuclear waste into the country is forbidden by law, but with a caveat: only those wastes that cannot be recycled cannot be imported. Currently there is only one processing company in the country - notorious Chelyabinsk "Mayak".

Natalia Sinitsa.

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov