Russia to dismantle foreign decommissioned submarines and store their spent fuel

The dismantling of one nuclear submarine is evaluated at tens of millions of dollars

Russia plans to start dismantling foreign decommissioned nuclear submarines. The head of the Russian Atomic Power Ministry Alexander Rumyantsev stated yesterday that the idea had a point in theory, for Russia possesses the necessary capacity for such works. However, the issue brings up another problem of storing spent nuclear fuel of submarine reactors. According to the minister, the fuel will be kept in the countries, which own decommissioned submarines. The minister specified, though, that such a measure would be practiced “at the start.” The statement from the minister for atomic power has raised serious concerns with Russian ecologists. They believe that the spent nuclear fuel will eventually be buried in Russia: the adequate law about it was passed in 2001.

For the time being Russia dismantles only Russian nuclear cruisers, albeit with foreign states' help. Russia receives up to $100 million a year for this purpose, the minister said. Russia has special agreements signed on the matter with the USA, Canada, Japan and with EU states. Additional $70 million are assigned from the Russian budget. “About 120 nuclear submarines have already been dismantled, some 80 more are left. We currently utilize 15 submarines a year – the works are to be over within five or six years,” Rumyantsev said.

When Russia finishes working with its own decommissioned submarines, it will be ready to take up foreign ones. The minister said yesterday that American, French and British subs could be utilized in Russia. Alexander Rumyantsev said that foreign states will be able to save considerable funds, if they decide to utilize their submarines with the help of capacities that Russia has for this purpose. Russia may obtain good profit for its services as well: dismantling one nuclear submarine is evaluated at tens of millions of dollars.

Experts believe that such cooperation will involve current submarine-dismantling capacities at a much bigger scale. “Russia currently dismantles the submarines, which were made in 1960-1970s. When these works end, the size of the navy will not let the withdrawal of outdated vessels fill in all available capacities,” the director of the Moscow office of the defense information center, Ivan Safranchuk said. The specialist thinks that the service of the Russian Atomic Power Ministry could be in demand in foreign countries. The USA has the necessary capacity to dismantle its own decommissioned submarines, although the French navy, for example, is too young – France has not confronted with the problem yet.

On the other hand, Russia is not likely to make good money on such an endeavor. Russia owns the dismantling capacities indeed, although they were created with the participation of foreign states. Ivan Safranchuk, therefore, believes that other countries will most likely ask for a considerable discount for the liquidation of their submarines.

The central problem of the entire issue is connected with the storage and procession of spent nuclear fuel from submarine reactors. As it was mentioned above, the Russian minister for atomic power believes that spent nuclear fuel should be removed from nuclear reactors in the countries, which own decommissioned submarines. However, it is not ruled out that the fuel will eventually find itself buried on the Russian territory.

”When submarines are dismantled, their radioactive dirt will most likely be kept in Russia for good,” the head of the center for ecological politics, Aleksei Yablokov said. “We do not need additional radioactive problems,” said he.

When Russian law-makers were working on the law, which allowed to store spent nuclear fuel in Russia, ecologists also feared that the document would become the first step on the way to turn Russia into a nuclear dump. The utilization of spent nuclear fuel is a profitable business indeed: it can bring up to $20 billion in 20 years to Russia. However, Russia has not signed any important agreements to import foreign nuclear fuel yet.

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Author`s name Olga Savka