Voice-over: - Nuclear fleet of the former Soviet Union greatly outnumbered nuclear fleets of other European countries and the USA. Five nuclear powered surface ships, about 250 nuclear powered submarines, one container ship and seven nuclear powered icebreakers were built in Russia from 1955 to 2000. The fleet is gradually getting old and creates a danger of radioactive accidents and environmental disasters. More than 180 nuclear powered ships are now out of operation, but there is still lack of resources and experience for their timely and safe dismantlement. Decommissioning of nuclear service ships is even more complicated matter.
Today Russia operates more than 90 nuclear service ships and barges, which transport and store spent nuclear fuel, liquid and solid radioactive waste. No country in the world needs such a numerous nuclear service ship fleet. Nuclear powered ships in other countries are served at specialised bases. The situation is different in Russia.
|Sergey Zhavoronkin - a head of environmental non-government organisation Bellona-Murmansk.|
Voice-over: 70 operational and retired service ships and barges are in Northwest Russia. More than 50 of them pose a danger to the environment and will be dismantled.
Experts consider that one of the main sources of nuclear and radiation danger is Lepse ship, which is moored two kilometers away from Murmansk.
|Vasiliy Krasovsky captain of Lepse (1998-2002)|
Vasiliy Krasovsky captain of Lepse (1998-2002):
Murmansk Shipping Company operated this ship since 1962. The ships main duties were to serve nuclear powered icebreakers and refuel their reactors.
Andrey Zolotkov - deputy of the USSR (1989-1991); author of a book Facts and problems of nuclear waste dumping in the seas, washing the Russian Federation -- The White Book:
Lepse started to glow in three years after.
Voice-over: At those times Lepse participated in radioactive waste dumping in the Barents and Kara Seas - a common practice for that period. The ship went to its last mission and met a great storm in the Kara Sea in 1984. Radioactive water splashed out into the storage compartment and contaminated it so heavily that complete deactivation was impossible. The radiation level of all the Lepse facilities, which were increased by that accident, complicates the process of ships dismantlement. Lepse has been moored in the outskirts of Murmansk for more than 15 years and represents more potential nuclear threat with each passing year.
|Nils Bohmer nuclear expert of Bellona-Foundation|
Voice-over: A crew of 18 people have been maintaining Lepse and providing nuclear and radiation safety since the ship was moored at its current location.
At the moment the technical condition of the ship is satisfactory. The wearing out of the ships hull is 30% and higher in some places. In order to normalize the radiation situation on the ship all its facilities have been deactivated; the ship has protection barriers inside tanks FOR STORAGE OF SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL, repaired unloading fuel systems and modern radiation monitoring equipment. Liquid radioactive waste was removed from the ship. All the systems responsible for nuclear and radiation safety are operational, which is officially documented by the state control.
Spent nuclear fuel storage consists of two tanks and is located between hull and lower deck, under the lid you are looking at. The tanks are situated in a special facility. Its walls are made of various types of steel. The walls are 40-45 centimeters thick. Each tank contains 366 cases. The cases now store 621 assemblies; 208 assemblies are 36 years old, others are more than 20.
Special concrete fills the space between the tanks in order to make an extra protection barrier. The tanks are cooled down by 24 tonnes of fresh water. The tape is not defected; the ripple is caused by radiation. Shootings inside the cases were done by specially designed camera.
There are four caissons special casks for damaged assemblies near each tank. Each caisson contains 18 defective assemblies. Assemblies are stored in caissons because they changed their shape and swelled as a result of operation in nuclear reactor and cannot be put into standard cases. It is impossible to unload these assemblies in a regular way. Lepse also contains tanks with liquid radioactive waste and 30 containers with solid low radioactive waste.
|Frederic Hauge president of Bellona Foundation.|
Since 1994, Bellona worked to get international funding, got the right technology that can stay in the region, and solved also other problems. We have had the special focus on the people who are the real heroes safeguarding the ship , therefore we havebuilt the Lepse village which should make better working conditions for the people working. In the future, we hope now that problems of liability and tax exemption are solved and we look forward to go on with the work to secure this very dangerous nuclear fuel.
In the beginning of May Fredric Hauge - president of Bellona Foundation - gave a symbolic key from the Lepse Village to Stanislav Golovinskiy director of nuclear icebreaker fleet and to Vasiliy Krassovskiy, captain of the ship.
Lepse Village is a small part of the grand project of the ship remediation. It started 17 years ago, when Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Council of Ministers of the USSR signed a special resolution in September 10th 1986.
|Fuel rods inside Lepse.|
Voice-over: Various agencies discussed a necessity of the ship decommissioning more than 12 times before 1992, but neither financing nor actual decommissioning work were carried out. Scientific Research Institute and Minatom Bureau of Constructions started to work out the project of Lepse decommissioning in 1992. That work halted again in 1994.
Later efforts of Murmask Shipping Company and Bellona foundation led to the Lepse project inclusion in a plan of Euro-Arctic (Barents) Region activities for 1994-1995. Active joint actions of the Murmansk Shipping Company and Bellona drew attention of the European Commission to the problems of the ship. French SNG and English AEA Technology won a tender for implementation of spent nuclear fuel unloading from Lepse in the frame of TACIS Program. The companies examined Lepse's storage tanks and worked out a method to manage the damaged fuel, but did not consider technical problems of unloading fuel from caissons and the overall decommissioning of the ship.
Voice-over: Norway, France, the Great Britain and Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation, or NEFCO, participated in the work of the Steering Committee of the international environmental project Lepse, established in 1995.
The project had not been launched for a long time because of the unresolved problem of nuclear liability between Russia and donor-countries. Participants of the Committee meeting in France in October 1996 decided that each party should make its own contribution to the project. Foreign participants were to finance equipment and robotics manufacturing and technologies; Murmansk Shipping Company was to unload the ship and reload the fuel into a special train. Russian Government was responsible for the fuel transportation to the Mayak reprocessing plant and its safe storage there.
|Operation at the nuclear fuel storage facility.|
Russia signed the necessary document with France in 2000 and an agreement of cooperation in nuclear-environmental issues between Russia and NEFCO in 2002, where the parties included the Lepse project as a separate line item.
Recently NEFCO announced 13m euros grant allocation for the unloading of the fuel from the ship. Russia, France, Netherlands, Norway and the European Commission will finance the project.
Russia does not have $30m, needed to implement the project of the Lepse decommissioning and nobody is sure that western financing will cover all the expenses. French SGN company says that the biggest part of finances for the first phase of the project will be spent on the paper work, which will be carried out by that company. For example, preparation of documents for project licensing, design documentation and preliminary report with analysis of safety will cost about 1.1m euros; but unloading the fuel operation by employees of the Murmansk shipping company will cost 200,000 euros only. Taking into account the different approach to mathematics and methods of money spending, Murmansk Shipping Company suggested existing technology implementation, tested in the Russian Far East.
Despite the high cost, Russian variant of the ship decommissioning means participation of the skilled French partners, who are to deliver robotics and make technical and environmental study of the project. Employees of the Murmansk Shipping Company, who work on service ships and nuclear powered icebreakers will implement all the technical work.
|Atomic ice-breaker Rossia.|
First of all, the workers will unload all the oil and pump out water, cut superstructure, and then transfer the radioactive waste to the onshore or to other ships.
Then they will start unloading the damaged fuel, as it is the most complicated operation. A special machine will cut off the curved tips of defective assemblies. Then workers will cut out cases with the assemblies and dry them in a special facility in order to put them into protection casks. Then the casks will be loaded into railway cars and transported to the Mayak reprocessing plant.
|Service ship Imandra.|
Other nuclear service ships with fewer problems than Lepse are the next to be decommissioned.
Nobody knows what to do with uranium-zirconium cladding fuel, which cannot be reprocessed. It is stored on service ship Lotta. Today Lotta and Imandra service ships store 14 reactor cores of uranium-zirconium fuel, which contain more than 3,000 assemblies. These two ships can store 22 reactor cores as maximum. Low tempo of spent nuclear fuel unloading from nuclear powered icebreakers and submarines, three-year period of its storage onboard service ships before it can be transported to Mayak can lead to a critical situation with the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel on these ships. But this is another story and we hope it will take less time than the still unfinished Lepse project.
It is a shame if Lepse will anyway exist as a ship, which scares Europe.
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