August 16, 2019

RUSSIA CONSOLIDATES SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL FROM RESEARCH FACILITIES AT MAYAK

Spent nuclear fuel accumulated for 70 years at research reactors of the Kurchatov Institute National Research Center in Moscow and the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (one of the seven research centers within the Research Center Kurchatov Institute) will be removed over the next three years.

The contract of 654.5 million Rubles (almost USD $10 million) will be funded by the Federal budget. The money will be transferred to Kurchatov Institute through the Ministry of Science and Higher Education managing the Institute starting 11 September 2019.
The program will take place from 2019 until 2021, the plan is for removal to begin in November of this year. Based on the contract, Kurchatov Institute will have to accomplish the following tasks:
  • Conduct an inventory of SNF of wide range fuel assembles for research reactors and facilities (VVER, RBMK, VM, OK, AST, Romashka)
  • Sort and identify SNF by type of fuel in a hot cell with the extraction of radioactive contents from the containers
  • Pack new containers with SNF, fuel assembles or its elements separated by type and composition of the fuel in hot cell in accordance with established requirements for packaging design and transportation of nuclear materials
  • Collect a batch of containers with at least 1072 spent fuel assembles
  • Load batches into packaging containers and transport them for reprocessing to Mayak processing facility by special trains
The first batch will include at least 320 SNF assemblies. The majority of these assemblies will be removed from PNPI's WWR-M reactor in Gatchina, Leningrad Region. The smaller portion of 64 assemblies will be removed from the Moscow Institute.

Established in 1943 as Laboratory #2 of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Kurchatov Institute was tasked with the development of nuclear weapons. Since the 1950s, the Institute has also worked on non-military nuclear energy technologies. The majority of research reactors at Kurchatov Institute have been in operation with highly-enriched uranium fuel since the late 1950s and early 1960s.

One of the major challenges with nuclear fuel at research facilities is that large share of this fuel has not been properly measured for accounting purposes and exact amount of nuclear materials is not known – this creates additional nuclear security vulnerability, as theft or other loss of nuclear material cannot be properly detected. Work under the subject contract includes taking inventory of SNF. According to Federal Norms and Rules NP-083-2015 Basic Rules of Nuclear Materials Accounting and Control widely known by its Russian acronym OPUK, which is referred in the contract as one of the documents establishing performance requirements, nuclear materials inventory taking implies confirmation of mass and isotopic composition of nuclear material. Hence, this contract can potentially help resolving the issue.

The contract stipulates that the removal of SNF accumulated for the past 70 years is intended to help resolving a series of nuclear legacy problems and improve the nuclear and radiation safety level for scientists, the population and the environment of the Moscow and Leningrad regions as well as reducing the risk of emergencies at nuclear and radiation hazardous facilities.

Sources:
1. Information on Contract N1971006293919000084
2. "Spent nuclear fuel accumulated for 70 years at research reactors of Moscow and St. Petersburg will be removed within three years", August 2, 2019
3. National Research Center Kurchatov Institute – Brief History

Photo: PNPI