When the Soviet Union collapsed a vast store of spent nuclear fuel was abandoned in the Russian Arctic – an environmental disaster waiting to happen. Decades later an international clean-up has finally begun. As the Rossita pulled away from the pier at Andreyeva Bay, sounding a long boom of its horn, a military band struck up a jaunty march. On board the ship were nine sealed metal casks, each four metres high and weighing 45 tonnes, containing canisters of spent nuclear fuel. Dozens of Russian and foreign nuclear specialists looked on applauding, as the chilly rain of a northern summer fell on the bay deep inside the Russian Arctic. The ceremony, held on Tuesday afternoon, marks the culmination of a long international project to begin removing nuclear fuel fro m the site, formerly a top-secret Soviet installation. Nuclear specialists say Andreyeva Bay contains the largest reserves of spent nuclear fuel in the world, in fragile conditions that have disturbed the international community for years. During the Cold War period, nuclear submarines were refuelled at sea, and the spent nuclear fuel was then shipped to Andreyeva Bay, where it was placed in a special storage facility to cool off before being transported to a reprocessing plant at Mayak, in the Urals. But in the early 1980s, leaks sprung up in the storage system, causing high levels of radioactive contamination. When the Soviet Union collapsed, transfers of the spent fuel ceased, and about 22,000 spent nuclear fuel caskets were left at Andreyeva Bay in leaky dry storage units, creating the potential for an environmental catastrophe.
Guardian 2nd July 2017 read more »