At the time of this project, the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions of North-West Russia were producing large amounts of radioactive wastes and spent fuel. These arose at the Kola nuclear power plant, from icebreakers and light cargo vessels used by the Murmansk Shipping Company, at research institutions, from submarine and surface vessels from the Northern Fleet, and from medical, industrial and other sources. Of this large number of nuclear reactors present in the North-West region of Russia, more than 50 percent were still in operation, and most of the others still had their fuel in-situ. Until shortly before this project, most of the liquid waste and part of the solid waste (including the spent fuel inside a few reactors) had been dumped in the Barents and Kara Sea. Some of the solid waste had been disposed of at the shores of the island Novaya Zemblaya.
The remaining waste and a large part of the spent fuel were in storage in temporary surface or even floating facilities lacking state-of-the-art safety structures. The waste producing organizations still had neither installations for proper waste treatment and disposal nor the financing and know how necessary for constructing and operating such facilities. Most of the ships that had been decommissioned still had the final batch of fuel inside the reactors. Some of the spent fuel was damaged and some was experimental, which posed potential problems as far as handling, transportation and final disposal were concerned. It was considered that if urgent measures were not implemented, the fast increasing amount of spent fuel as well as the storage conditions could create serious safety problems, not only to the population of the region, but also to neighbouring countries. To overcome these shortcomings, facilities for the final disposal of radioactive waste had to be designed, constructed and commissioned. In the interim period, until these facilities were operational, the existing facilities for interim storage of waste had to be improved and expanded or even renewed. Furthermore the existing safety problem could be improved drastically by limiting the duration of the storage of the spent fuel before shipping to reprocessing facilities elsewhere in Russia and by improving the storage conditions.
In view of the above, the European Commission agreed to include a number of projects to deal with the above safety concerns in the TACIS 1995 Nuclear Safety Programme. However, firstly, the present contract was established with the following objectives:
- To prepare the programme for technical assistance to address the problems with radioactive waste and spent fuel in North-West Russia
- To prepare the Terms of Reference for the different projects in this programme and have them endorsed by the Russian beneficiaries
- To assist the European Commission in the preparation and the evaluation of the technical parts of the tenders.
The contract was signed on 12 May 1995. A visit to North-West Russia took place in June 1995 to discuss with the concerned Russian organisations and a first coherent programme was developed comprising four projects. A second trip to the region took place in September 1995 to further discuss and develop the details of the draft programme, to organise a Liaison Group, comprising four organisations - Minatom, the Russian Academy of Science and the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Administrations - who would act together as the beneficiaries of the four projects, and to develop the technical requirements needed to prepare the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the four projects. The ToR were prepared and sent for endorsement to the Russian beneficiaries.
In April 1996, a third trip to the region took place in order to try to solve delays that were occurring in the process of endorsement of the ToRs. The trip was effective and endorsement was obtained.
Thereafter, the calls for tender of the four projects were launched and the tender evaluations took place in late 1996 and early 1997. All four tender procedures were successful and contracts were signed for all four projects.
The projects developed under the present contract are briefly described below:
- R4.10/95: Improvement of the safety of radioactive waste management in the north-west region of Russia; Disposal of radioactive waste (see Contract 24500)
The main objective of this project was to assist in the development of an underground repository for the safe disposal of all radioactive waste, arising in the North-West Region of Russia.
The Government of the Russian Federation planned to carry out underground disposal in deep geological formations in the North-West Region, taking advantage of the favourable geological setting and other propitious characteristics of the Kola Peninsula, and of the Arkhangelsk Region.
As a first step, some preliminary planning and other preparatory activities were being carried out by the Mining Institute of Kola's Science Centre, a member of the Russian Academy of Science.
The specific work of the project was intended to develop various non-site-specific engineering solutions and concepts for waste containment and isolation. In addition a limited set of sites, suitable for disposal were to be identified. Each of these sites had to be evaluated with regard to aspects such as: required development work, investments, operational costs, logistics and safety. The design also had to include a conceptual design of the necessary surface infrastructure and underground installations and equipment. After consultation with the Russian authorities, one of the sites was to be selected as the preferred one.
- R4.11/95: Improvement of the safety of radioactive waste management in the north-west region of Russia; Interim Storage (see Contract 24616)
The main objective of this project was to increase the safety of interim storage of spent fuel and radioactive waste, already accumulated in the North-West Region of Russia and still arising.
The specific work of the project was to assess the safety of all existing and planned facilities for the temporary storage of radioactive waste and spent fuel, to analyse the possibilities to improve the safety of these facilities to EU standards, to estimate whether the existing facilities would have sufficient capacity to bridge the time until a final repository became available and to prepare the construction of new facilities in case additional storage capacity is needed.
- R4.12/95: Improvement of the safety of radioactive waste management in the north-west region of Russia; Spent Fuel (see Contract 24637)
The main objective of this project was to decrease the risk of spent fuel in the North-West of Russia by decreasing the amount of spent fuel accumulated in the Regions of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and to limit the duration of the storage period to an acceptable amount of time.
The specific work of the project was to assess the possibilities to ship all accumulated spent fuel within a reasonable time to the corresponding reprocessing facilities elsewhere in Russia, in order to reach a more normalized situation for the interim storage of a limited amount of spent fuel in safe storages in the North-West of Russia. This assessment included the spent fuel, inside a few reactors, dumped in the past in the Barents and Kara sea's.
- R4.13/95: Improvement of the safety of radioactive waste management in the north-west region of Russia; Regional radioactive waste management (see Contract 24657)
The main objective of this project was to set up a Regional Steering Committee for the management of radioactive waste arising in the Murmansk and the Arkhangelsk regions of Russia, to develop a common waste management policy for North-West Russia and to set up a special organization which would be responsible for the construction and operation of a regional repository for radioactive waste.