Russian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Dismantlement and Related Activities

Cristina Hansell Chuen
May 24, 2007

A look at the development of the Strategic Master Plan for Northwest Russia (SMP), examining the perspectives that are informing the choice of project priorities, transparency issues, coordination, timing, and cost-effectiveness.

At the current time, Russian planning in the area of submarine dismantlement chiefly reflects the objectives and priorities of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom), without sufficient concern for the aims and concerns of local inhabitants or Russia’s foreign assistance partners. This is amplified by the fact that to date plan developers have not shared information beyond a small group of experts. Furthermore, key strategic questions remain unanswered and without a well-defined process for solving them at a later stage. The most important of these are related to the management of solid radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Russian Nuclear-Powered Submarine Dismantlement: Two Damaged Submarines

Two Damaged Submarines, Source: Rosatom

Two of the submarines currently in floating storage in the Russian Far East have suffered severe reactor damage, resulting in high internal radiation levels to this day. On August 10, 1985, the reactor of the K-314 (also known as B-314), a Project 675 (NATO name Echo II) SSN, caught fire and suffered a criticality accident, venting radiation in Chazhma Bay, on Russia’s Pacific coast. The other submarine, the K-341, a Project 671 (NATO name Victor I) SSN, suffered a loss-of-coolant accident on December 29, 1985.
These two submarines cannot safely be dismantled at this time. Rosatom plans to construct an on-shore storage facility (known as “Ukrytiye,” or “shelter”) for the two boats to hermetically seal them off from the environment. On February 26, 2007, a public hearing was held in Fokino, the closed city in which Razboynik Bay, the location of the two vessels, is located. Presentations at the hearing were made by the DalRAO director Nikolay Lysenko, nuclear and radiation safety supervisory authorities, and others. As Lysenko explained, six sites in Chazhma, Razboynik, and Pavlovsk Bays were all examined as potential locations for Ukrytiye. After detailed analysis, including seismic studies, it was determined that the Granitnaya site in Chazhma Bay had the best geological characteristics. Granitnaya is located within the DalRAO industrial zone where three-compartment submarine reactor blocs are currently in floating storage; it is also the location of the Pacific Fleet’s on-shore reactor storage site, now under construction. The Ukrytiye design has already received regulatory approval. In a vote taken at the public hearing, 298 supported the project while three voted against it.
(1) V.A. Mazokin and M.E. Netecha, “Nuclear Submarines with Damaged Reactor Installations: Basic Engineering Solutions and Safety-Related Problems,” in Scientific and Technical Issues in the Management of Spent Fuel of Decommissioned Nuclear Submarines, Ashot Sarkisov and Alain Tournyol du Clos, eds. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2006).
(2) “Sostoyalis obshchestvennyye slushaniya po povodu stroitelstva v bukhte Razboynik punkta avariynykh APL” (Public hearing held on construction of facility for damaged nuclear-powered submarines in Razboynik Bay), Rosatom report, April 10, 2007,

This paper analyzes the Strategic Master Plan for Northwest Russia (SMP), which is to guide foreign assistance in the dismantling of Russian nuclear-powered submarines, surface vessels, and related sites and equipment. In order to understand the current state of cooperation and future planning, the article looks at the process by which the plan is being developed, examining the perspectives that are informing the choice of project priorities, transparency issues, coordination, timing, and cost-effectiveness. Given the particular dangers posed by highly enriched nuclear fuel, questions about the strategy for securing and handling this material are given particular prominence. The report also looks at cooperation in the area of submarine dismantlement more broadly, to see how the SMP meshes with other coordination mechanisms and plans in this sphere, and directs attention at the Russian Far East, where the needs are no less (and perhaps more) urgent than in the Northwest. The paper concludes that a real strategy is needed for both regions, and notes that this strategy should be forward-looking, and anticipate the future needs for nuclear and radioactive waste handling as well as legacy issues.

The second phase of the SMP (SMP-2) is scheduled to be completed in August 2007. This document will set priorities for foreign and Russian activities in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions for some 15 years to come, involving expenditures of millions of dollars. It will be a precedent-setting document, with unmatched levels of transparency regarding conditions in Northwest Russia. At the same time, as one participant noted at the recent joint meeting in London of the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) (2) and the IAEA Contact Expert Group (CEG): (3) in its present form this plan is not a strategy. (4) It is a list of more or less well-defined activities with a price tag. Furthermore, it currently reflects Russian interests more than donor concerns. However, there is still time for these concerns to be addressed. If the full potential of the Russian and donor commitment to dismantling Russian submaries, managing spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, and cleaning up Russia’s shores is to be realized, now is a critical time to review this plan and improve upon it. Some critical issues that need to be reviewed are prioritization, information-sharing, and consideration of impacts on the plan from outside the region and their effects on cost-effectiveness and timing.

Work on the SMP has continued for over two years to date. The first phase of this plan, known as SMP-1, was to provide detailed data on the status of all relevant sites and facilities and identify priority projects. A program management unit was established in Moscow to supervise this work. Upon completion of stage one, a separate unit, consisting of a team of experts from a wide spectrum of Russian institutes, supported by Fluor Limited and British Nuclear Group, began work on SMP-2. This second phase is supposed to provide a strategy for cleaning up Northwest Russia, including an implementation plan for the tasks identified in the first phase, as well as the pathway for handling the radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, and environmental remediation needs. While the full SMP will not be released for publication, a non-confidential version may be published, as was done for the initial phase of the SMP.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) adopted by NDEP in 2004 set the parameters for SMP development. According to the TOR, the SMP is to “be the basis for the Russian Federation to take strategic decisions related to the management of spent fuel and radioactive waste” and will “facilitate… (donor) evaluation and assessment of (nuclear) safety, security, cost effectiveness and environmental benefits” of potential projects. (5) Without stating it directly, the SMP recognizes that Russian priorities will play a critical role in setting priorities, but notes that “high priority tasks (will) be subject to approval” and that the projects that are identified in the first phase of the SMP “will not preempt the definition of the … projects to be funded” by NDEP. Furthermore, as noted above, the SMP is to take security, cost effectiveness, and the environment, all priorities of various donors, along with safety, clearly a Russian priority (shared by most donors). Job creation (often referred to as the socioeconomic factor by Russians) is not mentioned in the TOR, though it is a factor in the SMP as it stands today. While Russia is clearly free to set its own priorities, it is important that donors have sufficient information to determine which projects meet their own concerns, and that they be allowed to fund the projects that meet their own priorities.

An additional issue that has yet to be sufficiently addressed is related to the impact of nuclear fuel cycle activities in Russia as a whole on the activities in Northwest Russia. The TOR recognizes that while most of the relevant equipment and facilities are in Northwest Russia, “technological and operation constraints related to the general policies and practices of the Russian Federation concerning spent nuclear fuels and radioactive waste” have to be taken into account; a “comprehensive system analysis” is needed. (6) However, the SMP is the only detailed analysis of any part of the Russian nuclear fuel cycle, making an analysis of impacts from the rest of the national fuel cycle difficult. Nevertheless, it is critical, as noted in the TOR, that the SMP “consider impacts from other major contributors to the generation of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste” in particular. This is especially crucial if the most cost- and time-efficient solutions for handling spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from naval reactors are to be found. However, to date the SMP has not done enough in this area. Indeed, Russia needs to develop a national strategy for SNF reprocessing and/or storage, including both naval fuel and other nuclear fuels. Barring this, Moscow should consider the cost-effectiveness of developing facilities for long-term (100-year) storage of naval SNF vs. storing this SNF in a joint facility with other SNF, and possibly high-level radioactive waste. At the very least, the impact of other potential streams of SNF headed to the Russian reprocessing facility at Mayak must be taken into account in any estimates of time and cost for handling spent submarine fuel, especially defective fuel.

The management of SNF from nuclear submarines is the most important issue to be dealt with in Northwest Russia (as it is in the Pacific Fleet). SNF contains all of the fissile material, in addition to 98 percent of the radioactivity in a nuclear submarine. Since submarine fuel contains highly enriched uranium, it poses proliferation concerns. Approximately 66 fuel assemblies of 36 percent HEU would be required to construct a crude nuclear device; there are about 44,000 spent fuel assemblies in Northwest Russia. Therefore, how SNF may be safely and securely removed, transported, and stored should be at the center of international cooperation in Northwest Russia, not only because of the environmental risks associated with the fuel, but also in view of proliferation worries and more general security concerns (including the dangers that radiation could be spread by an accident in or sabotage of one of these sites). Russian spent naval fuel has certain worrying attributes–the high initial enrichment level of the non-reprocessable fuel (7) in nuclear icebreakers, nuclear-propelled military surface vessels, and third-generation submarines (many of which utilize fuel at enrichment levels far above 36 percent), and the low burn-up and long cooling times for submarine fuel from first- and second-generation vessels (which means that the fuel is no longer “self-protecting,” or too radioactive to handle)–that make it an object of international concern. More general safety concerns are related to the handling of spent fuel from vessels with little information regarding operation history and isotopic concentrations. (8) A real strategy to handle this fuel is needed. It should address both safety and security issues as soon as possible, and emphasize cost-effectiveness (lest the sums promised by donor countries be fully expended before problems are solved) as well as timeliness (in order to reduce current risks as rapidly as possible).

Prioritization Issues

Russian methods for setting priorities remain opaque at best, and questionable at worst. The recent London meeting of the NDEP and CEG provided yet another opportunity for donor countries to learn about SMP-2 methods, plans, and priorities. Some of what they learned was heartening, including a run-down of the myriad laws and regulations that should be changed or formulated anew to develop a truly comprehensive system of nuclear safety and security in the region, a difficult task that Russia appears to have begun taking on with serious intent. (9) On the other hand, other news broached at the meeting raises concern, to the degree that one might question whether Russia is really doing its best or will be able to design a strategy to maximize the effectiveness of expenditures, or best meet safety and security needs.

Of greatest concern are questions about prioritization, risk assessment, and planning methods, as well as information-sharing (which would help donors to set their own priorities) and coordination. Russia’s priorities are naturally different than those of donor states, yet Rosatom, which has been the lead agency managing issues related to submarine dismantlement since 1998, appears to be insisting that Russia’s own priorities set foreign assistance projects under the SMP, despite language in the TOR that would suggest otherwise. Above all, Russia places less emphasis on physical protection than do its partners, and more on job creation. Further, as might be expected, Moscow welcomes the ability to subsequently use equipment built to further submarine dismantlement for other aims, both commercial and military units. The latter, however, is quite a sensitive issue for many of the donor states–in the past, both Norway and Japan have rejected projects to construct rail lines that might later be used by active military. Viktor Akhunov, then head of Rosatom’s Department for the Decommissioning of Nuclear and Radiation Hazardous Facilities, emphasized that the construction of a bridge in Severodvinsk that is likely to see military use was a priority, and that he would continue to insist upon it even though NDEP has rejected the project (the bridge project is discussed in more detail below). Akhunov’s responsibilities have been taken over Yevgeniy Kudryavtsev, head of the Rosatom Industry and Nuclear Technology Department. It is as yet unclear whether he or Rosatom Deputy Director Andrey Malyshev, his superior, will take a different view of the project.

The experts involved in the creation of the SMP have developed an impressive set of data on the sites and nuclear installations in Northwest Russia and a scientific method for setting project priorities in the area. This method was explicated at the London meeting. It includes the setting of coefficients for various factors, including nuclear safety, physical security, and socioeconomic factors. It is noteworthy that socioeconomic factors (which largely means job creation) are twice as important as physical security concerns. In response to this author’s query regarding the determination of these coefficients, a Russian author of the plan indicated that there was some discussion over the relevance of security, but that the level that was set is an indicator of improvements that still need to be done, not an indicator of the absolute importance of the security issue. (Evidently Russia believes that the current status of physical security at relevant sites is relatively good, and does not require a great number of additional improvements–this would appear to be belied by continued cases of metals and other thefts from a number of these sites, though the thefts in most cases involve insider corruption and would not be stopped by additional equipment upgrades.)

Given the fact that the Global Partnership largely was initiated in response to fears of WMD terrorism, however, many of Russia’s partners put a priority on security concerns and are less inclined to view their assistance as largely a jobs creation program (except in those few cases where they are providing employment for individuals with special expertise that poses a “brain drain” concern, which is not generally the case for personnel at naval facilities).

The greatest problems with the methods for developing the SMP, however, are not simply related to the determination of coefficients for the different factors that must be taken into account when setting project priorities, though these are important. However, the lack of transparency, along with the failure to obtain input from all relevant parties and ensure a broad-based view, makes it impossible adequately to set priorities, whatever the coefficients one employs.

Planning Issues: A Broader Perspective Needed

A national perspective on methods to deal with the problems in Northwest Russia is necessary to understand the impact of other Russian fuel cycle activities on activities in the Northwest with regards to timing and identification of possible bottlenecks, as well as to take advantage of national-level activities to maxiumize efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The chief reason to question Russia’s plans for management of Northwest Russian SNF, for example, is that the SMP is confined to the Northwestern region, while the Mayak reprocessing facility services Russia as a whole–Russia needs to manage far more SNF than that currently stored in the Northwest, and should develop an integrated national strategy for all prospective SNF (including future SNF from all likely sources, both foreign and domestic). Likewise, the SMP study of toxic waste handling at Northwest shipyards should be broadened to consider the handling of toxic waste for all industrial facilities in the region, as they share very similar characteristics.

Spent Nuclear Fuel: Mayak Reprocessing Capacities, Damaged Fuel, and the Likely Need for Long-Term Temporary Storage

SNF from other sources–the Russian Pacific Fleet, and potentially Russian power plants, research reactors, and foreign research and power reactors, as well as, in future, other nuclear fuel users like floating power plants–impacts upon Mayak’s ability to handle submarine fuel from the Northwest. Mayak is currently operating near capacity, with one line dedicated to nuclear power plant fuel and the other for zirconium-based fuels (this second line is periodically adjusted for aluminum-based fuels when enough of them have been accumulated to reprocess that fuel). While most of the naval fuel can be reprocessed in this manner, some 20% of the fuel in the Northwest (and, likely, in the Pacific as well) is classified as “damaged” or “non-reprocessible” (n-SNF, fuel that cannot be reprocessed using water-extraction technology at Mayak’s RT-1 radiochemical plant). In the case of damaged fuel, some fuel assemblies are no longer leakproof, and therefore cannot safely be stored, for example, in the spent fuel storage pond at Mayak. In other cases, the composition of the fuel itself has been damaged. However, there are also cases where only the fuel assembly case has been damaged, and reprocessing solutions can more easily be found. In order to determine how to deal with both this “damaged” fuel and n-SNF, the SMP has undertaken several “strategic studies” (SS-3 on damaged SNF, and SS-4 on n-SNF). Conducting such studies is critical to finding a long-term solution for dealing with these fuel types. However, it is the understanding of this author that the current studies, undertaken on behalf of the SMP to determine costs and timelines of various scenarios, do not take a holistic approach towards handling Russian SNF.

For example, the option of reprocessing the damaged fuel in Northwest Russia that cannot be handled using current technologies at Mayak (the option that most of Russia’s partners assume has already been chosen as the solution to this problem) appears to have been analyzed using a best-case scenario that assumes Mayak is not fully engaged in other activities, whereas Mayak is exploring new opportunities for importing foreign research reactor fuel and in the near future may be increasingly involved in Russian efforts to promote full fuel-cycle services to foreign customers. However, though Russian plans to import foreign nuclear power plant SNF, particularly touted in 2001, have remained unrealized to date, more recent endeavors to promote fuel leasing include an implicit promise to retrieve and reprocess resulting SNF. Should Rosatom move forward with plans for back-end fuel cycle services, (10) Russia will need to build new facilities for temporary SNF storage at Mayak.

This raises two important questions with regards to options under consideration under the SMP framework. First, are the estimates regarding Mayak management of Northwest SNF realistic? Currently, the cost and time for Mayak to handle this fuel is less than the other options, which include underground storage in Dalniye Zelentsy, Murmansk region, for up to 100 years (11) or storage in the Nizhnekanskiy massif, Krasnoyarsk region, (12) as well as reprocessing of the fuel from liquid-metal-cooled (Alfa) reactors in Sosnovyy Bor, Leningrad region. If Mayak cannot, in fact, handle the Northwestern SNF in the time indicated in preliminary studies, will Russia move to one of the options for 80-100 year storage (of which storage in Murmansk, at $68-78 million, appears the more likely, as costs in Krasnoyarsk total some $100 million)? The second question is whether, in fact, temporary storage in the Russian heartland should instead actually be far cheaper than the current estimates by SMP working groups. The question of costs has been raised in the NDEP Expert Advisory Group Guidance Note of May 9, 2007, which notes both that a “demonstration of Mayak’s capacity to absorb the flows, the shipping cost, and a likely implementation schedule” for SNF shipments should be provided in the SMP, and that “life cycle cost analysis” is needed in order to identify the best options. (13) At the April meeting in London, a participant from the United Kingdom noted that storage of some British naval fuel was considered essentially cost-free because it was a small volume of fuel that could be stored at a major fuel storage site without adding to overall site costs. If Russia is planning to create a geological depository for high-level radioactive waste (and possibly a large-scale intermediate storage facility for SNF from Russian and foreign nuclear power and research reactors), it would surely be designed to accommodate tens or hundreds of SNF cores. The current amount of unreprocessable SNF in Northwest Russia amounts to some 13 cores. While estimates of the cost to build a storage facility dedicated to the material in Northwest Russia alone are high, the marginal cost of storing this material in a national facility would surely be minimal. However, it should be pointed out that the actual amount of damaged fuel is currently unknown, and could be far higher than current estimates. Costs to store this fuel in the region could be significant. It should be noted, though, that under Russia’s federal program “Nuclear and Radiation Safety in the Russian Federation for 2008-2012,” now undergoing approval, a deep underground repository for high-level waste is to be established in Krasnoyarsk territory. (14)

Yet the London meeting did not engage in a discussion of national nuclear activities. This despite the fact that it was clear to the authors of the first version of the SMP (phase 1) that the region’s problems could be affected by external considerations (they were clearly aware of the fact that the Pacific Fleet and Northern Fleet utilize the same rail cars to transport SNF to the same facility for reprocessing, for example). Due to this concern, the first version of the SMP notes that while the objects to be decommissioned are mainly located in relatively compact regions, transportation to Mayak and other “technological and operational constraints related to the general policies and practices of the Russian Federation concerning SNF and radioactive waste (including Mayak and other enterprises)” must be taken into account. Other than attention to the railcar issue, however, this has yet to be attempted. The strategy for handling SNF in particular should be developed in tandem with a national strategy to deal with spent fuel from all sources.

Transparency Issues

Information-sharing is important to both planning and implementation of submarine dismantlement and related activities. It builds confidence among Russia’s partners and the Russian public that activities are designed and implemented in the safest, most secure, and most cost-effective manner. Transparency helps ensure that both Russian planners and donor country representatives can fully assess programmatic activities, in order to set priorities as well as in order to maintain the support of their own citizens for continued funding. The only justification for a lack of transparency is valid security concerns: where disclosure of information would pose risks. The SMP process does have strict procedures for information-sharing and maintaining the secrecy of some of the data that Russia is sharing with its partners. This is fully justifiable for certain data; indeed, if Russia is to study security vulnerabilities at certain sites it is of paramount importance that the identification of any such vulnerabilities be held in strictest confidence. However, there are many other areas where the information being withheld poses no security risk. Instead, the lack of transparency hinders public accountability, international cooperation, and planning.

For example, it would be very surprising for the majority of local and regional actors in the Murmansk region to learn that the option of relatively long-term placement of SNF into underground storage in Murmansk region continues to be under consideration. During discussions the author had with regional officials, facility personnel, and other local actors in Murmansk in December 2006, the author was assured that the decision had been taken to remove all SNF from the region to Mayak for reprocessing. Furthermore, they were adamantly opposed to any plan that did not involve immediate shipment from their vicinity. The only alternative viewpoint was held by researchers at the Mining Institute of the Kola Science Center in Apatity, Murmansk region–the very individuals responsible for geological research into potential sites for SRW and SNF storage facilities in the region. (15) The scientists at the Mining Institute have not only studied the region’s geology, but have also examined issues related to the storage of the fuel, coming up with a basic blueprint for a storage site, and conducting criticality studies. (16) Geological studies at one site, Dalniye Zelentsy, have been extensive enough to indicate that it has the necessary characteristics for a safe geologic repository for spent fuel, should the decision be taken to store that fuel for nearly a century before sending it for reprocessing or permanent disposal. While there has certainly been no decision to build a repository in the region, the option is still officially on the table. However, most of the donor representatives at the London meeting indicated that they believe reprocessing at Mayak is still a Russian priority and shipping the SNF to Siberia sooner rather than later is the most likely outcome of the current Russian decisionmaking process. The Russian participants did not dissuade them from this view, but they did not take the Murmansk storage option off the table, either. Shipment to Mayak in the next couple of decades is not yet assured, though; the study into timing and costs associated with the Mayak option leaves several key questions open, particularly the impact of other Russian plans for Mayak (noted above).

Another potential negative impact from the lack of transparency is the possibility that certain tasks will be forgotten or deemphasized. The prospects of this happening are increased by the complex nature of oversight and management of relevant facilities in Northwest Russia. Some shipyards are under the purview of the Ministry of Defense while others are not; some nuclear installations are Rosatom’s responsibility, but not all. Of particular concern is Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker fleet, operated by the Murmansk Shipping Company and overseen by the Transport Ministry. Being under this ministry appears to mean that Atomflot is not a Rosatom priority. Although some very successful projects have been undertaken at the site (including the recently completed spent fuel storage pad and multiple projects dealing with physical security issues), problems remain. According to Atomflot Director Vasiliy A. Chirkov and Head Engineer Andrey N. Abramov, Atomflot’s solid radioactive waste (SRW) storage facility needs urgent attention. (17) Initially designed to store SRW for five years, waste placed at the bottom of the installation in the late 1960s remains to this day–and the current condition of the material is unknown. An inventory is needed, along with some method to repackage and check on the material. (18) While Atomflot has evidently told some foreign donors about this issue, it is reportedly not mentioned in the SMP. (19) It is likely that many donors do not know of Atomflot’s needs. While it may well be that some of the proposals Atomflot has put forward to deal with the SRW storage installation have been excessive in the view of donor representatives, determining the status of this material and finding a safe solution in the near term are particularly important since the Atomflot facilities are located in Murmansk, a city with about 320,000 residents.

The capability of Russia’s partners to assess or address security concerns is also hampered by a lack of reliable information. Since SNF handling primarily is carried out by the Russian Navy, the operation is considered sensitive, thereby making cooperation in this area particularly difficult. When Norway ran inspections at the Nerpa shipyard in connection with submarine dismantling activities in 2004, the inspection team was not permitted to inspect operations involving SNF on the grounds that this was the responsibility of Russian military forces. (20) It is not clear that the situation has improved in the past three years, where cooperation with the military is concerned. Since the safety, security, and environmental aspects of SNF handling are at the heart of dismantlement cooperation, indeed the chief concern of many of Russia’s partners, this position should be changed in future if cooperation in this area is to continue. (For more on military-to-military cooperation, see below.)

It was notable that at the April meeting in London, Rosatom officials noted that they had documentation on the spent fuel stored in Andreyeva Bay. Russia’s partners have requested this information for years, and were assured that it did not exist. (21) It is to be hoped that this information will be shared with Russia’s partners in the near future. In the past, there were also statements that no documentation on spent fuel at the Gremikha base was available; this story has not changed. It is not clear what information may be available on Pacific Fleet fuel. It should be noted that there is no strategic plan for the Russian Far East, where there is therefore a dearth of information about the condition of boats, onshore facilities, security, and environmental issues.

Given the lack of Russian transparency, Russia’s partners have developed several ways to share information. These methods, however, are imperfect and cannot ensure that the program does not suffer from omissions or bottlenecks. While the SMP has identified potential bottlenecks and highlighted them, it is more difficult to avoid them or discover possible omissions if only parts of the plan are available to Russia’s partners during the drafting process, and no outside, overarching analyses can be done. Furthermore, it does not promote awareness of the importance of certain key projects, upon which the entire program may depend. One potential bottleneck is the ship that must be built to transport SNF from Andreyeva Bay, and possibly from other sites as well. The current plan is for the Italian Global Partnership assistance program to fund construction of the vessel; some work on this project has already begun. However, very little information about the vessel or timelines is available from either Moscow or Rome–indeed, it is doubtful that many in the Italian government are aware of the importance of this ship, a fact which is not conducive to ensuring the continuation of timely funding. (22)

Coordination Issues

One of the main roles of the SMP is to alleviate coordination issues. While there have been improvements in the past decade, coordinating activities between regions, projects of various donor states, and the dealings of various parties with a range of Russian entities (particularly with the Russian military) continue to face challenges.

The lack of a national perspective makes it difficult to coordinate work in the Northwest with activities in the Russian Far East (discussed below) or the nation as a whole (especially where spent fuel is concerned, as noted above). The lack of transparency regarding activities in the Northwest itself exacerbates this problem. In order to improve the situation, in late 2004 Russia’s partners requested the formation of a group to coordinate work at Andreyeva Bay. (23) While the group has been very useful, donor states involved in projects at Andreyeva continue to have questions.

While most of the donor states share information with each other willingly, some new donor states do not seem to have been fully engaged in informal sharing mechanisms. In particular, Italy, though it participates in Andreyeva group meetings, has been relatively remote from other donors, taking decisions independently or in discussion with Russia alone. (24) Donor states, like Russia itself, have different priorities. Whatever projects they decide to pursue, however, it is critical that information be shared so that planning can be coordinated. Particularly where multiple donor states are involved in activities at a single site, projects are interdependent and cannot succeed without coordination. The Italian project to construct an SNF transport ship, in particular, plays a critical role to the success of nearly all other plans at the Andreyeva site, and could prove a bottleneck if not completed in time. This fact was particularly emphasized by the U.K. presentation in London.

Another challenge for donor countries is their interaction with Russian military authorities, an interaction essential for several projects under the SMP. This problematic interface, however, also has its parallels in the donor countries themselves and, in a country such as Russia, might be considered unavoidable. The Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) program, based on international military-to-military interaction, should be a useful vehicle for addressing problematic nuclear safety and security issues that currently lie within the area of responsibility of the Russian Navy. However, the program has recently run aground (in large part due to a lack of US interest and disputes between the United Kingdom and Norway). (25) One possibility for revitalizing AMEC would be for it to identify the specific areas that are relevant for the implementation of G8 Global Partnership but that currently fall under military jurisdiction in Russia, and to set up a program to address high-risk operations and international concerns in these areas. This approach might identify ways to improve coordination and cooperation between the actors in those areas that fall under the auspices of both the military and civilian sectors. For example, including an AMEC representative at CEG meetings could be a starting point that might also be acceptable to the countries currently contributing to the AMEC program as well as proving relevant for the other CEG participants. In any case, the progress and results of the projects under AMEC cooperation, such as the development of safer towing technology, should be specifically reported at relevant international meetings in order to avoid overlaps and facilitate extended information exchange.

The Results: Controversial and Divisive?

The SMP was supposed to make information available for the identification of needs and setting of project priorities, as well as the facilitation of strategic decisionmaking. However, the necessary information is not currently available to all parties who need it. Furthermore, even with access to the same information, the prioritization of tasks varies from partner to partner, and not all parties appear to be engaged in setting the priorities for the future.

While SMP-1 has been provided to relevant actors in donor countries, SMP-2, to be provided at the end of the second phase of development (defining project priorities and an overall dismantlement and rehabilitation plan), has yet to be broadly shared. The only donor representatives with copies of the working version of the report are the members of the EBRD’s Expert Advisory Group (EAG), participating in this process in their personal capacity. The full draft is to be shared with donor countries and discussed at the next EBRD Nuclear Operating Committee (NOC) meeting; it is to be hoped that all relevant parties take full advantage of this opportunity (it should be noted that in addition to NOC members, the United States, Italy and Japan are regularly invited to NOC meetings). Unfortunately, not all of the EAG participants have seen fit to attend relevant meetings, thus there are some national programs that evidently have no access to this information at all. Additionally, even the SMP-2 evidently does not include all available information, as the recent revelation that documentation on SNF at Andreyeva does in fact exist (as mentioned above) attests. Further, those not participating in the EAG meetings are not likely to have much influence over the setting of priorities in SMP-2, though they will have a critical opportunity at the next NOC meeting to do just this.

Problematic Proposal: The Yagrinskiy Bridge Project

The most glaring example of a project that has been a Russian priority not shared by its partners is the proposal for reconstruction of a bridge over the Nikolskoye estuary, between Zvezdochka Shipyard and the main rail line in Severodvinsk. In late 2004 Russian media announced that reconstruction of this bridge would be funded by foreign donors. (26) However, foreign donors have yet to agree to the project. At the October 2006 meeting of the CEG, Russia’s Viktor Akhunov again requested foreign assistance for this bridge, and was turned down. (27) As noted above, it remains to be seen whether Russia will now drop the project, or perhaps fund it itself. (28)

The reasoning behind the donor refusal was two-fold. The main argument for improving the bridge is to make possible the shipment of SNF from Zvezdochka to the main rail line, and thence to Mayak. However, the SNF could also be moved by barge to the Sevmash shipyard, and then transferred to railcars and the main rail line. While possibly less efficient, the quantities of fuel are not extreme, and could likely be moved in less than a year via a barge. Furthermore, and perhaps of even greater importance in the refusal to fund decision, the bridge would remain a conduit to the shipyard that would likely be used to service active military vessels, an eventuality of particular concern to some donor states. It should be noted that individual donor states have refused to fund rail lines that would serve the Russian military on more than one occasion in the past (Norway for a railway in the Zapadnaya Litsa area and Japan for a railway from Zvezda Shipyard in the Russian Far East to the main TransSiberian Railway).

It is noteworthy that both the bridge and the railroad to Zvezda were considered Russian priorities, but Russia appeared loathe to take the projects on itself. This is particularly curious given that Rosatom data indicates that as of January 1, 2007 the Russian Federation has expended $347.99 million on submarine dismantlement and related activities since the onset of the Global Partnership in July 2002 (while Russia had received a total of $558.77 million from other countries), suggesting that Moscow itself could fund the projects. (29) However, the Rosatom data only provides totals for Russian funding. It is not at all clear what specifically this money is expended upon. Rosatom comments indicate that the majority of submarine cutting is funded by Russia itself, and certainly the author can testify to the fact that this is clearly true in the Russian Pacific, as it may well be in the Northwest. The remainder of the expenditures are unfortunately opaque: it is not clear if some are expenditures in kind, or actual Russian federal allocations. In any event, given the sums Russia claims to be expending, it would not appear unreasonable to expect it to fund projects that may have military implications.

Other “Priority” Projects: What Should Donors Fund?

Another Russian priority is the raising of the K-159, Project 627A nuclear attack submarine that sank under tow on August 30, 2003. Given the age of the vessel (it was in service from 1963 to 1988) and the depth where it sank (some 238 meters), raising it is technically challenging and risky. The project would be extremely expensive and pose environmental risks that at present appear to exceed the risks of doing nothing. It should be noted that the vessel does not have nuclear fuel on board, or pose any security threats. While some environmental organizations have noted that Russia promised to raise the vessel, in the opinion of this author, foreign donors should use their funds to improve the safety and security of nuclear and radiological materials currently onshore, and not undertake this risky, costly venture.

Instead, Russia’s partners would do well to reconsider how they determine their own funding priorities. One of the activities that has received a great deal of support from individual donor states is chopping up submarines. However, observation of Russian actions in the Pacific region suggests that Russia is willing to pay for this activity itself. Therefore, its partners are simply saving Russia money, not undertaking projects that would otherwise not be done, when they sign contracts for submarine scrapping. The NDEP is one of the programs that has sometimes been criticized for the slow speed of concluding project contracts. However, it should be noted that the NDEP (unlike some of the individual states that have made donations to NDEP) has not scrapped a single vessel, and instead has been trying to take on far more complex projects that might not otherwise be taken on. Other donors, too, have had similar experiences. Projects that deal with environmental remediation in particular are extremely difficult to arrange. Other projects, such as transporting submarines to shipyards via heavy lift vessel may be simpler to do, but are very costly and are, as such, unlikely to be undertaken by Russia of its own accord. Canada and Norway moved several vessels in this manner during the summer of 2006. The United Kingdom has been funding a study of alternative, safe transport methods under the AMEC program (more on this program, below). The issue of transport is particularly critical in the Pacific.

Unmet Needs: Russia’s Pacific Coast

Although the TOR and NDP funding limit the SMP to planning for Northwest Russia, donor states nevertheless should consider Russian needs as a whole when deciding where to spend their money. Moscow rightly has emphasized the unmet needs of Russia’s Pacific Fleet. Rosatom Deputy Director Andrey Malyshev is scheduled to address the issue of developing a strategic plan for the Russian Far East at the NDEP Assembly meeting on May 29, 2007. Such a project would require the direct support of donor countries, as the NDEP itself is only permitted to work in the Northwest. In fact, the needs of the Pacific fleet today are in many ways greater than the needs in the Northwest. Where the security of Russian nuclear naval sites is concerned, one could in fact question initiating projects to improve physical security at Gremikha (though laudable, the site is in Russia’s Far North, and inaccessible by road) before the launching of similar projects in Kamchatka and Primorye. Naval sites in these latter locations are far more accessible (near well-traveled roads and major shipping lanes, as well as significant population centers, and located far closer to states of proliferation concern, such as North Korea). The United States provided some “rapid upgrades” at Pacific Fleet sites, which include basic security measures. However, more comprehensive upgrades are necessary in several locations (other than the fresh naval fuel site, which is reportedly now well secured, as are nuclear weapons depots). Unfortunately, Russia’s Global Partners have yet to offer assistance in this area. The next CEG meeting, to be held this month (May 2007) in Vladivostok, will focus on the Russian Far East. It is to be hoped that Russia’s partners begin to fund more security upgrades in the Russian Far East. Even if they do not take this decision, though, Russia itself could elect to undertake such upgrades. It has evidently not chosen to embark on security upgrades to date.

It is quite instructive to observe activities in Northwest Russia and compare them to activities in the Russian Far East, in order to understand where Russian priorities lie: other than the dismantlement of a few ballistic missile submarines (funded by the United States) and one nuclear-powered attack submarine (funded by Japan), Russia has been left to fund activities at Pacific Fleet sites by itself. Russia has chosen to defuel submarines quickly–despite the lack of ability to move this fuel to Mayak (it is piling up near Zvezda Shipyard to an alarming degree)–and to scrap boats. It has also begun construction of on-shore storage for reactor compartments (a similar facility is being constructed through a German project at Sayda Bay, Murmansk region, for Northern Fleet submarines at a cost of some 300 million Euros), with only minimal assistance (Germany has provided some keel blocks to be used in the Pacific). Further, Russia has taken action to alleviate the greatest environmental hazards, albeit with methods that would surely not pass environmental muster were donor states involved. (30) In addition, Moscow has apparently made some progress in developing plans to handle two submarines with damaged reactors (the B-431 and B-314, currently moored in Pavlovsk Bay), though it continues to seek foreign assistance for this project–a project that will clearly involve problematic liability issues and therefore will be difficult to arrange in a bilateral or multilateral context. Security, however, does not appear to be an overriding concern. If it were, physical protection measures would have been further improved and the Russians likely would not have defueled Pacific Fleet boats so quickly, before sufficient facilities were available to safely and securely handle the fuel once it was removed from the submarines. It should be noted that SMP-1 recommended that submarines not be defueled at the maximum possible rate for this very reason. This recommendation does not appear to have been followed on either coast, but is of particular concern in the Pacific region.

Strategic Decisions Need to be Made Soon

Even planning work at individual sites in Northwest Russia requires strategic decisionmaking on both a national and regional level. The impact of national SNF plans was discussed above. Other important decisions that must be made in order to finalize work plans for Andreyeva Bay, for example, relate to plans for the SNF currently located in Gremikha (will it be moved to Andreeva first, then shipped elsewhere?) and timeline issues (when will the Italian ship to transport SNF be constructed, and when will n-SNF be removed from the site?) At the current time, Andreyeva Bay holds some 22,000 spent fuel assemblies; (31) a similar number are stored elsewhere in Northwest Russia. Without knowing how much of this fuel will be handled at Andreyeva and when, it is impossible to determine what equipment is needed at the site.

Another critical decision is the future status of coastal sites such as Andreyeva: will these sites be converted into greenfields or some sort of industrial “brownfield”? Presentations on this issue were made at the London meeting; the Russian participants have clearly been delving into questions of the regulations and costs that “greenfield” vs. “brownfield” status would entail. This is a good start, but a decision on the final status of these sites (Andreyeva and Gremikha in the Northwest, and potentially Sysoyeva and Vilyuhinsk in Kamchatka) must be taken before any projects for environmental clean-up can be designed. The May 9 EAG Guidance Note comments that the EAG “was keen to know who would make the decision on the required end state and when such a decision would be taken.” (32)

Yet another strategic decision, that perhaps has already been made by default, relates to the timing of various projects and their impact on security. For example, if roads are constructed to improve access to facilities before security upgrades can be made, the security threat is increased. Another timing question, mentioned above, has to do with the speed of vessel dismantlement in relation to other activities. The process of removing nuclear fuel from a submarine is complex, and involves cutting up the vessel, large cranes, etc. Therefore, the fuel itself is quite secure while onboard a submarine, regardless of the condition of the vessel (that is, the fuel cannot be stolen). However, once the SNF has been removed, it is vulnerable to theft. At this point, it should have increased security. SMP-1 suggested defueling should not be overly fast, for this very reason. However, the current rate of defueling is in fact quite rapid, in the opinion of this author, in comparison to progress in handling the fuel already in on-shore storage.

The largest strategic decision yet to be made, however, relates to the relationship of the SMP for Northwest Russia and other activities in the Russian nuclear sphere, including submarine-related activities in the Russian Far East, reprocessing at Mayak, and other activities in the Northwest, such as the new plan to construct floating nuclear plants. (33) The former relationships were explored above: it would likely be most efficient to include Northwest Russian SNF, present and future, in a national plan for SNF handling. Russia’s neighbors, now working hard to ensure environmental safety and nuclear security in Northwest Russia, surely hope Russia will learn from Soviet mistakes and plan for facility decommissioning long before new plants are commissioned, current standard practice in the West. If this does not occur, we may yet look back at current projects and view them as two steps forwards, and more than one step back.

Russia’s partners have committed a great deal of time, money, and effort to helping Moscow clean up its Cold War legacy. However, current pledges still do not meet the real needs (even counting a recent new pledge by current G8 chair Germany). It is now clear that several countries, among them Norway and the United Kingdom, will continue to assist Russia in cleaning up Northwest Russia beyond 2013, the end date for the Global Partnership. The aid of other states, though, may end at that time. It is critical, therefore, that the most be made of assistance now, while the money is available and there is the will to help. There is still time to form the strategic vision that SMP-2 is supposed to embody. It is important that all of Russia’s partners take an interest in this process and push for the development of a full-fledged strategy that takes national and regional considerations into account. Once SMP-2 has been completed, it will be important to update it continually, and ensure that the appropriate actions are being taken to meet the goals that have been set.


(1) The author would like to thank the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) for permitting her to observe the joint NDEP/IAEA Contact Expert Group meeting on the Strategic Master Plan on April 12, 2007, at EBRD headquarters in London, England; the U.K. Ministry of Defense for funding “A Roundtable Discussion/Exchange of Views on Current Global Partnership Initiatives and Italian Programs: Submarine Dismantlement, Chemical Weapons Destruction, and Plutonium Disposition in Russia,”on October 19, 2006 at the Italian Senate in Rome, Italy; and the French Global Partnership program for making possible the author’s participation in the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on Scientific and Technical Issues in the Management of Spent Fuel of Decommissioned Nuclear Submarines, Moscow, Russia, September 22-24, 2004. In addition, the author would particularly like to thank the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority for their research support, as part of their program for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on transparency and ensuring the use of international safety and security recommendations on Norwegian assistance projects. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendation expressed in this report, however, are those of the author alone.
(2) The NDEP is the organization under the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development’s Nuclear Operating Committee that is funding development of the SMP. The NDEP Support Fund finances activities in two areas: nuclear and environmental. Contributors to the Fund can give a general donation, or specify that their contributions be designated for the Nuclear Window or the Environmental Window. To date, 11 countries and the European Union have contributed to the NDEP. For more information:
(3) In order to promote and coordinate efforts to provide assistance to Russia in the field of handling accumulated radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, a special Contact Expert Group (CEG) for International Radwaste Projects in the Russian Federation was established under the auspices of the IAEA in 1996. For more information on the CEG:
(4) Indeed, this fact has since been recognized by the NDEP Expert Advisory Group, which stated in its “EAG Guidance Note” of May 9, 2007, “The EAG considers that the high level integrated strategic vision for the project is still missing at this interim stage of the documents.”
(5) Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Nuclear Window, “Strategic Master Plan Terms of Reference” (NDEP:NW-03/05), Revised Draft: January 26, 2004.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Spent nuclear fuel is currently classified as non-reprocessible if it cannot be reprocessed using water-extraction technology at the Mayak RT-1 plant, Russian’s only industrial fuel-reprocessing plant. A separate problem is the issue of fuel that has been damaged. Both of these fuel types will be discussed later in this report.
(8) Regarding barriers to theft, preliminary results indicate that after more than 30 years of storage after decommissioning, fuel assemblies can no longer be regarded as being self-protecting; indeed, this may only be the case for a handful of years, rather than decades. This fact, together with the small dimensions of the fuel assemblies, means that the threshold for non-authorized uses is considerable lower for spent naval fuel than for commercial spent reactor fuel with average burn-up histories. See Ole Reistad and Knut Gussgard, “An estimate of the amounts of 235U, 239Pu and the material attractiveness in naval irradiated nuclear fuel from the first and second generation of Russian submarines,” presented at the 41st INMM Meeting in New Orleans, 2000.
(9) It was later noted, though, that the addition of a new radioactive waste category could be very useful for future management of this material, but that the SMP study on waste management did not mention this new waste category. This was pointed out in the “EAG Guidance Note” of May 9, 2007, as an example of the need for better harmonization between SMP studies.
(10) Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko’s initial proposals to the international community on multilateral fuel cycle centers included back-end services as well, although the more recent Russian emphasis has focused on the front end: the provision of enrichment services at Angarsk.
(11) The long-term interim storage of SNF in Murmansk region has been examined by scientists at the Kola Science Center in Apatity, Russia. The author visited the center in December 2006, and bases discussion of this project on Vladimir Konukhin, “Otsenka razvitiya situatsii v oblasti dolgovremennogo khraneniya i zakhoronenia OyaT i TRO na evropeyskom severe Rossii,” unpublished, Kola Science Center Mining Institute, Apatity, February 27, 2007.
(12) The Nizhnekanskiy massif is being considered for a high-level radioactive waste repository more generally. See, for instance, discussion in B.E. Burakov and E.B. Anderson, “Durability of Actinide Ceramic Waste Forms under Conditions of Granitoid Rocks,” Waste Management Conference, February 24-28, 2002, Tucson, Arizona,
(13) “EAG Guidance Note,” May 9, 2007.
(14) Presentation by Viktor Akhunov, 20th CEG Meeting, Munich, Germany, October 11-13, 2006.
(15) Vladimir Konukhin, “Otsenka razvitiya situatsii v oblasti dolgovremennogo khraneniya i zakhoronenia OyaT i TRO na evropeyskom severe Rossii,” unpublished, Kola Science Center Mining Institute, Apatity, February 27, 2007.
(16) Spent nuclear fuel must be stored in the proper arrangement to ensure that is does not undergo a nuclear chain reaction, or criticality. Studies of the fuel, cask or other storage equipment, and the configuration of the stored fuel are undertaken to ensure that the fuel remains subcritical.
(17) Vasiliy A. Chirkov, Atomflot director, and Andrey N. Abramov, head engineer, interview by author, Murmansk, Russia, December 8, 2006.
(18) Ibid.
(19) Interviews with CEG members, London, April 12, 2007. As the author does not have access to the full SMP, statements about what is lacking therein are based on conversations with parties that have seen the full document.
(20) Bjørn Borgaas, personal communication, September 20, 2004.
(21) For instance, at the October 2001 CEG meeting in Idaho Falls, Idaho, Russian participants stated that this information did not exist. Participants’ communication with author, May 2007.
(22) In order to promote awareness of the Italian Global Partnership program and the importance of meeting Italy’s commitments, a briefing was hosted by the president of the Italian Senate, Mr. Franco Marini, in October 2006. It included presentations on the SNF transport ship and other Italian activities in Northwest Russia by SOGIN representative Massimiliano Nobile, as well as a general presentation on the need for submarine dismantlement assistance by Cristina Chuen. “A Roundtable Discussion/Exchange of Views on Current Global Partnership Initiatives and Italian Programs: Submarine Dismantlement, Chemical Weapons Destruction, and Plutonium Disposition in Russia,” October 19, 2006, Italian Senate, Rome, Italy.
(23) For more information about coordination in general, see Cristina Chuen, “The G8 Global Partnership: Progress and Prospects,” Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 2005), pp. 81-83.
(24) Italian decisionmaking is particularly opaque. This may in part be because Italian priorities appear to differ significantly from those of other donor states: instead of nonproliferation and environmental concerns, General Carlo Jean, the president of Italy’s SOGIN, the organization responsible for decisionmaking and implementation of Italian projects in Russia, has mentioned priorities such as “interesting sectors from the technical and engineering viewpoint, which could increase Italian national capacity and national prestige.” While most donor countries have designated governmental bodies, such as the U.K Department of Trade and Industry, to oversee projects in Russia, Italy has designated SOGIN, a joint-stock company responsible for overseeing the dismantlement of Italy’s nuclear power plants, to oversee Italian projects in Russia. Although some of Italy’s liberal political parties questioned this decision during parliamentary hearings on Italy’s bilateral agreement with Russia, they voted for the agreement that set up this structure. SOGIN has since set up an office in Moscow. Its commercial interests are different from the nonproliferation or environmental focus of some of the other donor oversight organizations.
(25) See Charles Digges, “Norway and United States drop out of AMEC to assume observers’ roles,” Bellona Website, February 10, 2006,
(26) See, for instance, ITAR-TASS, October 22, 2004.
(27) Author’s interview with several CEG members present at October 2006 CEG meeting. London, April 2007.
(28) Despite NDEP declining the bridge project in October 2006, and Akhunov’s statement at the time to the effect that Russia would then fund refurbishment itself, Akhunov again indicated at the April 2007 meeting that Russia would continue to insist on foreign funding for the bridge. It might be noted that the minutes of the October 2006 meeting have yet to be distributed, though by precedent they should have been available at the April 2007 meeting. Furthermore, it is the author’s understanding that some of the donor states’ foreign ministries received demarches from the Russian Foreign Ministry to protest the failure to fund the bridge project. However, it is possible that the bridge issue will be dropped now that Akhunov is no longer playing an official role in the cooperative projects–he remains as an adviser, but is no longer an official Rosatom decisionmaker.
(29) Presentation by Viktor Akhunov, Rosatom, chart of submarine dismantlement funding at
(30) The greatest radioactive hazard in the entire Russian fleet was posed by the PM-32, with 126 damaged fuel assemblies on board and radioactive waste that was reportedly leaking. Unloading these assemblies involved the use of explosives, and was completed in 2002. Mikhail Rybyanov, “Boris Reznik: Voyennyye skryvayut yadernykh otkhodov,” Izvestiya, March 1, 2002,; Nadezhda Brazhina; “Podvodnyye lodki teryayut plavuchest,” Vladivostok, September 18, 2002,
(31) Presentation by Viktor Akhunov, CEG meeting, October 2006
(32) “EAG Guidance Note,” May 9, 2007.
(33) The floating reactor issue points to yet another problem with Russian planning and coordination: just as there was no plan for defueling and dismantlement when the Soviet Union constructed the submarines currently slated for dismantlement, there is no plan for scrapping Russian floating power plants when their time comes a few decades from now. Russia is touting floating plants to countries far and wide, stating that the plants will be leased to foreign users and returned to Russia upon the expiration of these leases. The first such plant is now under construction at Sevmash Shipyard, in Severodvinsk. It, like future plants, will most likely be dismantled in the Northwest as well. The spent fuel is likely to be sent for reprocessing to Mayak. However, the reactor compartments (and each plant will have two reactors) will probably remain in the region. The Sayda Bay facility does not envision long-term storage of these reactors. Where will they be placed? What will the costs be?

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