Russia Takes Action to Clean Up Soviet Era Nuclear Waste

Concrete action has been stymied by a lack of funding.
Concrete action has been stymied by a lack of funding.

Confronting one of the most hazardous environmental legacies of the Soviet era, Russian authorities are taking steps to clean up a decades-old problem posed by nuclear waste in Arctic areas.

On October 31, officials sent a second shipment of spent fuel rods from Andreeva Bay near the Norwegian border to the Mayak reprocessing plant in Ozersk, the closed city in Chelyabinsk Oblast that served as the cradle of the Soviet nuclear weapons program. The first delivery of nuclear waste occurred in June, Oil Price reported.

The cleanup has been partially funded by European countries and Japan, with Norway alone contributing $230 million since the mid-1990s. The problem is vast: There are still 26,000 containers of waste in northern Russian locations waiting to be reprocessed, along with thousands of containers of nuclear waste, reactors and decommissioned nuclear submarines offshore.

Many storage facilities in the north have been in use long past their intended lifespans and leaks of radioactive material into the surrounding soil are well-documented.

In addition to waste produced at home, the state-owned nuclear entity Rosatom has agreed to reprocess and store nuclear waste produced by plants they have constructed abroad. Rosatom has agreements with Egypt, Turkey, Belarus, Hungary and Finland, and several other countries to manage nuclear waste repatriation. Russia reprocesses nuclear waste to extract usable plutonium and uranium, so it can be reused as fuel. But this presents additional risks from transporting and storing this fuel, which activists say has often been handled without sufficient care for the local population’s wellbeing.

Concrete action reportedly has been stymied by a lack of funding and ongoing disputes over who exactly is responsible for creating the problem.  Under a plan approved in 2007, the Andreeva Bay area was supposed to have been cleaned up by 2017, yet the process began in earnest only this year, and funding for removing submerged nuclear materials from Arctic waters will not be available until at least 2020.


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