Repatriation of Low Enriched Uranium Spent Nuclear Fuel to Russia for Reprocessing


M. Baryshnikov, A. Buchelnikov (Rosatom), M.E. Budu, A. Dorofeev, S.V. Komarov, S.N. Komarov, A. Smirnov, P. Smirnov (Sosny R&D Company)

Nuclear & Enviromental Safety, №2, 2013

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After the breakup of the USSR, Russia committed to repatriate the delivered nuclear fuel; however, the import of research reactor (RR) low enriched uranium (LEU) spent nuclear fuel (SNF) to Russia for reprocessing came to a stop due to the complexity of organizing international shipments in compliance with new laws. The first shipments after a long break were made in 2012.

For the past ten years, foreign RR have had a chance to ship the Russian-origin SNF to Russia for reprocessing only under the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return (RRRFR) Program supported by the American side. The Program is aimed at reducing potential global terrorist threats during highly enriched uranium (HEU) management. The Project Office for Development of SNF Management System and Decommissioning of Nuclear Hazardous Facilities of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Directorate of the Rosatom State Corporation coordinates all RR SNF imports to Russia.

LEU SNF Shipment from Romania

Decommissioning of the VVR-S RR of the National Institute for R&D in Physics and Nuclear Engineering “Horia-Hulubei”, IFIN-HH (Magurele, Romania) was scheduled for 2002, but there were no engineering solutions available at that time for the Russian-origin RR SNF safe management in the country. In the framework of the RRRFR program, Russia and Romania signed a government-to-government agreement, which allowed repatriating both HEU and LEU SNF stockpiles accumulated at the VVR-S RR. After the successful RRRFR repatriation of the HEU SNF in 2009 financed by the US DOE (Nuclear and Environmental Safety Journal, No.1 2011 special edition, pp. 72-76), the Romanian government decided to complete the project independently, allocated funds and initiated the repatriation of the LEU SNF.
From the beginning of the project preparation, it was decided to use to a maximum extent possible the infrastructure and experience created already under the RRRFR Program for the HEU SNF repatriation as the most efficient way to achieve the project tasks in a minimum period of time and with minimum efforts.
The EK-10 SFAs (spent fuel assemblies) were loaded into TUK-19 casks using the transfer cask earlier developed by SOSNY R&D Company and fabricated in Romania. Then, the fuel was transported in ISO-containers by road from the IFIN-HH site (Magurele) to Otopeni (Bucharest) airport, after that by Volga-Dnepr Airlines’ aircraft AN-124-100 to Koltsovo airport (Yekaterinburg) and again by road to Mayak PA site (Ozersk). Due to the use of air transport, the necessity to negotiate with transit countries was eliminated and the duration of the shipments by air was significantly reduced, thus enhancing the physical protection level.
The 153 EK-10 SFAs stored at IFIN-HH were transported in three shipments (one in July and two in December, 2012). An important benefit for organization of the fuel reprocessing consisted in the fulfillment of the foreign RR SNF import schedule, as well as of the Russian RR SNF transport plan for reprocessing at Mayak PA. Empty TUK-19 casks were delivered to Romania by air to timely ship the LEU SNF from Romania before the end of 2012 and not to violate the schedule of Russian and Foreign SFA Shipments to Mayak PA. For this purpose, the Romanian side increased the funds allocated.
However, some modifications to the transport and technological scheme for the delivery of empty TUK-19 casks to Romania were made. In 2009, the delivery was made by railway transiting Ukraine. In 2012, with the support of the ROSATOM’s Department for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, Organization of Licensing and Approval Activities, a new route was elaborated and licensed for shipments of 7 class goods. The empty TUK-19 casks were shipped in ISO-containers by railway from Mayak PA to the ferry terminal of port Kavkaz, then by ferry of “Anship” LLC on the Black Sea to the Bulgarian ferry terminal Varna, Bulgaria. After that, the TUK-19 casks were reloaded on trucks and sent by road to IFIN-HH transiting Bulgaria. Since Bulgaria and Romania are both part of the European Union, there were no problems in transit and at border crossing, and the necessary formalities were reduced to minimum.
The alternative route on the Black Sea for class 7 goods may ease in the future other Russian-Bulgarian projects or projects with European Union countries.

Combined Shipments of Low and Highly Enriched SNF

In some cases, the RRRFR Program provided for combined HEU/LEU SNF shipments. For this purpose, the RRRFR budget was supplemented by governmental funds of the participating countries for reprocessing the supplementary LEU SFAs at Mayak PA. Thus, for example, in September 2012 using Polish governmental funds a combined HEU/LEU SNF shipment from the National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCNR) was completed. To ensure its safety, the entire fleet of Russian TUK-19 and SKODA VPVR/M casks (for EK-10 LEU SFAs) was used. The empty TUK-19 casks in ISO-containers were delivered to Poland by air (from Russia) and SKODA VPVR/M - by road (from the Czech Republic). The SNF was shipped to Russia by road, railway and sea (Nuclear and Environmental Safety Journal, No.1 2011 special edition, pp. 77-81).
In the period 2006-2012, similar RR LEU SNF shipments to Mayak PA for reprocessing were completed from Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Serbia. Due to small amounts of LEU SNF, its good health and the sufficient quantity of casks available, the supplementary LEU SNF shipped jointly with HEU SNF did not impact on the deadlines, so they were not managed separately, like in the Romanian project.

Prospects for RR LEU SNF Imports to Russia for Reprocessing

The LEU SNF quantities resulting from operation of research reactors are much less than those produced at nuclear power plants, and the project cost for organization of the SNF shipment and reprocessing is rather high. Therefore, the safe management of the given type of the spent fuel is difficult and costly for the countries that operate research reactors. The number of requests for RR LEU SNF final reprocessing addressed to the country of the fuel origin has been growing lately, mostly due to the conversion of research reactors from HEU to LEU fuel or their decommissioning. The proof lays in three exclusive RR LEU SNF shipments financed by Romania in 2012, and a similar combined shipment from Austria and Italy to the USA completed in November 2012.
In 2016, the US/Russia RRRFR Program for the repatriation of the RR HEU SNF will be over. Many foreign research reactors built to the Russian designs continue operating on the LEU fuel.
ROSATOM State Corporation reconfirms its commitment to return the Russian-origin HEU SNF for reprocessing, and the Russian enterprises demonstrate their complete technical and organizational readiness to fulfill this commitment. Thus, adhering to the safety assurance requirements will eliminate any obstacles to returning the SNF from the research centers operating Soviet- and Russian-design research reactors to Russia.

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