SOSNOVY BOR, Russia — A Russian state company has offered to help decontaminate radioactive water at the battered Fukushima nuclear power plant and assist in decomissioning reactors. In addition to export revenues, Moscow sees a chance to cozy up to a staunch U.S. ally.
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Around a 100km drive west of St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland, sits Sosnovy Bor, home to state nuclear energy giant Rosatom’s waste disposal operations. Inside a controlled perimeter, subsidiary RosRAO, the facility’s manager, has created a prototype water decontamination plant for use at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station — the site of Japan’s largest nuclear disaster in March 2011.
The scrubbing facility, unveiled in June, is capable of removing tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, from nuclear-tainted water, something beyond the capabilities of the Fukushima plant’s current cleanup equipment. Distillation and electrolysis isolate and concentrate the isotope, which is then locked away in titanium. Experiments under conditions similar to those on the ground reportedly show the technology cutting wastewater’s radioactive material content to one-6,000th the initial level, making it safe for human consumption or release into the ocean.
Duplicating the facility near the Fukushima site and running it for the five years necessary to process 800,000 cu. meters of contaminated water would cost around $700 million in all. Companies in Japan and the U.S. are at work on their own facilities for tritium disposal, but the Russian plan’s cost and technological capability make it fully competitive, according to the project’s chief.
Rosatom has made other overtures to Japan. Executives from a mining and chemical unit have visited several times this year for talks with Japanese nuclear companies, aiming to cooperate on decommissioning the Fukushima plant and upgrading a reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture for spent nuclear fuel. Russia has amassed a wealth of expertise dealing with damaged nuclear reactors in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, and would like Japan to draw on that knowledge, the subsidiary’s chief executive said.