Nadezhda Kutepova was forced to flee Russia after fighting for the rights of the residents in radioactive contaminated villages near Mayak, the site where all spent nuclear fuel from Andreeva Bay will be sent.
On June 27, the first shipment of containers with highly radioactive spent fuel elements will leave Andreeva Bay on the Kola Peninsula. Destination: Mayak reprocessing plant in the South-Ural.
For 20 years, Norway has financed infrastructure upgrades aimed at shipping spent nuclear fuel away from Andreeva Bay. The rundown facility is located 55 kilometers from the border to Norway on the Barents Sea coast and is considered to be the worst storage facility for Cold War nuclear waste in the Russian Arctic.
When the nuclear waste shipment sails away with the first few of an estimated 3,000 containers, Norway’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende and State Secretary Marit Berger Røsland will be on site and wave farewell.
This landmark event, though, is not welcomed by activists fighting for the rights of the people effected by radioactive contamination in the vicinity of Mayak.
«I think it is a irresponsible decision by Norway,» says Nadezhda Kutepova to the Barents Observer. She says out of sight, doesn’t mean out of mind.
Rosatom is Russia’s state nuclear corporation in charge of operating the reprocessing plant in Mayak where all accumulated naval spent nuclear fuel from the fleet of submarines will be treated. In total, some 22.000 spent fuel elements are to be shipped from Andreeva Bay, first with boat to Murmansk, then by rail to the Mayak plant north of Chelyabinsk. Both the vessel to sail in shuttle between Andreeva Bay and Atomflot in Murmansk and the railwagons are special designed to assure best possible safety. Each container takes seven fuel assemblies. In total, 3.143 container transports will be needed before the storage tanks are empty. In other words, the containers will be shuttling back and forth between the Kola Peninsula and the Chelyabinsk region for years to come.
«Mayak’s reprocessing activities are dangerous. It is a very bad idea to send more waste. In reality, Norway can never check what happens there,» says Nadezhda Kutepova.
Techa river became heavily contaminated by radioactive waste products from the production of plutonium for nuclear weapons that started at Mayak in 1949. Other accidents, like the 1957 Kyshtym disaster, have contaminated other areas in the neighborhood where tens of thousands of people were living.
Radioactive water from Mayak goes to a system of reservoirs. «Mayak can’t prevent leakages from the reservoirs into the Techa river. Espesially in the spring. They are lying,» Kutepova claims and says there are still some 500 people living in four villages downstream the contaminated Techa river.
When accused of treason in media Kutepova fled to France seeking asylum. She is afraid the accusations presented on federal TV were just the beginning of what could be formal prosecution.
Talking to the Barents Observer from Paris, Nadezhda Kutepova explains how people die from cancer in the area polluted by Mayak. She should know. Growing up in the closed town of Ozyorsk – formerly known as Chelyabinsk-65 – her father and grandparents were victims of the nuclear industry they worked for. They died of cancer.
She says Norwegian authorities should talk to NGOs that have worked in the area. They can tell another story than officials from Rosatom will tell.
Alternative to reprocessing is well known; dry storage.
«Legacy of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel at Mayak has been a heavy burden for many generations. It is a big injustice for the local people,» Mironova says.
«Reprocessing is dangerous. We have bad experience in handling liquid radioactive waste,» she argues.
Mironova also points to the risks of transport and reloading the containers with fuel.
«Transportation is a risky process. Minimization of the risk is best strategy. Safe storing with less transport and far away from Mayak would be the best strategy.»
Most other nuclear power countries in the world chose to store the waste and not reprocess it.
The storage dump in Andreeva Bay was built soon after the Soviet navy got its first nuclear powered submarine in the early 1960s. A pool type storage, given the code-name Building No. 5, had a leakage in the early 80s and the lethal fuel elements were urgently transferred to the three dry storage tanks. Supposed to be temporary, the totally run-down tanks have now served for more than 30 years. The 22.000 fuel elements in the tanks are equal to around 100 reactor cores.
In addition comes thousands of cubic meters of solid and liquid radioactive waste that one day will be removed.
Speaking at a seminar in Oslo devoted to Putin’s Year of Ecology, Bellona’s Frederic Hauge said the removal of the spent nuclear fuel from Andreeva Bay likely are the most risky part in the Post Cold War history of nuclear waste clean-up in the north. «But the work has to be done, and a good way to ensure it’s done in best and safest possible way is to maintain international cooperation at the site and let groups like Bellona have an independent eye on what’s going on,» Hauge said.