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Danger in Russia’s nuclear- powered icebreakers parked at Murmansk

Nuclear safety expert says it’s time to consider moving risky icebreaker operations out of Murmansk

Rosatomflot’s service base is not sized for all the planned new nuclear-powered icebreakers, says Andrey Zolotkov, who previously worked as engineer onboard one of the service vessels storing spent nuclear fuel. Barents Observer  By Thomas Nilsen  March 13, 2019 

«So far, so good, but what if something goes wrong one day. Then questions will come in terms of why such operations take place within the city limits of Murmansk,» says Andrey Zolotkov, head of the autonomous non-commercial organization Bellona.

Before he started working for the nuclear safety watchdog group, Zolotkov worked for decades onboard «Imandra», a service ship storing spent nuclear fuel from the fleet of icebreakers. The vessel is berthed at Rosatomflot’s service base less than two kilometers north of the nearest blocks of flats in the Rosta district in Murmansk, a city with 300,000 inhabitants.

There are few cities in the world where more reactors’ maintenance work, change- and storage of uranium fuel, handling and storage of radioactive waste takes place within the boundaries of such big city.

«Look at the bases of the [military] Northern Fleet,» Andrey Zolokov illustrates. «There, all the maintenance and repair work with nuclear submarines take place outside and away from the towns where people are living.»

Every three to four years, the uranium fuel in the reactors of the icebreakers have to be replaced. Such high-risk operations are carried out with the most comprehensive safety precautions in the nuclear industry. Additionally, due to heat and high radiation, the fuel elements have to be temporarily stored for a few years before being transported away by train. At the base in Murmansk, such interim storage takes place onboard the two ships «Imandra» and «Lotta», as well as in spacial designed casks onshore.

An accident with release of radioactivity could reach densely populated areas in Murmansk long before anyone manage to trigger the emergency evacuation alarm.

«Considering the many new icebreakers coming the most risky parts of the nuclear maintenance operation should be moved further away from the city centre,» Andrey Zolotkov argues. He, however, underlines that there has never been any accidents at the service base.

Currently, Russia has four nuclear-powered icebreakers and one container carrier. Rosatomflot is the world’s only fleet of civilian nuclear powered vessels and when not sailing in icy waters, they are all moored at the quays in Murmansk…….. https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/2019/03/nuclear-safety-expert-says-high-time-consider-moving-risky-icebreaker-operations-out

March 16, 2019 - Posted by | EUROPE, safety

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