NICKEL-PRODUCING REGIONS AND ZONES WHERE NUCLEAR WASTE
MIGHT BE STORED
V. N. Komlev, N.I. Bichuk, V.G. Zaitsev, G.S. Melikhova,
V.A. Pavlov Kola Peninsula Geology and Mountain institute,
Committee for Natural Resources of the Murmansk Province,
Murmansk Geological Prospecting Expedition,
Central-Kola Geological Prospecting Expedition
The Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Leningrad oblasts’ most pressing economic,
technological and social task today is to isolate various radioactive
materials from the biosphere. These materials include hard conditioned
radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, and the radionuclide-contaminated
reactor compartments of submarines, reactors and other energy-producing
equipment. Meanwhile, the experience of the Atomic Energy Ministry and
that of Russian and foreign regions should be taken into account, as well
as economic development in the Barents region and the Russian North.
The urgency of this problem is the result of a hastily built nuclear
industry the ecological hazards of which remained classified information
until just recently. Now experts are scrambling both here and abroad to
find solutions. This new, grave and multifaceted challenge will require
the intellectual efforts of all manner of energy experts as well as substantial
financial and material support.
In order to fully reclaim the polluted areas and contaminated equipment,
the numerous existing landfills and floating stations along the Barents
and White Sea coasts where radioactive materials have necessarily accumulated
will have to be eliminated. Of greatest concern is the spent nuclear fuel
in the holds of the Lepse (docked in Murmansk),intemporary
storage cells in Guba Andreyeva Bay and the settlement of Gremikha, and
in the disassembled reactor compartments of submarines in Saida-Guba.
For the sake of the North and its coasts, potentially dangerous materials
must be removed from their current storage units, many of which are deteriorating,
to isolated sites that comply with international law and are under international
supervision. A single centralized site for the whole region would be preferable
to many small sites.
Building sites in the Northwest region were chosen after stiff competition
among different organizations (Table 1). The interests of the independent
investigations partially conflicted in only one region (in the northwest
of Murmansk Oblast). This may make for a compromise.
Table 1. Research into the validity of different sites in Russia’s
Northwest for the storage of nuclear waste.
Atomic Energy Ministry
Mountain Institute; SGN, Antea, Belgatom
(of France, Belgium)
Kola Peninsula, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Arctic islands,
International Scientific-Technical Center (Moscow)
Kola Peninsula, Arkhangelsk oblast, Arctic islands,
Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co.
Nedra and Kolskaya Sverhglubokaya Skvazhina (State
Area of Kola ultra-deep borehole
Same as above plus Geology Institute
Area of Kola ultra- deep borehole
Atomic Energy Ministry, Leningrad oblast government
Radium Institute, Projection Institute of Energy
Atomic Energy Ministry, Murmansk Steamship Line
Projection Institute of Industrial Technology
Novaya Zemlya archipelago
Experts from the Projection Institute of Energy Technology, Saint-Petersburg
University, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Kola Peninsula Geology and
Mountain institutes, State Geology Enterprises (Nedra and Kol'skaya Sverkhglubokaya
Skvazhina), Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co., and other domestic
and foreign organizations have given their opinions as to the expedience
of shallow and deep sites near the Pechenga tectonic depression [1-4].
Penchenga’s rocks of volcanic sediment resemble those at Mayak, the site
of many surface depositories and soon an underground one as well. Similar
Ural rocks have been thoroughly studied by the Projection Institute of
Industrial Technology. The Institute of Ore-Deposit Geology (IGEM) has
positively estimated their buffer properties with respect to radionuclides
. And the Institute of Geosphere Dynamics (IDG) is in the process of
determining whether this massive is a block. Geological data concerning
the nickel-producing capacities of Ufaley, Kischtim, Muslumovsk and other
intrusions near the Mayak site (for purposes of expanding the raw-materials
base of Yuzhuralnikel) may contribute to a fuller and truer evaluation
of both the Mayak site and Pechenga.
In the interests of a compromise, and given the problems with Siberia’s
“nuclear” regions, geological formations in Norilsk (basalts, gabbro-dolerites,
permafrost) could combine the best aspects of Pechenga, Novaya Zemlya
We have established the high hydro-insulation of rocks in Pechenga (Table
2). This fact could significantly increase the Pechenga tectonic depression’s
chances of becoming a large and long-term site that would be both economic
and reliable .
Table 2. Hydraulic testing of different rocks (according to nuclear
waste data from Finnish atomic
energy stations , Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co. [7,8], and
Number of boreholes
Power of the quarries studied,
Total power studied,
Filtration coefficient for quarries,
meters per 24 hours
Gneisses and granites,
Series of matert and Zhdanovskaya, Pechenga
Data has been analyzed from exploratory drilling as well as from hydro-geological,
geophysical and other boreholes (hundreds of tests in all), and observations
have been made down to a depth of 800 meters at Severny, a Pechenga-Nickel
mine. The results show that in Pechenga rocks beginning at depths of 60
or 70 meters outside faults at the exit of wind zones there is an acute
decrease of the filtration coefficient value, which is lower than 150
meters and has a stable value of 10-4 – 10-5 meters per twenty-four hours.
In these circumstances, the ore bodies coincide with those of areas with
low rock filtration values, the lowest gas appearance and general underground
waters mineralization. This last factor increases the value of these underground
mines as potential nuclear waste storage sites. Russia plans to make Norilsk
its nickel-production priority rather than Severo Nickel and Pechenga
Nickel (Murmansky Vestnik, dated 10.06.99 and 28.10.99) where the
ore base has been depleted and work has become unprofitable.
The marine transportation of Norilsk raw materials to the Kola Peninsula
is an important link in today’s complex industrial relations within Russia’s
nickel industry. This fact, together with the need for better support
of both metallurgical and ore mining and processing, has forced Norilsk
Nickel to periodically raise the question of making radical changes at
Pechenga Nickel and Severo Nickel. Especially since Norilsk Nickel, too,
is anticipating difficulties (see Politics, Economics, Finances, June
1998, published by the Murmansk regional Economics project and Economics
and Life, No. 48, November 1999.).
Other areas of research related to the problem of nuclear waste include:
Evaluation of a broader range of rocks including volcano-sedimentary
rocks in Pechenga, gneisses, amphibolites and crystal-base granitoids,
also late-glacial and post-glacial clays;
Comparison of information on the Kola ultra-deep borehole (SGS-3)
with the results of industrial geological prospecting and processing
Determination of positive and negative reactions of radioactive waste
to different isolation environments based on findings from geological
formations and SGS-3, and on examples of geological conditions at the
best foreign (gneisses and granitoids in Sweden and Finland) and Russian
(volcanic-sedimentary rocks at Mayak, granitoids at Krasnoyarsk rock-chemical
enterprise, Kembric clays near the Leningrad Atomic Energy Station)
Project 408 of the International UNESCO program on geological correlation
(1998-2002) anticipates that research at SGS-3 (with a depth of more than
12 km.) and other ultra-deep boreholes as well as adjacent territories
will produce data concerning the Earth’s construction and valuable information
about the potential for and risk of storing nuclear waste at great depths
. Project 408 participants met at a plenary conference in the northern
Russian city of Apatity (1-7 September 1999) to discuss the results of
various subprojects in 1998-1999.
The discussion revealed an acute shortage of experts, i.e. geologists
able to guarantee the safe storage of nuclear waste deep underground and
estimate the long-term effects of that waste on the environment. The conference
therefore recommended creating individual or collective new subprojects
(we welcome proposals from those who would like to participate) specifically
devoted to Project 408’s geo-ecological aspects. The Coordinator suggested
involving both Russian and foreign specialists in geology and ecology
(for example, from IGEM, the Radium Institute, the Institute of Experimental
Physics, the Projection Institute of Industrial Technology, Russian environmental
organizations, Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft zum Bau und Betrieb von
Endlagern fur Abfallstoffe mbH, France’s Antea and SGN and Belgium’s Belgatom
– leading Western nuclear waste management firms) as well as experts from
the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co. (SKB) and Finland’s
Posiva with the technical and economic experience needed to build nuclear
storage facilities under the sea bottom and underground.
Given the heightened international interest in the fate of nuclear waste
; the unique conditions and applied nature of the research ; the
support of UNESCO, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Russian Academy
of Sciences; and the experience gained from Russian nuclear programs,
it would be useful to discuss Project 408, problems of nuclear waste,
and the validity of northwestern Murmansk Oblast as a prospective storage
We would recommend prompt engineering and geological research in the
area under consideration together with serious financial support.
The Mountain Institute has estimated that the cost (capital investment
and exploitation costs) of nuclear waste storage on the Kola Peninsula
would be six or seven times less than on Novaya Zemlya.
The initial stage of building an international-standard underground waste
facility on a sparsely populated island or an area of the continental
Russian North would, in all likelihood, facilitate the Government and
State Duma’s adoption of the Atomic Energy Ministry’s proposal that Russia
import and store foreign nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel. Payment
for the storage of foreign nuclear waste could entirely cover the substantial
cost of storing Russia’s own nuclear waste as well.
The project will have to pass international inspection. The problem of
storing nuclear waste is unquestionably related to the safe and sustainable
development of the European North. The project should be considered from
various points of view. As specialists from the Radium Institute rightly
suppose, Russia is not as rich as the United States and cannot afford
to spend billions of dollars on projects that are then rejected by the
Major oil and gas transshipping terminals and an oil-processing plant
are planned for the Barents coast of the Kola Peninsula (near Pechenga).
Russian and foreign interests in this oil- and gas-rich region have prompted
Norway to propose the creation of a Euro-Arctic oil industry association
(EAPF). The Russian concern Lukoil now owns the Murmansk steamship line
and its atomic fleet of ice-breaking ships, the only such fleet in the
world. The Russian government’s plan to privatize this fleet through foreign
investment (Polyarnaya Pravda, 16.12.99) is highly controversial.
The role of Arctic marine transport will only increase in the near future
(“The North Sea Way: Stepping Into the 21st Century”, conference,
Oslo, November 1999). Norilsk Nickel would like to have the right (on
a par with Lukoil and Gazprom) to control cargo shipping with the help
of atomic surface and underwater vessels (Murmansky Vestnik, 18.11.99).
Norilsk Nickel is ready to finance the completion of a new atomic icebreaker
(P. Sazhinov, Murmansk television, Weekly Panorama on 4.12.99).
Underground areas of Pechenga (or Norilsk) used for nuclear purposes and
for the “nuclear” North regions could provide another base for Norilsk
Nickel. At least 20% of Norilsk Nickel’s total investments go to non-traditional
projects. The interests of Norilsk Nickel’s daughter company, a Kola metallurgical
concern, are broader than the extraction and processing of any one raw
material (Ekonomika i zhizn, No. 48, November 1999). Moreover,
Pechenga Nickel’s new geological function could prove useful in the long
term when the problem of available industrial power and manpower is solved,
and it could strengthen Norilsk Nickel’s position.
In the most representative studies of the Kola Peninsula (Mountain Institute,
1996 – 2000, Table 1) Pechenga was left out. The results of a complex
evaluation of other areas (TACIS Project NUCRUS R 4.10.95, Task 7, Report,
November 1999) point to two problems.
Even “finally” selected grounds in Dalnije Zelentci, Kusreca, Schapochka
and Pojakonda-Nigrozero will either significantly affect protected natural
territories, or seriously damage the habitats of certain biological species.
This is a result of general techno-genetic processes that accompany the
building and exploitation of any large industrial project. Moreover, it
has so far been impossible to decide which of these four equally suitable
areas would be the best.
Pechenga, where land is cheap because it is Arctic rocky tundra and because
the nature has already been damaged by Pechenga-Nickel (no additional
damage would be done in future), could provide an excellent base and a
definitive solution to the problem of where to build. The opinions of
experts from France and Belgium will be taken into account along with
new factors and incentives in Russia.
An understanding of the ties between the nuclear, oil-gas and rock-ore
industries is needed in order to develop practical recommendations and
sources of financing. Pechenga meets the Atomic Energy Ministry’s standards
in the sense that the socio-economic conditions there are favorable [4,
10, 11, 13-16].
By contrast, in Saida-Guba officials and residents in the town of Gadzhievo
town are already protesting the storage of submarine reactor compartments
(about 100, some with the fuel still in them) (Murmansky Vestnik,
Norilsk Nickel, backed by ONEKSIM bank, and the oil-gas corporations
could gain control of the most sensitive problem in Russia’s nuclear industry
and participate in at least the organization of an atomic transport fleet.
The existence of mutual economic, financial and political interests in
Murmansk Oblast and Krasnoyarsk Krai will probably facilitate this (Politics,
Economics, Finances, Murmansk, June 1998).
By June 2000 Great Britain will decide in which project to increase radiation
and nuclear safety on the Kola Peninsula to invest the 3 million pounds
promised by Foreign Minister Robin Cooke (Murmansk Vestnik, 16.
12. 99). Perhaps the best place for these investments, and domestic ones
too, is Pechenga?
For help in finding information on foreign sites, our sincere thanks
to Bo Gustafsson, Bjorn Dverstorp, Anita Wiberg, Pekka Anttila, Pekka
Sarkka, Aimo Hautojarvi, Marianne Moe, and Helena Komleva.
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– Apatity, 1998. – 25 p. (In Russian)
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nuclear materials underground storage // Ibid. P. 152. (In Russian)
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