Academician Vladislav A. Petrov
Institute of Geology of Ore Deposits, Petrography, Mineralogy, and Geochemistry
This report highlights the importance of continued National Academy of Sciences–Russian Academy of Sciences cooperation in addressing the challenges of the final stages of disposal of radioactive material.
A consensus-based solution to the problems during the final stages of nuclear materials management is an important challenge for Russia and the United States, especially in view of radiological risks at low levels of exposure. Cooperation between the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in this field has a very good “credibility history.” In 2003 the National Academies Press issued the report End Points for Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in Russia and the United States. The report was written by leading specialists from the two countries, including John F. Ahearne, Nikolai P. Laverov, Rodney C. Ewing, B. John Garrick, Darleane C. Hoffman, Nikolay N. Melnikov, Boris F. Myasoedov, Alexander A. Pek, Michail I. Solonin, Yuri K. Shiyan, and others.
The study that led to the report was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The report provides scientific and technical analyses on handling of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) and the associated management challenges in Russia and the United States. The report provides characteristics of the content of wastes, comparative analyses of management approaches adopted in the two countries, and evaluations
of different options for the final stages of interim and long-term storage of materials and waste, as well as final disposal of waste. The final phase for damaged SNF and nonrecyclable HLW calls for creation of disposal conditions that set a stage for a stable, secure, and reliable location for these materials, thereby preventing their access by extremists and professional terrorists.
The consolidated information has helped in correctly assessing all possible actions that should be adopted by Russia and the United States from both the near-term and the long-term perspectives. New areas of cooperation for solving the problems of interest for the two countries were also identified. These areas include the following:
- Training highly qualified personnel now and in the future.
- Protecting nuclear materials by locating them at a few reliably protected facilities.
- Conducting research and development of methodologies for antiterrorism measures.
- Upgrading technology and approaches for handling SNF discharges, including utilization of decommissioned nuclear power stations.
- Managing waste generated during production of nuclear weapons.
- Transporting SNF.
- Developing high-stability matrices for immobilization of various types of HLW.
- Developing integrated approaches for selection of the geological environment and locations for long-term storage and disposal of nuclear materials.
- Improving methods of processing SNF and HLW.
This pioneering work was the foundation for a number of joint research activities within such frameworks as “An International Repository of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel. Investigation of Possibilities for Establishing a Nuclear Waste Repository in Russia” (NAP, 2005); “Prospects for Improving Nuclear Safety. Protection of Weapons-Grade Materials in Russia” (NAP, 2006); “Preparatory work for Establishment of International Storage Facilities for Spent Nuclear Fuel” (2008, NAP); and “Internationalization of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Goals, Strategy, and Challenges” (2009, NAP).
To deal with the problem of final stages of handling nuclear materials, Russia has recently undertaken significant efforts. For example, intensive development of construction of a deep disposal facility for radioactive waste in Nizhnekanskii Granitoid Massive, in the Mountain-Chemical Combine
area (Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk region) is underway. A comprehensive research program to substantiate long-term security of nuclear waste disposal based on optimization of operational parameters was developed to implement the project during 2016–2018. “The Strategic Masterplan of Research to Substantiate Security of Construction, Exploitation and Closing of Deep Disposal Site for Radioactive Waste” has been approved by the State Atomic Energy Corporation (SAEC), which is linked to ROSATOM. Also, another relevant document is “The Strategy to Construct a Deep Disposal Facility for Radioactive Waste.” It sets forth the planning of events for more than 50 years into the future.
The challenge in approaching the final stages of nuclear materials handling and secure isolation of SNF—accumulated and routinely formed—continues to be a major radio-ecological problem in Russia. Many repositories are already full in accordance with their design levels or are very close to such a state. Thus, SAEC ROSATOM is constructing and plans to construct more new facilities. In this regard, the territory of the Priargunsk Mining and Chemical Association (PAO PPGHO), which is the biggest uranium ore mining and processing enterprise in Russia, is very promising because of its geographical location, natural and geological conditions, and infrastructure, economic, and technological opportunities for establishing an SNF repository, which can be given international status. The enterprise is situated in East Transbaikalia, where molybdenum-uranium is exploited in the Streltsovsk ore field.
This district is located in a sparsely populated area at a significant distance from large towns, settlements, and industrial centers. Also, it is connected with other Russian regions by railroad lines, roadways, and airline routes. The area is known for its detailed geological characteristics, which resulted from years of prospecting and exploration, geological and geophysical surveys, exploratory drilling and underground mining, and extensive scientific research work.
Crystalline rocks are present in the Archean-Proterozoic gneisses and Paleozoic granites, which are massive rocks with high strength properties in an undisturbed state. There are slightly deformed geological blocks, which due to their sizes can comprise the infrastructure of an underground SNF facility. Different variants of such a facility have been discussed with specialists from a U.S. National Research Council committee, led by M. Levenson and C. McCombie. They visited PAO PPGHO in 2002 to study problems associated with the final stages of nuclear material management in Russia.
It is clear that both the United States and Russia can solve many problems with the treatment of nuclear materials independently. But new
challenges and the urgent need to reduce even low levels of radiological risks dictate the importance of further cooperative research that was started by the RAS and the NAS to manage the problems during the final stages in handling nuclear materials.