Nuclear waste burial could be in the backyard

  • 2012-04-18
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

OUR PROBLEM: Nuclear waste from Ignalina is here to stay, says Saulius Lapienis.

KLAIPEDA - The prolonged row between Russian-origin Nukem Technologies, which won the public tender to build a radioactive nuclear waste management and storage facility at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, and the Lithuanian government has ended with the latter’s concession to take on the extra financial burden – 20 million euros – which the Lithuanian side had previously tried to roll over to Nukem.

Bowing to Nukem in exchange for a bonus?

The decision comes as a big shift, as quite recently, in the fall of last year, Lithuanian Energy Minister Sekmokas publicly lambasted the contractor, calling it “unreliable” and therefore, according to the minister, other companies should be entrusted with the execution of the rest of the project. Nukem, in Sekmokas’ opinion, ought only to complete building the interim nuclear waste repository.

The background of the position change is still not clear, but some Lithuanian energy experts speculate that Lithuania has been talked into bowing to Nukem in exchange for extra financing for the Ignalina NPP decommissioning work.
Thus, Nukem has been given the green light for continuing the 123 million euro construction of a radioactive nuclear waste repository and a 193 million euro interim spent nuclear fuel storage facility. However, upon the new agreement between both sides, the numbers will go up and the financing gap will be bridged with Lithuanian money.
The bottom line is that both these facilities, in which construction is behind schedule by 3-4 years, are interim, and the issue of deep geological disposal – i.e. where the waste will be stored permanently, or for at least 50-70 years – remains. It is thought the waste is capable of corroding even the toughest metal containers, and this would remain within the country.

The task is encumbered by Lithuania’s inexperience in this kind of undertaking, as during the Soviet era all spent nuclear fuel from the Ignalina NPP was managed by central Soviet agencies for the reprocessing and final disposal of radioactive waste. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Lithuania committed itself to find new solutions to the problem. This so far appears to be a daunting and challenging task for the Baltic country, which is determined to keep its status as a nuclear energy state.

Program not even in the pipeline

In meeting the stringent provisions of the EU Nuclear Waste Directive, Lithuania, like any other EU member state, committed to drawing up a program of nuclear waste’s deep geological disposal by 2015, with geological research of the Lithuanian surface structure a centerpiece of it. The program aims to answer such questions as the selection of a proper site for such a waste repository, its construction and launching, as well as construction costs and financing possibilities.

“As far as I know, Lithuania has been hopelessly behind in implementing the program. We won’t be able to meet the deadline,” Linas Balsys, president of Lithuania’s Green Policy Institute, said to The Baltic Times.
“Indeed, Lithuania hasn’t yet begun preparing it as only preparatory sketches have been drawn. We still have nearly three years to go, so I am optimistic Lithuania will be able to catch up,” Dainius Janenas, director of RNWMA, Radioactive Nuclear Waste Management Agency, said to The Baltic Times.
Czech Republic as example

Over the last decade, in searching for the best burial site for the waste from Ignalina, Lithuania has been on an extremely bumpy road, relating to intentions of foisting it onto Russia, hauling it to Finland, or becoming a nuclear cemetery itself for EU member states’ nuclear waste.

“This proves how uncertain Lithuania has been in a life-and-death issue like getting rid of the waste. For quite some time, Lithuania had agreed to become a nuclear waste burial site for 12 EU member states. Only when this horrible news leaked out did Lithuania’s Parliament hurry to pass a law banning disposal of incoming nuclear waste on Lithuanian soil,” says Saulius Lapienis, a prominent nuclear energy expert. He adds: “Sure, the best way in tackling the problem would be engaging Russia in talks over burying the Ignalina NPP’s radioactive nuclear waste on its soil. Furthermore, it came from there. This is the way the Czech Republic has coped with the Russian-origin nuclear waste from its nukes. However, this is obviously an impossible way for Lithuania to deal with the problem… due to political frictions,” Lapienis noted to The Baltic Times.

He says Lithuania has currently no other option than burying the waste on its territory.