The Lepse has over 600 highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel elements, originating from the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet, stored in its hold. Some of the fuel elements are damaged, making removal difficult, and the condition of the ship is causing international concern, says AEA Technology, which is leading the consortium with SGN of France.

Construction of the Lepse began in 1934, but was not completed and the ship was scuttled in 1941. It was salvaged after the war, modified for nuclear service purposes and was brought into service in 1962. In 1967 fuel elements from the Lenin, which had been damaged during and accident, were transferred to the Lepse. These elements were swollen and distorted during the accident, and some force had to be used to insert them into the storage channels.

The contract, woth £356,000, is being financed by the EU’s TACIS programme for the New Independent States and Mongolia. The total programme of work to remove the fuel and decommission the Lepse is expected to cost around £6 million, and will be funded by the EC, the governments of France and Norway, and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation.

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