This question was not an idle one, as one of the largest stores of spent nuclear fuel in Russia is located in a mining and chemical industrial complex in Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory. During the nuclear arms race, weapon-grade plutonium was produced there and now irradiated fuel from modern water-cooled reactors (VVER) in Russia and foreign nuclear power plants in Ukraine, Bulgaria and Hungary is stored there.
In the spring of 2001, the State Duma adopted a law that allowed Russia to accept and process irradiated nuclear fuel. In order to control the arrival of spent nuclear fuel, Vladimir Putin decreed in July that a special commission led by Zhores Alferov, a Nobel Prize laureate and a Duma deputy, be established. Russia will participate in a tender for the right to build in its territory an international storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. Russia hopes to use the Zheleznogorsk mining and chemical industrial complex as the site for the storage facility. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said that if possible, an international storage facility should store potentially dangerous materials (susceptible to a terrorist threat) in one place.
The Zheleznogorsk storage facility was designed with a capacity of 6,000 metric tons. Half of the storage facility has already been filled. Currently, work to increase the capacity of the facility to 9,000 metric tons is being done. Irradiated fuel from RBMK water-cooled and graphite-moderated reactors (Chernobyl type) are supposed to be stored in another storage facility with a capacity of 38,000 metric tons. The construction of this facility has just started on the basis of one of the complex's factories.
Experts from the Nuclear Power Ministry believe that the storage facility may store tens of thousands of metric tons of irradiated fuel from across the world. The ministry hopes to store 20,000 metric ton (10% of the world's amount of spent nuclear fuel). Storing nuclear waste will be profitable for Russia as Russia will receive $1 million per metric ton of spent fuel. Zheleznogorsk will receive a large portion of that to handle environmental issues (up to 25%).
According to Nikolai Shingarev, the head of the Nuclear Power Ministry PR board, spent nuclear fuel may, in line with the law, be brought to Russia either for temporary storage or processing. If spent fuel is brought to Russia for temporary storage, after Russia has stored the materials for decades (or hundreds of years) and the level of radioactivity has been reduced, the material will be returned to the supplier. Low grade waste is processed using a special glazing process, i.e. mixing the material with molten glass. In this form, the material can be stored indefinitely and the unburned nuclear material can be returned to its owners.
Mr. Shingarev said that many ecologists support the idea of bringing and storing foreign spent nuclear fuel to Russia because this makes it possible to get large sums for improving the environmental situation in provinces. There are also people who are against bringing nuclear waste to Russia. For instance, Alexei Yablokov, a well-known Russian environmentalist, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and president of the Russian Center for the Environmental Policy, said, "all of the Nuclear Power Ministry actions, harboring plans for storing 'nuclear trash' from across the world, are only aimed at earning money". Mr. Yablokov is concerned about the structural integrity of materials used to build tanks for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel, whose half-life is hundreds of years.
From the inception of the nuclear industry in Russia and other nuclear states, one of the persistent problems has been how spent nuclear fuel is handled. A nuclear reactor spends about one gram of fissionable material per megawatt-day of thermal energy therefore one gram of highly radioactive fission product is created. Fission products remain in the fuel elements. According to the IAEA, special storage facilities in the world store about 200,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel. Further development of the nuclear power sector largely depends on how the problem of safely storing and using stockpiled waste is resolved.