* Facility to store spent nuclear fuel in casks for 50 years
* Allows flexibility in shipping radioactive waste to Russia
* Bulgaria yet to decide on deep burying of spent fuel
(Adds quote, details on depot’s licence, paragraphs 6,8)
KOZLODUY, Bulgaria, May 12 (Reuters) - Bulgaria’s nuclear power plant opened a dry spent fuel storage facility on Thursday as a step toward ensuring long-term containment of radioactive waste in the European Union country, officials said.
The Balkan country had contracted German consortium NUKEM Technologies-GNS to build the depot for 70.5 million euros ($101.5 million) to store radioactive waste in dry casks from its Soviet-made reactors at the Kozloduy plant on the Danube river.
The facility will be able to take over 5,200 spent fuel assemblies in 72 steel and heavy concrete casks for 50 years.
Dry casks use air to keep fuel cool, rather than pumped water, which needs a steady power supply.
The U.S. nuclear safety regulator said earlier this month it was studying whether to require plants to move radioactive waste out of pools to dry casks more quickly as part of a review on safety in the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster. [ID:nN02301282].
The depot will become fully operational by the middle of 2012, when the nuclear regulator is expected to licence it, Kozloduy plant said in a statement.
Kozloduy has been keeping its radioactive waste in pools and sending it to Russia for further processing and storage. Energy Minister Traicho Traikov said the new depot would help Bulgaria be more flexible in shipping waste to Russia.
“The facility is an alternative to sending spent fuel abroad. It gives us a chance for flexible decisions, and depending on market conditions or our plans, to choose between the two options,” Traikov told at the opening ceremony.
The dry spent fuel depot will allow the country to store spent nuclear fuel for the long term in case it is unable to ship it abroad, its radioactive waste strategy said. Bulgaria is to decide by 2013 whether to build a deep-burying waste dump.
The storage will take waste from the plant’s already decommissioned four 440 megawatt nuclear reactors. In a further step, it will be upgraded to take waste from Kozloduy’s operational two 1,000 MW units.
The project is financed by the Kozloduy International Decommissioning Support Fund administered by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The European Union has also been considering binding rules for nuclear waste, which envisioned forcing utilities to dispose of waste chiefly by burying it deep underground to avoid any build up of radioactive spent fuel rods.[ID:nLDE6A21IP]
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Stoyan Nenov, editing by Jane Baird