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By Dmitry Solovyov
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Tuesday sent a first shipment of spent fuel from Soviet-era nuclear-powered submarines to a reprocessing plant as part of an international effort to clean-up a dangerous legacy of the Cold War.
The radioactive fuel from more than 100 reactors of over 50 submarines has been stored at Andreyeva Bay in north-western Russia, closed as a naval base in 1992, for the past 35 years.
It presented a serious environmental risk, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), which helps manage financing for the project, said.
From Andreyeva Bay, the spent fuel will be shipped on board a specially-equipped vessel to Russia's Arctic port of Murmansk, then on to its final destination, the Mayak nuclear reprocessing plant in Chelyabinsk, near the Ural Mountains.
The project aims to remove all of the 22,000 nuclear fuel assemblies stored at Andreyeva Bay. It is likely to take several years, the EBRD said.
The project, established in 2003, supplements Russian, multilateral and bilateral projects and is funded by the European Union and Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.
"It is particularly pleasing to see that nations put aside their differences to resolve such crucial issues as the legacy of the nuclear-powered fleet in the north of Russia," Pierre Heilbronn, EBRD vice president for policy and partnerships, said in a statement.
To date, the fund has received 165 million euros ($186 million) in contributions.
(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Janet Lawrence)