British Report: Abandoned Russian Subs Pose Nuclear Threat
According to a British report published June 10, 2005, Russia’s scrapped atomic submarines pose a serious nuclear threat. Russia must act to prevent a nuclear accident in northwest Russia’s Barents Sea region, home to 118 scrapped nuclear submarines as well as spent nuclear fuel storage sites, said Mark Gerchikov, coordinator of the report from British consulting firm National Nuclear Corporation. It was funded by the 60-nation European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The USSR built 450 naval nuclear reactors, beginning in 1958. Of these, two-thirds are located in the Barents Sea region, representing 20% of the world’s nuclear reactors. “Certain nuclear installations are in such a state that we cannot exclude a chain reaction” leading to a nuclear accident, Gerchikov said at the report’s presentation.
The report focuses on two sites in Murmansk province as being of particular concern, including the Gremikha Naval Base, where spent nuclear fuel from Alfa class submarines is unloaded. Radiation levels at the sites are several times higher than recommended limits, yet workers often lack adequate protective clothing, Gerchikov said.
The report is notable for having been written with the cooperation of Russia’s nuclear energy ministry, after years in which the state tried to quash discussion of abandoned nuclear submarines and waste sites littering the Barents Sea area.
The 40-page report won ringing endorsement at the presentation from Alexander Nikitin, a former naval officer who spent 11 months in jail on charges of treason and espionage after he published articles about the nuclear threat posed by the Northern Fleet.
The report is “a real turning point,” Nikitin said. “The atomic energy ministry has for the first time made unprecedented sacrifices, publishing secret documents for the first time.”
The European Bank earlier this year launched a tender for carrying out clean-up work, to be paid for out of its Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Support Fund.
The Norwegian Bellonna think tank has a particularly good set of resources devoted to this issue. See esp. their sections covering International cooperation on naval clean-up and Spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.
Article sources also included Russia’s Abandoned Submarines Pose Threat by Agence-France Presse (June 10/05).