January 14, 2003
New deal to clean up nuclear waste
By Sergei Blagov
MOSCOW - Russia has reached an agreement with its Nordic neighbors to clean up nuclear waste threatening the Arctic region.
Prime ministers from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) and Russia agreed to clean up the Kola Peninsula on the border between Russia and Norway at a meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) in Kirkenes in Norway on January 10 and 11. The council is named after the Barents Sea to the north of Norway, Finland and Russia.
The meeting led to what was considered a major breakthrough when Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced tax exemptions on equipment and technology for reprocessing radioactive waste.
A program had been worked out earlier by the European Union and Norway to carry out nuclear and radiation safety projects in Russia. But Russian reluctance to grant tax and import tariff exemptions held up the project.
Kasyanov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying that the agreement will be signed soon, and ratified by the Russian parliament later this year. The new deal provides for cooperation in nuclear safety and safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.
There are about 100 decommissioned nuclear submarines and reactors at bases of Russia's Northern Fleet on the Kola Peninsula, according to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. The Kola Peninsula became of particular strategic interest during the Cold War for its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and because its coast is free of ice in the winter. Many large naval bases and shipyards were established to service the Northern fleet, which grew into the world's largest.
The report by Bellona "The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination' says that there are at least 21,067 cubic meters of radioactive waste and at least 7,523 cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste at these shipyards. A total of 88 Northern Fleet nuclear submarines have been laid up, at least 52 of them with their nuclear fuel still on board.
Solid radioactive waste is stored at 11 different places along the coast of the Kola Peninsula and in Severodvinsk in the northern Murmansk region. The storage facilities are full, and solid radioactive waste is stored additionally in the open with little protection.
Liquid radioactive waste is stored at almost all of the naval bases, either in land-based tanks, or on board service ships or tankers. Most of these storage tanks too are full, and many of them are in poor condition, the Bellona report says.
The Northern Fleet's largest temporary storage facility for spent nuclear fuel is at Zapadnaya Litsa in Murmansk. About 21,000 radioactive tubes are stored here in concrete tanks, corresponding to waste from 90 nuclear reactors.
Large leaks were reported from an old storage pool here through the 1980s. The area is close to the Norwegian border, and it is not surprising that Norwegian authorities are backing projects to clean it up. Governor of Murmansk Yury Evdokimov has asked for Norwegian financing to construct storage facilities for reactor components in Sayda Bay and Andreeva Bay.
The Murmansk authorities want to reprocess all the nuclear waste in the region by 2007. A facility to reprocess solid radioactive waste has been planned in Polyarny with capacity to clean up 2,000 cubic meters of liquid waste a year.
Russian authorities have allocated US$50 million for storage of radioactive waste in the region. Another $100 million needed for this project is not yet available.
The Barents cooperation was formally established in January 1993 when representatives from Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, together with a representative of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, signed the first Kirkenes Declaration.
The declaration led to the launch of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council comprising representatives of national authorities, and the Regional Council representing the counties in the region. Cooperation schemes following this declaration are reported to have worked well.
The Barents group is determined also to clean up their act in other areas. The Nordic countries, Russia and the EU have agreed to improve border crossings and to combat human trafficking. (Inter Press Service)