Soviet subs risk ‘slow Chernobyl’ in Norway

One of Norway's leading environmentalists has warned that derelict Soviet nuclear submarines close to the country's northern borders risk causing a "Chernobyl in slow motion".

Soviet subs risk 'slow Chernobyl' in Norway
The K-159 submarine before it sank during a failed attempt to move it in 2004. It is only a matter of years before nuclear waste starts to leak. Photo: Bellona Foundation
Nils Bøhmer, a nuclear physicist and chief executive of the Bellona Foundation, told Norway's Dagbladet newspaper that several ships and submarines deserted in the Barents and Kara Seas could start to leak radioactive waste within as little as ten years. 
“We fear what could be called a Chernobyl in slow motion, where radioactive waste seeps out into the sea.” he said.  “The Radiation Protection Authority has estimated that it may start to leak in 10 to 15 years time.” 
Bellona has been campaigning for action to deal with nuclear waste in neighbouring Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, in 1994 its report "Sources of Radioactive Contamination in Murmansk and Archangel Counties" alerted the world to the risks posted by decommissioned Soviet nuclear-powered submarines. 
However, the breakdown in relations between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine has led Russia in December to effectively cancel  the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, also known as Nunn-Lugar, under which it has worked with US Department of Defence personnel to try and keep the material safe.  
The Soviet Union dumped vast amounts of nuclear waste in the Barents and Kara Seas in the decades leading up to its dissolution in 1991. In total it abandoned: 19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 with nuclear reactors, five of which contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery;  17,000 containers with radioactive waste; and three nuclear submarines.
Of these, the three submarines pose the worst risk, with the Business Insider news site warning that K-27 could cause a Chernobyl-like event if the casings of its reactors fail and radiation leaks into the sea.  
The K-27 was an experimental design launched in 1962. While on duty in 1968, the reactor started leaking radiation, poisoning the crew. According to the BBC, nine seamen died of radiation poisoning immediately, while many more had their lives cut short.
The vessel was sunk in the Kara Sea in 1981 only 30 meters below sea level, far shallower than required by international guidelines. 

The greatest direct risk to Norway is posed by the K-159 submarine, which sank on a journey from the town of Ostrovnoy in Russia's Murmansk region in 2003, just 200km from the Norwegian border, giving it the potential to contaminate some of the country's most valuable fisheries. 
The wreck was mapped by sonar in 2010 by the British subsea surveyors Adus Deep Ocean under a now aborted project to salvage the vessel. 
Bøhmer says that the matter is urgent. ”I think we have a short time horizon to do something about this problem. Nuclear waste must be retrieved and stored on land where possible, or buried in the seabed before it is too late.”

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Russia to send ‘world’s largest nuclear sub’ on voyage along Norwegian coast

The world’s largest nuclear submarine may sail along almost the entire Norwegian coast this summer in the build-up to a Russian navy parade.

Russia to send 'world’s largest nuclear sub' on voyage along Norwegian coast
A Delta 3 submarine - not the same class as the one mentioned in this article - off Murmansk Harbour. File photo: Henning Lillegård/NTB scanpix

The 172-metre long Dmitri Donskoy is scheduled to participate in a Russian navy parade off St. Petersburg in July, says a report by The Independent Barents Observer.

According to the report, the sub will sail out of its base on coast of the White Sea, along the coast of Norway, and the into the Skagerrak and Baltic seas before arriving in St. Petersburg on the 30th July.

The voyage will be the first time a submarine of this kind has sailed into the Baltic Sea.

It will be necessary for the craft to sail at surface level under Denmark’s Great Belt Bridge, claims the report, since the Swedish Maritime Administration states that waters under the Øresund channel separating Denmark and Sweden are too shallow.

Originally built by the Soviet Union, the submarine is the only one of its class of Typhoon nuclear submarines still in active service.

The craft is powered by two nuclear reactors and can carry 20 missiles and up to 200 nuclear warheads, according to the report.

“I’m concerned when a nearly 40-years old nuclear submarine with two relatively large reactors on board will sail such a voyage along the coast of Norway and into the Baltic Sea. Nordic authorities must make sure the exact time of the voyage is announced so preparedness can be put in place. It is also necessary to get assurance that there are no nuclear weapons on board,” nuclear physicist Nils Bøhmer of environmental NGO The Bellona Foundation told Independent Barents Observer.

The Russian Navy is expected to be given approval for the plan by President Vladimir Putin in around one month, says the report.

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