Albion Monitor /News

Russia's Nuclear Stockpile Rusting

by Judith Perera and Andrei Ivanov

Attacks on environmentalist critics

(IPS) MOSCOW -- While Russia's nuclear submarines sit crumbling at the docks, security forces are continuing their campaign against environmental groups working to expose the potential disaster in the Arctic region.

Offices of a local environmental group in Sverodvinsk were broken into by the Federal Counter Intelligence Service (FSB) -- formerly the KGB.

"We fear that this may be part of a wider action by the security police in Russia against all groups working on nuclear issues in the North," says Thomas Nilsen of the Norwegian environmental group, Bellona.

The timing of the raids is seen as significant

Last year Bellona published a detailed and extensive report on nuclear contamination on the Russian Arctic covering the nuclear submarine facilities of the Northern Fleet as well as the civilian nuclear shipping facilities in Arctic port of Murmansk.

The Foundation was planning to publish an updated version of the report, but Bellona's offices in Murmansk were broken into by the FSB last October. All their computers, communications equipment and written materials were confiscated.

The same day the FSB raided the flats of three Bellona members in Murmansk as well as one in St Petersburg and arrested another member at St. Petersburg Airport.

"We have been working on the new report for over six months," says Nilsen, "but they have taken all our materials including those on radioactive wastes and spent fuel."

The timing of the raids is seen as significant. They took place while Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev was in Murmansk following a visit to Norway where he signed a co-operation agreement on greater information sharing in nuclear matters.

This was clearly unpopular with some sections of the military. The raids also came several weeks after a new presidential directive came into force which effectively put an end to civilian inspections of military nuclear facilities.

After a four-year struggle between Russia's new nuclear inspectorate -- Gosatomnadzor (GAN) -- and the Defense Ministry, the military has finally prevented GAN from having access to military nuclear sites dealing with nuclear weapons of nuclear- powered submarines.

In 1991 Russian President Boris Yeltsin made GAN responsible for the safety of all nuclear enterprises and organisations, including those of the Russian Defense Ministry.

Its very first inspections showed that there were serious problems at these sites especially with respect to the disposal of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, as well as the dismantling and disposal of decommissioned nuclear-powered ships and submarines.

GAN was especially alarmed at the stockpiling of spent nuclear fuel by Russia's Northern and Pacific Fleets, as well as the lack of dependable containers for transporting this fuel to the Mayak reprocessing plant in the Urals.

GAN produced a damning report in 1993 on conditions at nuclear submarine facilities in the Arctic. This resulted in the Defense Ministry refusing entry to any other facilities.

Besides gradual leakage, Kudrik fears explosions

Yeltsin caved in to military pressure while he was in hospital last July and issued a decree relieving GAN of any responsibility from mid-September for monitoring safety during the development, production, testing, maintenance, storage and disposal of nuclear weapons and military-related nuclear power units.

But GAN's was not the only report. Bellona's published in 1994 and containing 17 detailed maps of northern nuclear facilities, was even more damning.

It pointed out that the Kola peninsula in the Arctic has the highest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. Moreover they are poorly maintained and increasingly accident prone, due to the present financial problems facing the Northern Fleet. In addition nuclear wastes are accumulating rapidly at over ten naval bases more or less unchecked.

Bellona, which acts as an unofficial adviser to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on nuclear contamination in the Arctic, is not giving up. They have visited the local FSB office in Murmansk with their lawyer to demand the return of their equipment and materials.

"They have no right under Russian law to confiscate our materials without a court order," says Nilsen. When Bellona members crossed the border into Russia taking new computers and communications equipment to the office in Murmansk, members were arrested and released only after several hours of questioning.

The political situation is complex , and neither the Defense Ministry nor the Ministry of Atomic Power are likely to welcome any further revelations about nuclear contamination at any of their facilities. However, Bellona certainly has some supporters within the Russian establishment including the Foreign Ministry and GAN.

In a story in last week's San Francisco Chronicle, Bellona's Russian director Igor Kudrik said that there was enough radioactive material stored in temporary containers built in 1962 to equal 100 Chernobyl's.

Besides gradual leakage, Kudrik fears explosions: "There is the possibility of a chain reaction," he told the Chronicle. "Some of [the storage tanks] have held fuel for 15 years, and the condition of the fuel is not under control. We have no idea what kind of chemical reaction could take place when they are finally unloaded."

Albion Monitor February 18, 1996 (

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