One of the things I had wanted to talk to Cheryl Rofer about today was an article I came across a couple of days ago in the Eurasian Review which had some scary facts and figures about the post-Soviet mess of nuclear waste in the North West Region of Russia, which includes the Murmansk and Archangelsk Oblasts (provinces), the Novaya Zemlya Territory (Okrug) and the White, Barents and Kara Seas. The area “contains the largest concentration of fissile, radioactive and nuclear materials for either military or civilian application found anywhere on the planet”, says the article by Richard Rousseau – and most of it is badly maintained, in rusting containment and slowly but surely leaking out.
Among the risks: four nuclear power plants, a half dozen nuke-powered icebreakers that use 90% (bomb level) enriched uranium in their 14 reactors, 5 storage vessels full of radioactive waste, a storage facility that “hosts 21,000 spent fuel rods, equivalent to approximately 90 nuclear reactors, as well as thousands of tons radioactive liquid waste stored in decrepit stainless-steel containers”, a sub base that acts as a storage for 17 rusting nuclear-powered subs and 800 spent fuel assemblies for them. All told “the volume of radioactive material on the Kola Peninsula is equivalent to about 150 nuclear reactors and thousands of tons of depleted uranium and plutonium.”
In addition to the threat of radioactive pollution, the level of ”œconventional” pollution is also very high in that re-ion, principally due to airborne chemical pollution from the mining, steel and metallurgical industries.
Unfortunately Russia has a historically dismal record of nuclear accidents and has never adequately demonstrated a capacity to cope efficiently and effectively with environmental emergencies. The risks of accidents on the Kola Peninsula are considerable and these could directly affect the Arctic and Scandinavian countries. The next radioactive toxic cloud formed on the Kola Peninsula might easily drift over Central Europe and the northern coast of Canada and even reach the United States.
I asked Cheryl, who worked on nuclear clean-ups at Los Alamos and in Estonia, if it was really as bad there as the article said it was. Apparently, yes it is: although we don’t have to worry about multiple Chernobyl or Fukishima-style meltdowns we still should worry about massive long-term leakage of radiation into the environment. And, says Cheryl, the Russians get more reluctant every year to let foreigners help them clean up the mess even though they don’t have the funds or the expertise to do the job themselves.