4 September 2012, 19:55

Kara Sea as nuclear Pandora box

Kara Sea as nuclear Pandora box

In late August, the Russian-Norwegian expedition to survey the flooded areas for radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel started in the Kara Sea in the Arctic region. The expedition’s main goal is to study the condition of the dumped K-27 submarine and to find possibilities for lifting it as well as for its final decommissioning.

In the mid of the 20th century the Kara Sea became the main dumping area for radioactive wastes. The waters around the Novaya Zemlya archipelago cover thousands of containers with used nuclear fuel, almost 20 ships with radioactive materials. Also several nuclear reactors and a submarine were dumped there, which arouses concern of ecologists. In an interview with the “Voice of Russia” Vladlen Korobkin, academician of the Russian academy of natural sciences said there is a threat of radioactive contamination due to undertow streams.

"Earlier scientists thought that stirring of waters in the sea did not exist. That is why they thought that dumping wastes in the sea at the depth of several hundred meters would not do damage to the environment. But the stirring exists and gradually all the wastes will be brought to the water surface so we mustn’t dump hazardous substances including radioactive wastes in the sea waters."

But the results of the recent studies remove the ecologists’ concerns. We hear from deputy director of the Institute for Ocean Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Mikhail Flint.

"I should say that Russia’s Emergency Ministry has been regularly studying the situation with radiation and the last study was conducted in 2007. It was a very detailed expedition including the inspection of the dumping sites in the northern part of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, which had not been inspected before. No signs of leak of radioactive material were found."

The K-27 submarine was dumped in the Kara Sea in 1982 following a serious reactor accident. Before dumping the reactor unit was filled with a special solution which prevented leaks of radioactive material. In order to prevent contact of fissionable materials with sea water the unit was filled with 270 tons of bitumen. 

Mikhail Flint sees political motives behind the plans of Norwegians to lift the submarine and to decommission it on the ground.

"There is a political component in it. Sometimes for political reasons people do the things they would never for pragmatic reasons. I think the main issue on the agenda is whether it is reasonable or not to invest money in it. Especially if it concerns the objects which integrity we can guarantee until they are lying on the sea bottom. If we begin to lift them we may face numerous technical and natural emergencies. The lifting technology is not flawless. I think there are political motives behind the intentions of the Norwegian experts."

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