Staunton, July 23 – As part of its effort to open the Arctic Sea route to ships travelling between Europe and Asia, Moscow is launching a 74-day expedition to identify “potentially dangerous” objects there, including “many containing radioactive materials” that were dumped there in Soviet times.
Maksim Vladimirov, a senior official at the Emergency Situations Ministry who is responsible for fire protection and civil defense, says that the expedition which will proceed from Arkhangelsk to Anadyr and back until October 3rd is “the longest in the 20 year history” of such explorations (eco.rian.ru/nature/20100720/256572364.html).
“The most important goal of the upcoming expedition,” he told journalists this week, “is the study of the status of potentially dangerous objects underwater,” including in particular “the many objects containing radioactive materials buried in the Tsivolki Gulf of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago” and in particular the nuclear core of the atomic icebreaker “Lenin.”
Vladimirov presented this expedition as a condition of his ministry’s efforts begun in 2009 to monitor potentially dangerous sites in the Black, Baltic and Okhotsk Seas and Lake Ladoga, including the work it did to determine the radiation threat from a Soviet nuclear submarine that sank in August 1985 150 kilometers from Vladivostok.
But in fact it is more than that in a double sense. On the one hand, the expedition will do more than just identify radiation threats along the Arctic Sea route. It will work with local officials to set up monitoring sites and rescue stations in Dudinsk, Tiksi, Pevek and Anadyr to assist with navigation and any accidents that may occur.
And on the other, this expedition comes on the tenth anniversary of the acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin, the former Russian naval officer who in 1995 was charged with espionage by the FSB because of the information he supplied to Norway’s Bellona environmental protection organization about Soviet nuclear dumping in the Arctic Sea.
It thus represents a kind of belated official acknowledgement of precisely the kind of problems the Bellona report Nikitin contributed to, “The Russian Northern Fleet: Soures of Radioactive Contamination,” and may prompt precisely the kind of cleanup that Nikitin, Bellona and others have campaigned for (www.bellona.org/articles/articles_2010/nikitin_ten_years).
At least, that is the outcome one can hope for given that the number of ships transiting the Northern Sea route seems set to expand dramatically already this year, with ships carrying not only oil and gas but also bulk mineral cargoes moving along a path that only recently became effectively navigable for most shipping because of global warming.