- British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
has visited north western Russia to see for himself what many are calling
Chernobyl 2 - a nuclear disaster waiting to happen.
- The port of Murmansk, open all year round
thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, was a household name in the
- It was where the Allied convoys of World
War II finally found safe haven after running the gauntlet of Nazi attackers
and Arctic seas as they took supplies into the Soviet Union.
- Today, Murmansk risks becoming a household
name for a different reason.
- It is one of the parts of the world at
greatest risk of a nuclear accident, largely because of the number of reactors
and other debris dumped haphazardly from obsolete Soviet submarines.
- In 1996 the International Atomic Energy
Agency helped to set up a group to tackle post-communist Russia's horrifying
- It is the Contact Expert Group (CEG)
and last November it produced two reports which will go to the G7 meeting
in June of leading industrial countries.
- Russia unable to cope
- The CEG says many people may not realise
that "the situation is still getting worse".
- "More submarines are being taken
out of service, so more and more spent fuel is waiting to be removed and
- "Over 150 reactors are already waiting
to be defuelled and dismantled.
- "Unfortunately, the Russian facilities
for handling this fuel and associated radioactive waste on such a scale
are either not available, or inadequate."
- The CEG says the main problem is a shortage
of money to tackle the waste.
- And it says finding a solution is too
urgent to wait for an economic upturn in Russia.
- It describes outside help as "only
a small part of what will be needed over the next few years".
- But Vladimir Volkov of the Atomflot Nuclear
Reprocessing Plant is convinced there is nothing for the West to be concerned
- "I don't think it is necessary to
worry about the situation with nuclear material. It is the responsibility
of the Russian authorities - and they are able to handle the situation."
- However, the CEG has drawn up a list
of recommendations of what it believes to be the highest priorities. They
- Modernising a plant for treating liquid
radioactive waste at a naval repair yard in Murmansk Decommissioning the
Lepse, the converted barge used for storing damaged nuclear fuel rods Building
metal/concrete containers for storing and transporting spent submarine
nuclear fuel Building an interim store for spent nuclear fuel at Mayak
in central Russia.
- Another list identifies projects the
CEG thinks just as urgent, but where it says study must give way to action
now. These include:
- Cleaning up Andreeva bay near Murmansk,
the base for Russia's Northern Fleet. Fuel rods are stored there in the
open and without any protection Building a radioactive waste repository
in north west Russia. The CEG says several possible sites are being considered,
including the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya Building a special facility
to remove the fuel from decommissioned submarines.
- British Nuclear Fuels is one foreign
company involved in the region, working with the Norwegian government on
the problems of Andreeva bay.
- It is also part of a consortium designing
a submarine fuel store.
- The CEG says that a failure to act promptly
over Murmansk's threat could affect "peoples and the environment not
only in but also far beyond the Arctic lands and seas of northern Europe".
- "The issue of spent fuel and radioactive
waste management in north west Russia is a global one."