Workers are about to complete the handling infrastructure for partly damaged spent nuclear fuel at Russia’s Andreeva Bay.
Some 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements are stored in three old, run-down concrete tanks close to the shore of fjord Litsa fjord. Photo: Aleksandr Emelianenko
Thomas Nilsen, Independent Barent's Observer, 26 October 2016
About 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements from operation of Soviet’s fleet of submarines are stored in three dilapidated concrete tanks a few hundred metres from shore on Russia’s Barents Sea coast. That is equal to around 100 reactor cores.
No other places in the world are so huge amount of highly radioactive uranium fuel stored under such bad conditions.
Removing the waste-elements is considered to be the most risky nuclear-safety operation ever to happen in the Russian north.
I once met a bear while hiking in the Rocky Mountains. A big bear, who squinted at me and sniffed the air. When I backed away, he followed me, muscles rippling beneath a grizzled hump.
With no trees to climb, I began to talk. “Good morning, Mr. Bear,” I said, and asked about his health. I commented on the weather, told him of my plans and, after a minute of idle chatter, he shrugged and wandered off the path.
I was reminded of this encounter when, last month, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion announced a shift in foreign policy. From now on, Canada will seek to actively co-operate with Russia in the Arctic.
Speech written by Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, marking the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council
September 29, 2016 - Ottawa, Ontario
As we gather today at Carleton University to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Arctic Council, let us take stock of what the North means to Canadians.
The North, covering 40 percent of our territory and home to more than 100,000 inhabitants, of whom more than half are Indigenous, is at the heart of our identity.
Yes, we have a northern soul: “The true north strong and free.” Few places on earth evoke more glorious images than the North. It is the land of the aurora, where the northern lights dance across the darkened sky at nightfall, and the land of the midnight sun and of polar days that go on forever under light that never fades.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is committed to maintaining peaceful relations with Arctic nations while exploring the Arctic's largely untapped resources.
"The Arctic must be regarded as a space for an open and equitable dialogue...where there will be no place for geopolitical games by military blocs, backstage deals, or struggle for spheres of influence," Putin said in a message read to Arctic Council members on August 30 by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev.
Russia is hosting a council meeting onboard a Russian nuclear icebreaker crossing the Arctic Ocean to the port of Pevek.
"Russia will remain committed to the peaceful development of the region, provided its own national interests are observed and the interests of all other countries unconditionally respected," Putin said. Stable development of the Arctic is becoming especially important, he said.
"As a matter of fact, the prosperity not only of the Arctic states but a number of other states depends on it," he said.
Patrushev said some differences have emerged over development of the continental shelves that extend beyond Russia, Canada, Alaska, and other areas into the sea, but these differences can be resolved peacefully.
A Soviet-era SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile is set to crash in Canada’s Arctic, with some highly toxic fuel on board.
Michael Byers, National Post, 19 May 2016
The missile, modified to boost a satellite into orbit, will be launched from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia in early June. Minutes later, the first stage of the missile will plummet into the Barents Sea north of Norway. Shortly thereafter, the second stage of the missile will fall into Baffin Bay, just east of Canada’s Ellesmere Island.
That second stage could have hundreds of litres of leftover fuel on board. Rockets used for satellite launches rarely consume all their fuel because they are shut down by onboard computers once the desired speed and altitude are achieved.
The fuel used to power SS-19s is unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (hydrazine). A stable compound used to fuel missiles and power the thrusters used for manoeuvring satellites in space, hydrazine is so toxic that technicians wear pressurized hazmat suits when working with it. On contact with air, hydrazine degrades into another, even more toxic compound: nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).
Given Putin’s threat, the Obama-Trudeau talks need to address the U.S.-Canada Northwest Passage dispute.
By Scott Borgerson & Michael Byers
Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in Washington Wednesday for a state visit with President Obama. Much has been made of Mr. Trudeau’s “movie star” good looks and liberal credentials. But top on the two men’s list of priorities should be a far less attractive subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his pivot toward the Arctic.
In addition to Mr. Putin’s military intervention in Syria’s civil war and his 2014 “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimea region, he sees global warming as a benefit along Russia’s northern frontier and is realigning his country’s strategic priorities toward the Arctic.
Tensions with Russia provide a new reason for the U.S. to resolve the Northwest Passage dispute with Canada. Canada claims the channels between its Arctic islands that connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska are the country’s “internal waters.” The U.S. maintains that the waterway is an “international strait” through which ships and aircraft from all countries have a right of uninterrupted “transit passage.”
With the U.S. becoming more engaged on Arctic issues as a result of its chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council, and the Obama administration’s focus on climate change, this is an opportune time to address what has become a shared vulnerability to naval vessels from Russia and other unfriendly nations passing through the Northwest Passage, or terrorists and smugglers seeking to enter North America from there.
ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER HEALY, IN THE ARCTIC–
When you plow into a 4-foot-thick chunk of sea ice at 3 knots, even in a 16,000-ton state-of-the-art icebreaker like the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy, it’s hard not to notice. The whole ship shudders and seems to lurch sideways. Metal cabinets rattle. Californians swear it sounds and feels just like an earthquake, with deep rumbling booms and tremors. Others say it’s like hitting turbulence on a jetliner, the shivering and rattling accompanied by the overdrive whine of 30,000 horsepower. If you’re down in the galley, right on the waterline, what you hear is the nerve-wracking scraping of shattered ice along the side. Five stories up, on top of the bridge, you feel the bump of the collision over the strain of the engines pushing the ship through a sea of drifting white, blue, and dirty gray ice.
Steven Lee Myers & Clifford Krauss, New York Times, 7 September 2015
TERIBERKA, Russia — The warming Arctic should already have transformed this impoverished fishing village on the coast of the Barents Sea.
The Kremlin spent billions in the last decade in hopes of turning it into a northern hub of its energy powerhouse, Gazprom. It was once the most ambitious project planned in the Arctic Ocean, but now there is little to show for it aside from a shuttered headquarters and an enormous gravel road carved out of the windblown coastline like a scar.
“There are plans,” said Viktor A. Turchaninov, the village’s mayor, “but the facts — the realities of life — suggest the opposite.”