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Report Breaks New Ground On Nuclear Threat Posed By Russia's Northern Fleet

Since 1958 Moscow has constructed 450 naval nuclear reactors. Of these two thirds are located in the Barents Sea region, representing 20 percent of the world's nuclear reactors.
by Olga Nedbayeva
Moscow (AFP) Jun 10, 2005
Russia's scrapped atomic submarines pose a serious nuclear threat, a British report published Friday said, as a leading Russian environmental activist praised the country's authorities for "unprecedented" openness in assisting the report's authors.

Russia must act to prevent a nuclear accident in northwest Russia's Barents Sea region, home to 118 scrapped nuclear submarines as well as spent nuclear fuel storage sites, said Mark Gerchikov, coordinator of the report from British consulting firm National Nuclear Corporation (NNC), funded by the 60-nation European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

"Certain nuclear installations are in such a state that we cannot exclude a chain reaction" leading to a nuclear accident, Gerchikov said at the report's presentation.

The report is notable for having been written with the cooperation of Russia's nuclear energy ministry, after years in which the Russian state tried to quash discussion of the abandoned nuclear submarines and waste sites littering the Barents Sea area.

It focuses on two sites in Murmansk province as being of particular concern, including the Gremikha naval base, where spent nuclear fuel from Alfa class submarines is unloaded.

Radiation levels at the sites are several times higher than recommended limits, yet workers often lack adequate protective clothing, Gerchikov said.

Higher rates of illness noted among children in such areas should be studied in depth, he said.

The 40-page report won ringing endorsement at the presentation from Alexander Nikitin, a former naval officer who spent 11 months in jail on charges of treason and espionage after he published articles about the nuclear threat posed by the northern fleet.

The report is "a real turning point," Nikitin said.

"The atomic energy ministry has for the first time made unprecedented sacrifices, publishing secret documents for the first time," Nikitin said.

"This is the first attempt at dialogue with society on this sensitive problem," said Sergei Baranovski, president of the Russian branch of the Green Cross, an environmental group set up by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Since 1958 Moscow has constructed 450 naval nuclear reactors. Of these two thirds are located in the Barents Sea region, representing 20 percent of the world's nuclear reactors.

Western countries and the EBRD have long been involved in trying to resolve the northern fleet's nuclear problems. In 1999 Britain's then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, paid a visit to Murmansk to highlight the problem.

The EBRD earlier this year launched a tender for carrying out clean-up work, to be paid for out of its Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Support Fund.

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Chinese Sub May Have Caught Fire In South China Sea: Japanese Media
Tokyo (AFP) May 31, 2005
A Chinese navy submarine stalled apparently after a fire broke out aboard the vessel while it was submerged in the South China Sea, a Japanese newspaper said Tuesday.

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