New Delhi, 05 August 2022.

The Conference “Raising Submerged and Dangerous Objects in the Seas of the Arctic Ocean” took place in Murmansk on July 25–26, 2022. The event included a business programme and an expedition along Kola Bay to the site of the sinking of the B-159 nuclear submarine. The Conference was held as part of the plan of events for Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023 operated by the Roscongress Foundation and organized by the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic and Rosatom State Corporation.   

The practice of flooding radioactive waste into the Arctic was widely used in many of the countries that developed nuclear power. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did between 1957 and 1989. Russia’s stance on environmental risk assessments and the decisions on flooded objects adopted in the past has shifted in line with the increased use of the Northern Sea Route. Accordingly, the most pressing issue today is that of raising nuclear submarines, whose reactors contain spent nuclear fuel.

“Our priority is always to eliminate the accumulated environmental damage, and this includes raising radioactive and dangerous objects. This issue is becoming more and more important with each passing year, as the economic development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation continues. This includes the Northern Sea Route, the use of which for shipping purposes will only increase,” noted Nikolay Korchunov, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials and Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ambassador Korchunov also lamented the fact that the issues of environmental protection and radiation safety have become hostage to the international political situation. Russia, for its part, remains open to international dialogue on ensuring environmental security in the region. 

“It is clear that, in the current climate, we will have to rely on the competencies that we have, developing and refining them. This will stand us in good stead when it comes to achieving the goals set by the President of the Russian Federation in the Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security until 2035,” Korchunov stated.   

According to Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Industry and Trade Gennady Sklyar, recovering sunken nuclear submarines and solving the numerous other problems that have piled up in the Arctic region over the years are crucial to the successful development of the Northern Sea Route and its transformation into a global transport corridor.

“Given the current situation, we should look first of all into consolidating our own resources within Russia to solve the task of raising dangerous objects in the seas of the Arctic Ocean. At the same time, we should also develop international cooperation with friendly countries. This is a strategic task, and we should broach the issue of getting Russian raw materials corporations – those companies that are interested in the development of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route – involved in its implementation. We are talking federal budget resources and a relevant federal programme. And, in addition to this, we need to look far and wide to find partners who will be able to help the state tackle this issue,” Sklyar stressed. 

Since Decree No. 518 of the Government of the Russian Federation dated May 28, 1998, entered into force, a total of 120 decommissioned nuclear submarines have been disposed of, 1004 radioisotope thermoelectric generators have been decommissioned, and more than 50 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel have been removed from the region for processing at Mayak Production Association

Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation plans to complete work on raising dangerous objects in the seas of the Arctic Ocean by 2035, according to the head of the company’s international technical assistance project, Anatoly Grigoriev.

“The plan we submitted to the Government puts the completion of work at 2035. The next two years will be taken up by the Ministry of Finance going over the budget request prepared by Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation and the launch of certain preparatory activities with those who took part in today’s conference. The amount requested is in the region of 2.5 billion roubles over three years. Funds will then come from a targeted state programme in the amount of 22 billion roubles,” Grigoriev noted.      

Conference participants also discussed the results of the survey of flooded objects carried out in 2021, the radiation situation in the bays of Novaya Zemlya Archipelago in the Kara Sea, international experience raising sunken ships, and the project to monitor the radiation situation along the Northern Sea Route. 

On the second day of the conference, the participants went on a tour of Kola Bay onboard the Klavdiya Elanskaya to the site of the sinking of the B-159 nuclear submarine, which happened in 2003 when it was being transported for disposal. During the expedition, experts read reports on the work of FSUE Atomflot to ensure the operation of the Northern Sea Route, and were shown various options for raising the wreckage of the B-159 submarine. 

In line with the Basic Principles of Russian Federation State Policy in the Arctic to 2035, measures have been put in place to prevent toxic substances, pathogens that cause infectious diseases and radioactive materials from entering the Arctic zone. In turn, the Strategy for Developing the Russian Arctic Zone and Ensuring National Security until 2035 sets out the timetable for work to rehabilitate territories where flooded and sunken objects carrying spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste are located to be carried out in 2025–2030.

Environmental protection, including issues of climate change, is one of the priorities of Russia’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023. Given the rapid climate change in the Arctic, which is manifested, among other things, in the degradation of permafrost and the emission of gas hydrates, the Russian side sees its main tasks in: mitigating the negative effects of climate change; ensuring the improvement of life-sustaining activity and resilience to its consequences; preserving and restoring the environment, ensuring the rational use of natural resources; maintaining the health of Arctic ecosystems, including the marine environment; and conserving biodiversity, in particular migratory bird species.