Article | Last updated: 12/05/2015
During the Cold War, there was extensive civilian and military nuclear activity on the Kola Peninsula, and large quantities of radioactive waste and nuclear material are still being stored under unsafe conditions in northwestern Russia. This is a risk to human health and the environment. Poorly secured fissile material is also a threat in terms of non-proliferation. There are problems at both operational and disused facilities.
The Russian nuclear power plants are a greater threat than any other nuclear facilities in areas close to Norway. A serious accident on the Kola Peninsula could cause acute health problems in nearby areas, and the long-term impacts of radioactivity in food chains would be felt much further away. An accident involving a reactor on a nuclear-powered vessel would have much less impact, but the large number of nuclear-powered vessels in the region means that they also represent a threat to health and the environment. This makes it vital to give high priority to nuclear emergency response and remediation efforts in order to protect the population, the environment and business interests against radioactive pollution.
The foundation for Norwegian efforts in the field of nuclear safety was laid with the publication of a white paper in 1994. This was also the basis for the development of the Government’s Nuclear Action Plan, which was launched in April 1995. The Nuclear Action Plan was revised in 1997, 2005 and 2008, and again in 2013. In spring 2010, the Government presented the white paper Cooperation with Russia on nuclear activities and environmental protection in the High North, which provided a review of our nuclear safety cooperation with Russia, with particular emphasis on the results achieved over the preceding ten years, the challenges remaining and the way forward. Between 1995 and 2014, the Storting has allocated approximately NOK 1.9 billion to nuclear safety cooperation.
Good results have been achieved in nuclear safety cooperation with Russia since 1995. Safety standards at the Kola nuclear power plant have been improved, and cooperation on the safe handling, transport, storage and disposal of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel in areas near Norway’s borders has also been effective. In recent years, Norway has provided assistance for the dismantling and safe handling of five decommissioned nuclear submarines and for the replacement of radioactive strontium power sources (RTGs) by solar panels in 251 lighthouses in northwestern Russia and in the Russian part of the Baltic Sea. The last of the RTGs was replaced in 2014. Norway has also been involved in preparations for securing and removing large quantities of spent nuclear fuel stored at the disused naval base at Andreyev Bay, not far from the Norwegian-Russian border. Environmental monitoring of radioactive waste dumped in the Kara and Barents Seas is another important activity. In 2012 and 2014, joint Norwegian-Russian expeditions were carried out to these areas to obtain up-to-date information on levels of radioactive pollution and the condition of the dumped radioactive material. Preliminary surveys indicate that there has been no increase in levels of pollution.
In the years since this cooperation was established, Norway has gained greater knowledge of the environmental and safety challenges at Russian nuclear facilities. Cooperation between Norwegian and Russian inspection and administrative authorities has been expanded, and there is greater openness about the problems.
The framework for cooperation on nuclear safety has changed considerably since the Nuclear Action plan was first launched. One of Norway’s key aims has been to mobilise stronger international commitment to resolving the nuclear problems in northwestern Russia. After the terrorist attacks against the US on 11 September 2001, there has been a stronger international focus on the risk of radioactive and fissile material falling into the wrong hands and being used in terrorist attacks. In June 2002, the G8 countries launched the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction. They undertook to provide USD 20 billion over a 10-year period to support projects in this field, initially in Russia. The Global Partnership defined four priority areas: nuclear and radiological security, dismantling of nuclear submarines, destruction of chemical weapons and employment of former weapons scientists. Norway joined the Global Partnership in June 2003, and pledged contributions equivalent to EUR 100 million over a 10-year period. At the 2011 G8 Summit, it was agreed to extend the Global Partnership beyond this period. For the period 2013–22, the Partnership has also expanded its geographical scope, so that its activities now have global reach. Russia left the partnership in 2014 due to the crisis in Ukraine. In line with Norway’s obligations under the Global Partnership, the geographical scope of the Nuclear Action Plan will be expanded to include Ukraine and if necessary activities in other former Soviet states, in addition to northwestern Russia. At the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in 2014, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and the Swedish Government launched a joint initiative on safety cooperation at Ukraine’s four nuclear power plants. During Prime Minister Solberg’s visit to Kyiv in November 2014, Norway, Sweden and Ukraine signed a trilateral declaration on the aims and priorities of this work.
Norway initiated the negotiations on the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), and chaired the negotiations until the agreement was signed in Stockholm in May 2003. The agreement includes provisions on exemption from taxes, customs duties and similar charges for assistance provided under the agreement, and on exemption from liability in the event of accidents during projects. The right of donor countries to inspect project sites and the use of assistance is an important principle of the agreement.
The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) was established in 2001 and has close to EUR 170 million at its disposal for nuclear safety measures in Russia. Norway has contributed EUR 17 million to the NDEP Support Fund. The most urgent task is to remove radioactive waste and secure spent nuclear fuel at the Northern Fleet’s service bases at Andreyev Bay and Gremikha on the Kola Peninsula. The NDEP Strategic Master Plan is an important tool for deciding how to target multilateral and bilateral efforts. The Support Fund is set to run until 2017 and ensures effective implementation of complex and costly nuclear projects.
We now know much more about the scale of the problems associated with nuclear activities in Russia than was the case in 1995, and are therefore in a better position to tackle them. Some tasks have been virtually completed, for example the dismantling of all the remaining nuclear submarines, which is one of the achievements of the G8 Global Partnership. However, the task of securing the storage facilities for radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel at the Northern Fleet’s technical support bases at Andreyev Bay and Gremikha requires a longer time frame. There are major technical problems at these facilities and this work is not due to be completed until around 2020.
Norway will continue its nuclear safety work in line with internationally agreed priorities, although it will be appropriate to scale down these efforts as important tasks are completed in northwestern Russia. The fundamental principle is that Russia has the main responsibility for this work. Over the next few years, cooperation with Russia will focus on areas where the problems are most significant. In addition, cooperation will be developed with other former Soviet States, in particular with Ukraine, in line with the Norwegian–Swedish joint initiative on safety and security at Ukrainian nuclear power plants, launched by Prime Minister Solberg at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague in 2014.
More information about the Nuclear Action Plan can be found on the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority’s website.