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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Hits Dumping By Subs

The Russian government has for the first time disclosed the full extent of the former Soviet Union's dumping of radioactive submarine waste at sea, in an unusually frank report.


In a report prepared for President Boris Yeltsin and obtained by The Moscow Times from a member of the drafting team Wednesday, government experts have concluded that continued submarine operations will increase radioactive dangers because of the lack of proper land-based waste storage facilities.


"It will worsen the radioactive and general ecological situation, will lead to the growth of social tensions, and pose a real threat to soldiers and population", said the report.


The Russian Navy has now come face to face with the reality of this problem", one Western naval expert said. "It's a significant problem; it's not like you can compact your trash and send it out in a garbage truck to the local dump".


A nuclear submarine is powered by uranium rods, which, much like batteries used in a radio, must be replaced every few years with fresh rods.


In violation of international treaties, the Soviet Union and then Russia continued to dump these spent rods into the sea even as late as 1992, the report found. During 1991 and 1992, liquid waste was dumped into the Barents Sea, and both liquid and solid radioactive waste was dumped in the Far East.


Every year, Russia's 228 nuclear subs with a total of 394 nuclear reactors have been dumping 20, 000 cubic meters of radioactive liquid waste and 6, 000 cubic meters of solid waste, the report found. Russia also has seven nuclear-powered ice breakers.


"For the public at large, this is a new problem, because before everything was secret", said Vladimir Yakimets, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Science who helped prepare data for the study.


Yeltsin assembled a team to write the report last October, shortly after the Greenpeace ship Solo was arrested while trying to confirm a Soviet nuclear waste dumping ground in the Kara Sea.


The team included presidential environment advisor Alexei Yablokov together with experts from the Defense Ministry and other government departments.


The Soviet Union started dumping uranium waste in 1959, and in 1972 it stopped building spent fuel reprocessing plants to save money, because it was so easy to dump the rods at sea, the report said. Another 1985 government decree ordering new storage facilities was ignored, it said.


Because land-based waste disposal sites are full, some radioactive waste is stored out in the open in the vicinity of ports, reads the report titled "Facts and Problems Connected with the Dumping of Radioactive Waste into the Sea".


Since Russia is retiring some of its submarines as it reduces the size of its military, it also faces the problem of disposing of nuclear reactors aboard submarines.


Building proper waste storage facilities will take as long as five years and cost 1 billion rubles at the 1992 value, the report said. It recommended a 6-billion-ruble investment in waste reprocessing plants.


Extensive surveys of past dumping sites is also necessary to understand the scope of the damage, it said, and world monitoring organizations should be allowed to share this information.