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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia May End Sea Dumping

ST. PETERSBURG -- Russia could sign a clause in the London anti-dumping convention prohibiting the disposal of radioactive waste at sea by the end of the year if Western countries are willing to help foot the bill, Environment Ministry officials said Tuesday.

"If our Western partners fulfill their obligations and help us, we could sign on to these obligations during this year," said Viktor Kutsenko, head of the ministry's ecological protection administration and leader of the Russian delegation to the 1993 London Convention review meeting.

The issue was raised by participants of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea's fifth CIS conference on protection of Russia's northern and arctic environment, held this week in St. Petersburg. Because of reshuffling within the ministry, however, neither minister Viktor Danilov-Daniliyan nor any other official ministry representative was able to attend.

Signed in 1972, the London Convention regulates the types of hazardous waste materials that can be disposed of at sea. In its original form, the convention outlawed dumping of high-level radioactive waste and materials. A 1993 amendment changed this to include all radioactive wastes.

Russia was one of four countries to abstain in the vote, and the only convention member not to sign the amendment, saying it was not willing to take on a legal obligation it potentially could not fulfill.

During talks, the Russian delegation suggested it might be ready to sign by 1996 and appealed to other countries for help in developing the technological basis for waste processing.

Kutsenko said Russia has in fact observed the ban since the country's last radioactive dumping in 1993, but is still technically unprepared to take on a legal obligation.

Responding from Moscow, Kutsenko said the federal government, with the cooperation of the Nuclear Power Ministry, has just finalized its own program for treating radioactive waste and nuclear material, which will begin this year. Without Western financial help in creating waste disposal and storage sites, however, fulfillment of the plan could be held up until the year 2005. "We can solve our own problems, but not as quickly," he said.

Dick Tromp, chairman of the London Convention, said convention officials were as of yet unaware of Russia's latest position on the amendment. Radioactive contamination of the northern seas is a major concern to environmentalists, given the concentration of nuclear power plants and the presence of the Russian Northern Fleet throughout the arctic region. Radioactive waste was regularly dumped into the seas between 1959 and 1993. In addition, a total of 132 nuclear bombs were detonated during tests between 1955 and 1991 on the island chain of Novaya Zemlya, between the Barents and Kara seas about 800 kilometers northeast of Murmansk.

"Our problem is that we build something that will last 30 years, thinking that is such a long time," said Nikolai Vorontsov, Advisory Committee vice president for Russia, referring to the decommissioning of nuclear submarines. "Then in 25 years we realize that we have left a major problem for the next generation."

Conference participants expressed more concern over possible future accidents than present levels of contamination. Reports presented by the committee's Russian Arctic working group and the First Naval Institute said current levels of radioactive elements and changes within the ecological system are generally within acceptable norms, an assessment accepted by other experts, albeit cautiously.

"There is no problem yet," said Tromp. "But the reason for this conference is to figure out what potential problems there could be in the future." A major concern was the potential risk of accidents during nuclear ship decontamination or other processes related to radioactive waste disposal, he said.

No one is sure how much radioactive and other waste has been dumped into the northern seas, as many official documents remain buried in dozens of archives scattered across Russia.