Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Council Calls For Nuclear Waste Battle

LULEA, Sweden -- There is an urgent need to intensify international efforts to clear up nuclear waste in northwest Russia and improve safety at its nuclear power reactors, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council said Tuesday.

At the end of the organization's fifth ministers meeting in Lulea, northern Sweden, the council said despite some positive developments, there was not enough being done in this critical area.

"There is an urgent need to further intensify international cooperation, in particular directed to problems of management, handling and storage of radioactive waste," it said in an eight-page communique.

Nuclear safety and pollution is a key focus of the council, which was set up in 1993 to boost cooperation in the Barents Sea region between the five Nordic countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Russia.

The organization also has a European Union representative and nine observer nations -- the United States, Canada, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Britain, Poland and France.

The Kola Peninsular in Russia's northwest, which borders on the Barents Sea and northern Europe, is home to the former communist superpower's aging nuclear submarine fleet and potentially disastrous nuclear reactors.

Finland's Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen said the extent of the problems in that region on the edge of the sensitive Arctic area should be of global concern.

"The magnitude of environmental problems in the Barents region requires continuous multilateral efforts, development of international financial institutions andundiminished attention," she said in an address to the council meeting.

The European commissioner for external relations, Hans van den Broek, said any efforts to clear up this waste or bring the nuclear plants up to Western standards were extremely costly.

"The biggest obstacle is that it is so costly and it is so time consuming, but we have to do it. There is no alternative," van den Broek said at a news conference.

The council also pledged to continue to try to boost economic cooperation in the region, to improve the transport network and to encourage cooperation on energy, environmental issues and health.

"The council recognizes the Barents process as generating cooperation from the grassroots to the top political level and thereby contributing to the construction of a new undivided Europe," the communique said. "While the trend is encouraging, much work remains to ensure the transition to sustainable development at all levels of governance."

At the end of the session, Sweden handed over the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council to Norway.