. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Talks Underway On Shipping Nuclear Waste Through Arctic

OSLO, Norway - Russian officials confirmed Wednesday that talks on shipping highly radioactive nuclear waste through fragile arctic waters were under way, alarming environmental groups and Norwegian officials.

In Moscow, Alexander Ushakov of the transport ministry said such plans have been under discussion for a year. He said his department offered to arrange an accompanying ship for the journey but offered no other details.

The international environmental group Greenpeace has called any plans to ship dangerous waste through the arctic "desperate madness."

Transporting the waste from Europe to Japan aboard nuclear icebreakers through the Northeast Passage, north of Russia, would cut travel time, but the passage north of Russia is often filled with ice and the environment of the arctic region is fragile.

The route from Europe also would follow the long coast of NATO-member Norway, a nation that bans all nuclear power and weapons from its territory.

Deputy Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said Norway "is deeply concerned because this is talk of transporting extremely dangerous material ... the consequences of an accident would be almost inconceivable."

He said Oslo would be in touch with Moscow over the question.

In an interview broadcast by the Norwegian state radio network NRK, Vladimir Blinov, of Russia's Murmansk Shipping Company, also said that talks were under way and that a test run was planned for this summer.

NRK said he refused to discuss details of talks, which the report said were with a consortium of Japanese power utilities.

"There are such negotiations, such positions, but nothing more," Blinov said in English. "In principle, it is good business."

The waste from reprocessing plants in France and Britain is now shipped back to Japan through the Indian Ocean and around the Cape of Good Hope on Africa's southern tip; through the southern Atlantic Ocean and around Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America; and through the Panama Canal.

The Murmansk Shipping Company runs a fleet of nuclear power icebreakers based in Murmansk, the main city on the Kola Peninsula of northwestern Russia.

The waters off northern Russia and Norway, which share a border in the Arctic, are among the world's richest fishing grounds but are already exposed to potential radiation risks.

Two sunken Russia nuclear submarines, the Komsomolets which sank in April 1989 and the Kursk which sent down in August, still lie on the ocean floor. And during the Soviet era, the Soviet Northern Fleet dumped submarine reactors and nuclear waste in the waters off the Kola.

Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace claimed nuclear waste transport could present an even greater risk.