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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arctic Nuclear Dump Called Unstable

OSLO -- A nuclear waste dump on the Kola Peninsula may be in danger of exploding because of corrosion caused by salt water in enormous storage tanks, the Norwegian environmental group Bellona warned Friday.

Russian and Norwegian nuclear officials downplayed the danger.

The three tanks are used to store spent nuclear fuel rods at Andreyeva Bay in northwestern Russia, just 45 kilometers from the Norwegian border, Oslo-based Bellona said in a statement.

"We discover now that we are sitting on a powder keg, with a fuse that is burning, but we don't know how long that fuse is," said Alexander Nikitin, a former Russian Navy officer who is now one of Bellona's nuclear experts.

The group cited a report from the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, describing the danger. Bellona said the storage tanks were long believed to be dry inside, but that recent studies show corrosive salt water.

"Ongoing degradation is causing fuel to split into small granules. Calculations show that the creation of a homogenous mixture of these particles with water can cause an uncontrolled chain reaction," the group's Norwegian translation of the report said.

In a separate statement, the Norwegian Nuclear Protection Authority said a chain reaction was possible, but the likelihood was "extremely small."

The Federal Atomic Energy Agency said there was no danger, and that steps were being taken to improve the storage tanks.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the government was aware of the problem, and working with Russia to find a solution.

Bellona has long been involved in probes of the nuclear risks in Russia, especially on the Kola Peninsula. Its 1996 report on conditions there were a reference work even for Russian officials.

Nikitin was detained by Russian authorities in 1996 on charges of espionage for his contribution to that report on nuclear safety within the Northern Fleet. He was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2000.