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article imageNuclear waste in Kara Sea could spread to other continents

By Karen Graham     Oct 27, 2013 in Environment
In 1992 the world learned the former Soviet Union had used the Arctic Ocean as a dumping ground for liquid and solid nuclear waste. The waste, including nuclear subs was mostly confined to an area off the coast of Novaya Zemlya, in the Kara Sea.
The Moscow Times reported just a few days ago that Alexander Shestakov, head of the Global Arctic Program of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is saying that global climate change could put wildlife and sea life in danger of radioactive contamination from the nuclear dump that is the Kara Sea.
The real possibility of Arctic thaws, under the influence of global warming, would not only raise ocean levels, but create new and stronger currents in the Barents and Kara Seas. The currents would then carry radioactive contamination to other continents.
Shestakov's words will have a huge economic impact on oil and gas drilling in the Barents Sea region. Russia wants the region in question to be made a "neutral zone" for drilling, a move that would keep international scrutiny at bay. This was brought home in August when a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise was forced by the Russian Coast Guard to leave the Kara Sea. Greenpeace was protesting Arctic oil exploration by Rosneft, a Russian company and the U.S. oil company ExxonMobil.
Map showing location of Kara Sea
Map showing location of Kara Sea
Ras67
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The Kara Sea becomes a nuclear waste dump
The Kara Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean to the north of Siberia. and is separated from the Barents Sea to the west by the Novaya Zemlya Islands. The Kara Sea is relatively shallow, at its deepest, just 360 feet (110 Meters). It doesn't get the warmer currents seen in the Barents Sea, and is much colder, being ice covered nine months out of the year.
It wasn't until 1992 that the world learned what the former Soviet Union had been dumping into the Kara Sea, or just how much had been dumped. Keep in mind that the Soviets were a member nation of the 1972 London Convention banning the dumping of high-level radioactive waste at sea.
The extent of the dumping was documented in September of 2012 on a Norwegian-Russian joint expedition to the Kara Sea. In a report released on Sept. 26, 2012, it was found that the Soviets had dumped some 16 reactors and 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, in solid and liquid form, as well as several submarines.
Most of the containers were found east of Novaya Zemlya, including the nuclear submarine, K-27. The submarine was scuttled in 1981 in just 30 meters of water, and has two nuclear reactors on board. The sub was filled with bitumen and concrete before being sunk, and according to the Russian Nuclear Safety Institute, was supposed to be safe on the ocean floor for 50 years. This particular submarine is of great concern to many because the reactors still contain highly enriched uranium fuel, making the sub a potential time bomb.
The K-27 was a November Class submarine. The picture is of the K-159  also a November Class sub.
The K-27 was a November Class submarine. The picture is of the K-159, also a November Class sub.
Bellona Foundation
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It's not just the Kara Sea that's contaminated
The Kara Sea is not the only body of water contaminated with nuclear waste. The latest site is the waters of the Pacific Ocean being polluted with radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It was severely damaged after the Japanese earthquake in March 2011. It is estimated that 400 tons of groundwater contaminated with radioactive waste is seeping into the ocean every day.
The list of sites around the world is more than most people would imagine, and is serious enough to warrant action being taken at the international level. If nothing is done, the fishing industries of many nations dependent on the oceans for their economic needs will soon be a thing of the past.
More about Kara, Soviet, Nuclear waste, Dump, Nuclear reactors
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