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Survey of radioactive contamination in the Kara Sea

Fjords on the eastern side of the Novaya Zemlya islands were used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste right up until the early 1990s. Next week sees the start of a joint Norwegian/Russian research cruise to survey radioactive contamination in the area and check the condition of the dumped objects.

Samples will be taken of seawater, bottom sediments, fish, seaweed and bottom fauna in the dumping grounds, and the dumped objects will be studied with an underwater camera to assess their physical condition with salvage in mind. There is particular interest in the nuclear submarine K-27, which has two reactors with spent uranium fuel on board and was dumped at a depth of 30 metres in Stepovogo Fjord in 1981.
“It will be exciting to study the dumped radioactive objects and the surrounding sea floor. But it is also important for the Norwegian fishing industry, amongst others, to survey the general levels of pollution in an ocean so close to the Barents Sea,” says Hilde Elise Heldal from the Institute of Marine Research, who is leading the Norwegian side of the survey together with Bjørn Lind from the country’s Radiation Protection Authority.

Previous surveys

A total of three joint Norwegian/Russian expeditions to the dumping grounds were made in the early 1990s, the last one in 1994. The conclusion then was that radioactive contamination in the area was limited, but that there was a risk of future leaks from the dumped objects. No further expeditions have since been made to the area with Norwegian participation, although Russia has performed its own surveys.

Research cruise participants

On the Norwegian side, there will be participants from the Radiation Protection Authority, the Institute of Marine Research, the University of Life Sciences and the Institute for Energy Technology, while Russia will have participants from the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet), the Kurchatov Institute and research centre YMG. An observer from the International Atomic Energy Agency will also take part.
The expedition will sail from Kirkenes at the end of August 2012 and last around a month. It will concentrate mainly on Stepovogo Fjord on the eastern side of Novaya Zemlya.