Counting on a scandal: West calls on Russia to raise submarines from the bottom of the seas

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Counting on a scandal: West calls on Russia to raise submarines from the bottom of the seas
Counting on a scandal: West calls on Russia to raise submarines from the bottom of the seas
31 May, 14:02Technology
Activists of the international environmental association Bellona Foundation, which is headquartered in Oslo (Norway), called on Russia to raise from the bottom of the seas in the Arctic flooded submarines with nuclear reactors and containers with radioactive waste.

There are many thousands of dangerous objects on the seabed!

Sergey Kron

Experts sent a letter with such an initiative to the eight permanent members of the Arctic Council - Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, USA, Finland, Sweden and Russia.

Belonovtsy suggested that the Council members develop a special project "Safe Arctic Waters", within the framework of which work would be carried out to conduct engineering surveys of the seabed where containers with radioactive waste lie, as well as to find international funding for raising submarines.

The greatest concern of Norwegian experts at the moment is caused by submarines K-159 and K-27 resting at the bottom, on board of which there are still reactors with unloaded cores. These submarines are the prime candidates for recovery and dismantlement.

Bellona alarmists say that the ecological situation in the North has deteriorated, and the possible volume of emissions is comparable, if not with Chernobyl, then with any other major accident at a nuclear power plant. For example, a nuclear reactor was installed on the K-27 nuclear submarine, in which liquid metal was used as a coolant. This is a very advanced technology from the point of view of ensuring a high power-to-weight ratio and combat efficiency of the boat, but from an environmental point of view, it allegedly turned out to be a failure.

At the time of the withdrawal of the K-27 submarine from the fleet, there were really no technologies for the disposal or long-term storage of such reactors in the world. Therefore, they decided to simply flood the boat, having previously sealed the nuclear power plant with furfural.

Recent research findings have sparked fierce controversy among the military and academics. Some argued that sealing is not very reliable, and water entering the compartment can trigger a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. Others disagreed: "The water has long filled the compartments of the K-27 lying on the bottom, but it cannot trigger a reaction!"

"Work on K-159 and K-27 must become an absolute priority," the Bellona Foundation insists. In addition, it turns out that there is still another danger. In the event of damage to facilities in the submarine burial area, fishing will have to be banned for a long time, which will lead to serious economic losses, both for Russia and for other countries in the region. For the economies of Russia and Norway, this will cost tens of millions of euros a year, which, according to some supporters of the Bellona Foundation, "only slightly less than the cost of raising a submarine." In fact, the cost of such work will be much higher.

In addition, environmentalists are concerned about the fate of the nuclear reactor of the nuclear submarine K-140, five reactor compartments of other nuclear submarines.

They did not forget about the nuclear submarine K-278 "Komsomolets", which sank in the Norwegian Sea on April 7, 1989, as well as about the reactor assembly of the nuclear icebreaker "Lenin".

In total, according to international environmental organizations, there are more than 17 thousand potentially hazardous objects with radioactive waste at the bottom of the Barents and Kara Seas.

Who first started

Long-term operation of the atomic fleets of the USSR and the USA led to the emergence of a large amount of radioactive waste. As a result, countries that developed the peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy began to sink nuclear submarines in the oceans, as this was the least expensive way to dispose of hazardous waste.

The first such operation was carried out in 1946 by the United States in the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean, dumping solid radioactive waste (RW) 80 km off the coast of California. Soon other states resorted to this method of disposal: Great Britain began to flood low-level radioactive waste in 1949 in the North Atlantic, New Zealand - since 1954, Japan - near its shores in the Pacific Ocean since 1955, Belgium, which chose the La Strait for this purpose. Manche off the coast of France since 1960.

In 1959, the United States flooded for the first time in the Atlantic Ocean a nuclear reactor vessel dismantled from the Seawolf nuclear submarine. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the flooding of waste of high specific activity was carried out by both foreign countries and the USSR.

It is no secret that in the Russian segment of the Arctic, in addition to nuclear submarines, there are quite a few other objects that pose a potential danger of severe nuclear pollution of the water area. There is no need to look far for examples; it is enough to recall the 569th coastal technical base of the Northern Fleet in Andreeva Bay and the accident that occurred there in 1982. Then, let us recall, about 700 thousand tons of highly radioactive water flowed into the Barents Sea. This is one of the largest accidents of this kind in both Russian and world history.

This practice lasted until 1972, when the international London Convention came into force, aimed at preventing excessive sea pollution during the dumping of radioactive waste, which was supplemented by recommendations for ensuring radiation safety during such operations.

In total, in 1946-1972, the flooding of radioactive waste was carried out by 12 countries in 47 regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In 1993, the countries participating in the London Convention, referring to insufficient knowledge of the radioecological consequences, agreed to prohibit the dumping of any radioactive waste in the seas. Since that time, Russia has been firmly adhering to the same approach.

Time mines

A lot of decisions on lifting radioactive objects from the bottom of the Barents and Kara Seas have been made over the past decades. In part, they are the result of various forums and seminars that have been held around the world. The last was the international forum held in Moscow on December 13, 2019. Its task was to discuss the project "NS / 2013 / MC.04/13" and to assess the economic feasibility of the "Action Plan for the Safe Management / Disposal of Dumped Radioactive Facilities in the North Seas." This project was funded by the European Commission with the participation of the Institute for Safe Development of Nuclear Energy of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IBRAE RAS).

In fact, it was then that the pre-design study of the entire list of necessary work to raise and dispose of potentially dangerous objects took place.

At the same time, the forum participants noted that international cooperation aimed at cleaning up the Russian North from nuclear waste can be considered very successful: the production at shipyards in the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions has been modernized, the infrastructure of the irradiated nuclear fuel (SNF) handling point in the Gremikha settlement, long-term storage of reactor compartments and the regional center for conditioning and long-term storage of radioactive waste in Sayda-Guba. This allows us to hope that the implementation of the new program will be successful, and Russia will be able to get rid of the "time mines" planted during the Cold War, and sharply, almost tenfold, reduce the level of nuclear threat in the Russian sector of the Arctic, "they unanimously stated participants of the Moscow forum.

Many of the objects mentioned are flooded in the area of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, where for many years human activity was limited only to ensuring the functioning of the nuclear test site and meteorological posts. Now it is potentially one of the busiest transport routes, which can be used by cargo carriers from all over the world to the benefit of Russia.

It is clear that any major nuclear accident in the region will put an end to Russia's hopes to take advantage of the opening possibilities of the new transport artery. But who said that tomorrow we should expect a nuclear collapse in the Barents or Kara Seas? In addition to the panicky statements of the Belonovites, specialists today do not have any other information.

Moreover, the financing of future work on lifting the sunken Soviet submarines with nuclear reactors and containers with radioactive waste in the Arctic will be covered by the generous promises of the European Union and the United States.

Will not allow suicide

The need to resolve the issue of flooded facilities was supported by the RF Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Natural Resources, Rosatom and other departments. Knows about the problems of the Arctic and the President of Russia. Instructions were given to all competent authorities to develop an action plan for solving environmental problems in the Barents and Kara Seas. However, nothing concrete has been done so far. There is no consensus in the Russian Federation about what should be done with flooded objects: raise and dispose of them, preserve them at the bottom, or leave everything as it is?

There is also no general idea of the scale of funds and time required to resolve the issue in one way or another.

At the request of NI, Tengiz Borisov , Vice Admiral of the Reserve, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor, Chairman of the Committee for Special Purpose Underwater Operations under the Government of the Russian Federation (1992 - 1994) comments on the situation:

- Indeed, the waters of the Arctic are heavily contaminated with radioactive waste. The leadership of the Soviet Union, and after it, of Russia, have openly declared this on more than one occasion.

Yes, they drowned out of ignorance. We thought the sea would recycle everything ...

It is no secret that in our Arctic maritime sector, before the signing of the London Convention in 1972, in addition to submarines with nuclear reactors, Russia also flooded about 27,500 containers with radioactive waste. - 17.5 thousand in the North and 8 thousand in the Far East. In addition to highly active products, they were also filled with radioactive rags contaminated with clothing and tools - then no one wanted to recycle this, and there was no money. We decided to flood. But these are old burials. In what state these containers are now, it is even difficult to imagine. Serious surveys of the areas of their inundation in the Arctic have not been carried out.

As a specialist in underwater work for special purposes, I was involved in the K-278 Komsomolets nuclear submarine that sank in April 1989 in the Norwegian Sea. She died as a result of fire and depressurization. I lay down on the ground at a depth of 1685 meters. A nuclear reactor and two missile-torpedoes with nuclear warheads remained on board.

When in 1992 the Committee for Special Purpose Underwater Operations under the Government of the Russian Federation was created in Moscow, which, by the way, was entrusted to head me, together with the scientists of the Russian Academy of Sciences, using the Mir-1 and Mir-2 deep-sea vehicles, we organized a thorough examination sunken boat. I had to figure out what to do with her. Some experts raised the question of an urgent rise in Komsomolets. But a more thorough inspection and analysis showed that the submarine's hull is catastrophically damaged. It became clear that any attempt to lift the K-278 would finally ruin it. And this would cause grave consequences: pollution of the water area and the bottom of the Norwegian Sea for hundreds of years to come. Realizing this, we gave up the ascent. Then the idea arose to preserve the body of the boat directly on the ground. And that was done.

Conservation was carried out using deep-sea vehicles. Several unique technologies have been developed that make it possible to isolate any environmentally hazardous object directly on the ground at a depth of 6 thousand meters. The technologies are unique, no one in the world has done anything like this until now. By 1995, the nuclear submarine Komsomolets was mothballed. In other words, its lightweight body has been turned into a sarcophagus.

This greatly simplified the project and made it cheaper. We met the required deadlines and did not allow a serious release of radiation from the submarine.

We also managed to prevent pollution of the Norwegian Sea. Thus, we have calmed the world community and the Norwegians.

The Americans were naturally unhappy. Even then, Washington believed: the worse Russia is, the better the West. The Japanese, in the event of our failure, hoped to squeeze the Norwegians out of the world fish market. There were also other ill-wishers.

In the event of a leak, Russia would have to compensate for all of Norway's economic losses associated with the radiation accident. And this is billions of dollars!

In the flooded area of the Komsomolets, water and soil samples are regularly taken. More than 30 years have passed since the sinking of the submarine, and to this day the radiation situation around the nuclear submarine is normal. And the Bellona Foundation, in these circumstances, proposes to immediately begin the rise of Komsomolets. Isn't it strange!

To lift a boat with a displacement of 10 thousand tons with the destruction it has, this is not like playing Russian roulette, this is suicide! In the process of lifting, the boat is guaranteed to fall apart and then the Norwegian Sea will be polluted for tens, or even hundreds of years ahead.

I dare to assert that the reactors on other submarines sunk in the Arctic seas have been damped. But the next alarm was sounded by the same Bellona representatives in St. Petersburg about the allegedly "leaking" reactor on the Soviet nuclear submarine K-159, which was flooded on August 30, 2003 while being towed for disposal. She rests near Kildin Island at a depth of 170 meters. After the accident with the K-159, the country's leadership and the Navy announced the need to raise the boat. But for technical reasons, the ascent was not carried out.

In September 2014, Russian and Norwegian scientists examined the K-159. With the help of a remote-controlled vehicle, an underwater video was made, which showed a submarine buried at the bottom of the Barents Sea. Express analysis of the samples showed that the radiation level was not exceeded. According to the most unfavorable forecasts, in this state it can lie for another 20-30 years.

Thus, there is no need to touch these underwater objects. It's like in the Russian proverb: "Don't wake up smartly while it is quiet!"

The only thing that can be done in the near future is to once again analyze the situation around the sunken nuclear submarines. It's like with the Chernobyl nuclear power plant - the process was shut down, the reactor was stopped, now we need to monitor the situation and build up protection.

Modern means will not allow raising huge nuclear submarines without negative consequences. Even if such an opportunity arises, then, for sure, it will be an extremely expensive operation, which, for various reasons, cannot be carried out. In any case, at the current stage of development of science and technology. In addition, what to do with the raised radioactive trash? How much will the treasury cost its disposal or storage?

When I headed the Committee, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Thor Norendal came to me, who demanded an official document on behalf of the Russian government that we would not touch the Komsomolets submarine. Now, they say, she lies and does not do much harm. But in the process of raising it, you will spoil the sea for us, and Norway will incur colossal losses: we will lose fisheries, fishing shipbuilding, unemployment will begin, and so on. I replied that I agree to sign such a paper, but in exchange for another: we undertake not to touch the nuclear submarine, and Norway will have no claims against Russia when it "flows". The question was settled ...

It seems to me that the Belunovites and their Western patrons have only one goal - to once again inflict reputational and economic damage to Russia. Now a very serious struggle for the Arctic is unfolding, and the time has come to plunge our country into another adventure and an international scandal.

The expectation is that in the process of raising ships, pollution will begin, for example, in the Norwegian Sea, and we will fall into financial bondage. Then they will demand such an indemnity from us, they will impose such fines that we will never pay off. And Russia will not have time to develop the Arctic, - said Tengiz Borisov.

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