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Kola: Increase in radioactivity levels

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(May 8, 1998) Recent measurements from areas surrounding the submarine bases at the Russian Kola peninsula show significant increases in sediment radioactivity levels. The contamination is caused by the increased leakage from aging storage tanks for spent nuclear fuel.

(491.4871) Bellona - The most alarming contamination at the Kola peninsula was detected outside the Northern Fleet's main storage facility for spent nuclear fuel in Andreeva Bay, close to the Norwegian border. In this area, the top sediments layer contains up to 114 Bq/kg of cesium-137. According to the Bellona Foundation, the contamination is caused by the increased leakage from three aging storage tanks for spent nuclear fuel, situated only 200 meters from the sea. The Bellona Foundation has raised concern about leakage from this storage facility.

The measurements indicate that the uppermost five centimeters of the sediments in Andreeva Bay are most heavily contaminated with cesium-137. Cesium-137 levels are 12 times higher than background rates. The measurements indicate that leakage has increased over recent years, most probably due to lack of maintenance of the nuclear storage containers. The Murmansk Marinebiological Institute collected the sediment samples. The reputable V.G. Khlopin Radium Institute and the Kusnetsov Laboratories in St. Petersburg have performed the analyses. A total of over 100 samples were collected in locations ranging from the Murmanskfjord in the east to the Petsjengafjord in the west. The samples were analyzed for the isotopes cesium-137, cobalt-60 and plutonium-239/240.

The data were made available to the Bellona Foundation. These are the first ever to be made publicly available measurements of radioactive contamination from the areas outside the naval bases of the Northern Fleet. Since 1995, Norwegian authorities have been denied permission on several occasions to perform scientific investigations of radioactive contamination along the Kola coast.

In addition to the increased rate of radioactive contamination in Andreeva Bay, the rate of cobalt-60 in the sediments outside the naval shipyard Shkval in Poljarny is alarming. Poljarny is situated at the western shore of the Murmanskfjord. Measurements of sediments taken in the period between 1995 and 1997 show an increase from below 10 Bq/kg to above 80 Bq/kg during this three-year period. The reasons for this explosive increase are as yet unknown. One potential source is the naval shipyard Shkval 7, where obsolete nuclear submarines are situated. One of them, the Echo-II, had a meltdown in one of the reactors in 1989. Maintenance of second and third generation nuclear submarines is performed at Shkval.

The recent increase in radioactivity levels in Andreeva Bay points to increased leakage from nuclear storage tanks in Andreeva Bay. Lack of proper maintenance last autumn allowed the winter frost to do more damage than in other years. During the spring thaw, it can be expected that significant quantities of contaminated water will leak out into Andreeva Bay.

For further information on storage of nuclear waste in the Northern Fleet and obsolete nuclear submarines, visit the Bellona web-site ( This site also contains photographs of various storage sites.

Source and Contact: Thomas Nilsen, The Bellona Foundation. P.O.Box 2141, N-0505 Oslo, Norway. Tel: +47-22 38 2410; Fax: +47-22 38 3862