Nuclear sub berthings meet skepticism

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The US military wants to use a new harbour at Tønsnes near Tromsø for its nuclear submarines on patrol in Arctic waters. Norwegian military officials seem keen to accommodate their powerful American allies, but local residents are skeptical and state radiation authorities must evaluate whether such vessels will be welcome.

Authorities at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority  (Statens strålevern) have until May 20 to decide whether concessions can be granted for the US nuclear subs, which want to berth at Tønsnes to perform routine maintenance and shift crews. A Norwegian military spokesman stressed that the submarines are nuclear-powered and are not “strategic” subs carrying nuclear weapons.

‘Must meet criteria’
“In order to grant a concession for such port calls, all criteria must be met regarding both security and preparedness,” Margrethe Eikelmann of Statens strålevern told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). She and her colleagues are currently evaluating the request submitted by US officials.

Nils Andreas Stensønes of the Norwegian defense department (Forsvaret) said the harbour at Tønsnes was chosen as the best alternative for any nuclear sub visits in Northern Norway, and plans call for regular berthings by the US submarines.

“Norway is a long country with a long coastline,” Stensønes noted, telling NRK that it was “practical” for the US Navy to be able to berth in Northern Norway “when operating along the coast here,” instead of having to sail “all the way south to Bergen.”

He claimed that “both the Americans and we are well aware” of Norway’s restrictive nuclear policy, and that the Norwegians expect the Americans to respect it. “These are nuclear-powered submarines, and there will be nuclear material on board, but beyond that we assume they abide by Norwegian policy,” Stensønes told NRK.

Lack of preparedness
While some believe the presence of US nuclear subs in Norwegian waters can enhance Norway’s security, others worry there’s a lack of preparedness for any nuclear accident in the area. Many Norwegian agencies are also involved in evaluating the US military’s request to berth near Tromsø, including local police and the hospital attached to the University of North-Norway (UNN).

Dr Mads Gilbert, head of the emergency medical staff at UNN and known for his political activism including his work as a surgeon in Gaza, told TV2 that UNN lacks the necessary personnel and equipment to handle any nuclear emergency.

If the authorities at Statens strålevern determine that preparedness is inadequate, permission for the Americans to berth will most likely be denied. The Americans have their supporters, though.

“I would say that the presence of our allies is a central dimension within Norwegian security and defense policy,” Regina Alexandrova, a Bulgarian-born Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party, told NRK. She represents Troms County and sits on the parliament’s foreign and defense policy committee. “We have exercises and train with our allies and often have visits from allied forces,” Alexandrova added. “Their presence in Northern Norway is both legitimate and desired from our side.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund