Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, backed by other Nordic leaders, is demanding answers from Russian authorities over its plans to tow a floating nuclear power station by barge from St Petersburg through the Baltic and Kattegat and all along Norway’s coast to Murmansk in the far north. Protests over the shipment mark another rise in tensions between Russia and its Nordic neighbours.
Russia has declared that it intends to transport the nuclear power station Akademik Lomonosov fully 2,300 nautical miles with two uranium-fueled reactors on board. The hazardous and highly disputed journey is expected to take around three to four weeks, and Nordic authorities all along the route are alarmed by the potential for accidents in rough seas.
Norwegian authorities and their counterparts in Finland, Sweden and Denmark have sought more information about the highly unusual voyage for several years. They want more information about security measures and how the long tow in often stormy waters will be carried out. So far, they have not been getting any answers.
The Russians reportedly maintain that the voyage will take place in international waters, meaning that neither Norway nor other Nordic countries can prevent the floating power station from passing off their coasts. Brende is making clear, however, that Norwegian authorities expect Russia to answer questions tied to the transport project’s security before the voyage begins either next spring or summer.
“These are serious questions that have gone unanswered,” Brende claimed, “and we assume Russia won’t put this into movement until they’re answered. We also assume that all necessary measures will be taken to reduce the risks of the project.”
Brende and his Nordic counterparts discussed the looming nuclear plant transport at a recent meeting in Oslo. They’re all concerned, as are other authorities, that any accident at sea could lead to radiation leaks that would head right for the closest land. The route through the Baltic and Kattegat would bring the floating nuclear power station close to land, as would its voyage along Norway’s long coastline.
Authorities want to know how the Russians intend to assess weather conditions, for example, after they admitted themselves that the trip would be difficult if winds are stronger than 15m/s. Newspaper Aftenposten has reported that such winds are often measured at weather stations and lighthouses along Norway’s coast, for example at Utsira, Kråkenes, Svinøy and Fruholmen.
Brende also wants to know whether the Russians have studied alternative means of transporting the new nuclear power station, which is being moved from a shipyard in St Petersburg to Murmansk and eventually to Pevek in Siberia.
Brende told Aftenposten earlier this month that he and the other Nordic foreign ministers are highly critical of the planned transport and agree on “following this up” with Russia. Brende was also taking up the issue at a meeting of the Norwegian-Russian nuclear security commission in Kirkenes. The Nordic countries are calling for a planning meeting with Russian authorities this fall to maximize security around the long tow.
Environmental organizations have also been protesting the planned voyage, with Greenpeace fearing that the Akademik Lomonosov can become “a floating Chernobyl.” Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace in Norway said he was glad Brende and other Nordic leaders were engaging themselves in the issue as well.
“It’s completely crazy to tow a fully equipped nuclear power station along the entire Norwegian coast,” Gulowsen told Aftenposten. “It looks like the Russians haven’t given any thought to the risk and danger to the environment.” Greenpeace is also strongly opposed to placing a nuclear power station in the Arctic seas, where it will be “a long way from any help” in the event of an accident.
Neither the Russian atomic energy firm Rosatom nor the Russian embassy in Oslo responded to requests for comment. The Russian embassy, however, did issue new criticism of its own over the weekend, regarding the US’ placement of soldiers in Norway. The Russians claim, as they have before, that their presence will further raise tensions and “destabilize” the northern areas.