Nuclear cargo secretly shipped around Norway

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(BarentsObserver, 12 October 2010) — The containers with weapon-grade spent uranium fuel were heavily guarded by armed police on ground and in helicopters on its way to the harbor in Gydnia in Poland. After loaded on board the vessel the deadly nuclear waste secretly sailed around the coast of Northern Norway before it arrived in Murmansk last week.

Heavily armed special police forces guarding the containers with the uranium fuel before it is onloaded to the vessel sailing it to Murmansk via the coast of Norway. Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration.

The uranium cargo was sent from a research reactor in the forest outside Warsaw towards Russia’s top-secured reprocessing plant Mayak in the South-Urals. There are likely two reasons why such nuclear cargo are shipped the longer route around Norway to Murmansk, instead of sailing the much shorter route through the Baltic Sea and St. Petersburg on its way to Mayak. First of all it is important to keep the vulnerable cargo as far away from possible terrorists as possible, and secondly because Murmansk has an excellent harbor facility for receiving such nuclear waste. The harsh seas off the coast of northern Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula are not an easy attack point for al-Quaida or other non-state terrorist groups that might want to blow up or get access and steal weapon-grade uranium, such as this cargo from Poland. … The first time such nuclear cargo sailed from Poland to Murmansk in transit along the coast of Norway  was last fall. Then, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities was not aware about the uranium load before being informed by BarentsObserver. The issue was then bought up with Polish nuclear authorities and the following shipment in April this year happened with the knowledge of the Norwegian Authorities. … Last week, at the same time as the nuclear waste cargo ship arrived in Murmansk, Norwegian and Russian authorities were sitting on board the former nuclear powered icebreaker “Lenin” in Murmansk discussing nuclear safety cooperation between the two countries. … Nothing is said about the fact that simultaneously a secret cargo of nuclear waste was arriving in the port of Atomflot, just some few kilometers from where the Norwegian-Russian top nuclear officials where meeting. Norway has over the last 16 years granted some NOK 1,5 billion (€187 million) for nuclear safety in Northwest Russia. Ironically, the harbor facility where last week’s nuclear cargo was offloaded is partly financed with Norwegian assistance grants. Norway partly paid for the special designed pad for uranium fuel containers as an effort to secure spent nuclear fuel from the Northern fleet’s decommissioned submarines. Upon arrival at the Atomflot facilities in the northern part of Murmansk city, the uranium fuel was reloaded to railway wagons and sent all the 3,000 kilometers through European Russia to Mayak.

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