Archive for November, 2010

Ice Age history frozen in time at dig near Snowmass Village

November 30, 2010
THE DENVER POST – More pictures and picture series links in the original article here
Additional article here

Brendon Asher, an archaeology grad student from the University of Kansas, brushes off the bones of a juvenile female mammoth that was 18 to 20 years old. The skeleton shows the pelvis to the right, plus ribs, leg bones and tusks. The skeleton was found in a layer of peat beneath 7 to 8 feet of water and 3 to 5 feet of clay. The find may show how animals respond to climate change. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

SNOWMASS VILLAGE — This place is a pit. A giant, oozing, squishy bog of malodorous peat, sticky clay and mud that can suck the boots off your feet. But for anyone looking for a spot where everything went right for paleontology and posterity, it is here at Ziegler Reservoir.

For two weeks, Denver Museum of Nature & Science crews have been pulling out treasures: five or more mastodons, a bison skull with 7-foot horn span, a couple of Columbian mammoths, a giant Jefferson ground sloth (the state’s first), complete deer with antlers, salamanders, snails, two more bison — a “prehistoric zoo,” as local headlines read.

Scientists here are giddy with excitement.

“Every day we’ve been making flashy discoveries,”

said Kirk Johnson, the museum’s chief curator. “Every day it’s something new.”

“Every freaking day,” reverentially echoes Ian Miller, curator of paleontology.

As of last week, diggers had found more than 200 bones. One expert estimated that tusks and other pieces of perhaps a dozen mastodons are at the site, prompting Johnson to quip the nearby ski village should be renamed “Snowmastodon.”

This place will tell scientists a great deal about the last Ice Age in the Rockies. It also could contribute to knowledge about our future, Johnson said, by revealing how animals respond when climate rapidly warms and changes.

The stunning abundance of bones here was made possible in large part because this ancient watering hole sits at the top of a hill. Most lakes don’t.

This high-altitude lake, really a geological accident, filled up very slowly with layer after layer of wind-blown sediment — over many tens of thousands of years — preserving an entire Ice Age ecosystem and specimens that Colorado schoolchildren will be queuing up to see for generations to come.

This site is so extraordinary, Johnson said, because of its high elevation (about 9,000 feet), the long span of time represented and the spectacular preservation of ancient remains.

The fossils here are not actually fossilized — as in hardened to stone — but are, in fact, juicy.

“When we hit the bones, water gushes out of the bones,” Johnson said. “Any one of these things would have made this an important site. Multiply it by all three and it’s a world-class site.”

Army of experts arrives

Day 7 of the full-blown excavation was the day that workers discovered Johnson’s personal favorite piece, a gorgeous bison skull twice the size of today’s relatively dainty beast. But it was Day 8 when Johnson fully realized the site’s potential because a small army of outside experts from several specialties had arrived and were just as impressed as he was.

University of Michigan evolutionary biology Professor Daniel Fisher said any site that dates back tens of thousands of years provides an opportunity to study changes in the earth’s history.

“And it’s relevant to studying change in the world today,” Fisher said.

Johnson said he knew as soon as he arrived here Oct. 27 that the site was one of the most important Ice Age discoveries in the Rocky Mountains, where conditions favor annihilation rather than preservation of dead creatures.

“I took one look. This was the real deal,” Johnson said. “I just moved to Snowmass Village. We’ve moved the museum to Snowmass.”

Racing against winter

For the first week or so, even the weather was unseasonably, unreasonably warm. Workers were in short sleeves until Tuesday. Now, crews are racing against accumulating snow and freezing ground.

“Winter is going to kick us out,” Johnson said.

The field work likely will wrap up today or soon after. It has cost about $75,000, in addition to museum salaries, Johnson said.

The adventure began Oct. 14, when a bulldozer unearthed mammoth bones while expanding the 15-acre reservoir to increase snowmaking capacity for the ski area.

Snowmass Water and Sanitation District officials soon called museum officials. They negotiated an agreement with the water board Oct. 29 on the terms of the museum’s takeover of the excavation. By law, the state owns the bones.

By the end of October, area students and other residents had enjoyed the first public viewings of some bones at the water district office. Some bones even made the rounds of a few Pitkin County schools.

When the museum took over, education expert Samantha Sands visited eight schools and 8,500 children in five days, earning her the handle “Samammoth” and creating fossil fever up and down Colorado 82, from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.

The restaurant Spencers, one of the few open here off-season, is abuzz with fossil talk every day, owner Annette Docimo said. The restaurant quickly served up a special, “The Woolly Mammoth,” a sandwich of homemade sausage. Even though a woolly mammoth has never been found in Colorado, the entree caught the spirit.

“The dig is all they talk about at the bar,” Docimo said. “It’s been a great thing for the village.”

On Saturday, the museum hosted its own exhibition, “Mammoth and Mastodon Madness,” at the Base Village Conference Center to thank the area for its hospitality.

“This is what we do,” Johnson said of the museum. “We don’t just collect things. We do research and we educate the public.”

Johnson wants people to appreciate that fossil creation is a very unlikely event. A lot of life has come and gone in the earth’s 4.6 billion years, but for remains to survive they must have a proper and timely natural burial.

“For most things that die, it really is ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust,’ ” Johnson said.

For fossils to surface, the earth has to move.

“Moving dirt is a craft. We have a lot of camaraderie with the ‘dozer drivers,” Johnson said. “I’m a digger, too. For me, truth comes at the end of a shovel.”

The first mammoth found was sheltered under a large vinyl tent and pain stakingly excavated with tiny trowels, layer by thin layer, by Steve Holen, curator of archeaology, and his team. They looked for any evidence of early humans, such as spear tips, associated with the mammoth. None has been found so far.

The site is so rich, scientists can just grab a handful of peat and break it open to make finds. For Ian Miller, a paleobotanist, it’s thrilling to pull earth apart and see ancient seeds, pollen and plants that are still green. They’ve also found old white spruce and subalpine fir, and beaver gnaw marks on wood.

“We didn’t have anything like this before in the West — nothing at this elevation,” Miller said.

12,000- to 120,000-year span

Miller said the find might span 12,000 to 120,000 years old — and an earlier Ice Age — but time is still an open question. Preliminary carbon- dating indicates the lowest levels of the dig are at least 43,500 years old and could be much, much older.

Jeff Pigati was one in a trio of scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey who spent hours staring at an exposed section of bed, a 3-D puzzle, until various soil strata revealed themselves. Pigati was later seen showing off a chunk of earth holding thousands of small bivalve crustaceans called ostracods that could provide a wealth of information about water chemistry, temperature and depth.

Every day, a processing crew took extracted bones and washed them with warm water and toothbrushes.

“Yes, I brush mastodon teeth,” said Carol Lucking, earth science collections assistant. She also had the big task of managing the site’s inventory.

Bones are wrapped in wet paper towels, slipped into plastic bags left slightly unsealed and placed in cold storage. The fossils must dry out ever so slowly, for a year or more, or they could disintegrate.

Tusks, skulls and smaller fragile bones are encased in plaster of Paris and burlap jackets.

Transport to the museum is a convoy of personal vehicles down a driveway leading from former Walt Disney CEO’s Michael Eisner’s nearby compound and back to Denver.

Preservation and scientific analysis will begin right away. It isn’t known when objects will go on display at the museum. It could be a few years.

“A site is only as good as the work you do on it,” Fisher said.

Meanwhile, scientists and crew happily joke about serving up surplus bones in a stew. They tease about possible other new rituals inspired by the intoxicating treasures.

“We’re talking about drinking the juice of the mammoth bones,” Johnson said.

To the chorus of groans in response, he fired back: “You know some of you will be drinking the mammoth juice.”

Electa Draper: 303-954-1276 or edraper@denverpost.com

Municipality in Iceland’s West Fjords Wants Reindeer

November 28, 2010

Icelandic reindeer. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

(Iceland Review News, 24 November 2010) — The minority in the district council of the Vesturbyggd municipality in the southwestern West Fjords want to apply for a permit from the Environment Agency of Iceland to establish an up to 4,000-animal wild reindeer stock in the West Fjords. Currently, there are only reindeer in east Iceland. According to the proposal, reindeer are to be transported from the east and with time, form a large reindeer stock which could roam the area and serve as a source of income for the municipality, ruv.is reports. Proposals to that end have been rejected before due to fear of impact on farming in the region and  possible diseases being transmitted to sheep. However, the minority in Vesturbyggd’s district council reasons there is no risk in relocating reindeer to the west as there are no examples of reindeer having infected sheep in east Iceland. Also, the number of sheep in the West Fjords has dropped significantly in the recent decades. The proposal is awaiting review.

Original article here

Canadians closing in on lost wreckage of HMS Terror

November 28, 2010


(Randy Boswell/Postmedia News via Vancouver Sun, 26 November 2010) — It’s a genuine treasure of American history, with a price tag to match: a rare, 195-year-old printing of the original sheet music for the Star-Spangled Banner is expected to sell for up to $300,000 at an auction next week in New York. But as U.S. history buffs lined up for a look at the patriotic relic this week during Christie’s pre-sale exhibition, Canadian archeologists were planning their next Arctic Ocean search for one of the very War of 1812 ships — the last in existence — responsible for the “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air” that helped inspire American poet Francis Scott Key to write his country’s national anthem after witnessing the bombing of Baltimore in September 1814. The surprising link between the Star-Spangled Banner and the lost Franklin Expedition vessel HMS Terror — believed to lie off the coast of King William Island in the Canadian Arctic — adds another layer to the rich history of the ship and helps explain Canada’s three-year quest to find it, says the Parks Canada archeologist leading the hunt for the fabled shipwreck. The resting places of the Terror and its consort vessel the HMS Erebus — both lost during British explorer John Franklin’s ill-fated voyage of discovery to Northern Canada in the late 1840s — have already been declared a National Historic Site, even though their precise locations remain unknown.

Original article here

Mammoth Calf, Ancient Art Work Displayed At Neanderthal Museum In Germany (PHOTOS)

November 24, 2010

The mammoth ivory carving of prehistoric man is 35,000 years old, and was found in southern Germany.

The Huffington Post, November 19. 2010
Original article here

A stunning new German exhibition is shedding new light onto the prehistoric era.

Displayed at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, the exhibition includes never-before-seen artifacts and remains of one of the most mysterious creatures of the Ice Age, the mammoth. Among the most intriguing are an icon of one of the enormous animals cast in ivory, which is believed to be the oldest known artwork of mankind, as well as the completely preserved remains of an original mammoth calf, named Lyuba.

See photos of the new exhibit, courtesy of the Associated Press, here:

A man takes photos of the original mammoth calf Lyuba, at the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann.

New Antarctic Research Plan for Russia

November 24, 2010

by Tom Parfitt on 19 November 2010, sciencemag.org
Original article here

MOSCOW—Russia is planning to launch five new polar research ships as part of a $975 million effort to reassert its presence in Antarctica over the next decade.

According to a government strategy document that lays out priorities for development around the South Pole until 2020, Moscow will also reconstruct five research stations and three seasonal bases there.

The document identifies improved monitoring of climate change, increased geological and geophysical study of mineral and hydrocarbon resources, extension of the GLONASS satellite navigation system, and assessment of fisheries as key objectives.

“Physical and moral wear-and-tear of the expeditionary Antarctic infrastructure” must be addressed in order for Russia to “systematically develop an influential presence” in the region, it says.

The first Soviet expedition to the Antarctic region was in 1955, and a first all-season scientific research station, Mirny, was built by the coast the following year. Over the next 3 decades, seven more stations were built (Vostok, Novolazarevskaya, Molodyozhnaya, Bellingshausen, Leningradskaya, Russkaya, and Progress).

Russia inherited the Soviet bases in 1991, but funding for polar research was scarce during the turbulent economic changes of the following decade. The new strategy document, approved at the end of October, says Moscow must work with other countries to preserve “peace and stability” in Antarctica. It stresses, however, that Russia must be poised to take advantage of natural resources in the event of a territorial carve-up.

One of the authors of the strategy was Valery Lukin of the Arctic and Antarctic Scientific Research Institute in St. Petersburg. He told the Izvestia newspaper the plans included the completion of the research ship Akademik Treshnikov, now being built in St. Petersburg, and the construction of four other vessels.

Artur Chilingarov, the polar explorer and Russia’s international representative on cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, said in September that the launch of the 134-meter, 17,000-ton Akademik Treshnikov would be a “great event.” Scientists currently rely on a similar-sized ship, the 23-year-old Akademik Fedorov, for reaching and supplying bases at both poles.

The development strategy to 2020 also includes construction of an airstrip and commissioning of an Il-114-100T aircraft with a wheel-ski undercarriage.

Scientists probe beneath Antarctic ice shelves

November 24, 2010

NIWA looks below Antarctic ice shelves to investigate the polar ocean system with a new high-tech probe.

Ice Tethered Profiler being deployed in Antarctica by NIWA and Antarctica NZ staff. Mount Erebus in the background. (Craig Stewart, NIWA)

November 22, 2010 NIWA
Original article here

NIWA’s new Ice Tethered Profiler (ITP) places NIWA at the forefront of polar oceanography. It gives NIWA, and international scientists, insight into the interaction between the ocean, Antarctica’s sea ice, and ice shelves – thereby unlocking mysteries in Antarctic polar oceanography.

NIWA transported the ITP to Antarctica. It was deployed by NIWA scientist Craig Stewart, and IRL’s Tim Haskell. The very first set of data from below the ice was sent via satellite on 19 November 2010.

It will provide NIWA with the first-ever year-round data set of what is happening beneath the ice in McMurdo Sound. The ITP collects temperature and salinity profiles. This information is relayed in real-time, via satellite, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute website.

“This will lead to a better understanding of the interactions between the ice sheet, the oceans, and what contribution this is making to sea-level rise. We are trying to understand how the ice shelf interaction is changing over time,” says NIWA oceanographer, Dr Mike Williams.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic has lost vast amounts of its sea ice. In the Southern Hemisphere, such changes have so far largely appeared along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Predictions for the next century could see Antarctic annual mean sea ice decrease by 24%, so it is important that interactions between sea ice and both atmosphere and ocean are understood.

“The Ross Sea is fresher than it was 30 years ago, because the Antarctic ice sheet has been melting, and putting more freshwater into the ocean,” says Dr Williams.

“The warmer the water, the faster the ice melts, so what we are starting to see is warmer parcels of water making their way to the coast, and starting to increase the ice-shelf melt in coastal Antarctica.”

Polar regions are where climate change is happening most rapidly. “It’s well understood in the Arctic, but in Antarctica we don’t really understand why we are not getting the same response. Our measurement programmes are decades behind what’s happening in the Arctic, and the ITP gives us a chance to start catching up,” says Dr Williams.

The ITP was developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, funded by NIWA, and its deployment is supported by Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and Antarctica NZ. It is the second ITP to be deployed in Antarctica.

NIWA CEO John Morgan will be on the ice 24-26 November as part of the Antarctica New Zealand Invited Visitor programme.

For comment, contact:
Dr Mike Williams
Oceanographer, NIWA
Tel: 04 386 0389
Mob: 021 044 7645

How does the ITP work?

The ITP consists of a surface capsule that sits on top of a large area of ice floating on the surface of the sea. It supports a plastic-jacketed wire rope tether that extends through the ice, and down into the ocean. It is weighted at the bottom. A cylindrical underwater instrument mounts on this tether and cycles vertically along it, carrying oceanographic sensors through the water column.

NSF signs $34.5-million operating agreement as Antarctic neutrino detector nears completion

November 24, 2010

Via Physorg.com
Original article here

Jessica Hodges, a physics graduate student with IceCube, University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured with a digital Optical Module (DOM). Credit: Glenn Grant/National Science Foundation

November 23, 2010
The National Science Foundation has signed a five-year, $34.5-million agreement with the University of Wisconsin-Madison to operate a unique telescope–a cubic kilometer in volume–buried in the Antarctic ice sheet between 1,400 meters and 2,400 meters deep.

The collaborative agreement covers the cost of operating the Neutrino Observatory, located in the ice under the U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The observatory records the rare collisions of neutrinos, elusive sub-atomic particles, with the atomic nuclei of the water frozen into ice. Neutrinos come from the sun, interacting with the Earth’s atmosphere, and dramatic astronomical sources such as exploding stars in the and other distant galaxies. Trillions of neutrinos stream through the human body at any given moment, but they rarely interact with regular matter, and researchers want to know more about them and where they come from.

IceCube is the world’s largest . The size of the detector is important because it increases the number of potential collisions that can be observed, making neutrino astrophysics a reality. The observatory is slated for completion in December 2010.

While the Observatory is managed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and primarily funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, Germany, Belgium and Sweden contributed to its construction. More than 250 scientists from 36 institutions in the U.S., the partner countries, and elsewhere are now analyzing the data collected by the observatory.

“The IceCube detector is a superb example of the kind of exciting “big science” at the frontiers of knowledge that is ideally suited for support by the U.S. Antarctic Program, precisely because it could be built nowhere else in the world but in the ,” said Karl A. Erb, director of NSF’s Office of Polar Programs (OPP). Through OPP, NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. research on the southernmost continent and surrounding oceans.

“What’s more,” he added, “although the IceCube project is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, it exemplifies a modern trend in the increasingly complex and multi-disciplinary scientific world; large-scale projects like the IceCube detector are too complex to be effectively mounted by one nation alone, but also require the scientific and logistical expertise of many nations acting together to produce scientifically significant results.”

Since 2004, the U.S., Belgium, Germany and Sweden have been building the detector in the continental ice sheet that covers Antarctica to a depth of almost three kilometers in places. A powerful hot-water drill creates holes almost 2.5 kilometers deep into the ice. These holes house strings of digital optical modules that actually detect the interactions of the with the ice.

Seven holes remained to be drilled in December 2010, which will bring the total to 86 strings.

Even now, the IceCube detector records several tens of thousands of neutrino interactions every year; the detector records one terabyte of data–more than 1,000 gigabytes–every day and over a petabyte of data–quadrillion bytes–per year. Data is meticulously examined for evidence of neutrino events.

The agreement with NSF covers the cost of operating the IceCube detector and managing the data it gathers in the U.S., enabling researchers to acquire the highest quality scientific data and store it for further distribution. IceCube’s foreign collaborators also contribute to the detector’s maintenance and operation through in-kind support and contributions to a common fund. The Madison-based IceCube Research Center transforms the detector’s raw data to make it accessible for scientific analysis by the IceCube Collaboration.

“A secure, long-term funding plan is essential to a successful operations program. This award continues the strong partnership between NSF and UW that all of our collaborators depend upon,” said IceCube Project Director Jim Yeck.

Provided by National Science Foundation

Russians restarted coal mining at Svalbard

November 24, 2010
Barents Observer 2010-11-08

The settlment of Barentsburg (photo: Barentsphoto.com)

Original article here

The Russian company Trust Arktikugol has restarted coal mining at the archipelago of Svalbard after a two and a half year break.

The production halt came after a fire in the local mine in 2008. Sea water was pumped into the mine to extinguish the fire, which subsequently destroyed equipment and required a major overhaul of production.

Production restart was further complicated by low coal prices, NRK reports.

In 2009, Svalbard had a population of 2,753, of which 423 were Russian and Ukrainian, Wikipedia informs. In Barentsburg, mining is the only livelihood, while the neighboring Norwegian settlement of Longyearbyen in addition to mining also has a well-developed tourist industry and a significant presence of polar researchers.

Text: Atle Staalesen

Finland to help reindeer herders

November 24, 2010
SIKU News, November 5th 2010
Original article here
Some measures will target Saami herders.

Changes in Finland are expected in the system of public supports for reindeer herding to help the younger generation take over operations from their parents.

The government is proposing a package of measures that will also help more young people start their own businesses.

In addition to support already made available to reindeer herders, young people will be able to apply for money to expand their herds and to purchase equipment, such as snowmobiles.

Supports will be more regionally focused, as well, with measures targeted at helping Saami.

Further south, special funds will be made available for fencing off cultivated fields and fencing in some grazing lands.

The terms and conditions to qualify to receive public supports for setting up a reindeer herding operation will remain the same.

Those include making it a full-time job, based on one’s own farm. However, the proposed package will raise the present funding of around two million euros a year by several hundred thousand euros.

In Russia, a Push for Floating Nuclear Power Plants

November 24, 2010

“the Arctic, which is inhospitable to terrorists.”

Floating arctic nuclear power plants is sad news, but the above statement made me laugh… I’m not so certain of the absoluteness of that claim!
Maybe terrorists are already holed up there in invisible ice fortresses like in James Bond or like Supermans icy cave?

Floating nuclear power plants certainly seems like a very bad idea, terrorists or not.

Hornfar


An artist’s rendering of the Academic Lomonosov, a Russian floating nuclear power station.

(Ken Stier/Time, 12 November 2010) — Russians have always embraced the Arctic. Thriving communities dot the country’s 4,300-mi (7,000 km) northern border, and the port town of Murmansk — home to 300,000 people — is the largest city north of the Arctic circle. America’s closest competitor? Barrow, Alaska, which has some 4,000 souls.

Servicing these far-flung communities has never been easy. The job has been handled largely by Russia’s fleet of nuclear-powered ice-breakers, hulking vessels that have the massive horsepower needed to ram sea ice up to two meters thick and bring in needed supplies. Keeping these towns heated and lit has been another challenge — one made harder after the collapse of Soviet-era energy and transportation subsidies. Now however, the resourceful Russians have come up with an idea, one that they hope could not only secure the country’s position as the preeminent Arctic power, but also blossom into a lucrative export business: floating nuclear power plants (FNPPs).

The idea of FNPPs is simple, if a little scary: Outfit a barge with two 35-megawatts reactors, float them to a spot off the coast and run cables to land to distribute your power. An FNPP set-up this size could power a city of 200,000.

The concept has some people screaming about “floating Chernobyls,” but the technology is safer than that. For one thing, the portable reactors are fairly proven hardware, derived from those used on the icebreakers. And while any nuclear reactor poses real dangers if something goes wrong, the FNPPs are comparative pipsqueaks — their 35 MW output only a fraction of the Chernobyl plant’s 4,000. A prototype vessel has already been launched at a St. Petersburg shipyard; after reactors are affixed it will be towed to Vilyuchinsk, a city (pop. 25,000) in the Russian Far East that is home to a squadron of nuclear submarines. It is expected to be operational in 2012.

FNPPs could help Russia expand its reach in another critical way: powering the country’s efforts to exploit its off-shore petroleum reserves, 90% of which lie in its Arctic continental shelf. Portable reactors would eliminate the cost and headache of transporting diesel long distances in harsh weather. That has Gazprom, which is keen to develop the world’s largest untapped gas field — Shtokman in the Barents Sea — signed up for several FNPPs from Rosatom, the state nuclear corporation. Other reactors are slated to be used in uranium mining.

“The ultimate objective of the state policy is to transform the Arctic into ‘Russia’s foremost strategic base for natural resources’ by 2020,” notes a Norwegian Defense Institute study, citing Russian documents. Western energy and mining firms are expected to be among the first customers for small reactors — and a number of western vendors, who see a growing global market, have begun developing their own systems. Shell considered one for its energy-intensive exploitation of tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Toshiba has already interested the remote Alaskan town of Galena (pop.700) in a ‘pocket nuke’ of 10 MW, to unshackle it from diesel-fired electricity that costs about 10 times the price paid in the lower 48.

So far though it is only Russia that is promoting water-based plants which, assurances aside, do present a host of new environmental, safety, liability and proliferation challenges.

Then there is the issue of where FNPPs might be deployed. Among a dozen or so countries reportedly interested is Indonesia, which is susceptible to tsunamis, not to mention terrorists who could hijack the vessel and steal radioactive material or simply blow the reactor up, possibly releasing a tremendous cloud of radioactive steam.

Russia’s solution is the Build-Own-Operate model. Host countries would simply buy electricity (perhaps desalinated water too), leaving everything else to the Russians. There would be no transfer of material or technology and Russia would haul waste and spent fuel for reprocessing home every three to four years, and tow the plant for maintenance every 12 years — three times in a plant’s life span.

“Historically, the Soviets and Russians have a dismal track record of nuclear waste management,” says Thomas B. Cochran, a nuclear expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. But Cochran thinks FNPPs may not pose “a particularly new concern, [but] more of the same” — at least in the Arctic, which is inhospitable to terrorists.

Russia seems determined to improve its reputation for safety, and has announced that it will keep the enrichment level of the fuel in its portable nukes to under 20%, below the weapons-grade threshold. But the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority worries that Moscow might eventually be tempted to step up its enrichment level to improve profitability since its “main focus” is commercial. Russia’s icebreakers were initially powered by 5% enriched fuel; its present, third-generation models run up to 90% — though in this case the motivation was efficiency, not money.

Still, since 1996, Russia has allowed the U.S., and later the U.K., Sweden and Norway to help patch up vulnerabilities in its icebreaker nuclear fuel cycle, which is a good sign of its seriousness. It’s too early to tell if such cooperation would survive in a commercial sphere, especially one in which Russia has a rare lead in an intense global competition.

Original article here