Russian officials have again raised the possibility of retrieving tons of nuclear trash from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean – only to confess just as quickly that they don’t have the money to do it.
Discussions of what to do about thousands of containers of radioactive waste, nuclear reactors, pieces of irradiated debris, and two entire nuclear submarines languishing at the bottom of Russia’s northern seas come up a few times a year and are routinely abandoned just as quickly.
But they, nonetheless, raise interesting questions about what, precisely, is there, and about what kind of a minefield it creates for Russia’s Arctic oil drilling ambitions, to which the country has long hitched its economic future.
Between 1965 and 1972, Russia’s nuclear navy intentionally sank some 17,000 tons of solid radioactive waste, the K-27 nuclear submarine, 14 reactors from other submarines, 19 ships containing nuclear waste, and 735 pieces of heavily irradiated equipment from a variety of nuclear powered vessels, including the iconic nuclear icebreaker Lenin.
And that doesn’t count what got there by mistake – which includes another submarine, the K-159 that went down in 2003 while being towed through heavy weather and which has been the subject of abortive retrieval discussions of its own.
The full scale of the carcinogenic cache of nuclear cast offs was revealed to Norwegian authorities in 2012, and it has been the subject of on-again-off-again Russian government attention ever since.