Robin Cook announced last year on an official visit to Murmansk that Britain would give 5 million pounds to nuclear waste cleanup in the Russian Arctic. This week, in the wake of the Kursk submarine accident in the Barents Sea, Cook has persuaded the Treasury to increase by 75 million pounds to a total of 80 million.
A team from British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (BNFL), together with Swedish, French and Norwegian expert firms have co-operated with Russian Minatom officials for years, trying to establish new storage sites for spent nuclear fuel from the Northern fleet’s aging nuclear submarine fleet.
Interviewed by The Independent, a Foreign Office source in London said "A team has already been out and got unprecedented access to former Soviet naval dockyards. We want to get this fuel (from submarine reactors) out of the water as quickly as possible. There is an horrendous risk of nuclear pollution. It is an ecological and humanitarian disaster waiting to happened," the source said.
At different naval bases and naval yards at the coast of the Kola Peninsula and in Severodvinsk, some 110 old nuclear powered submarines are laid up. 72 of these submarines still have the spent nuclear fuel in their reactors. In addition spent nuclear fuel are stored in a rundown onshore storage in Andreeva bay, west of Murmansk near the boarder to Norway.
The fund will be under control of the Defence Ministry, the Foreign Office and DTI.
A report by Minatom released in Moscow in March this year outlines the danger of laid-up submarines. The hulls of 30 submarines are no longer hermetic; the boats are in danger of sinking, the report said.