Barents Euro-Arctic Council gathered in Murmansk

Publish date: March 20, 2001

Written by: Sergey Filippov

Russian minister of foreign affairs, Igor Ivanov, promised to sign agreement on multilateral nuclear safety program for the Russian Federation. The negotiations have been underway since 1998 without any result.

On March 14, Murmansk hosted the Barents Euro-Arctic Council meeting, the next day foreign ministers from the region met at their 8th session with participation of delegates from Russia (33 people), Norway (35 people), Sweden (17 people), Finland (13 people), Island (3 people), Denmark (2 people) as well as representatives from Germany, USA, Canada, Great Britain, Netherlands, Italy, France and the European Parliament.

During his 4 minutes speech, Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, paid some attention to environmental issues of Barents region. “After long and difficult discussions a progress has been achieved in the negotiations about the agreement on multilateral nuclear safety program for the Russian Federation. I hope, it will be signed soon,” Ivanov said.

The multilateral nuclear safety program, which was worked out by the European Union and Norway to implement nuclear and radiation safety projects in Russia, needs just a small thing – approval by Russia. But the Russian red tape can easily disagree with punctuation marks in the document and hamper the positive development.

The session in Murmansk was finalised by a communiqué, which emphasised the importance of the program for creating conditions for “extending nuclear safety cooperation as well as management of spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.” The document, however, consists of too many “approvals”, “readiness”, “satisfaction”, and complicated phrases about the “importance” and the “necessity”.

Murmansk region Governor’s report

At the meeting of the Barents region Council Governor of Murmansk region, Evgeny Yevdokimov, made a speech about management of nuclear waste in Murmansk region. He said that a strategy how to tackle this issue had been worked out. It will be soon developed into the program, which will include the sources of financing and the responsible parties.

Yury Yevdokimov said that during 40 years of nuclear reactors operation at the Kola Peninsula, the radioactivity of totally collected waste is more than 10 million Ci. He added that most of the waste is stored in unsatisfactory manner.

According to the Governor, there are about 8,000 cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste and 14,000 cubic meters of solid radioactive waste in Murmansk region. He also expressed hope that the liquid waste processing plant, which had a commissioning presentation two years ago, will be soon in operation. Then all the liquid waste in the region could be processed by 2007. The design capacity of the installation is 5,000 cubic meters per year, but it is not realistic at the moment, and 3,000 would be good as well, Evdokimov added.

Besides, some plans exist to build up an installation for reducing the volume of solid radioactive waste. It could be constructed at the shipyard in Polyarny near Murmansk with capacity of 2,000 cubic meters per year. The approximate price tag is $91 million. But it is not clear who could fund the construction.

In 2001, the Russian state budget allocated $50 million for storage of radioactive waste not shipped for reprocessing to the Mayak plant in the southern Ural. According to the Russian participants of the Barents summit, this sum exceeds western aid. It is required, however, $1.5 billion totally to tackle the whole problem.


Norway and Russia in private

A day before the summit, Russian foreign minister talked to his Norwegian colleague, Thorbjorn Jagland. Murmansk Governor Yury Evdokimov also took part in the meeting. Among other discussed issued the Norwegian minister raised concerns regarding the plans of Russia to transport spent nuclear fuel from Japan to Europe along the North Sea Route. Igor Ivanov assured that it would be done in accordance with international agreements and regulations, and the accident risk is low.

During the ministers’ discussion, Yury Evdokimov asked for Norwegian financing to construct the storage site for reactor compartments in Sayda Bay and environmental remediation in Andreeva Bay.

Barents Euroarctic region

The Barents cooperation was formally established in January 1993. Representatives from Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, together with a representative of the EU Commission, signed the Kirkenes Declaration, which laid down the main lines of the structure and official aims of the cooperation. Although cooperation between Norway and Russia has by this time gained momentum, Norway was gradually becoming aware of the necessity for multilateral cooperation in the region. Norway and Russia could not solve the lot of difficult problems in the region on their own, prompting Norway to take the initiative to establish a binding regional cooperation involving all the countries in the region.

By 1993 the local authorities in the region had already developed a certain amount of cooperation across the borders, and it seemed only natural that they should play an active role in the development of the Barents cooperation.

The local authorities in the ten counties from the four countries involved are all directly represented in the formal bodies of the Barents cooperation. A special feature of the cooperation structure is that it has two parallel bodies: the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, to give it its full name, which is composed of representatives of the national authorities, and the Regional Council, representing the counties in the Barents Region. This form of cooperation has been shown to work well, and has attracted international attention. The local authorities are familiar with the region in a different way from the central government, and they know what forms of cooperation the people want. Their active participation ensures that the cooperation benefits the people of the region as much as possible. Communication between central government and local authorities has so far been good. The Norwegian authorities at national and local level give priority to this regional cooperation and regard it as a significant part of Norwegian policy towards Russia.

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