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Norway not told about nuclear cargo

MCL Trader (Photo Anna Kireyeva/Bellona)

Norwegian authorities did not get any notice when a Russian vessel loaded with nuclear waste passed Norway on its way from Poland to Murmansk last weekend.

Last Sunday Russia received its first cargo of spent nuclear fuel from a reactor in Poland, Bellona.org reports. The vessel MCL Trader moored at Atomflot’s quay in Murmansk and twelve containers with spent nuclear fuel (SNF) were transshipped, loaded onto specially retrofitted trains and sent off to the reprocessing plant Mayak Chemical Combine in the Urals by rail.

Earlier this month the Russian and Polish governments concluded an agreement on Russian import of nuclear waste from research reactors. The agreement has a timeframe of 20 years, Rosbalt.ru reported.

The Vessel Traffic Centre in Vardø (VTS), which is responsible for monitoring and guiding of shipping traffic along the coast of Northern Norway, did not get any notice about the vessel transporting the lethal cargo, the head attendant at the VTS told BarentsObserver today. According to the traffic center’s monitoring data, the vessel kept outside the so-called traffic separation zone, which runs 25-30 nautical miles outside the coast of Norway.

The traffic center did not have any communication with MCL Trader. Only vessels larger than 5000 gross tons are instructed to report to the traffic centre, and MCL Trader is 3600 gross tons.

No warning to Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority

- We were not informed by Polish authorities about the nuclear waste cargo that passed the Norwegian coast, says Per Strand, director of Department for Emergency Preparedness and Environmental Radioactivity in the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA) to BarentsObserver.

Strand says there are no rules or international agreements that impose Polish authorities to inform Norway about such cargo, as long as the vessel sails in international waters.

However, Strand says the Norwegian Radiation Authority had requested Polish authorities to provide information about when the cargo would pass the coast of Norway. The Norwegian request came after a meeting in Poland this spring, where representatives from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority learned about the plan to ship the spent fuel from the Polish research reactor to Murmansk by boat.

But despite this request, Norway did not know that the deadly nuclear cargo sailed all the way around the coast of Norway towards Murmansk last week.

MCL Trader involved in accident last year

The vessel MCL Trader is infamous for an incident in May 2008, when, while on a voyage from Sweden’s Halmstad to Russia’s St. Petersburg, it ran aground near the Danish island of Bornholm. Danish authorities arrested the vessels captain and chief engineer for having been drunk. Danish authorities were especially concerned with the fact that the Russian vessel had a special license to transport radioactive cargoes. However, an inspection showed that no cargo was on board MCL Trader when it ran aground.