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Russia builds huge nuclear missile depot in Severomorsk

Okolnaya Bay near Severomorsk in the Kola Bay is the largest storage area for missiles and weapons for Russia's Northern fleet.

Russia has started building storages for more than 100 Bulava missiles some 120 kilometers from the border to Norway.

Location

One Bulava missile can carry up to ten nuclear warheads with a yield of 150 kt each. If the warheads are stored together with the missiles, or in a separated storage nearby, it will be up to 1,000 nuclear bombs with a total yield of 150 Mt. In comparison, the Hiroshima bomb had a blast yield of 16 kt. 

Missiles for Russia’s newest nuclear-powered submarines will be stored in the Northern Fleet’s main munitions depot in Okolnaya Bay outside the fleet’s main base of Severomorsk.  Construction of the two first storages started in November this year, while two others will be built in October 2014. Russia spends 450 million rubles (€9.97 million) on construction of the depots, Izvestia reports. 

The munitions depot will be located three hours sailing time away from Gadzhiyevo, the main base for Russia’s new Borey submarines, retired Vice-Admiral Vladimir Zakharov says. To store the missiles in the already existing facilities in Okolnaya is a lot cheaper than building new storages in Gadzhiyevo, and it is also more convenient. The base is hidden in a cliff and there is a railroad sidetrack leading to it, he says.

“And it’s better not to keep all eggs in one basket”, Zakharov adds. 

According to Zakharov, when all the planned Borey submarines are taken into service, there will more than 200 missiles in the storage facilities. Russia plans to build a total of eight Borey submarines by 2020, but it is uncertain how many of these will be in the Northern Fleet and how many in the Pacific Fleet. The first vessel, the “Yury Dolgoruky” arrived at its home base in the Northern Fleet in September, while the next two are undergoing final testing. 

In November, BarentsObserver reported that the two next Borey-class submarines in line, the “Aleksandr Nevsky” and “Vladimir Monomakh” will be based with the Pacific fleet.

Izvestia has tried to find out how safety will be ensured at the depot, but has not been able to come in contact with neither the Northern Fleet command nor the Russian Naval command. 

The navy does the monitoring itself and civilian authorities have no possibilities to superintend the monitoring.  

Authorities in Severomorsk say that they are denied the opportunity to control safety at the storage facility. Authorities for inspection of radiative dangerous objects in Murmansk oblast say that the Northern Fleet does not give them reports on control measurements of radiation levels: “The storages belong to the Ministry of Defense, they do not report to us about their monitoring. In theory they should report to us, but there are no documents stating this”, a representative from the Federal Environmental, Engineering and Nuclear Supervision Agency Rostekhnadzor says to Izvestia. 

Major explosion in 1984
On May 17 1984 there was a huge explosion at the Okolnaya naval munitions depot. Almost half of the fleet’s supply of strategic missiles, torpedoes and mines were destroyed in the course of an hour and a half, Russian Navy Blog writes. 

Accidental nuke-detonation unlikely
Russia’s northern border to Norway is only some 120 kilometers from the new storage, but a Norwegian nuclear- and radiation expert says to BarentsObserver that an accidental nuclear detonation scenario is highly unlikely. 

“It goes without saying that if 100 such missiles would explode in one nuclear blast (ie 150 Mt) in a warehouse on the ground, it will give a huge amount of fallout. The world’s most powerful atmospheric nuclear test in October 1961 was approx. 50 Mt and took place so high up in the atmosphere that it did not suck up particles from the ground. But such a scenario is extremely unlikely, and even an accidental blast of one nuclear warhead is very unlikely,” says Steinar Høibråten, Chief Scientist with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI).

He underlines that the security systems for storage of nuclear warheads are very comprehensive, and points to the fact that no nuclear warheads have ever detonated by accident. 

“The only relevant scenario would be a fire or an explosion in the warehouse where the nuclear warheads are stored. Worst-case consequences would then be that powdered uranium or plutonium from a single or multiple warheads is released to the environment,” says Høibråten.

Without having studied such worst-case scenario in detail, Steinar Høibråten believes a release of radioactive particles would mainly cause local contamination, maybe within the nearest 1 kilometer radius. 

Particles could end up in Norway 
“However, some of the particles will certainly be very small and light, and if there is excessive heat development on the site, these particles could be lifted high up and transported over long distances by wind and weather. Wind direction would then be very important. If blowing towards northern Norway (which it rarely does), some of the particles would probably end up there as well, but without resulting in any real consequences beyond that these particles may be measurable. That will certainly cause both discussion and fear. The situation in Severomorsk will obviously be much more serious, but I do not know the local conditions well enough in detail to say anything more about it,” says Steinar Høibråten to BarentsObserver.