Ready to cooperate on dumped nuclear sub

These images of the dumped nuclear powered submarine K-27 were taken in 1994, last time a joint Norwegian, Russian expedition visited the Stepovogo bay in the Kara Sea. Photo: Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities.

This is underwater photos of K-27, the rusty nuclear powered submarine that was dumped in the Kara Sea 30 years ago. Is it leaking radioactivity? Top officials from Norway and Russia meet in St. Petersburg on Thursday to discuss what to do with the potential radioactive time-bomb.


A joint Russian, Norwegian expedition is today in Stepovogo bay east of Novaya Zemlya where the Soviet Union dumped one of its ill-fated nuclear powered submarines in 1982. The researchers are measuring the levels of radioactivity in the waters, sediments and marine life near the ticking time bomb. Preliminary test-results will be communicated to St. Petersburg where top officials meet on Thursday for the annual meeting in the Norwegian-Russian Commission for Nuclear Safety.

Asked by BarentsObserver on the day of departure towards the Kara Sea about funding to a possible lifting operation of K-27, expedition co-leader Vyacheslav Shershakov, Director General of Typhoon research institute said: “We are always glad when other countries provide funding.”

Russian responsibility
State Secretary in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Torgeir Larsen, keeps the door open for possible Norwegian contribution.

“The ongoing Norwegian-Russian expedition in the Kara Sea is important for assessing the risk of radioactive contamination in our northern seas and around the nuclear submarine K-27 in particular. We are awaiting the results of surveys conducted during the mission. Lifting is and will remain a Russian responsibility, but we are ready to cooperate with Russia on inter-survey and risk-assessments,” says Torgeir Larsen to BarentsOberver.

Larsen is heading the Norwegian delegation to the bi-lateral nuclear meeting with Rosatom in St. Petersburg this week. He says the dumped nuclear waste in the Kara Sea will be an issue also in the multilateral cooperation with Russia.

“Objects dumped in the Kara Sea will also be one of several topics for a conference in Moscow in November, where Norway, Sweden and Russia will host.”

Drilling in radioactive waste
In addition to K-27, Novaya Zemlya’s coastline to the Kara Sea and the bays are filled up with other dumped nuclear reactors and assumedly some 17,000 containers with solid radioactive waste. At the time of dumping in the 70ies and 80ies the Kara Sea was one of the most remote located seas in the world. Today, with the rapidly melting Arctic ice-cap, Big Oil is moving in.

Rosneft is this summer conducting seismic studies in the Kara Sea, mapping the area before the Russian oil major together with partner Exxon start drilling for oil and gas. The drilling rigs would better not hit any of the dump sites with radioactive waste.

Rosneft could share costs
Bellona, an environmental group based in both Norway and Russia, dismiss any suggestion that Norway should pay for lifting the dumped K-27. Igor Koudrik with Bellona in Oslo says to BarentsObserver that “K-27 is a potential radioactive time-bomb“ …. but …”Russia must take responsibility for their own waste financially.”

Koudrik has been working with nuclear safety issues in in the north for two decades with special focus on Norwegian, Russian cooperation.

“Any western, including Norwegian support, should it come to that can be technical. If Russia does not provide equal financial support for the project, the oil companies such as Rosneft and Exxon who plan exploration in the Kara Sea should contribute to eliminate the risks related to the dumped waste.”

Also Per Strand with the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities says it is premature to discuss Norwegian financial assistance regarding the submarine K-27. “Funding is something that will be considered afterwards. Firstly, an environmental impact assessment study must be developed,” Strand says to BarentsObserver.

Uncontrolled chain-reaction
The fear is that the highly enriched spent uranium fuel still inside the reactors of K-27 should re-start a chain reaction if the sub will be heavily shaken during a lifting and transportation operation.