Germany calls off disputed nuclear cargo to Murmansk - but new vessel on its way

Infographics: / Jonas Karlsbakk

The planned three shipments of spent uranium fuel from Germany along the coast of Norway to Murmansk will not take place after a decision by Environmental Minister Norbert Roettgen on Monday. But, this morning another nuclear cargo is sailing northbound Norway towards Murmansk.


BarentsObserver reported in November that the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection has given the approval for transport of 951 spent uranium fuel elements from a former East-German research reactor in Rossendorf. The nuclear cargo was supposed to be shipped in three transports towards Murmansk, and from there to Russia’s nuclear reprocessing plant Mayak in the South Urals.

Many Norwegian and Russian NGO’s have submitted fear that accidents could happen when such highly radioactive cargo is shipped along the harsh Arctic coast of Northern Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula.

Norway not always informed
Norwegian Radiation Authorities told BarentsObserver earlier this autumn that they are not always informed about when such cargo are shipped in transit from Europe along the coast of Norway towards Murmansk.

The export of the uranium fuel from Germany to Russia has also met strong protests within Germany, where environmentalists and several politicians have expressed that the most secure option will be for Germany to take care of its own nuclear waste instead of shipping it to Russia’s Mayak plant.

The protests triggered a governmental initiated analysis study that now says the uranium fuel should not be exported to Russia, and following those recommendations, Environmental Minister Roettgen on Monday decided that the waste should stay in Germany for the time being, reports Deutsche Welle.

Murmansk against import of nuclear waste
The local green group “Priroda i Molodesh” (Nature and Youth) in Murmansk welcomes the decision to stop the transport. In a press release sent to BarentsObserver, the group says Russia’s Mayak plant is the most radioactive polluted place on earth and don’t need more waste from other countries. 

The reason why the uranium fuel were supposed to be transported to Russia in the first place is due to a strategic plan between Russia and the U.S. to bring back all kind of highly enriched uranium fuel that can pose a risk to global security if terrorists get access to such material. Theoretically, highly enriched uranium can be used to produce a nuclear device, or easier; to produce a dirty-bomb that could contaminated huge areas in any city where such source is exploded.

All spent fuel globally originally delivered by the USSR should be taken back to Russia for safe storage, while all such fuel of U.S. origin used in research reactors should be taken back to U.S. for storage. The German fuel now to stay on-site following yesterday’s decision by the country’s environmental minister were Soviet origin fuel from a former DDR research reactor.

Nuclear waste from other European countries
The halt in the German shipment of spent nuclear fuel to Russia does not mean that other European countries with USSR-origin fuel will stop their shipments. Over the last year several shipments of spent uranium fuel have sailed secretly around the coast of Norway to Russia’s Arctic port in Murmansk. From the port in Murmansk, the nuclear cargo is transported by railway all the way through European Russia to the Mayak plant just north of Chelyabinsk.

Last Sunday, the St. Petersburg based environmental group Zelenyi Mir (Green World) warned that another small cargo vessel, named “Puma” is currently on its way to Murmansk with spent uranium fuel from a Serbian research reactor.

Long sailing route towards Murmansk
The containers were first sent with train through Hungary and Slovenia, from where the highly radioactive cargo was loaded to the ship that sailed all the way around the Mediterranean, through Gibraltar and further north the Atlantic towards the coast of Norway and north to Murmansk.

The Russian environmentalists have together with the Norwegian branch of Friends of the Earth, sent a warning to the Norwegian Coastal Administration about the arriving cargo.

Tuesday morning update
This morning, “Puma” sailed northbound in the North Sea towards the west coast of Norway according to info obtained from the live vessel tracking portal

This photo of the Danish vessel “Puma” was taken January last year when she sailed the Gulf of Aden carrying “sensitive cargo” and guarded by a French naval vessel.

BarentsObserver has over the last two weeks tried to get information from the Norwegian Radiation authorities regarding possible Norwegian emergency preparations, but we have not got any answers yet regarding the current voyages towards Murmansk.

Secretly protected?
It is however, reasons to believe that the “Puma” cargo vessel is protected and guarded on its way through the North Sea and further north along the coast of Norway. If sailing directly, “Puma” will arrive in Murmansk by the end of this week.

The Norwegian branch of Friends of the Earth has posted a press-release where they state their concern about the shipment.

- This is waste we don’t want to have on ground someplace along the coast of Norway, says Yngvild Lorentzen, head of the organization’s department of international projects. She calls on Norwegian authorites to ensure better preparedness along the coast, so that any problems with this vessel can be taken care of immediately if dangerous situations arise.

Arrival sceduled for December 13th
Puma” is sceduled for arrival in Murmansk next Monday, December 13th at 6 am. according to the portal “Puma” is registrated in Denmark as a general cargo ship, built in 1994.

The vessel is 2112 DWT. The coastal surveillance centre in Vardø in Northern Norway says only vessels larger than 5000 gross tons require to call in their transit voyage along the coast of Northern Norway.