Secret nuclear cargo shipped around Norway

The route of the nuclear cargo vessel "Mikhail Dudin" from Poland towards Murmansk. Map: Jonas Karlsbakk

The danger that terrorists could get their hands on nuclear material forced authorities to keep secret about last week’s shipment towards Murmansk.


The small vessel “Mikhail Dudin” set sail Wednesday evening on her return voyage from Murmansk after the vessel over the last 48 hours has unloaded the potentially deadly cargo at Atomflot. 

The only foreign flagged vessels making port calls to Atomflot are those with some kind of nuclear cargo. Atomflot is Russia’s only import site for containers with spent nuclear fuel. Other kind of radioactive material could be shipped to port in St. Petersburg.

The vessel’s route can be tracked from the portal Marine Traffic. Tracks show that “Mikhail Dudin” sailed out of the Kola bay at 20.30 local time Wednesday. A photo of the vessel taken in Kola bay on Monday is also posted on the portal.

Local ecologists in Murmansk speaking to BarentsObserver are astonished by the fact that the transport was made secret. Murmansk is a town of 300,000 inhabitants and the cargo is loaded onshore just a few kilometers from the city center.

“This is not the first transport of nuclear waste through the port of Murmansk, and the government, as usual, hide it,” says Vitaly Servetnik with Kola Environmental Center to BarentsObserver Wednesday evening.

“Only public awareness makes attention to such transports,” he says.

The cargo of nuclear waste reportedly comes from a former Soviet designed research reactor in the Czeck Republic, and is part of a US, Russian cooperation to organize shipments of highly-enriched uranium back to Russia to avoid it from ending up in terrorists’ hands. 

From the Czeck Republic the spent nuclear fuel is likely transported to harbor in Poland, from where “Mikhail Dudin” has sailed towards the North Sea and northbound the coast of Norway towards the Barents Sea. The vessel has likely sailed outside Norwegian territorial waters. 

“Mikhail Dudin” arrived at Atomflot harbor just north of Murmansk on Monday, April 1st, according to Kola Ecological Centre. Vitaly Servetnik says his organization has obtained information indicating that the nuclear cargo consisting of uranium fuel is already reloaded to rail-wagons ready to depart towards Mayak.

Mayak in the South Urals is Russia’s reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel. The distance by rail from Murmansk is more than 2,000 kilometers passing through some of the most populated urban areas in Russia.

Director of Norway’s Radiation Protection Authorities, Ole Harbitz, says to BarentsObserver that his organization has no information about any shipment of nuclear waste outside the coast of Norway last week.

The Norwegian Coastal Administration has a highly sophisticated Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) located in Vardø on the coast of the Barents Sea. The main task is to follow the traffic in Norwegian Economic Zone from mid-Norway to the Russian Economic Zone east of Finnmark. 

The first time such nuclear cargo sailed from Poland to Murmansk in transit along the coast of Norway was in September 2009. Then, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities was not aware about the voyage with nuclear waste before being informed by BarentsObserver.