Norway has granted tens of millions of kroner for removing and securing of radioactive strontium-90 batteries used to power lighthouses around Russia's Arctic coast.(Photo: Illustration by Jonas Karlsbakk )
A Russian audit report reveals irregularities for €2 million of the grants given by Norway to Murmansk Oblast for removal of nuclear lighthouses. The report was totally unknown to Norwegian authorities before being informed by BarentsObserver.
Norway has since the mid-90s spent NOK 1.4 billion (€172 million) on nuclear safety projects in Northwest-Russia. Good results have been achieved, such as decommissioning of nuclear submarines and removal of radioactive sources from lighthouses in the European part of Russia’s Arctic coast. A recent report given to BarentsObserver, however, reveals serious irregularities with the financial report covering the nuclear lighthouses removal.
The report made by the Russian Accounts Chambers revealed financial irregularities of a total of 86,7 million rubles (€2 million), or 19,5 percent of the total amount granted to the administration in Murmansk during the audit period.
According to the report, which is dated September 24th 2013, control with the Norwegian grants suffers from poor bookkeeping:
“The bookkeeping system in use by Murmansk Oblast administration does not make it possible to reflect the financial operations regarding spending of the means in a credible way”, the report from the Account Chamber of Russia reads.
No knowledge of irregularities from Norwegian side BarentsObserver has read the 23-page report that in detail goes through Norwegian financed safety projects. When asked by BarentsObserver, neither the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, nor the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities (NRPA) had any idea about the new report or the irregularities.
”Neither the NRPA nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are familiar with the report you are referring to. It is therefore not possible to give a comment on it. However, we are very familiar with Norwegian and Russian parallel audit,” says Ingar Amundsen, who is head of the section for international nuclear safety in NRPA.
The office of the Auditor General of Norway has for years cooperated with the Russian Auditor Authorities reviewing joint nuclear safety projects. The latest Norwegian report based on the cooperation is from December 2011. The Russian review criticizing the nuclear lighthouse spending covers the period after that.
Removal of radioactive sources from lighthouses is a project headed by the County Administration of Finnmark and carried under a cooperation agreement with Murmansk Oblast administration. Also County Administrator of Finnmark, Gunnar Kjønnøy, says to BarentsObserver that the information in the audit report is new to him.
Chief Engineer Per-Einar Fiskebeck is project coordinator in the program and has for two decades worked in close contact with the Oblast administration in Murmansk. “We are not familiar with the Russian Audit Chamber’s review of our joint projects or the report they have prepared,” says Per-Einar Fiskebeck to BarentsObserver.
“We have been in contact with the new Russian project manager at the Murmansk administration who informed us that the case essentially concerns a contract within the lighthouse project in the north, contract 04-05/24 where the Federal Audit Chamber has pointed out accounting irregularities and errors amounted to RUB 86,701,900,” Fiskebeck says.
Information about irregularities concerning how the Norwegian tax-payers’ money were spent on nuclear safety projects in the Murmansk region was first posted by Blogger51.
Per-Einar Fiskebeck says the Russian project manager now has initiated a dialog with the Audit Chamber to clarify the circumstances mentioned in the report. In addition, the County Administrator of Finnmark will also send an enquiry to Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun requesting a detailed account for the findings by the Audit Chamber.
“We will consider further measures based on this and our own audit report,” says Per-Einar Fiskebeck.
Removal of radioactive sources important work In total, Norway has financed removal of 180 radioactive sources from lighthouses in the Russian Arctic. In addition, radioactive sources from another 71 Russian lighthouses in the Baltics are removed with financial assistance from Norway, Finland and Sweden.
The radioactive source, or Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG), consists of a strontium-90 emitter generating heat that powers the generator providing electricity to the lightbulb. The RTGs could power a remote located lighthouse for years without maintenance. By removing the sources, Norway has contributed to avoid radioactive contamination of the marine- and terrestrial environments.
Also, it has been important to remove such strong radioactive sources from remote and unguarded areas to prevent unwanted access to such sources by terrorists.
The joint Norwegian, Russian project to remove RTGs from lighthouses started with removing of strontium-90 sources west of the Fishermen’s Peninsula close to the Norwegian border on the coast of the Barents Sea. By 2006 half of the sources along the coast of the Kola Peninsula, in the White Sea and Pechora Sea area and on Novaya Zemlya where removed. In 2007 the remaining 21 RTGs in Arkhangelsk as well as some from Novaya Zemlya were removed. In 2008, a total of 46 RTGs in Nenets Autonomus area and on Novaya Zemlya were removed. The last 11 RTGs on the islands of Novaya Zemlya, Kolgoyev and Vaigach were removed in 2009.
The lighthouses are now powered by batteries charged by solar panels.