In many areas of the Russian Arctic, the silent witnesses of the Soviet era are waiting for their removal. Thousands of tons of junk are still strewn all over the region of Murmansk. In a recent meeting, which was held in Murmansk the regional Parliament’s Ecology Committee has raised the discussion about state funding to remove this hazardous materials.

In many areas of the Russian Arctic, loads of junk and debris litter the environment and pose a considerable threat to plants and animals. In many cases, this junk is a left over from the Soviet era. Credit: Bellona.org
In many areas of the Russian Arctic, loads of junk and debris litter the environment and pose a considerable threat to plants and animals. In many cases, this junk is a left over from the Soviet era. Credit: Bellona.org

According to Yevgeny Nikora, Murmansk’s deputy governor, the committee has been keeping a list of environmentally degraded areas, which include waste dumps, ships that were flooded and left in Arctic waters, sites abandoned by the military and, of course, nuclear and radiation hazards. The 151 environmentally degraded and hazardous sites toted up by the committee cover the same area as 40,000 soccer fields. All of this is putting particular stress on Kola Bay, the breadbasket of Arctic Russia’s fishing community. Marine and naval ports, huge ship repair yards, growing municipalities and the remnants of Russia’s nuclear navy continue to squeeze the environment. “The shores and waters of the Gulf are littered with ships and other objects thrown in the 1980s and 1990s, which adversely affect the state of the marine environment,” Nikora told the meeting. “Currently, pilot projects are being implemented to clean the Kola Bay from unauthorized ship dumps. The federal budget allocated 50 million rubles ($880,000) for this. “. He said that a comprehensive survey of the Kola Bay turned up 102 sunken objects like ships and ship parts. However, work to raise them is only just beginning. In 2017, two sunken ships were raised in Retinsk Bay. “Now it is necessary to continue working directly on raising these vessels,” Nikora said. “A working group has been established in the region, which deals with the issues of which objects should be raised first.”

Around the Kola Peninsula, numerous shipwrecks have been left behind by the Soviets after the downfall of the Soviet Union. With no financial support from the federal government, the removal will take much longer. Credit: Bellona.org
Around the Kola Peninsula, numerous shipwrecks have been left behind by the Soviets after the downfall of the Soviet Union. With no financial support from the federal government, the removal will take much longer. Credit: Bellona.org

To continue this work will require more financing, but it gets more complicated than just that.  Because Kola Bay is a federal body of water, funds for cleaning its watershed also come from the federal budget. To date, however, Moscow has yet to determine where those funds will come from. Presumably, already established government programs targeting environmental damage from past economic activity could account for them. The second problem has to do with who actually owns these shipwrecks. Federal funds can only go toward raising those vessels whose ownership is undetermined. Yet a government bureaucracy has yet to be established which could petition courts to establish that this or that vessel is in fact abandoned and ownerless – and thus raisable on federal accounts. Roprirodnazor, Russia’s natural resources ministry could function as this bureaucracy. The third impediment to cleaning up these wrecks is how long it takes to get state environmental reviews, which are required before the vessels can be raised. It took five months to get a state review for the vessels pulled out of Retinsk Bay. “It is necessary to reduce the amount of time it takes to get state reviews on priority environmental projects in the Arctic,” Nikora told the gathering. Yet, because of this, said Nikora, it is still difficult to make accurate predictions about how long it will take to clean the Kola Bay watershed. “I think that within three to five years we will have to work closely on clearing the gulf of the remaining 100 wrecks,” said Nikora. “The experience of the Murmansk region can be a model, an example for other subjects of the Russian Federation, “he said.

Murmansk is the largest city in the Russian Arctic and home of the Russian Northern Fleet and Atomic icebreaker fleet. Credit: Michael Wenger
Murmansk is the largest city in the Russian Arctic and home of the Russian Northern Fleet and Atomic icebreaker fleet. Credit: Michael Wenger

Source: Charles Digges, Bellona.org