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Measuring Sustainability in the Russian Arctic: An Interdisciplinary Study

by Votrin, Valery, PhD

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given 15-year licence extensions. Replacement of all these twelve units after 2015-2020 is
planned (Uranium Information Centre, 2006).
There are two NPPs in the Russian Arctic: Kola NPP (Murmansk Oblast) and Bilibino
NPP (Chukotka).
Kola NPP is the only NPP on the Kola Peninsula and the first installation of this kind in
the Soviet Union to be built north of the Arctic Circle. The plant is situated close to the heavy
industry in the area, about 15 km west of the town of Polyarnye Zori. About 60% of the
electricity produced at the Kola NPP goes to the area's heavy industry; the remaining 40% is
exported to the Russian Republic of Karelia and to Finland. The plant is the largest producer of
electrical power in Murmansk Oblast and accounts for about 60-70% of the oblast's total
electricity production (about 19 TWh). The plant has four VVER-440 pressurised water reactors.
The two oldest reactors (both of type 230), along with the kind of reactor used at Chernobyl are
considered by international experts to be the most dangerous types of reactors in the world. All
four of the Kola reactors lack a safety containment which would prevent the spread of
radioactivity in case of an accident. The construction of the facility today is such that birds can
fly unimpeded in and out of the reactor hall. In addition to the technical flaws, there are the
social conditions contributing to low morale. It is quite common that workers'salaries remain
unpaid for several consecutive months. An accident at the Kola NPP would in the first instance
lead to serious pollution problems in the immediate area surrounding the reactor. A reactor
accident might require a mass evacuation of the local population, possibly resulting in a
massive influx of homeless Russians over the border into Norway and Finland (Bellona, 2001).
Bilibino NPP is situated on the Chukotka Peninsula, in the northeastern parts of Siberia,
not far from the Bering Strait. It is Russia’s only nuclear power heating plant having four small
graphite-moderated reactors in operation. The plant’s purpose is heating of water for Bilibino
town’s central heating facilities, together with electricity production. The four reactors are of the
EGP-6 type, which is an earlier model of the Soviet graphite-moderated reactors. The reactors
have each an effect of 12 MW. Reactors no. 1 and 2 were put in operation in January 1974,
reactor no. 3 in December 1975, and no. 4 in December 1976. The aged plant has repeatedly
caused problems. The radioactive contamination with Strontium-90 and Cesium-137 of a large
area around the NPP was reported, due to repeated leaks from cooling-pipes and insufficient
security of nuclear waste. Social problems (major financial problems, unpaid wages, lack of
funding, etc.) were also reported. As mentioned above, Bilibino 1 & 2 reactors have been given
15-year licence extensions (Bellona, 1999).


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Figure 4.24. INES incidents in the Russian Arctic







1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002

Source: Bohmer (1999); Kuznetsov (2003), Gosatomnadzor (2005)
As Figure 4.24 demonstrates, the record number of INES incidents at the Russian Arctic
NPPs fell on 1993 when a total of 52 incidents were registered, with 44 incidents at Kola NPP
and 8 incidents at Bilibino NPP. Since then, the number of registered INES incidents has
steadily decreased, with a total of 10 incidents in 2002. This dramatic decrease is due to a
number of factors, including targeted western financial aid for the improvement of operating
conditions at the plants. For example, US Navy has provided 100.000 USD for the construction
of a measurement network for radioactivity around Bilibino and a TACIS project has contributed
1 million ECU for upgrading the safety at the power plant (Bellona, 1999).
Domestic funding has been increasingly allocated for the upgrade and reconstruction of
the Arctic NPPs, including the replacement of equipment. In 2004, the lifetime of the reactors
no.1 and 2 at Bilibino was extended, and reactors no. 3 and 4 were also allowed to operate for
another 15 years. This was the last extension after which the plant should be taken out of
The safety situation at Kola NPP is much worse. By 2004, reactor blocks 1 and 2 built in
1973 and 1974 should have been shut down. However, in 2005 the lifetime of those two blocks
was extended by the licence from Federal Service for Energy, Technological and Atomic
Oversight (FSETAN), without performing any EIA required by law. Murmansk Oblast’s office of
public prosecutor has ruled that the operation of those two blocks was therefore illegal and
ordered, by its Injunction of 28 April 2004, to “immediately… take measures to eliminate
breaches of the law and reasons and conditions that promote them”. Yet the director of the plant

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supported by FSETAN stated that, unlike nuclear scientists, public prosecutors were
incompetent in nuclear matters, and the blocks which are among the most dangerous in the
world continue to operate. The case has been submitted to the office of Russia’s General
Prosecutor. Until the final decision, the licence for the extension of the Kola NPP’s operations
has not been suspended (Ozharovsky, 2005).
Although the recent AMAP assessment concluded that the consequences of serious
nuclear accidents for the Arctic are likely to be much less than previously expected (AMAP,
2004a), nuclear problems such as the safety of the Russian Arctic NPPs are among the most
serious environmental concerns in the region. Old reactors are not only regional health and
environmental threat, but also transboundary threat, especially Kola NPP situated in close
proximity with Nordic countries. In the light of continuing extensions of the lifetime of those
reactors, there is an urgent need of public monitoring of operational safety of those plants.
Integrating nuclear safety indicators into regional sustainability indicator frameworks can be one
of the instruments to raise awareness on nuclear issues and provide a continuous assessment
of the region’s nuclear situation.

4.4.11 Solid Radioactive Waste – Bursting Depositories
The Russian Arctic is the site of the world’s biggest concentration of nuclear facilities,
including military and civilian nuclear naval fleet, the NPPs, and radioactive storage facilities.
Inadequate methods of radioactive waste disposal, including dumping at sea and submarine
accidents have resulted in contamination of naval facilities and the surrounding land and water
in the Russian Arctic. Continued contamination of the Arctic and northern Pacific regions poses
a serious threat to the marine environment and could have significant economic and social
costs for Russia, Japan, and the Nordic countries that maintain fisheries in these areas. The
handling and haphazard storage of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel constitute thus two
of the most major environmental and social challenges in the Russian Arctic, particularly in
Murmansk and Archangelsk Oblasts, both now and in foreseeable future (Anderson, 2001;
Bohmer et al, 2001).
As Kuznetsov (2003) suggests, the Russian atomic sector initially developed for military
purposes has kept many of its military features until today. The information on most of the
nuclear facilities, their output, incidents and accidents and other statistical nuclear-related data
remain classified. Only since very recently, has some information on the Russian nuclear sector
begun to emerge, mainly thanks to international nuclear awareness initiatives such as Norway’s
Bellona. There have appeared some Russian publications containing information and figures on
Russian NPPs. Nonetheless, historical data capable of capturing the dynamics of the Russian
nuclear sector development are still very hard to obtain. It is particularly difficult to get figures on
radioactive waste generation and disposal. All data used for building up the indicator of solid
radioactive waste (SRW) generation in the Russian Arctic were therefore taken from public


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sources. This study’s intention was not to obtain exhaustive numerical information on the waste
but rather to draw up a rough picture of what is happening in this field today and to integrate it
into the regional sustainability indicator set. It is understood that this is the first attempt to
incorporate nuclear dimension of sustainable development into regional sustainability indicator
framework in Russia, and further research is required to collect adequate data, extend time
series, and expand the scope of the indicator to include all types of radioactive waste.
Almost all Russian Arctic nuclear facilities are located in Murmansk Oblast and include:
the Russian Northern Fleet, the Murmansk Shipping Company, Kola NPP, as well as different
radioactive waste storage and handling sites. SRW is stored at the following bases in the
Northern Fleet: Gadzhiyevo, Gremikha, Vidyaevo, and Zapadnaya Litsa as well as the two base
points in Zapadnaya Litsa – Bolshaya Lopatka and Nerpichya – that have, however, only small
temporary storage areas. SRW is also stored at the Kola Peninsula shipyards Nerpa, Shkval,
and Sevmorput, and at the Severodvinsk shipyards Zvezdochka and Sevmash in Arkhangelsk
Oblast (Anderson, 2001; Bohmer et al, 2001).
SRW includes various parts of equipment, packages, filters, garbage, sediments
generated during the processing of liquid radioactive waste, contaminated soil, etc. The
defuelled reactor compartments are also categorised as SRW, but due to their large size, they
must be handled in very specific ways during processing, transportation and storage. The total
radioactivity of the waste accumulated in the Northern Fleet is around 5,000 Ci (Bohmer et al,
The SRW storage facilities are in critical state. All of the existing sites are filled to
capacity and are exposed to harsh weather, with no system in place to collect rainwater. As
Bohmer et al (2001) and Kulik and Menshikov (2002) point out, there are currently no storage
sites for SRW and reactor compartments in northwestern Russia that would meet safety
requirements. There are no SRW reprocessing and conditioning plants either. The reactor
compartments are temporarily stored afloat at the piers in shipyards and in Sayda Bay at the
Kola Peninsula. Some are stored at open waste sites.
UNEP (2004) reports that the Kola NPP reprocesses combustible SRW at a combustion
installation. Other types of SRW are kept without treatment in depositories, which are now
almost filled up. SRW from the Murmansk Shipping Company is kept in special depositories at
ATOMFLOT and on special vessels for technical maintenance. Depositories for the storage of
certain types of SRW are now filled up to 100%.
Summing up different sources, a total of 9,414 m3 of SRW was generated in 1995 at all
storage sites in the Russian Arctic, mainly in Murmansk Oblast. In 2001, this amount increased
to 13,216 m3 of SRW, mainly due to insufficient handing capacity and lack of infrastructure. As
mentioned above, only data from public sources were used to calculate these figures. In reality,
the amount of SRW stored at the storage sites is very likely to be much higher. Thus, only
estimates are available for SRW stored at floating storage vessels. Bohmer et al (2001) argue


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that the refuelling/defuelling of reactors and repair of nuclear installations, as well as the
decommissioning of nuclear powered submarines resulted in the generation of 14,000 m3 of
SRW from the Northern Fleet. The annual accumulation of waste is around 1,000 tonnes.
Taking into consideration the increased rate at which nuclear submarines are being
decommissioned, these numbers could double.
According to Poryadin and Zaslavsky (1996), about 47,000 m3 of SRW were stored in
the storage facilities of the Northern Fleet and Murmansk Shipping Company at that time.
The highest (and probably most approximate) amount of SRW stored in Murmansk
Oblast – 20,000 m3 – was reported by Bohmer (1999). In 2002, Kulik and Menshikov (2002)
reported that 8990 m3 of SRW was stored at the SRW storage facilities in Murmansk Oblast.
In terms of recent numbers, UNEP (2004) reports that more than 16,000 m3 of SRW are
currently kept in depositories of the Murmansk Shipping Company, Northern Fleet and the Kola
NPP. The total volume of SRW increases by 1000 m3 each year, and the total activity of the
accumulated SRW is 37×1012Bq. As reported in 2004, the situation with the SRW storage
capacity and quality did not improve. The Northern Fleet had not enough depositories for its
SRW, and those available were inadequate in terms of standards, exposed to precipitation, and
were not equipped with drainage systems, thus contaminating the surrounding soils with
radioactive substances. In addition, there was no equipment for environmentally friendly
conditioning of SRW in the Murmansk Region.
Due to the critical nature of the situation, expedient solutions to the problems of spent
fuel and radioactive waste storage and disposal have been sought since the early 1990s at the
request of Russia that has called for international aid to improve its radioactive disposal
programme. A number of international donors, namely the US, EU, Japan and Canada have
responded through technical assistance and direct funding. In particular, a big nuclear
submarine decommissioning programme has begun.
However, the current petty state of nuclear waste storage facilities and general disregard
for the waste issues in contemporary Russia indicate that they are not a priority for the country.
As Nyman (2002) points out, though Russia proclaims publicly that the clean-up of its nuclear
materials will cost billions of dollars, the country allocated only USD 40 million in 2000 to this
task, which shows how little the government is concerned with this type of waste. This opinion is
echoed by Kuznetsov (2003) who argues that western aid actually allows for the expansion of
the activities of Russia’s Ministry of Atomic Energy which would have allocated domestic funds
for the reconstruction of nuclear facilities if no foreign aid was available. Consequently, the
author concludes, foreign aid helps Russia develop nuclear industry and build new NPPs
instead of dealing with existing stockpiles of radioactive waste. In other words, “giving money to
Russia allows it to neglect its nuclear waste problems and to continue to generate more nuclear
waste” (Nyman, 2002). In total, 177 million tonnes of SRW are currently stored in Russia (Kudrik
et al, 2004).


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Murmansk Oblast houses currently more radioactive waste than any other region of the
world. Although current levels of radioactivity are low and do not pose any threat to human
health or the environment, there is a need for a long-term strategy for the handling of stored
nuclear material in the region. Remarkable is, however, that radioactivity levels, together with air
temperature, are displayed on public buildings in Murmansk, as indicated by Joiris (2005).
Prioritisation of the problem on the part of the Russian government and co-operation with other
nations on radioactive waste management is imperative in order to find a solution for Russia
whose failure to find safe, new options for radioactive waste storage, processing, and disposal
will lead to further degradation of the environment, and the economies of neighbouring countries
relying on a healthy marine environment will risk damage (Anderson, 2001; UNEP, 2004).
In the prevailing atmosphere of secrecy and corruption surrounding nuclear issues in
Russia, an informed and honest management structure is needed to develop alternative
disposal methods for its growing quantity of radioactive waste. More targeted international aid
should concentrate on the environmental infrastructure to help the country regulate its own
nuclear waste programme. Storage of decommissioned nuclear vessel reactors afloat (within
submarines or section blocks) represents a danger of radioactive contamination of the
environment and contravenes existing standards and international recommendations. The
current practice should therefore be regarded as an emergency, short-term measure, and the
number of vessels stored afloat and the periods of storage should be minimised (Kulik and
Menshikov, 2002; Nyman, 2002).

4.4.12 Air Temperature – Heating the Arctic
Since the recent discoveries that the Arctic is warming at a rapid rate that is resulting in
the dramatic climate change, including substantial rises in sea level, ice melting and increasing
temperatures, the need has arisen to elaborate an adequate response to the Arctic warming in
relation to sustainable development and to include climate change dimension into relevant
sustainability indicator frameworks.
As the most comprehensive arctic climate assessment conducted to date (ACIA, 2005)
concludes, the climate of the Arctic is changing. The mean surface air temperature in the Arctic
increased by approximately 0.09 ºC per decade over the past century, and the pattern of
change is similar to the global trend (i.e., an increase up to the mid-1940s, a decrease from
then until the mid-1960s, and a steep increase thereafter with a warming rate of 0.4 ºC per
decade). Because of the scarcity of observations across the Arctic before 1950, it is not possible
to be certain of the variation in mean land-station temperature over the first half of the 20

century. However, it is probable that the past decade was warmer than any other in the period
of the instrumental record. The observed warming in the Arctic appears to be without precedent
since the early Holocene. These climate changes are consistent with projections of climate
change by global climate models forced with increasing atmospheric GHG concentrations and

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are very likely to have significant impacts on the global climate system (McBean, 2005). The
models used by the report projected that mean annual arctic surface air temperatures north of
60º N will be 2 to 4 ºC higher by mid-century and 4 to 7 ºC higher toward the end of the 21st
century, compared to the present. Precipitation is projected to increase by about 8% by midcentury
and by about 20% toward the end of the 21st century (Kattsov and Källén, 2005).
Model projections of anthropogenic climate change indicate a continuation of the recent
trends through the 21st century, although the rates of the projected changes vary widely due to
differences in model representations of feedback processes. Models project a 21st century
decrease in sea-ice extent of up to 100% in summer; a widespread decrease in snow-cover
extent, particularly in spring and autumn; and permafrost degradation over 10 to 20% of the
present permafrost area and a movement of the permafrost boundary northward by several
hundred kilometres. The models also project river discharge increases of 5 to 25%; earlier
break-up and later freeze-up of rivers and lakes; and a sea-level rise of several tens of
centimetres resulting from glacier melting and thermal expansion, which is amplified or reduced
in some areas due to long-term land subsidence or uplift (WWF, 2002b; Weller, 2005).
To understand temperature and climatic variations in the Russian Arctic and their future
socio-economic and policy implications, it is important to look at the past trends. Figure 4.25
shows the dynamics of variations in mean annual air temperature across the Russian Arctic and
their 7-year running mean. In 1961 to 2000, there were at least two periods when temperature
anomalies reached 3 centigrade and higher, the latter period falling on the 1990s. This is in line
with the general warming trends in the Arctic highlighted by other studies. Since 1994, mean
annual air temperature has increased by approximately 1.5 centigrade annually.
These results are consistent with those obtained by ACIA (2005). For example, northwestern
Russia experienced a modest increase in mean annual temperature (about 1 ºC)
between 1954 and 2003, with slightly higher winter temperature increases over this period,
except for the Kola Peninsula where there has been some cooling between 1990 and 2000.
This region is likely to experience additional increases in mean annual temperature up to 3 to
5ºC by the late 21st century. Central Siberia, from the Urals to Chukotka, and the Barents,
Laptev, and East Siberian Seas, which experiences the coldest conditions in the Arctic, has
experienced an increase in mean annual temperature of about 1 to 3 ºC since 1954, and an
increase of up to 3 to 5 ºC in winter. The mean annual temperature there is likely to increase by
a further 3 to 5 ºC by the late 21st century, and by up to 5 to 7 ºC in winter (Weller, 2005).
Furthermore, slow changes in the landscape ecosystems (including freshwater ecosystems) in
north-western part of Russia may take place between 2000 and 2050 as a result of regional
climate change that will put demands on how the economy in the region should be managed
(Filatov et al, 2003).


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Figure 4.25. Variations in mean annual air temperature in the Russian Arctic























Running average




Source: author’s calculations based on NSIDC (2003)


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The period 1979 to 1997 was found to be one of the greatest warming periods during the
past 150 years in the global climate record. Over the Arctic land areas, warming trends in the
surface air temperature of 18ºC (decade)–1 and 28ºC (decade) –1 between 1978 and 1997 were
observed during winter and spring respectively. A cooling trend of 28ºC (decade) –1 significant at
the 95% level was also found over eastern Siberia. The warming trend during spring spans most
of the Arctic region and is significant at the 95% level over most of the eastern Arctic (Rigor et
al, 2000).
However, Przybylak (2000) argues that the highest arctic temperatures since the
beginning of instrumental observation occurred clearly in the 1930s, and the temperature was
higher even in the 1950s than in the last decade.
The Arctic warming in the 1920s-1930s and subsequent cooling until about 1970 might
have been due to natural fluctuations internal to the climate system. There are strong
indications that neither the warming trend nor the decrease of ice extent and volume over the
last two decades can be explained by natural processes alone. No comprehensive numerical
model integrations have produced the present global warming anomaly without including
observed anthropologic forcing (Johannessen et al, 2004).
Climate change is not the only factor currently affecting people’s lives and livelihood in
the Russian Arctic. The people living in Russia’s Far North have experienced dramatic political,
social, and economic changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union, together with major
changes resulting from the discovery of minerals, oil and gas reserves, and the declines or
increases of some of the northern fisheries (Weller, 2005). But it is the most important factor of
overall environmental change in the region and thus an important element of the region’s
transition to sustainable development. While it is very difficult to change anything about Arctic
warming at a global scale, studies and actions to better understand the expected changes and
to address current and anticipated changes in relation to the region’s socio-economic situation
must be started now to broaden the options available for prevention, mitigation, and adaptation.

4.4.13 Reindeer Stock – A Body Count
Reindeer husbandry has been a crucial element of traditional northern economies for
many centuries. For the industrialised regions of the Russian Arctic, reindeer husbandry is still
an economic basis and an important means of survival, particularly for the indigenous
population. As Jernsletten and Klokov (2002) underline with respect to sustainable economic
activities and community prosperity, Arctic communities must have an appropriate economic
basis to ensure their survival. Management of living resources must be based on sound
scientific and traditional knowledge to maintain and develop local settlements in the Arctic. The
quantitative analysis and monitoring of regional reindeer herds can provide an important
measure of both local communities’ prosperity and promotion of traditional lifestyles, and as
such is included in Finland’s national sustainability indicator set.


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There are about 1.9 million reindeer in the world. For the last 10-15 years, the number of
domesticated reindeer decreased considerably: almost twofold in Russia, by 28% in the Nordic
countries, and more than twofold in Alaska. While in Scandinavia this decrease is due to the
lack of reindeer pastures, the reasons for the decrease in Russia are mainly post-Soviet socioeconomic
reforms and the rise in numbers of wild caribou in Alaska (Klokov and Khruschev,
Russia has about two thirds of the world’s population of domesticated reindeer herded
on a territory of more than three millions of square kilometres on the tundra, forest-tundra, taiga
and mountain areas. Although reindeer husbandry in Russia is not an exclusive right for
indigenous people, there are almost no ethnic Russian reindeer herders now. In fact, this is the
only agricultural sector in Russia where exclusively indigenous people are active (Klokov and
Khruschev, 2004). Representatives of the 16 small indigenous peoples are involved in reindeer
breeding in Russia, including Nenets, Komi, Saami, Evens, Evenks, Chukchi, Koriaks, Khants,
and Dolgans. All of them have cultural traditions closely connected with reindeer breeding and
their mode of life and economy depend mostly on reindeer. The largest reindeer stock in Russia
belongs to the Nenets and the Komi-Izhems, then Chukchi-Koriaks, Tungus-Yakuts and Saami.
The number of people involved in reindeer herding reduced in Russia. Kets, Nganasans, Karels
and separate groups of the Russian population (e.g. Pomors in Murmansk Oblast, etc.) kept
reindeer several decades ago, but have lost reindeer husbandry now (Jernsletten and Klokov,
Unlike other reindeer husbandry countries, Russia has a variety of reindeer breeding
types and methods, and the indigenous traditions and rich cultural experience pertaining to
reindeer husbandry are a valuable component of the world cultural heritage (Klokov and
Khruschev, 2004). There are largely two types of reindeer husbandry in Russia: “tundra type”
and “taiga type”. The first type covers almost all the tundra and forest-tundra in Russia (except
Taimyr which is occupied by a large wild reindeer population) and also mountainous taiga areas
situated mainly in the northeastern part of the country. The reindeer herds have long migration
routes, usually several hundreds kilometres. During summer, they graze the shores of the
northern seas and during winter in the forest-tundra and northern taiga. The herds in this
husbandry type are big, up to 3000 animals or even more. The main aim of reindeer husbandry
of this type is meat and soft antler production. In the taiga type of reindeer husbandry, the herds
are not large: usually a few hundred animals. There are no long migrations. The “loose” or “freecamp”
herding is used, when animals graze alone, periodically coming to herders’ houses or
camps. Sometimes reindeer are kept on territory completely fenced. Such husbandry is mostly
orientated towards subsistence and transport. It does not produce a lot of meat, as the reindeer
are used mostly for the transport needs of indigenous populations, especially during the fur
animal-hunting season. Main income comes not from the reindeer themselves, but from
products of hunting with aid of these animals (mainly from fur skins). As large-scale reindeer


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