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U.S., Russia, Norway Sign Arctic Environmental Pact

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BERGEN, Norway, Oct. 1, 1996 – A scuttled Russian submarine rests beneath glacial Arctic waters, its radioactive nuclear fuel a deadly reminder of the Cold War. Such lethal remains and their possible effect on the Arctic environment have raised a red flag among international defense officials.

American, Norwegian and Russian military officials are joining forces to clear away such hazardous remnants of military activities in the region. U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, Norwegian Defense Minister Jorgen Kosmo and Russian Federation Defense Minister Igor Rodionov signed the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation declaration Sept. 26.

The defense chiefs signed the pact after attending NATO and bilateral meetings here. The signing highlighted Russia's new defense chief's first meeting with U.S. and NATO officials since taking office about two months ago.

The declaration triggers an effort to share knowhow and technology to clean, protect and preserve the Arctic region, according to international officials. It opens the way for six military environmental projects to begin later this year.

The Arctic region covers the top of the world. It's a vast frozen wilderness, populated mainly by polar bears, whales, seals and other wildlife. It's also home to the U.S. military's Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and Russia's submarine base at Murmansk. International militaries have left their mark on the region's seemingly limitless expanse of snow, ice, sea and sky.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry visited Canada's Arctic region earlier this year and Norway's frozen Arctic after the NATO ministerial finished. In Canada, Perry said, he saw "ominous glaciers and a freezedried cypress swamp with the tree stumps still standing in the ground after 40 million years."

"I saw the midnight sun," he said. "I will never forget the pristine landscape, the crystal waters and the sharp, fresh air. Anyone who has ever seen the Arctic knows why we must preserve this raw and fragile environment."

Arctic waters border American, Norwegian and Russian shores. "The three nations that touch the Arctic have a unique duty to lead this stewardship by example and by action," Perry said. "As the three ministers of the military forces that use the Arctic, we have a unique duty to tread lightly on these fragile lands."

The cooperative pact will ensure military activities do not harm the Arctic environment, Perry said. "We will work to handle and store radioactive materials safely, to dispose of toxic materials properly and to exchange information on risk assessments and cleanup technologies and methods."

International officials credit Norway with voicing its environmental concerns and initiating the new military pact. "It is only logical, since the military are part of the problem, they should also be part of the solution," said Kosmo. "Few organizations have the resources to address such issues."

Military officials are going to work together to solve current ecological problems caused by the military activities. They also plan to develop preservation practices that will allow military units to continue operations in the region without causing further pollution or contamination, DoD officials said.

Radioactive contamination in the Arctic comes primarily from former Soviet nuclear submarine bases and sunken submarines, dumped radioactive material, and radioactive waste storage and processing facilities, DoD officials said. Petroleum, oils and lubricants and other hazardous materials also pollute, a DoD spokesman said.

"Unfortunately, military activity causes negative impact on the natural environment," Rodionov said through an interpreter. "We should admit that some aspects related to radiological and chemical contamination may cause serious effects on the Arctic environment."

Former Soviet officials sank two nuclear submarines in Arctic waters, and another 70 submarines are in various stages of dismantlement, a DoD official said. Former Soviet officials also dumped about 16 nuclear reactors in the region, six with fuel on board, he said. At present, the official said, these Cold War relics are relatively benign, causing only local problems. But international officials worry about what will happen in the future.

"A considerable number of nuclearpowered submarines were withdrawn from our navy," Rodionov said. "It is not a simple work to conduct. We need to offload nuclear fuel from reactors, and we also need to keep it at the military installation. Thus there is a considerable risk for the environment."

Russia stopped dumping liquid and radiological waste into northern seas in 1992, Rodionov said. Since then, he said, Russia has ecological problems storing, transporting and processing hazardous waste. "We hope all [parties to the agreement] will sincerely implement their efforts to protect the Arctic environment and also render assistance to Russia to resolve our complicated problems," Rodionov said.

Military officials plan to study containment processes and do impact assessments. They aim to review pollution in the area and cleanup efforts. They will examine methods for setting up emergency response simulations and doing impact and risk assessments. They will also set up a program to prevent and remediate environmental risk.

A steering group, set up after the initiative began in March 1995, selected six military environmental projects with a total cost of about $2 million, DoD officials said. Each has its own timeline, but officials said they hope to have the first project completed within about a year. Other projects will be multiyear efforts, officials said.

Officials plan to develop a prototype container for interim storage of naval nuclear fuel and relevant training. They'll work on a new technique of radioactive waste processing and focus on an interim storage facility for solid naval radioactive waste.

Officials also plan to develop methods for cleaning up nonradioactive toxic substances and vessels to collect and treat ship waste, officials said.

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