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Kara Sea Project

   
 
 

Abstract


Transport Mechanisms of Radioactive Substances in the Arctic Ocean -Modelling and Experimental Investigations in the Kara and Barents Seas

In recent years, it became known to the public that the former Soviet Union had dumped large amounts of radioactive waste in the Arctic Ocean since about 1959. The waste was dumped into the Kara and Barents Seas in liquid and solid form, sealed in containers, as reactor parts but also as complete ship reactors including spent fuel. Wrecks of nuclear submarines were dumped near the coast of Novaya Semlya, in depths less than 50 m. The dumping took place in contradiction to international rules and conventions as far as the areas, the depth, the distance to the coast, and the type of waste is concerned.

After initial over-estimation of the total radioactive inventory, the amount of the waste and the dump site locations are well known, meanwhile. International pressure and the more open information policy of Russia helped to improve the situation. Various international fora primarily within the IAEA and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) investigated the potential consequences from these dumping practices. This report is the German contribution to these international assessments.

The dumped objects in the Kara Sea encompass 17 nuclear ship reactors, seven of them still carrying spent fuel. Four dump sites are located in small and shallow fjords at the east coast of Novaya Semlya, and in the Novaya Semlya Trough, in max. depth of 420 m. The total radioactive inventory was, at the time of dumping, 37 PBq (Peta-Becquerel = 1015 Bq).

During the project numerous samples from seawater and sediment were analysed on artificial radionuclides in Arctic waters. This included samples from the Kara Sea but also samples around the Russian nuclear submarine Komsomolets sunken in the Norwegian Sea southwest of the Bear Island at a depth of about 1700 m in April 1989. Numerical hydrodynamic models in local, regional and global scale were used to predict the potential dispersion of released radionuclides from the dumped wastes and reactors in the Kara Sea.

It could be shown that most of the detected artificial radionuclides originate both, from the global fallout during the 50s and 60s from atmospheric weapon tests, and from former discharges from the nuclear reprocessing plants in western Europe, primarily the Sellafield plant in the UK. A large scale contamination from the dumped wastes or reactors in the Kara Sea could not be ascertained. This was also the case for water and sediments close of the sunken Komsomolets. The investigations included fission and activation products and plutonium isotopes and other transuranics.

Dispersion simulations based on the inventories under the assumption of various scenarios showed no long range contamination of adjacent sea areas. Even under the conditions of unlikely "worst case releases" the predicted activity concentrations in the European Northern Seas will stay below present or previous levels originating from global fallout and the Sellafield discharges. In direct vicinity of the wastes in the bays of Novaya Semlya the expected levels are significantly higher.

Introduction

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If you have any additional questions, please e-mail Dr. Jürgen Herrmann or phone +49 40 3190 - 3325

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