Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 46

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wound up a three-day visit to Russia on March 5, during which Britain’s chief diplomat held talks in Murmansk, Moscow and Sochi. The most noteworthy achievement of the visit appeared to be a pledge Cook made in Murmansk on March 3. It calls for Britain to channel nearly US$5 million to help Russia deal with the nuclear wastes accumulated by the country’s Northern Fleet. Cook made the announcement during a visit to the Atomflot plant in Murmansk. The plant serves as a storage and processing facility for liquid waste from the Northern Fleet’s nuclear-powered icebreakers and military vessels (AP, Russian agencies, March 3).

A Russian daily, commenting on Cook’s visit, said on March 3 that Cook would likely be shocked by the disastrous situation which has developed in the Murmansk region because of the navy’s inability to deal with its nuclear wastes. The paper described the region as literally bursting with nuclear reactors and their by-products–including some three hundred reactors and tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste–and said that the Russian Navy has recently withdrawn another 157 nuclear submarines from active duty (ninety-five of them from the Northern Fleet), and that sixty-five still contain nuclear fuel. According to the report, Norway will contribute some US$30 million this year to help Russia deal with the problem, while the United States is expected to chip in between US$50 and US$60 million more (Kommersant daily, March 3).

The environmental threat posed by the nuclear wastes of Russia’s Northern Fleet has been much publicized in the West, and is perhaps best known in connection with the case of retired Captain Aleksandr Nikitin. Nikitin was a major contributor to a study on that subject by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, and has been charged with treason for his efforts. He has received considerable support from rights groups in Russia and around the world, and many have described the case as a test of the Russian government’s commitment to human rights. On March 3, while still in Murmansk, Cook said that he intended to raise the Nikitin case with Russian government authorities in Moscow (Itar-Tass, March 3).