Preliminary conclusions from the 2012 joint Russian/Norwegian Expedition to Stepovogo fjord


Published 25.09.2012, updated 25.09.2012 13:34

ROV - NRPAThe joint Russian/Norwegian expedition has fulfilled its main tasks regarding the investigation of dumped objects and the collection of environmental samples in the Stepovogo fjord area. Selected samples have already undergone preliminary analysis onboard during the expedition, while more detailed and accurate measurements will now be undertaken in Russia and Norway. A final report based on the findings of the joint Russian/Norwegian expedition will be published in the end of 2013.

Submarine investigated

The dumped nuclear submarine K-27 containing SNF (Spent Nuclear Fuel) and some containers with radioactive waste have been inspected with the use of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) equipped with a video camera and spectrometer.
Video pictures show that the submarine lies upright on the seabed and clear of bottom sediments. No corrosion damage of the outer hull was visible, but a few hatches in the outer hull were missing. The deck of the submarine is covered in a 3-5 cm layer of silt sediments and benthic organisms were observed growing on the submarine.

Containers are intact

Several sites with dumped containers have been observed with the side scan sonar in the inner part of Stepovogo fjord. One of these was chosen for visual investigation with the ROV. Video pictures from the containers show that they are intact.
Preliminary results of onboard Cs-137 measurements on surface sediments and water samples showed that the level of contamination in the investigated area was generally low. However, slightly enhanced levels of Cs-137 in bottom sea water and sediment samples collected in the container area in the inner part of the fjord were found. Measurements from the outer part, including the K-27 dumping area show that no leakage has occurred from the submarine.
A similar picture for the level of radioactive contamination in Stepovogo Fjord was observed in the first joint Russian/Norwegian expedition in 1993-94. Very preliminary results reveal levels of radioactive contamination not higher than 20 years ago.

-Important for future work

-It’s reassuring that the preliminary results shows that the radioactivity in the environment has not increased. However, the dumped object represents a potential source to radioactive contamination in future. The expedition is important for future work and is the first step towards having good knowledge on the environmental condition in the Arctic, making us able to contribute to a clean marine environment for future generations, says Per Strand, director of the Department for Emergency Preparedness and Environmental Radioactivity at the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority.

Norway and Russian will cooperate on laboratory analysis and conclusions from the analysis.
An important task for future work in the joint expert group will be to make environmental assessment of different potential remediation options for the dumped materials

Main focus

A main focus for the expedition was to map the environmental contamination in the bay and to study whether there have been an increase in the contamination compared with what previously known. Another main focus was to do inspections, by underwater video cameras, of the nuclear submarine K-27 and the dumped radioactive waste in the bay. K-27 contains two reactors with high enriched uranium. Under specific conditions, a spontaneous chain reaction could not be excluded.