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Expedition leaves to monitor nuclear pollution on Novaya Zemlya

By The Siberian Times reporter
29 September 2013

Major bid to check radioactive waste dump area in Arctic archipelago.

It is reported that 224 nuclear detonations were undertaken on Novaya Zemlya, with a total explosive energy equivalent to 265 megatons of TNT. Picture: The Siberian Times 

The desolate islands were used in Soviet times as a major atomic test base and 52 years ago it was the site of the 1961 Tsar Bomba test, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. They were also used as a site for storing atomic waste. 

The 25-day expedition left from Arkhangelsk at the weekend to check for contamination in areas used as a nuclear waste dump from Soviet times. 

Radioactive material from naval and atomic icebreakers was sunk here in containers.

'The seabed of the Novaya Zemlya depression, the Abrosimov bay and the bays of Tsivolki and Blagopoluchiya will be examined with special equipment,' revealed Itar-Tass.

Scientists from  the Kurchatov Institute of atomic energy and the Krylov Research Centre are taking part on the expedition on the research vessel Professor Shtokman. Expedition chief Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov said there were no grounds for concern over contamination but it was crucial to undertake regular monitoring.

'Places with suitable relief, currents and depth were chosen for the dumping. Good protection was made,' he said.'But, there always is risk of unpredictable natural events. Therefore, it is important to constantly monitor the sites, watch the situation and detect possible changes.'

Novaya Zemlya expedition 2013

The desolate islands were used in Soviet times as a major atomic test base and 52 years ago it was the site of the 1961 Tsar Bomba test, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. Picture: The Siberian Times 

The research trip is part of a long term project to monitor safety.

'The rescuers and scientists have two submersibles - the autonomous unmanned Piligrim and the tele-remote-controlled Falcon,' reported the news agency.

'Samples of water and ground that will be taken into special cases at various depths will be thoroughly examined in three laboratories aboard. Some samples will be sealed up for additional analysis on the land.

'The expedition will leave buoys filled with spectrometers in the sea depths to monitor and record data about the environment. The equipment will be raised twelve months later to analyse the information. Potentially dangerous sites in the Novaya Zemlya region have been monitored regularly for more than ten years.'

The islands - between the Barents and Kara seas - lie along the Northern Sea Route which due to global warming is providing a new and growing route for shipping between Europe and Asia. Novaya Zemlya Test Site was designated in 1954 and was in use for much of the Cold War. 

It is reported that 224 nuclear detonations were undertaken on Novaya Zemlya, with a total explosive energy equivalent to 265 megatons of TNT. 

By comparison, it is stated that all explosives used during World War Two - including the two American nuclear bombs dropped on Japan - amounted to two megatons. In recent years there have been attempts to clear the islands of contaminated junk. The northern of Novaya Zemlya's two main islands is part of the Russian Arctic National Park along with Franz Josef Land. The park was established in 2009.

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