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Concern over Russia’s nuclear activities in the Arctic – potential for a radiological disaster

With Russia building floating nuclear reactors and possibly testing nuclear-powered cruise missiles, there are good reasons for this training.The Drive, BY JOSEPH TREVITHICKMARCH 20, 2018   The U.S. military, along with other federal and state authorities, has been training to respond to potentially dangerous releases of radioactive material in and around the Arctic. Though there is no clear indication of a direct link between Russia’s reported tests of nuclear-powered missiles or expanding use of nuclear power in the region, it is hard not to see these exercises in connection with those developments.

Earlier in March 2018, members of the U.S. National Guards from 10 different states arrived at the Donnelly Training Area, situated near the U.S. Army’s Fort Greely in Alaska. Alaska state authorities and members of Canada’s reserve 39 Canadian Brigade Group joined the exercise, nicknamed Arctic Eagle 2018, as well.

The drills included a number of different mock crises, including an overturned fuel truck creating a hazardous material spill, the potential for attacks on the Trans Alaskan Pipeline System, and even cyber attacks. But especially notable was a scenario involving the need to locate a crashed satellite and contain the radiological material it had deposited across a wide area as it plummeted to earth. ………

t’s definitely no secret that the U.S. military has become increasing interested in preparing for potential conflicts and other contingencies above and near the Arctic Circle in recent years. As global climate change has shrunk the polar ice cap and otherwise reduced the amount of ice buildup that occurs during certain parts of the year, the region has become increasingly important economically and various countries, especially Russia, have moved to enforce their territorial claims.

“The growing concerns regarding the increased number of nations competing for Arctic resources are well justified,” U.S. Air Force General Lori Robinson, head of U.S. Northern Command, which oversees operations in the region, and the designated “Advocate for Arctic Capabilities” within the Pentagon, reiterated to members of Congress during a hearing in February 2018. “Diminishing sea ice provides opportunities for significantly expanded access to a region that had previously been inaccessible to all but a handful of northern nations.”

…….. the idea of a crashing satellite creating a radiological disaster isn’t an entirely fictional scenario. In 1978, the Soviet Union’s Kosmos 954 reconnaissance satellite, which had a nuclear reactor as its power source, crashed into Canadian territory, touching off an international incident and prompting an expensive response and clean-up operation.

….. U.S. military and other agencies practicing specifically to handle a radiological incident in the region seems even more noteworthy in light of a number of recent events. Most importantly are Russian claims that it has been testing a cruise missile with theoretically unlimited range that uses a nuclear reactor-powered propulsion system in the Arctic. Anonymous U.S. government officials have since told various media outlets that this is true, but that the weapons have been crashing, potentially spreading radioactive material and components.

…… The Russians have also been dramatically expanding their use and plans to employ small and mobile nuclear reactors to support activities in the Arctic.

….. In addition, there are reports that Russia has begun to develop and potentially deploy small underwater nuclear reactors

……..If any of these nuclear power systems were to fail, it could potentially cause a serious radiological incident that would impact both the United States and Canada. The same procedures American military and other government personnel have been training to employ in response to a crashed satellite would undoubtedly be applicable in those situations, too.

So, while the idea of radioactive space debris might serve as a ready exercise scenario, there are a growing number of very real radiological dangers in the Arctic. Unless the Russians change course, the need to be prepared for a nuclear incident only looks set to become more pronounced in the near future. Contact the author:


March 21, 2018 - Posted by | ARCTIC, environment, Russia, USA

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