WHY THE DEFENSE MINISTER FLEW TO NOVAYA ZEMLYA

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The working visit of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to Severodvinsk and the nuclear testing range on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago ended at the end of last week. Colonel Nikolai Deryabin, Director of the Defense Ministry’s PR service, told the journalists, “This visit was very important, because the issues of development of maritime strategic forces and nuclear security are crucial for our Armed Forces and are related to specific steps of the military reform in the country.” Deryabin added that Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev and Economic Development and Trade Minister Herman Gref visited the Arkhangelsk Region together with the Defense Minister. Such a prominent visit of the key ministers of the country to the North took place because government members discussed the problems of financing of the military industrial complex enterprises located in Severodvinsk, which manufacture nuclear submarines. The state has big debts to enterprises of the military industrial complex. According to Deryabin, the ministers spoke about ways to pay off these debts during their visit to the Arkhangelsk Region.

Defense Minister Ivanov also took part in launching of the largest nuclear submarine of the world of project 941 of Typhoon type (according to NATO classification). This submarine was being repaired for over 12 years. Ivanov also organized consultations at Sevmashpredpriyatie (the Typhoon was repaired there) on the problems of Navy development in the next five to eight years.

“We are guided by our national interests. We have started construction of the ships which will ensure security of the Russian Federation in any situation,” stated the minister after his visit to Sevmashpredpriyatie. Ivanov emphasizes that the Russian military leadership presumes that the recent decisions on reduction of strategic offensive potentials and withdrawal of the US from the ABM treaty will not influence the plans for development of the maritime component of the Russian strategic forces negatively.

The visit to the nuclear testing range on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago was another important aspect of the working visit of the ministers to the Arkhangelsk Region. Ivanov announced that Russia was not going to restart real nuclear tests, but the President had issued an order “to maintain the testing range in working order and to develop its infrastructure.” On the eve of his trip to Novaya Zemlya, Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev did not rule out the possibility of nuclear explosion test organization on Novaya Zemlya. “There is no issue of restarting of nuclear tests on the agenda yet. However, if such a task is set, it will be fulfilled,” explained Rumyantsev.

According to him, so-called sub-critical hydrodynamic experiments with separate elements of nuclear ordnance are currently conducted at the testing range. These experiments are aimed at evaluation of reliability criteria of this ordnance. It is known that such trial is not prohibited by the treaty on comprehensive ban of nuclear tests. At least four or six such studies are conducted on Novaya Zemlya. These tests allow evaluation of criteria under which it is possible to store, transport and use nuclear ordnance safely.

Meanwhile, there was another reason for the visit of the ministers to Novaya Zemlya. According to available information, when the governmental commission visited the testing range it discussed a possibility to bury nuclear waste there. Some officials of the Atomic Energy Ministry and Economic Development and Trade Ministry proposed this idea, saying that this may be a normal commercial project. Initially, it is planned to bury liquid and solid wastes of the 190 nuclear submarines discarded by the Defense Ministry in the wells drilled in rocks of the archipelago. After that it is planned to bury waste of nuclear stations, including stations from other countries, in the same way. The value of the project is a few billion dollars. Scandinavian countries are already prepared to allot money for the project. During a recent meeting of the commission of the Atomic Energy Ministry it was recommended to prepare proposals regarding construction of storage facilities for nuclear waste on Novaya Zemlya.

Meanwhile, the Atomic Energy Minister stated that he was against such an idea. According to him, there are three alternative options for placing of nuclear waste in rocks, including projects for storage of waste on the mainland.

Rumyantsev explained, “The storage facility and the testing range are incompatible things. Like a maternity hospital and a cemetery, they should be separated at least geographically.”

According to available information, Defense Minister Ivanov is also averse to the project for construction of a nuclear waste storage facility on Novaya Zemlya. The final decision about arrangement of such a facility on Novaya Zemlya is up to the government and the President of Russia.

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