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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
EU tackles Russian pollution
Nuclear sub
Decommissioned nuclear subs are of particular concern

The European Union has pledged half of a $100m fund to start tackling the problems of nuclear waste and environmental pollution in northwestern Russia.

At an international donors' conference in Brussels, EU Commissioner for External Affairs, Chris Patten, said this was the first step in launching a programme worth $1.8bn to deal with an enormous legacy of environmental damage affecting the whole of northern Europe.

The donors' conference in Brussels was jointly hosted by the European Commission, Russia and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

A report prepared for the conference paints an alarming picture, especially around the Kola Peninsula, the repository of the world's largest amount of radioactive waste.

Map of Kola peninsula
Radioactivity levels at Andreeva Bay are said to be similar to those in Chernobyl
More than 100 nuclear submarines from Russia's ageing Northern Fleet have been decommissioned at various military bases around the peninsula, north of the Arctic Circle.

But, according to the report, none of the bases have appropriate storage facilities and, in many places, radioactive material is already leaking.

Rain and snow enter one of the most dangerous storage sites, at Andreeva Bay, 45 kilometres from the Norwegian border.

Radioactivity levels there are said to be similar to those in Chernobyl, where the world's worst nuclear accident took place in the 1980s.

International donors are expected to raise $0.5bn to repair nuclear storage facilities and improve safety conditions.

Baltic benefits

An extra $1.3bn worth of grants and loans should be given to tackle water and air pollution in northwestern Russia, which impacts the entire Baltic region.

The city of St Petersburg, where half the municipal wastewater remains untreated, is the single most important source of pollution in the Baltic Sea.

Six out of 12 environmental projects to be submitted to international donors concentrate on St Petersburg, the hometown of Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Not surprisingly, they are said to enjoy political support at the highest level in Moscow.

Nuclear falling out

But dealing with nuclear waste in an area which until recently was totally closed to westerners will be a much tougher job.

Countries like Norway and Sweden, which have tried for many years to reduce environmental threats in northern Europe, complain that their experts were only allowed to see some of the most dangerous nuclear waste sites in the Kola Peninsula a year ago.

They will not give the green light to future projects unless they are guaranteed full access to what the Russians still see as sensitive military areas.

Opening the donors' conference, Mr Patten said the scale of the task was immense.

We shouldn't make such projects hostages to complex nuclear matters

Sergey Kolotukhin, Russian Deputy Finance Minister

He urged the international community to act in full partnership with Russia to ensure, as he said, that what can be described as a hazard today does not become a disaster tomorrow.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Kolotukhin said the scale of the environmental damage was so huge that it would take Russia an unacceptably long time to deal with it on its own.

But he expressed concern that western donors wanted to tie the clean-up of nuclear waste to an international agreement clarifying the legal framework for implementing large-scale environmental projects in Russia.

"We shouldn't make such projects hostages to complex nuclear matters," Mr Kolotukhin said.

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