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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 17:41 GMT 18:41 UK
'Oil subs' plan alarms Norway
Russian sub
Environmentalists say the plan is too costly and too dangerous

A proposal to turn aging Russian nuclear submarines into oil tankers has caused controversy in Norway, which says the plan could cause environmental disaster.

North-western Russia is home to the Northern Fleet and many of its old nuclear submarines now lie rusting in the harbours of the Barents Sea, which borders Norway and is rich in petroleum reserves.

Anatoly Yefremov, the governor of the Archangelsk region, suggested that Typhoon submarines could be refitted to carry 10,000 tons of oil if their missile launch rooms were converted into tanks.

"We see it as very economic and realistic to use atomic submarines for transporting oil and gas," he was quoted by Norwegian radio as saying.

It could be very difficult to go in and clean up any spill because of radiation from the reactors
Nils Boehmer
Norwegian nuclear scientist

However environmentalists in Norway, which has banned the presence of nuclear weapons and power plants on its soil, say that the plan was costly and too dangerous.

Norwegian Environment Minister Boerge Brende said he was concerned about the threat to the country's ecologically fragile Arctic coastline if a nuclear-powered sub carrying oil had an accident.

Coastline concerns

Russia is keen to develop oil and gas fields in the Arctic, and such converted submarines would have less risk than tankers of colliding with icebergs or becoming damaged in fierce winter storms, it is argued.

The country has reportedly considered converting former nuclear submarines for civilian use before but the project was rejected as too costly.

And nuclear scientist Nils Boehmer, who works for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, said that the consequences of a spillage would be much more severe than a conventional oil slick.

"It could be very difficult to go in and clean up any spill because of radiation from the reactors," he said.

He added that two of the six submarines mooted for possible conversion were already being dismantled with the aid of US funding, making the project largely redundant.

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