Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 22, January 1998
Barents Euro-Arctic Council Discusses Nuclear Safety Problems
The fifth Ministerial Meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) - founded in 1993 to discuss environmental problems in the region caused by nuclear waste-disposal - was held in Lulea, Sweden, on 20 January. Reports spoke of intensive and sometimes troubled discussions. In its final communiqué, the BEAC noted grimly: "There is an urgent need to further intensify international cooperation, in particular directed to problems of management, handling and storage of radioactive waste..." The scale of the problem was candidly acknowledged by Vladislav Petrov, the senior official attempting to deal with the issue in Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry (MinAtom). Quoted on 22 January, Petrov observed:
"The government is well aware of this problem, but lack of finances is complicating the task of liquidating nuclear-weapons and fulfilling international disarmament treaties... The whole world, including the United States, fell victim to the arms race that left mountains of weapons, and at the present pace the amount of Russian nuclear waste will double by the year 2005..."
A major source of nuclear waste is the virtually derelict condition of over 100 retired Russian nuclear submarines. Despite some progress (see Documents and Sources for details of a project to storing some of the waste at a facility in Murmansk) the scale of the problem remains huge.
Some frustration with Russia was evident during the meeting, expressed for instance by Finland's Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen, quoted on 21 January: "It is obvious that there is still a lack of tangible results in the Barents cooperation... In spite of the potential support [for Russia from BEAC], the crucial thing for reaching results is, however, the commitment of Russia..." The European Commissioner for External Affairs, Hans van den Broek, identified cumbersome bureaucracy in Russia as "certainly contributing a fair share towards the difficulties we have."
The head of the US delegation was Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, the most senior American representative to attend a BEAC meeting.
Reports: Russia slowing moves in northern dimension, Reuters, 21 January Russia seeks help for nuclear sub clean-up, Reuters, 22 January.
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.