- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001

OSLO — Norway feels remote. The fjord-surrounded, ethnically homogeneous country, with its Nordic climate, seems something like a lost Viking colony, though any inclination to rape and pillage has been replaced by flights of neighborliness and environmental consciousness. Indeed, a traveler may well feel theyve arrived at the globes edge.
Unfortunately for Norway, its remote locale wont protect it from a potential crisis of radioactive proportions. Small, but rich, Norway shares a border with large, nuclear and impoverished Russia. And what a neighbor to have. While Norway provides the Kremlin with funding to store its Soviet-era nuclear waste more safely, Russias Duma on June 6 gave final approval to President Vladimir Putins ambition to convert Russia into the worlds hub for fee-based nuclear waste disposal. (Mr. Putin always did have an eye for restoring Russian glory.) And while Norway (and the Russian people, for that matter) may feel the sting of this decision most sharply, it remains very much a global problem.
Once feared for its nuclear arsenal, Russia is now dreaded for the environmental havoc it could wreak, especially if its cash-for-nuclear waste designs hit stride. The Kremlin is angling to import up to 20,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors in Germany, Switzerland, Eastern Europe, Taiwan, South Korea and China in exchange for as much as $20 billion. More than 90 percent of Russians say they oppose the scheme. Large-scale international transport of nuclear waste increases the risk of ecological disaster for a number of countries and much of the worlds supply of fish comes from waters in and off of Norway, in close proximity to Russias huge build-up of nuclear waste.
But there are more ominous concerns regarding Russias plans. Since the Kremlin has said it would reprocess its imported nuclear waste and convert it to energy, it will thereby increase its supply of weapons-grade material. And in Mafia-infested, cash-strapped Russia, a dramatic proliferation of this material would be alarming, since the country is ill-equipped to store it properly and there are plenty of elements willing to peddle it to mischief-makers. So in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new global challenge has emerged. Meeting this challenge will require diplomacy, resolve, firmness and money. Which is where Norway comes in.
Norway has a unique relationship with Russia. Indeed, Norway helped Russia with food during the hard winters between 1910-1920, which may be part of the reason the Soviet Union withdrew from Norway after it liberated the country in 1944 after four years of Nazi occupation. And when the Russians Kursk submarine crisis hit in August, the Kremlin allowed only Norwegian divers to launch a rescue attempt, although Britain had sent ships to help. Russians do appear to lend the Norwegians a special trust. At the same time, World War II also reminded the Norwegians that, despite their remoteness and tradition of neutrality, they are nonetheless vulnerable to aggressors. "If Russia and Norway were to end up in some sort of quarrel, Russia might be inclined to demonstrate its position of power in the area," said John Kristen Skogan, a researcher at the Institute of International Affairs in Norway. "Thats in the back of the Norwegian mind."
So Norway values its NATO membership, and Norway and the United States have many concerns in common regarding Russia. This is why the three nations entered a partnership in 1996 known as the Arctic Military Environmental Cooperation (AMEC) Program, which is chiefly geared to helping Russia improve its nuclear waste storage. The economic program has made effective (if incremental) improvements in Russias nuclear waste disposal. By 2002, when funding for the program runs out, the United States will have spent $25 million on the program and Norway $9 million. "Our main concern is that the United States is planning to withdraw by 2002. The mood seems to be swinging that way," said Rear Adm. Ole-Gerhard Ron, commander of naval forces in northern Norway.
It would be a shame if the United States pulled out, since Russia has been demonstrating increasing glasnost on its nuclear waste problems. Although not part of the AMEC program, earlier this month Russia allowed Norwegian officials to inspect the Bay of Andrejev nuclear waste site near the border with Norway. Once a very secretive Soviet-era military base, Russia continues to keep nuclear submarines at the installation. However, the Kremlin built high walls around the installation for the Norwegian visit, in order to restrict officials view of non-waste-related equipment. Norway had been trying for six years to gain access before the Russians approved the visit in June.
"We actually knew quite a bit about this site, but to actually see it causes a big impression," said Norways State Secretary Espen Barth Eide. Mr. Eide said that one of the installations doesnt even have a roof, and one of Norways goals is to develop robotics technology to get that waste to a more secure place, but the first step is to stabilize containers. "Its first and foremost their problem and their rubbish. But on the other hand, it could affect us as much as them. So its become a shared legacy of the Cold War," he said.
But if Russia becomes a large-scale importer of that rubbish, this already daunting problem could become worse. And what dangerous rubbish it is.

Ximena Ortiz is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.


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