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Author: Carrie McVicker


    1. Abstract

    Novaya Zemlya, beginning in 1954, was exclusively used by Russia for almost 40 years as a nuclear testing area, atmospherically, underground, and in the surrounding oceans. Lately researchers have begun to discover that Novaya Zemlya was also used as a graveyard for various nuclear weapons, submarines, and reactors, sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Many vessels still had their radioactive materials aboard and were not properly disposed of. Therefore, Novaya Zemlya is quickly becoming an environmental disaster. There is nothing stopping this graveyard from becoming a giant contamination field, putting not only Russian lives in danger but those of their closest neighbor, Norway.

    2. Description

    Novaya Zemlya consists of two large islands approximately 450 kilometers from the Arctic Circle. They are over 800 kilometers long and just over 100 kilometers wide. The area falls under the administration of the Arkhangel'skaya Oblast and contains two underground test sites.(Matzko, 5)

    The area was first inhabited in 1877 and consisted of two settlements of Nenets-people. On July 31, 1954 Moscow established the Novaya Zemlya nuclear test site when nuclear weapons and power were placed on submarines and surface vessels. Testing of the weapons was deemed essential in order to assure their potency.(Nilsen, 2) The first tests were done in 1955 while Novaya Zemlya was still populated not to mention that Russia started to dump the waste from its reactors into the waters surrounding the islands. The Nenets-people were forcibly relocated to the Arkhangel region soon after. They could not assimilate with their new surroundings and many succumbed to tuberculosis, syphilis, drunkenness, and suicide. An entire ethnic branch of the Nenets-people was completely wiped out.(Korsunsky, 12-14)

    Between September 20 and October 25, 1958 fifteen bombs were detonated atmospherically over Novaya Zemlya. Andrei Sakharov became an opponent to the nuclear tests citing the fact that there was no reason for so many bombs to be detonated in such a short period of time.(Nilsen, 3) Also, between September 10 and November 4, 1961 24 bombs were detonated over Novaya Zemlya. That figures out to be one bomb every other day. This occurred during the cooling off period between Brezhnev and Kennedy. During this period the Berlin Wall was also under construction, as part of this cool period in US/USSR relations.

    On August 5, 1963 the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union signed the first test ban treaty banning test explosions in the atmosphere, underwater, and in outer-space. This came at the heels of a shocking discovery; research had been conducted and it had been determined that the fallout from such activities did serious damage to the environment and to humans.(Nilsen, 3) The Moscow Treaty of 1963 also banned nuclear explosions that caused fallout outside of the tester's own borders. Despite the signing of this treaty Moscow would go on to break it several times at Novaya Zemlya, with heavy downfalls raining upon the borders of Norway.

    The 1st underground testing at Novaya Zemlya took place on September 15, 1964. Until October 24, 1990 forty-three underground explosions would take place on the Arctic islands.(Nilsen, 6)

    Between 1945-1984 over 2000 kilos of plutonium have been released into the entire atmosphere. The Soviet Union is not the only country to blame; the United States, Great Britain, France, and China have all conducted nuclear tests within their borders for years. However, the Soviet Union alone has conducted 132 nuclear tests between September 21, 1955 and October 24, 1990. (Matzko, 4)

    3. Duration: 1955-1990

    Nuclear testing on Novaya Zemlya began in 1955. However, the date of the last test on the islands is in dispute. In August of 1997 tremors were measured 60 miles east of Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea. In the past there have been at least 3 documented underwater tests done near the islands. When questioned Moscow officials dismissed the tremors as an earthquake. Many US scientists and the US Air Force believe they are telling the truth.(Nilsen, site) However, some would disagree citing a scientific belief that the area is aseismic and the chances of an earthquake are extremely rare.(Matzko, 11)

    While Russia enjoys the support of many who are quick to cite Moscow's compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), others are not so sure. Against much protest the US government declared that it was unsatisfied with Moscow's claim of an earthquake and demanded more proof, despite the fact that many scientists have come forward with diagrams of wave patterns that identify the event as an earthquake.(Broad, site) Many pictures have been produced showing that the area surrounding Novaya Zemlya has become quite seismic over the past few years.(UPDATE)

    Russia's defense minister Pavel Grachev declared that Novaya Zemlya is safe and that there is "less radiation there than in his office."(Velekhov, 23) Furthermore Russia's Atomic Energy Minister Mikhailov said no incident took place because the site has been closed since 1990. Satisfied with this answer, Norway discontinued its inquiry into the tremors.(Officials, site)

    As of today Novaya Zemlya has been reopened for scientific study. Researchers hope to conduct studies of the nuclear areas to determine just how much radioactive waste remains in the area.(Rose, 6)

    4. Location

    a. Continent: Asia

    b. Region: Arctic

    c. State: Russia

    5: Actors: Russia and Norway

    II. Environment

    6. Type of Environmental Problem

    a. Source Problems [habitat, species loss, etc.]: Pollution of Kara and Barent's Seas

    Contamination of the water surrounding Novaya Zemlya, the land itself and parts of Europe, particularly Norway.

    On August 2, 1987 Russia exploded a bomb so large that radioactive fallout was measured all over Europe. A careful study was conducted of Novaya Zemlya's topography and it was determined that at least one test site had severe leakage due to cracks in the rock formations. This lead to incomplete containment by the rocks of the nuclear fallout.(Matzko, 25) There has been some indication that every 5th test contained a good amount of leakage.(Nilsen, 7)

    7. Type of Habitat

    The site is an arctic region and the temperature can range between -47 and 75 degrees. It was inhabited by nomadic peoples and reindeer until nuclear testing forced the people off the island. Most of the reindeer either died or were transported to the mainland. The land is mostly flat and has sparse vegetation.

    8. Act and Harm Sites:

    Combinations of Act and Harm Sites

    Site of Act Site of Harm Example
    Novaya Zemlya, Russia Norway Nuclear Testing in Novaya Zemlya

    Norway is very concerned with the testing at Novaya Zemlya and especially the radioactive waste sites surrounding it, given the fact that Norway is only 900 kilometers from the islands. They are concerned with the possibility that sometime soon the Barents Sea could become polluted as well.(Rose, 6) The Barents Sea contains most of Norway's fishing industry. Norway has bore the blunt of radioactive fallout due to the testing on Novaya Zemlya over the years. The Health Directory of Norway made secret plans to build fallout shelters within the Finnmark County out of fear of severe fallout levels.

    In the Arkhangelsk region alarming numbers of people are dying prematurely of cancer and 95% of children born there are underdeveloped.(Korsunsky, 12) Despite this fact, Novaya Zemlya is currently inhabited by over 4,000 military personal and their families.

    III. Conflict

    9. Type and Level of Conflict: Interstate

    10. Level of Conflict: Warharm

    11. Fatality Level: 1

    12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

    a. Direct (i.e. Resource) - Research done in 1991-1992 by the St. Petersburg Institute of Industrial Technology (VNIPIET) considered creating a permanent housing facility for nuclear waste on the Novaya Zemlya test site.(Kudrik, site) Also, there are large loopholes in the CTBT Treaty allowing Russia to still develop nuclear weapons. The treaty only limits the yield of explosions. There is also the possibility of performing sub-critical explosions without violating the treaty.(Kudrik, site)

    13. Outcome of Dispute: In Progress

    After the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty it is up to the individual countries to monitor each others own nuclear events. Understandably Norway is nervous with the discovery of nuclear reactors and fuel carelessly dumped in the waters off of Novaya Zemlya. However, Norway must be forceful in their requests for information and visitation to the sites to further their own research into the problem.

    13. Level of Strategic Interest: Region

    14. Actors

    Primary actors: Russia and Norway. Secondary actors: Great Britain, United States, France, Chin

    IV. Related Information and Sources

    15. Related ICE Cases

    16. Relevant Websites and Literature

    Korsunsky, Lev. "Novaya Zemlya Spreads Nuclear Contamination" The Current Digest of Post Soviet Press. v. XLIV, n. 47 (1992): 12-14 .

    Matzko, John R. Physical environment of the underground nuclear test site on Novaya Zemlya, Russia. Reston, Va.: U.S. Dept. Of the Interior, 1993.

    Rose, Julian. "Russia to Let Norwegians Visit Nuclear Graveyard" Nature v. 365 (2 Sept 1993): 6.

    Velekhov, Leonid. "Norway" The Current Digest of Post Soviet Press. v.XLVII n. 50 (1995): 23-24.