Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Unique Operation in Gremikha

(Russian Navy Blog note: Make sure you click the link below and watch the video. The film is astounding if you are into glimpses of the Apocalypse or a real life "World Without Us").

Preparations are being made for a complicated operation to unload fuel from a submarine reactor. It was a unique Alfa class boat with a titanium hull. There were only a few boats with this kind of hull in the whole world and they all served in our Northern Fleet. Unfortunately, these boats have turned out to be dangerous, not only for the enemy, but to themselves also. Two of the boats have suffered accidents. In order to remove the fuel, the nuclear workers are ready for some hard work. Natal'ya Solov'yeva talks about this unique submarine base and about this sad legacy of the cold war.

(Start Video Here)

One hundred seventy nautical miles - this harbor is reachable only by water. The closed city (ZATO) Ostrovnoy is divided into two areas, separated by two kilometers - Gremikha and Ostovnaya.

Almost 30,000 people lived here in the 70s and now there are barely 3,000. The first Soviet submarines were based here back in the day. The who West called it "the hornet's nest" with fear and envy. The first nuclear submarine, the Leninskiy Komsomol and the legendary K-19 tied up to the piers here. By the middle of the 90s, the Russian leadership began to pare the numbers of boats. Now there are no boats, or even piers here. The last nuclear submarine was towed to the Nerpa Shipyard a week ago. The reminders of the fleet that was stationed here in Gremikha 30 years ago are now rusting ships and nuclear waste thrown out into the open air. Eight years ago the Ministry of Defense transfered responsiblity for the dangerous legacy to FGUP SevRAO. In 2001 this consisted of 800 radioactive moderator rods and six nuclear reactors from Alfa class boats. All the rods are stored here today, two reactors have been unloaded and a third is on the way.

Valeriy Pantaleyev, Director of SevRAO: There was a reactor accident on the boat here about 30 years ago, and now the background radiation inside the compartment where they are going to have to work is pretty high.

The operation, which is being carried out by Murmansk Oblast' nuclear workers, is unique and dangerous. The equipment for this operation is only found in Gremikha and the greatest scientific institutes are consulting. Twenty two seperate organizations are involved. Only the Nuclear Inspection Directorate of the Ministry of Defense can give to okay to proceed.

VP: Never and noone. Nobody can do anything representitives from there. We need a lot of money in order to rebuild the facilities to handle this material and prepare personnel for the job.

Personnel is a touchy question for SevRAO. People are leaving the settlement. Out of 68 specialists working on the project, 40 got apartments back "ashore". And by law they should leave. But the mission will be completed in a few years, despite the difficulty, and then the rest of the people can leave Gremikha. There is the problem that personnel working on the site have very narrow specialties. Larisa Poyarkova - the crane lady, has been working on site for eight years (Russian Navy Blogger note: in my experience, its always a "crane lady". Strange). When the transfer of the containers to the ship begins, a great deal of responsibility will land on her shoulders. And what happens to her after this waste heap is cleaned up, Larisa doesn't know.

Larisa Poyarkova, crane lady: I can't even imagine. I've thought about this and I don't know how to do anything else. This is my job.

A school, stores and a community center all operate in Ostrovnyy. Windows are lit up in the homes. Gremikha is a town whose buildings have black eyes for windows. It's not worth saving the town. The main thing in the opinion of the scientists, nuclear workers and politicians is to make sure that the land is clean.

But it is very probable that in a few dozen years, everything will be have to be rebuilt from scratch. More to the point, rebuilt from the pier, since you can only reach Gremikha by water.

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