Russia’s secret nuclear weapons build-up, and waste dumps, close to Norway

The satellite images, however, only reveal what is visible on the surface. Most of the actual warheads are underground.  

What now takes place in regard to submarine-launched ballistic missiles’ facilities hasn’t been seen at the naval bases on Kola since the large-scale infrastructure construction to support the Typhoon submarines at the Nerpichya base in Zapadnaya Lista happened in the 1980s.

Norway pays for nuclear safety While nuclear weapons are stored inside the mountain on the east side of the Litsa fjord, huge amounts of nuclear waste are stored just two kilometers away, across the fjord in the infamous Andreeva Bay. Thousands of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste and nearly 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements from submarine reactors are stored here. Neighbouring Norway, along with other donor countries, have spent hundres of millions kroner (tens of millions euros), on nuclear safety projects aimed at upgrading the infrastructure in Andreeva Bay.

Satellite images show expansion of nuclear weapons sites on Kola, Barents Observer [excellent pictures]  By Thomas Nilsen, May 08, 2017 The reverse gear seems to hang up for continuing disarmament of nuclear weapons in the Arctic. Barents Observer has made a comprehensive review of satellite images from naval base-level storage facilities that confirms heavy construction works.

The New START Treaty says USA and Russia must limit the numbers of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 by February 5, 2018. Over the last two years, Russia has increased the number of deployed warheads and is now 215 over the max limit to be reached.

There are extensive construction work at two of the Northern Fleet’s facilities for storage of warheads and ballistic missiles for submarines (SLBM) on the coast of to the Barents Sea. The Barents Observer has studied satellite images of the Kola Peninsula open available via Google Earth, combined with open-source data on numbers of nuclear warheads in Russia. The results are frightening.

Expansion of the two base-level storages in Okolnaya Bay near Severomorsk and Yagelnaya Bay in Gadzhiyevo are clearly visible. At both locations, new reinforced bunkers, auxiliary buildings and infrastructure partly finished and partly still under construction can be seen.

The satellite images, however, only reveal what is visible on the surface. Most of the actual warheads are underground.

What now takes place in regard to submarine-launched ballistic missiles’ facilities hasn’t been seen at the naval bases on Kola since the large-scale infrastructure construction to support the Typhoon submarines at the Nerpichya base in Zapadnaya Lista happened in the 1980s.

There are four storages for nuclear weapons on Kola. From satellite images, these storages are not too difficult to find. All are surrounded by double or triple layer barrier of barbed wire fences with extraordinary security at the single entry-exit checkpoints. Also inside the outer fences, the different sections of the facilities are separated with similar security fence barriers. Comparing satellite images with photos posted on internet by naval officers or their family members makes it possible to get a pretty good impression of the current situation.

Several of the storage locations are visible on photos, although mainly in distance, available by searching Yandex, Russia’s own search engine.  Also, Wikimapia, an online editable map where people can mark and describe places, has been a good source to information when writing this article.

Zaozersk is the nuclear weapons storage nearest to Norway in a distance of 65 kilometers to the border in Grense Jakobselv. The Norwegian town of Kirkenes is 94 kilometers away. Distance to Finland is 120 kilometers. All four storage sites on Kola are within a radius of 190 kilometers from Norway and 180 kilometers from the Finnish border………..

Today, Kristian Åtland estimates that around 60 percent of Russia’s more than 700 sea-based strategic nuclear warheads are concentrated on the Kola Peninsula, whereas the remaining 40 percent is based with the Pacific Fleet at Kamchatka.

«The numerical increase in Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, including the part of it that is based on submarines operating from the Kola Peninsula, is neither dramatic nor unexpected. The increase is to be understood in the context of Russia’s long-standing and still on-going defense modernization. The modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces has been a key priority in the State Armaments Program for the period up to 2020 (“GPV-2020”), which was launched in 2010. In addition, the general deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the West, particularly since 2014, seems to have led to a renewed focus on the issue of nuclear deterrence, in Russia as well as in the United States,» Åtland elaborates.

Gorbachev called for nuclear-free zone

2017 marks the 30-years anniversary since Michael Gorbachev’s famous Murmansk-speech on October 1st 1987 where he called for a nuclear-free zone in Northern Europe. Since then, the numbers of nuclear warheads based on the Kola Peninsula saw a continuing decrease until 2015, five years after Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START Treaty in Prague. In July 2015, Russia reportedly had less deployed strategic nuclear warheads than the United States, 1,582 versus 1,597, the Bureau of Arms Control with the U.S. Departement of State reported.

215 over New START Treaty limit

Latest exchange and verification numbers from the same bureau dated April 1, 2017 shows that Russia now has 1,765 versus the United State’s 1,411. In other words; Russia has 215 warheads more than the maximum set to be achieved nine months ahead. The questions is whether Moscow is likely to dismantle over 200 warheads in less than a year.

Katarzyna Zysk, Associate Professor with the Norwegian Defense University College, says to the Barents Observer that Russia has a vested interest in maintaining the New START agreement. «Russia has a vested interest in maintaining the New START given that it keeps the development of the US strategic nuclear capabilities under control, provides Russia transparency measures and valued insight into to the US nuclear forces, thus increasing predictability,» she says, but underscore that the numbers must down.

«In order to meet the New START Treaty limits when it enters into effect in February 2018, Russia will have to decrease the numbers. However, Russia has been moving toward meeting the obligations as the number of Russia’s deployed strategic warheads has been decreasing compared with 2016. The US is now below the treaty limit and is in fact increasing the number of strategic deployed warheads,» Zysk explains.

Åtland agrees and underscores that today’s numbers do not constitute a treaty violation.

«The fact that Russia is now above the maximum warhead limits of the new START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, does not in itself constitute a treaty violation. The treaty does not mandate any particular schedule for reductions other than that the agreed-upon limits must be met by February 2018, which is in nine months from now. Reductions in the number of deployed warheads are fairly easy to achieve once the political will is there, either by phasing out old delivery platforms or by removing deployed warheads to central storage. Thus, the identified “peak” may be temporary,» Åtland says. He hopes both the United States and Russia will work towards an extension of the Treaty.

«Hopefully, Russia will stand by its commitments under the current START Treaty regime. In any event, it is important that Russia and the U.S. continue to exchange data about the status of their nuclear arsenals and that they provide for mutual inspections and other transparency measures outlined in the START Treaty and other documents. The parties should also work towards an extension or replacement of the Treaty when it expires in February 2021.»…………..

Norway pays for nuclear safety

While nuclear weapons are stored inside the mountain on the east side of the Litsa fjord, huge amounts of nuclear waste are stored just two kilometers away, across the fjord in the infamous Andreeva Bay. Thousands of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste and nearly 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements from submarine reactors are stored here. Neighbouring Norway, along with other donor countries, have spent hundres of millions kroner (tens of millions euros), on nuclear safety projects aimed at upgrading the infrastructure in Andreeva Bay.

On June 27, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, travels to Andreeva Bay to mark the first shipping of spent nuclear fuel out of the area, a job that is likely to continue for more than five years. Meanwhile, Russia continues to spend huge amounts of money on new nuclear weapons in the border areas. ………..

Bolshoye Ramozero – the most secret

The most secret of all secret nuclear weapons storages on the Kola Peninsula is located some 20 kilometers to the northeast of the mining town Olenegorsk, on a side road towards Lovozero. The location, diffcult to find referances to on the internet, has several names; Katalya is one, Bolshoye Ramozero is another (the nearby lake). Like other secret towns in the Soviet Union, also this one had a post-code name; Olenegorsk-2. The nickname is Tsar City, allegedly because of the priviliges the inhabitants had. The town is also simply known as Military Unit 62834 or Object 956.

While it is easy to find selfies and blogposts from most Russian military garrisons and bases, few can be found from this town. Not too strange; the town is under full supervison of the 12th Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. This directorate is responsible for all of Russia’s nuclear weapons, including storages, technical maintenance and transportation.

The 12th Chief Directorate is probably the most secretive organization in the Russian Armed Forces, even more than the foreign military intelligence agency GRU and the strategic missile forces, according to Wikipedia.

Bolshoye Ramozero serves a national-level nuclear weapons facility, one of 12 such storages across Russia, according to a recent report written by Pavel Podvig and Javier Serrat. The report, focusing on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, is published by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

It is believed that all non-strategic nuclear warheads possible aimed for naval, air force and army weapons for the Kola area, and maybe even more, are stored at the central national level storage in Bolshaya Ramozero. According to the UNIDIR report, the 12th Chief Directorate is responsible for providing the nuclear warheads to the different military units “when deemed necessary.” If a threatening situation occurs, warheads can be transported by trucks from this site to the different military units on the Kola Peninsula which holds weapons systems that could be armed with tactical nuclear weapons, like naval cruise missiles or torpedoes, or cruise missiles carried by aircrafts.

The nearest airbase to the central storage on Kola is Olenogorsk where Tu-22 bombers are stationed.

Inside the underground storage bunkers in Bolshaya Ramozero are only the warheads stored.

Satellite images show that there are two storage areas just north of the town. The first area has three internal sites, of which only two seems to be actively used. The second area is located another kilometer further north. https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/content/satellite-images-show-expansion-nuclear-weapons-sites-kola

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