Paul Goble summarizes Russian commentary and interviews and interprets what they may mean at his blog, “Window on Eurasia – New Series.” Goble worked in the US State Department during the fall of the Soviet Union, focusing on the Baltic States. He speaks Russian and Estonian fluently.
From an interview with Mikhail Delyagin, a Moscow commentator who has criticized Vladimir Putin in the past but now says he is completely in line with the Kremlin leader, Goble speculates that Moscow may be considering the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine, on the basis that Moscow has charged the West with what it is planning to do itself. I’ll caution that this has not been an infallible guide to Russian behavior, but it is something to take note of.
In the interview, Delyagin mentions the former Soviet nuclear submarine training base at Paldiski, Estonia.
Delyagin suggests that he has information that in the Estonian port of Paldiski, there is a large stockpile of “radioactive trash,” and that the Americans might use something from that for a [tactical nuclear or dirty bomb] shell and thus add to the confusion such an attack would produce.
Some pre-emptive debunking is thus in order. No such material is present at Paldiski, which has been cleaned up and a port developed.
I’ve visited Paldiski twice. Its cleanup was being planned at the same time as the cleanup of the Sillamäe metallurgical plant, with which I was more involved. So I am aware of many of Paldiski’s issues. I have updated and supported my knowledge with selected links.
Paldiski was the major training facility for Soviet nuclear submariners. It had two pressurized-water reactors of the type in Soviet submarines. The site had full technical support for running the reactors, including a water treatment plant. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Estonia asked Russia to remove its military. By 1995, all Russian military were gone, and the fuel rods from the reactors shipped back to Russia. The reactors were entombed in concrete.
SKB, a Swedish firm that carried out much of the cleanup, has posted two videos on their work at Paldiski.
In addition to the reactor building, three buildings were of particular concern: the water treatment building, a building for storing fuel rods, and a storage building in which the Russians had left a great deal of trash, some of it radioactive. I recall seeing, in 1998, neutron sources that probably contained ten grams of plutonium each. That waste has been removed and those buildings demolished.
The videos are mostly in Swedish. Here are some highlights.
Beginning: Russians remove the reactor fuel elements and ship them back to Russia in 1994.
2:07 – Overhead view of the Paldiski base in 1995.
2:32 – It was in a trash pile like this that I saw the neutron sources.
2:55 – One of the reactor containment structures.
4:00 – English spoken.
5:32 – Entry gates to site.
5:50 – Notice the new siding on the reactor building, where the offices are. The building was in very bad condition and needed stabilization when the Russians left.
6:00 – This is Henno Putnik, CEO of AS ALARA (in Estonian), the company in charge of the Paldiski cleanup. The three men use English because it is the common language among Estonian, Russian, and Swedish.
0:20 – Building 307 is where trash was stored.
0:30 – The colors show radioactive areas so that cleanup workers can remove the debris safely.
1:32 – Building 306 is where fuel rods were stored.
2:17 – Building 303 is the water treatment building. It looks like SKB built a virtual model of the building to keep track of contaminated vessels and piping.
2:45 – The demolition of Building 303. It looks like they rubblized the uncontaminated concrete to be used for landfill.
3:25 – The reactor building, 301-302.
4:02 –Boxes of contaminated waste stored for later disposal.
4:53 – The music is the Russian hymn, Spasi, Gospodi, Iyudi Tvoya (O Lord, Save Thy People), which may be familiar to you from Tchaikowsky’s 1812 Overture. Following music is by Tchaikowsky, who enjoyed spending time in Estonia, both Sillamäe and Haapsalu. I don’t know if SKB intended any significance to the music.
5:30 – Henno Putnik talks (in English) about the future of the site.
6:00 – Planned development of wind power on the site.
The videos are from 2009. Since then, most of the buildings on site have been demolished and the waste disposed of. The contaminated material in the reactor building is limited, since the fuel rods were removed in 1994. There is nothing with which to build a nuclear or dirty bomb.
In September, the Estonian government made €2.1 million available to prepare for the removal of what is left of the reactors.
The concrete entombment of the reactors has fixed the contamination in place and made it inaccessible to intruders. However, it has also made the removal of the reactors more difficult. Figuring that out is the next step.
A port and industrial park are being developed at Paldiski. The Estonian government has seen industrial redevelopment as an essential part of the cleanups here and at Sillamäe to provide employment for the local people, who are mostly ethnic Russians, both cities having been closed to Estonians during Soviet times.
Report on the site and remediation with many photos. Mostly in Estonian, with an English summary (p. 25).
Top photo from Part 1 video.by