jueves, 23 de septiembre de 2010

Especial de BBC News sobre el Ártico

22 September 2010 Last updated at 16:43 GMT

Richard Galpin gets rare access to Russia's floating nuclear power station

Could the Arctic become a battleground over control of large reserves of oil and gas thought to lie under the Arctic Sea, or will there be co-operation in the polar region? This will be a question for politicians and experts from around the world as they meet in Moscow.

In a grimy shipyard in St Petersburg, an ugly hulk of red-painted metal sits floating in the dock.

On deck, workmen scurry back and forth, hammering, drilling and welding.

In 2007, Artur Chilingarov planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed

This strange construction, part ship, part platform, is unique and lies at the heart of Russia's grand ambitions for the Arctic.

When it is completed in 2012, it will be the first of eight floating nuclear power stations which the government wants to place along Russia's north coast, well within the Arctic Circle.

The idea is the nuclear reactors will provide the power for Russia's planned push to the North Pole.

Moscow is claiming more than a million square kilometres of extra territory in the Arctic, stretching from its current border in the Arctic Sea, all the way to the Pole.

'Complicated and dangerous'

The territory includes an underwater mountain range called the Lomonosov ridge, a area which some Russian scientists claim could hold 75 billion barrels of oil.

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This is more than the country's current proven reserves.

"These [floating nuclear power stations] have very good potential, creating the conditions for exploring the Arctic shelf and setting up drilling platforms to extract oil and gas," says Sergey Zavyalov, deputy director of the operating company, Rosenergoatom.

"Work in the Arctic is very complicated and dangerous and we should ensure there's a reliable energy supply."

He says each power station, costing $400m, can supply electricity and heating for communities of up to 45,000 people and can stay on location for 12 years before needing to be serviced back in St Petersburg.

And while initially they will be positioned next to Arctic bases along the North coast, there are plans for floating nuclear power stations to be taken out to sea near large gas rigs.

ARctic claims map

"We can guarantee the safety of our units one hundred per cent, all risks are absolutely ruled out," says Mr Zavyalov.


PDF download Map of Arctic oil and gas reserves [7.164KB]

But many environmentalists are alarmed and warn of the consequences of a nuclear accident in the pristine and fragile Arctic environment.

As Russia builds the infrastructure needed to operate in the Arctic, its Polar explorers announced this week they were stepping up efforts to provide the scientific evidence needed to convince the United Nations that Russia's claim to the Lomonosov ridge is valid.

Artur Chilingarov, who three years ago used a mini-submarine to plant the Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole, will lead another expedition next month which will launch a drifting research station in the region.

Carving up the Arctic

  • A country has the right to exploit oil and minerals up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the edge of its continental shelf.
  • It can make a claim that the shelf goes beyond the 200 miles
  • There are different ways of carving up the region. A straight line to a central point, such as the North Pole, can be drawn and the disputed area sliced up - a bit like cutting a pie
  • A "median" or "equidistant" line could also be drawn around the nearest point off a country's coastline

Russia needs to collect soil samples from the seabed to prove the Lomonosov ridge is part of the Russian landmass.

The government wants this research completed as quickly as possible because it's declared that the Arctic should be Russia's main source of oil and gas by 2020

And also because Canada is making a rival claim to the territory.

Compromise sought

But Russian scientists believe it could take another 10 years before enough evidence is collected and already tensions with Canada are rising.

"Russia does not want conflict with the other countries surrounding the Arctic," says Vladimir Kotlyakov, honourary president of the Russian Geographical Society and an Arctic expert.

"But naturally nobody wants to give up their territory.

"So we will make a huge effort to hang on to the territory which we think belongs to Russia."

"Of course conflict is always possible, but I repeat that the politicians currently in power in Russia want compromise."

They may want compromise, but they are pursuing a dual-track policy, pushing forward on every front to ensure Russia is the dominant power in the region even before the UN makes a ruling on the territorial disputes.

Although Moscow denies it's setting up special military forces or bases to protect its interests in the Arctic, it is establishing a new coastguard under the control of the all-powerful intelligence agency, the FSB.

Richard Galpin gets on board an ice-breaking ship that would make it much easier for Russia to send oil and gas exports to Asia

Quick route to Asia

And this summer a Russian oil-tanker made a record-breaking voyage through the Northeast passage, which runs along Russia's northern coast linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The state-owned tanker carrying 70,000 tonnes of oil destined for China, was the largest to sail through the passage from Murmansk to the Bering Strait, completing the journey in less than two weeks.

All this is made possible by the melting of the Arctic ice in the summer months.

The route along the Northeast passage from Russia to Asia which is now opening up, is many days quicker than the traditional route via Europe, the Suez Canal and around India.

northeast passage

Although the ships still need to be escorted by ice-breakers, it is a tantalising opportunity for Russia which wants to sell more oil and gas to energy-hungry countries like China.

With some scientists predicting that there may be no ice at all in the summer by 2030, Russian officials are confident the Northeast passage will become a major route for energy supplies to Asia.

"We believe that five or six months a year are now available [for sailing through the Northeast passage]," says Sergei Frank, the chief executive of the state-owned shipping company, Sovcomflot, whose tanker made the record-breaking voyage.

"And if we can build stronger and smarter ships and find the best routes, then we can enlarge this window a bit."

Next year Mr Frank is planning to send even bigger tankers through the passage.

And on the broader issue of who the Arctic belongs to, he has no doubt that Russia is the rightful owner.

"Your very famous prime minister Winston Churchill, had a very proper saying: Right or wrong, but it's my country.

"The first serious Russian expedition in this area was launched in the 16th Century.

"This is our home."

El Árticuo: ¿un nuevo reparto de la tarta?

¿Los grandes se sientan a la mesa ártica?

Arctic summit in Moscow hears rival claims

An international meeting to try to prevent the Arctic becoming the next battleground over mineral wealth is taking place in Moscow.

One quarter of the world's resources of oil and gas are believed to lie beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Russia, Norway, Canada, Denmark and the United States have already laid claim to territory in the region.

Although the summit is promoting dialogue, a Kremlin adviser said Russia would defend its national interests.

Melting ice cap

The region's resources are rapidly becoming accessible due to the rapid shrinking of the polar ice cap.

Start Quote

I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive”

End Quote Lev Voronkov Russian Arctic expert

Senior Norwegian adviser Olaf Orpheum told the conference that nowhere else had seen "such dramatic changes in the surface of the Earth".

The race for the Arctic centres on an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge.

In 2001, Moscow submitted a territorial claim to the United Nations which was rejected because of lack of evidence.

Three years ago, a Russian expedition planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the North Pole in a symbolic gesture of Moscow's ambitions.

Law of the Sea

As evidence of the gathering momentum in the race for mineral resources, Russia has announced it will spend $64m (£40m; 48m euros) on research aimed at proving its case.

The man behind the 2007 polar expedition, Artur Chilingarov, has announced that he will attempt to launch a drifting research station next month.

Kremlin climate change adviser Alexander Bedritsky told reporters that Russia had a "strong chance" to win approval when it submitted its data to the UN in 2012-13.

Last week, Canada's foreign minister met his Russian counterpart in Moscow to discuss their competing claims.

Canada is likely to hand its file to the UN around 2013 and has said it is confident of its case.

Denmark plans to put forward its details by the end of 2014.

For the states involved in the territorial dispute, the key lies in obtaining scientific proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is an underwater extension of their continental shelf.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a coastal nation can claim exclusive economic rights to natural resources on or beneath the sea floor up to 200 nautical miles (370km) beyond their land territory.

But if the continental shelf extends beyond that distance, the country must provide evidence to a UN commission which will then make recommendations about establishing an outer limit.

Arctic claims

Last week, Russia signed a treaty with Norway, ending a 40-year dispute over their maritime borders in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.

Russian Arctic expert Lev Voronkov said the experience of the Cold War proved the need to work together.

"No one problem of contemporary Arctic can be resolved by one country alone. So that's why I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Nato's presence in the Arctic could raise additional problems.