Hot water

Of the 118 dead sailors aboard Russia’s Kursk submarine, 12 have finally been brought to the surface. On the body of one was an officer’s report that 23 sailors survived the initial accident. The Kursk disaster appalled the world; more horrifying is the news that so many men could have been saved. More horrifying still is the long-term security and environmental threat posed by the entire Russian Northern Fleet in which Kursk was an elite sub. The fleet includes 100 decommissioned vessels, each bearing weapons-usable nuclear materials and radioactive nuclear reactors. Thirty are crumbling into the sea.

The state of its nuclear fleet is but one aspect of Russia’s larger nuclear-waste problem. Economic collapse in the wake of the Soviet Union’s demise has left Russia with a total budget smaller than New York City’s, including a defense budget of $4.5 billion (the U.S. military has $268 billion). Yet Russia remains the world’s second most potent nuclear power. It cannot maintain its immense nuclear arsenal, or assure the safety of those who work with or live near such weapons. The international community has a keen self-interest in helping the cleanup before we are confronted with many more tragedies even worse than the Kursk.

Work has already begun. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is using the example of the deteriorating nuclear subs to rally global assistance through Green Cross International...

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