Toxic shock: Russia drops rocket booster w/ carcinogenic fuel into sea south of Svalbard in ‘successful launch’


A suspicious person might say Russia’s figured out how to conduct airstrikes on its Arctic foes in a way that has the world’s official blessing.

A rocket that just happens to be a Cold-War-era ballistic missile repurposed for civilian use jettisoned boosters containing highly toxic fuel into waters near Svalbard, Greenland and Canada shorty after launch Saturday. But while news of the planned mission – with the debris supposedly only targeted for Canadian waters – sparked outrage among many, the drop was allowed because it was “announced upfront in accordance with international procedures.”

Norwegian and other government officials are downplaying the potential environmental risk in two areas of the Barents Sea where pieces of the booster fell.

“(The fuel components) are compounds that mix well with water,” said Øyvind Voie, a research manager with the Norwegian Defense Establishment, in an interview with The Independent Barents Observer. “And the decomposition goes faster in seawater than in fresh water.”

“In seawater, 50 percent will be degraded within six days, while only 20 percent is degraded during eight days in fresh water…probably it will not be possible to find measurable concentrations of dimethyl hydrazine in the seawater where the rocket booster crashed.”

Those living in the areas who rely on the wildlife to survive, environmental activists and many scientists aren’t so sanguine.

The rocket was fueled by hydrazine, which is so toxic Russia is one of only two countries still using it. An Arctic contaminant specialist at the University of Manitoba told the Toronto Sun the fuel is known to persist in water, and published reports by Russian space program experts suggest it’s normal for about 10 percent of the fuel in the main stage to remain unburned.

“This rocket will not be falling into no-man’s land,” Okalik Eegeesiak, a member of the Inuit Circumpolar Commission, told The Globe and Mail. “This is a vital body of water that is integral to the food supply of Inuit communities in Greenland and Canada. Inuit live here, Inuit use the animals in these waters to feed our families.”

Greenpeace Arctic campaigner Alex Speers-Roesch, in a statement Tuesday, said jettisoning the boosters in Arctic waters “is just as preposterous as drilling for oil there.”

“Dumping these chemicals from a ship would be a clear violation of international and Canadian law, and it is no more acceptable when it is dumped from the air,” he said.

The Russian Ministry of Defense, in a press release Saturday, declared the rocket “passed in a regular mode” into orbit with no mention of the controversy of why debris fell into the Barents Sea. The Russian Embassy in Ottawa declared before the launch environmental concerns were “seriously taken into account.”

While such launches are legal due the advance notification, Canadian and other government officials said the notice should have come further in advance – and many argue permission, not merely notification, should be required.

The Space Liability Convention of 1972 does make states liable for damage caused by space objects.