RADIOACTIVE SVALBARD: ‘Very low levels,’ possibly from Russian reactor, detected this month at stations near Longyearbyen and in Finnmark


It’s not Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or probably even a trip to the dentist, but there’s something a bit strange in the air.

A small amount of radioactivity was detected earlier this month at monitoring stations near Longyearbyen and Kirkenes, according to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. The amount is not considered hazardous and the organization stated the source is still being determined.

“On both June 7 and 8, very low levels of radioactivity iodine were found at the CTBTO station in Svalbard,” the agency reported in a statement. “The CTBTO monitors the Nuclear Testing Agreement. The station hosted by NORSAR and DSA analyzes data coming from there. The level measured does not pose any risk to health or environmental damage. We are intensifying the monitoring of radioactivity in the air and conducting investigations to determine where the emission originates.”

However, The Independent Barents Observer, quoting health officials from The Netherlands and a “nuclear campaigner” with Greenpeace Russia, reported the radionuclides appear to have come from western Russia and the composition of the isotopes strongly indicates the source is associated with a nuclear reactor.

The Svalbard monitoring station is 18 kilometers from Longyearbyen. Radiation was also detected the same week at the Viksjøfjell station near Kirkenes. They are part of a global network of stations that monitor compliance with the test ban treaty.

It’s not the first time Russia has been responsible or suspected of activity resulting in radiation leaks in Svalbard. Almost exactly a year ago a team of Norwegian and Russian researchers visited the site where a Russian nuclear sub sank in 1989 near Bjørnøya to determine if radiation was leaking from the nuclear reactor and warheads within the vessel 1,700 meters beneath the surface.

Previous Russian studies in the early 1990s and 2007 showed there have been small radioactive discharges from the reactor and the submarine has major damage. Monitoring is expected to continue in the future because the plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years, but researchers said it’s unlikely the contamination will infiltrate the food chain because there is very little marine life at the sub’s depth.