Are there abandoned submarines

Shining legacy of the Cold War

In quick succession, full buses groan to burst, spit out their human cargo and take in new passengers. End of work in Murmansk. On this late afternoon, streams of people slide over Lenin Prospect. The digital display with its bright red digits that show the current radiation exposure fills an entire house wall. Nobody cares about the radiation report. Although everyone knows: An ecological time bomb is ticking not far from here.

Prefabricated housing estate in the Russian port city of Murmansk

The journey leads past extensive factory ruins and stinking rubbish tips. As if on a string of pearls, dilapidated prefabricated buildings line the rocky fjord, 30 kilometers long. Murmansk is not only the world's largest city north of the Arctic Circle, but also the ugliest. During the Second World War, the port played a key role - initially in supplying the Soviet Union with Allied aid supplies, and later as a base for the Northern Fleet. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the port remains ice-free even in the depths of winter, even at 30 degrees below zero.

Ecological time bomb

Sparse, mossy vegetation with low trees, birch groves that nestle against ponds - the barren beauty of the landscape around Murmansk ends abruptly, where bare rock tongues plunge into the Barents Sea. There are no longer any residents here. The place where fishermen's cottages once stood is now a restricted military area. Shipwrecks protrude from the sea. Moored on floating pontoons, red-brown hulls bob up and down in the fish-rich fjords. Not a pretty sight: the pride of the former Soviet Union is rusting in the bays of the Barents Sea: around 150 discarded nuclear submarines, thrown into the landscape like empty Coke cans!

The rusty hulls of disused nuclear submarines float in a bay off Murmansk

From the gate of the construction fence you have the best view of the building site that spreads out at our feet: right in front, low container huts. White heating smoke steams from their chimneys. Silos of a concrete mixing plant tower up, further back farm buildings and garages, under a heaped wall the barely hidden entrance to a bunker. But the actual attraction seems rather unspectacular: A simple concrete slab ...

Military restricted area

On-site meeting with Kersten Müller, project manager of the "Energiewerke Nord" (EWN) in Lubmin near Greifswald. The German state-owned company has been building the nuclear long-term interim storage facility for disused Russian submarine reactors for a good two years. Müller proudly shows what has been achieved so far: The gigantic concrete slab stretches out as big as a football field with no goals, on top of which are containers as high as a house that look like the cocoons of a monster bee.

Data and facts about Russia

At the neighboring Nerpa shipyard, Russian workers previously heaved the highly radioactive fuel elements out of the heart chambers of the submarines. Having to watch the once proud nuclear fleet being sawed into pieces hurts the Russian soul. Moscow paid almost two billion dollars for each of its heavily armed submarines - and in the end prepared itself to death.

Abandoned fishing villages

Loading cranes in the port of Murmansk

When the sea is calm, a floating dock transports the steel colossi along the fjord coast to the long-term interim storage facility. The sections can be maneuvered to any point using a rail system that runs through the concrete slab in a grid pattern. Up to now, 14 pieces have been placed on the plate like strawberries on a cake base. Seven more are waiting for shipment in the Nerpa shipyard.

Just a stone's throw from the long-term interim storage facility, you can still see what it looked like a few years ago. The navy had turned the rocky bays into a ship graveyard that drove people from the neighboring fishing village.

600 million euros from Germany

The German engineers who help with the disposal of the discarded nuclear submarine are familiar with Russian nuclear technology. Many of them studied in the Soviet Union. Germany, Dr. Günther Bäuerle from the Berlin Federal Ministry of Economics, the aid can initially cost 300 million euros. After the long-term interim storage facility, Berlin also wants to finance a nuclear disposal center for low and medium level radioactive waste. Cost point: Another 300 million euros. Ultimately, Germany too has a great interest in ensuring that the discarded nuclear submarines are disposed of in such a way that they no longer pose a threat: not for Russia and not for Europe either.

Suspicious secret service

In the meantime, security guard Dimitri has turned up the collar of his jacket - because of the cold and the sharp, icy wind. He is not allowed to speak to the reporter from Germany. As soon as a microphone is in sight, the command of the superior croaks on Dimitri's walkie-talkie. So Dimitri is buttoned up and smiles apologetically. A western foreigner in a Russian restricted area? That would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The Russian secret service FSB had to jump over its shadow!

DW reporter Stefan Dege in conversation with shipyard director Gorbunov

Even now, the FSB is not far. And shows its power: A visit to the nearby Nerpa shipyard, where the disused submarine boats are dismantled, is canceled at short notice. The decision is not justified. Instead, apologies and the "invitation" from shipyard director Alexander Gorbunov to come back later. All attempts at mediation must fail. The really sensitive areas of the project - they remain hidden from the German public and German taxpayers.