Thawing sea ice and improved technology is opening up the race for natural resource exploration in the Arctic Circle, home to nearly a quarter of the world’s untapped oil reserves. Russia leads the race and has promised to adhere to environmental guidelines. But accidents and other damage resulting from the country’s oil exploration tell a different story.
The instruments hanging in the Russian city of Severodvinsk — one by the mayor’s office at Victory Square, two more at buildings belonging to the Disaster Prevention Agency — look like oversized clocks.
But rather than showing the time, they indicate radioactivity. They’re dosimeters, and they’re meant to reassure people here on Russia’s northwestern coast, in this city that serves as a home port for Russian nuclear submarines between their trips north into the seas. Less reassuring is the knowledge that just a year and a half ago, one of the submarines caught fire.
For decades, these fleets were both a blessing and a curse in this region with little other infrastructure. The boats provided jobs, but they also brought with them the fear of a Chernobyl at sea. Now the region has another cause for hope, as well as a new source of danger: oil.