A municipal port in Norway has been ordered to receive nuclear-powered submarines from NATO after the only naval base in the area was sold and decommissioned – but local politicians and environmental activists are against the plan.
When the Olavsvern base in Tromso was sold to private investors in 2009, pressure mounted from NATO to find an alternative point of arrival for reactor-driven vessels, other than Haakonsvern in Bergen, which is currently the only approved port in the country.
Now it appears a “temporary solution” to the problem has been found at Grotsund in Tromso, where the country’s Armed Forces have been told to prepare for the arrival of US submarines, Klassekampen reported.
Military spokesman Brynjar Stordal told the newspaper that the forces had been given “political instructions” to prepare for the reception and that they are working in collaboration with the municipality. “We don’t meddle with the politics,” Stordal told the newspaper.
Local politician and chairman of the board of Tromso Harbor company Jarle Heitmann said having the submarines dock there is “not a good solution” and that people would “rather not see the port used for this purpose.”
Tromso has been strong-armed into accepting the nuclear subs, believes Frode Pleym, leader of Greenpeace Norway: “This is about the fact that the government and parliament do not dare to say no to the US.” Pleym further noted that the residents of Tromso have appealed for Norway to sign onto the UN nuclear ban and is against hosting both nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered vessels. LINK
A U.S. Navy submarine’s port call to Tromsø in 2016 caused considerable controversy at the time. It was the first allied nuclear powered submarine to sail to port in northern Norway since October 2007 when the last nuclear powered vessel made port call to Olavsvern.
Jens Ingvald Olsen (The Red Party) in the City Council argued that no deals should be made with American authorities on visiting nuclear submarines: “First of all there is a risk of nuclear accidents, and we don’t have the emergency preparedness to handle such incident. Secondly, regular visits by American submarines will make Tromsø a Russian bomb target.”
The nuclear powered submarine visited Tromsø’s municipal harbour in Grøtsund just outside the town. Nils Bøhmer, of the Bellona Foundation, stated of the event:
“Regular visits by nuclear powered submarines should take place at ports further away from densely populated areas like the town of Tromsø. Possible releases of radioactivity could easily affect many people before counter measures and emergency response plans are triggered.”
He suggested that Norway’s defence establishment should rent back its former naval base Olavsvern, in Ramfjord 20 kilometres south of Tromsø. The base has tunnels with access from the seaside where both British and American nuclear powered attack submarines could make port calls during the Cold War. However, the facility was privatized several years ago (at a staggering financial loss for Norwegians) – built with a price tag of NOK 4 billion (€432 million), the naval base was sold to a group of private investors in 2013 for NOK 38 million (€4,1 million)… LINK
Allied nuclear powered submarines are much more frequently sailing inside Norwegian waters, surfacing for crew-exchange or other purposes; either to port or inshore waters along the coast.
In 2017 activity increased sharply with more than 40 voyages requiring permission in and out of Norwegian coastal waters.
“3 to 4 per month,” says Navy Captain Per-Thomas Bøe with the Ministry of Defense in Oslo when asked by Barents Observer about the 2017 numbers of allied nuclear powered submarines.
“The majority were in the north, three times more,” Bøe says about the geographical areas of allied nuclear-powered submarines. Typically, an American submarine on mission in the Norwegian Sea would not want to sail all way south to Haakonsvern (near Bergen) or to a naval base in the United Kingdom to put on shore a crew member or pick up some new devises or supply. Surfacing near the area where the cat-and-mouse hunt with the Russians takes place saves time.
Not all port-calls actually mean the vessel goes to port. Often, especially in northern Norway, a submarine typically surfaces inshore in a fjord and is met by another vessel that brings crewmembers to a nearby port. Since the early 1960s and throughout the Cold War, Norway’s policy was not to allow for allied warships to make port calls east of 24 degrees in peacetime. That is harbours in Finnmark on the Barents Sea coast. LINK
A stronger NATO presence in Arctic waters will bring more similar port calls in the years to come.
“Contrary to the historical traditions of neighbourly relations and cooperation in the Arctic, Oslo continues to escalate tension and increase the risk of military action. This will not be left without a response,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in 2019.
MORE ON THE TOPIC