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Toxic splash: Russian rocket stages dropped in Arctic waters raise health, environmental and legal concerns

  • Michael Byers (a1) and Cameron Byers (a2)
Abstract

Russia has dropped rocket stages fuelled with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) into the Barents Sea and the North Water Polynya—areas of considerable ecological importance—on ten occasions since 2002. The stages come from SS-19 intercontinental missiles that have been re-purposed for launching satellites. UDMH is a highly toxic chemical that has caused widespread health and environmental damage in Kazakhstan and Russia as a result of its extensive use there as a rocket fuel. Not all of the fuel on-board is consumed during a launch and the residual fuel tends to escape the incoming stages and form aerosol clouds that drift over large areas. This dropping of the rocket stages is of considerable concern to the Inuit of Canada and Greenland, who only learned about the practice in 2016. It is also a violation of several treaties as well as customary international law. At least two more launches of UDMH-fuelled rockets on the same trajectory are currently planned—even though alternative non-toxic rocket systems exist.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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