Novaya Zemlya - The Sad Reality
The Russian islands of Novaya Zemlya separate the Kara Sea from the Barents Sea. Novaya Zemlya is considered to be an archipelago as it consists of two large islands and a few smaller islands alongside the main stretches of land. In total, the islands of Novaya Zemlya cover an area of approximately 90 650 square kilometers and fall under the administration of the Arkhangelsk Oblast of Russia. Most of the population on these islands in Russia are located in Belushya Guba and the total residents of the islands is estimated at 2 700.
The first people to inhabit the Russian islands of Novaya Zemlya were the Nenets people. They arrived on the islands in 1877 and lived nomadic lives in the quiet of the Arctic islands, together with their reindeer. Their tranquil way of living was greatly disrupted when the Soviet Union assigned Novaya Zemlya as a nuclear test location in 1954. The nomads of the Novaya Zemlya islands in Russia were relocated to the Arkhangelsk Oblast. The reindeer that could not be moved to the mainland, died of exposure to the nuclear testing, and most of the Nenets people died from various causes, but all related to not being able to cope with their new surroundings and forced way of life.
Between the years of 1955 to 1990, the Soviet Union tested no less than one hundred and thirty nuclear devices on Novaya Zemlya, submitting most of the islands to large amounts of nuclear waste. Even more disturbing, researchers have discovered that during the forty years of nuclear testing, the islands and surrounding waters were used as a graveyard for reactors, weapons and submarines. Most of these were not properly defused or disposed of, making this area a potential killer years after testing has ceased. The damage the graveyard could cause to the environment and to Russia and Norway, could be disastrous.
At present, the islands are still pretty barren in regard to vegetation, with scattered cover of lichen, moss and humus. There is almost no wildlife found on the islands, with the interior being completely lifeless. On extremely rare occasions, a few reindeer, bears, foxes and birds have been sighted, with the bird species consisting mainly of guillemots, ducks and geese. While the waters are still relatively safe, with walruses, dolphins, seals and whales having been spotted in the water.
The scars of nuclear testing are still evident and with the constant looming danger of the graveyards, most of the islands are left uninhabited. It is heartbreaking to think that these beautiful islands in Russia could have been populated by the nomadic tribes and their reindeer. Wildlife could be flourishing and the waters could be environmentally friendly and secure. If only the clock could be turned back, nuclear testing would not have taken place here.