Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 06, 2017 - 3:31 pm

Nunavut premier condemns Russian rocket launch, demands it be halted

Inuit Circumpolar Council worries toxic space junk might fall into Pikialasorsuaq/North Water polynya

The Inuit Circumpolar Council worries that a piece of potentially toxic space junk from the second stage of a Russian rocket, which is set to fall into Baffin Bay this Oct. 13, will land within the Pikialasorsuaq or North Water polynya, an environmentally sensitive area that ICC wants to bring under Inuit management. (FILE PHOTO)
The Inuit Circumpolar Council worries that a piece of potentially toxic space junk from the second stage of a Russian rocket, which is set to fall into Baffin Bay this Oct. 13, will land within the Pikialasorsuaq or North Water polynya, an environmentally sensitive area that ICC wants to bring under Inuit management. (FILE PHOTO)

(Updated 3:45 p.m., Oct. 6)

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna has joined with the Inuit Circumpolar Council to demand that the governments of Canada and Denmark tell Russia to keep its toxic space junk out of Inuit marine waters.

“We condemn Russia’s actions and demand that this launch be halted. We can’t afford to have unknown amounts of hydrazine fuel land in largest polynya in the northern hemisphere,” Taptuna said in a statement released Oct. 6

On Oct. 5, Inuit Circumpolar Council had made a similar demand, issued in reaction to Russian plans to launch an old, re-purposed Russian SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missile carrying a European Space Agency satellite into orbit Oct. 13 next week.

The rocket’s second stage contains an unknown quantity of hydrazine, an extremely toxic fuel that could end up falling into the waters of Pikialasorsuaq, also known as the North Water polynya, between Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

“The fact that space agencies are willing to use the Pikialasorsuaq/North Water [polynya] as a toxic dump underscores the pressing need for local management of this sensitive ecosystem. These marine waters are in fact our source of food,” Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the acting chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, said Oct. 5 in the ICC statement.

The old SS-19 rockets date to the Cold War and were originally designed by the Soviet Union to carry nuclear warheads. Following the arms control agreements of the 1980s and 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian now uses many of its old SS-19s for commercial civilian purposes.

Because of the fuel’s extreme toxicity, many countries in recent years have been transitioning away from the use of hydrazine.

Karetak-Lindell is also chair of an ICC commission created in 2016 to consult Inuit in Greenland and Canada about the huge, 85,000-square-kilometre polynya.

It’s an ecologically rich zone of open water at the northern end of Baffin Bay that feeds numerous marine mammals and birds within its unusually warm microclimate.

The Pikialasorsuaq Commission, after visiting Inuit communities in Canada and Greenland, eventually recommended the area should be managed by Inuit.

They now say the Russia rocket launch should be delayed until the impact of dropping space junk into the polynya can be studied.

“We urge the governments to apply the precautionary principle to this issue and in the absence of certainty about the health and environmental risks of the residual hydrazine fuel and metal debris that will fall into this marine region, the launch must not proceed,” said Kuppik Kleist, the Greenland member of the commission.

In his statement, Taptuna agrees that Canada should act to stop the rocket launch.

“Canada has a duty to protect our citizens and marine environment from foreign actions that have the potential to cause ecological contamination and health impacts as a result of residual hydrazine fuel and metal debris that falls into the marine area,” Taptuna said.

And he also said he has communicated with Canada’s prime minister on the issue.

“I have reached out to Prime Minister Trudeau to express Nunavut’s concern and disappointment,” Taptuna said.

Michael Byers, an expert in international law and a professor at the University of British Columbia, said in a recent paper, co-authored with his son, Cameron, that the Russian rocket launch is likely inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia are all signatories to that treaty, Byers said.

At the same time, the rocket’s second stage will fall into areas lying within the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of either Canada or Denmark, which means the environmental laws of those countries would automatically apply to any toxic materials dropped into the waters of the Pikialasorsuaq polynya.

This means that Russia, as well as France and the Netherlands, which are involved in the European Space Agency launch, may carry legal liabilities under international law, Byers said.

Another affected area is the Barents Sea, within Norway’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. That’s where the first stage of the rocket is likely to drop.

But although NOTAMs—or notices to aircraft pilots—are issued in advance of these Russian rocket launches, people who live in the area never receive any advance warning.

“Inuit living near the debris field in Baffin Bay, and who often travel there while hunting, do not receive notice from any source,” Byers said.

Byers paper also cites studies that found that U.S. aerospace workers who came into contact with nuclear missiles fueled by hydrazine suffered numerous health problems including different types of cancers, and that rocket stages dropped on the land in Russia and Kazakhstan have polluted “vast territories.”

Larry Audlaluk, a hunter and former mayor of Grise Fiord, said he’s worried about the upcoming rocket launch.

“Not only do we [Inuit] on both sides of the largest open water [area] depend on the wildlife for sustenance, but the distance between the two countries is very small. The closest gap further north between the two islands is only 32 kilometres,” Audlaluk said.

The ICC also protested the last Russian rocket launch, which threatened to drop toxic hydrazine into Baffin Bay in June 2016.



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(19) Comments:

#1. Posted by Mr. T on October 06, 2017

Everyone seems to think they’re doing this just to be annoying.

The polar orbit required is on that trajectory.

The rocket is spent, with only trace Hyrdazine left.

Hydrazine is a Nitrogen-Hydrogen molecule, which will break down; it’s a part of cigarette smoke.

#2. Posted by Harold (iqaluit) on October 06, 2017

i do not belive in hurling big gizmos into the skies . they should stay here on the earth so they dont disterb our preshious angels .

#3. Posted by Sea junked on October 06, 2017

Military dumping toxic wastes have been going on since WW1 & WW2 & most recently as some would not think so…some arctic islands and deep water areas are seeping chemichals that go back many years. Clean-up in a major scale is needed but the govt. has done nothing. Garbage from all over is a disaster on global scale.

#4. Posted by Observer on October 06, 2017

Amusingly, the safest way of disposing of hydrazine is…mixing and diluting it in water.

#5. Posted by Quurli and Mo on October 06, 2017

“Not only do we [Inuit] on both sides of the largest open water [area] depend on the wildlife for sustenance, but the distance between the two countries is very small. The closest gap further north between the two islands is only 32 kilometres,” Audlaluk said.

Hey Larry, can you tell me what the distance between the two islands has to do with anything? Or did you think you they were going to try to land that rocket on Hans Island?

I suggest you just shape your aluminum foil hat into a sombrero, that’ll keep the hydrazine off.

#6. Posted by Al Gore on October 06, 2017


Rocks that size and bigger hit the earth every day. We call them meteors.  Any hydrazine left in the rocket will have burned before the rocket hits the water.  The rocket will be hot when it hits the water. Any krill within a few feet of where the rocket comes down will get cooked.

Your time is almost over.  Don’t make Nunavut look like a land of ignorant people.

#7. Posted by One Ocean on October 07, 2017

You could always ban or blockade the Russian cruise and expedition ships that like to frequent our waters.

They really pollute.

#8. Posted by Paul Murphy on October 07, 2017

Congratulations to Quurli and Mo and Al Gore above for doing nothing but show their ignorance to two respected gentleman of Nunavut. A Mayor and our current Premier. If you had the balls to make ignorant comments and feel you have factual information about the topic then identify yourselves in your posts. Don’t be hiding behind CBC anonymity acceptances. Show yourselves or shut up!

#9. Posted by Paul Murphy on October 07, 2017

My post above mistakenly referred to CBC anonymity acceptances. My apologies. It should read Nunatsiaq News.

#10. Posted by Cigarettes? on October 07, 2017

I knew there was alot of bad chemicals in cigarettes (benezene, paint thinner, arsenic etc) but now I find out there is hydrazine too?

OMG, so glad I don’t smoke. 

Hey you smokers, wanna quit yet or do you need to still learn about more crap like this going into your lungs?

#11. Posted by Whoopty what? on October 07, 2017

#9 Dear Mr. Murphy;

I’m sure everyone would agree that you have more balls than brains in choosing to display your name in the comments section. Does this grant you some measure of moral authority over anonymous posters?

Wait for it…


#12. Posted by The Old Trapper on October 07, 2017

tl;dr don’t throw your garbage over the fence into our yard.

Neither Premier Taptuna nor acting chair Karetak-Lindell would have a clue what the effect, if any, of various forms of hydrazine would have on the environment. I am curious if either of their staffs reached out to environmental scientists to answer the important questions, or did they just hear that hydrazine was “toxic”, equate that to “deadly”, and then go public with this as the justification for their opposition.

Not that we should not be opposed to Russian misses crashing onto our lands or waters, but we should be honest as to the reason. Russian is being rude thinking they can dump their garbage in our backyard because they are too cheap to take it all the way to their own landfill.

#13. Posted by Paul Murphy on October 07, 2017

Whoopty what?

I don’t claim to have any authority.

I just point out people who have no balls.

Do you?

#14. Posted by on October 08, 2017

@ Paul Murphy, you rush to Larry’s defence, but can you answer my question? What does the distance between Ellesmere Island and Greenland have to do with anything? My point, perhaps similar to Old Trapper in #12, is that these are uninformed, emotional objections. Larry’s geographical non-sequitur is the best example. He’s used to being wheeled out to make emotional objnections, he doesn’t evev bother

#15. Posted by Let He who is without Sin launch the first Rocket on October 08, 2017

We’re dependent on satellites here in Nunavut for Internet, GPS, etc.

Where does the hydrazine from our satellites land? Do we know? Have we ever asked? Do we care?

#16. Posted by Matt on October 09, 2017

People have their reasons for posting anonomously. But anonymity should not permit individuals from saying disparaging and disrespectful things about people/events in the news.

#17. Posted by yes Sir on October 10, 2017

When the premier gets the Russrian’s under control maybe he can help Trunp out with the North koreans

#18. Posted by Northern Guy on October 10, 2017

Hydrazine is only toxic in its anhydrous form, anhydrous meaning non-liquid. Once a liquid is added hydrazine quickly breaks down into its component parts. When hydrazine mixes with water it breaks down into Hydrazinuim and hydroxide, both of which are relatively inert and harmless. This all assumes that the hydrazine survives re-entry which is extremely unlikely given that its boiling point is 114 degrees C and its melting point is 2 degrees C. I think a lot of folks need a chemistry lesson before sounding off.

#19. Posted by TSA on October 13, 2017

That is just to get recognition from other world leaders.  Nunavut has many young smart well educated people who did not use any of its ability to fail in any way.  Canada is strong country enough and we dont even need to negotiate and be recognize instead our country leaders are strong enough to beat any walls to stop such nuisance.

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