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Executive Summary for July 21st

We review the latest Arctic news, including the U.S.’s lack of preparedness for an Arctic oil spill, a Chinese icebreaker’s attempt to circumnavigate the Arctic, and Russian naval exercises that feature the world’s largest nuclear sub.

Published on July 21, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Mission Virtually Impossible

The U.S. is unprepared for an oil spill in Arctic waters, according to the head of the U.S Coast Guard. As Scientific American reports, cleanup efforts in Arctic waters would face several big challenges. In seas of over four feet – common conditions in the Arctic Ocean – the mechanical removal of oil is “virtually impossible.” There’s also no viable method of cleaning up oil from ice. And the U.S. lacks adequate icebreakers, ports and other infrastructure that would help respond to an Arctic spill.

Donald Trump’s administration is pushing to overturn his predecessor’s decision to ban offshore oil drilling in most U.S. Arctic waters, but these efforts are being fought by environmental groups in the courts.

East Meets West

A Chinese icebreaker that will attempt to circumnavigate the Arctic began its journey this week. The expedition will be the first Chinese attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage. Researchers on board the Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, plan to study the acidification of the Arctic Ocean, as well as the presence of microplastics in Arctic waters, Shanghai Daily reports.

China has launched periodic Arctic expeditions in recent years, and the country envisions this voyage to be the start of annual journeys. The Xuelong previously travelled the Northeast Passage above Russia in 2012. This year’s route will see it depart Shanghai, traverse the Northeast Passage and then continue on to the Northwest Passage.

Full Steam Ahead

Russia’s biggest nuclear-powered submarine cruised into the Baltic Sea this week as part of ongoing naval exercises. The Dmitry Donskoy is the last remaining Typhoon-class vessel, making it the world’s biggest submarine.

As the Barents Observer reports, a nuclear physicist with the Bellona Foundation worries that the journey – the longest of its sort since the break-up of the Soviet Union – may strain the sub’s nuclear reactors, particularly as the crew will be under pressure to arrive at St. Petersburg on time for a parade to be attended by Vladimir Putin.

The Soviet Union originally built six Typhoon-class vessels. The subs were built to lurk under the Arctic ice cap and retaliate with nuclear missiles in the event of an attack. In recent years, the Dmitry Donskoy has served as a testing platform for Russia’s new Bulava ballistic missile.

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