Power shortage pulls plug on Russian space centre

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The Independent Online
A space centre near the Arctic Circle and a nuclear submarine shipyard were plunged into icy darkness yesterday, victims of a power shortage now menacing the 11 million inhabitants of Russia's far north.

It is the second time in three months that Russia's armed forces, which run the space programme, have had power to strategic installations cut off.

In September, the nuclear missile command centre near Moscow lost power briefly because of unpaid bills. The crisis afflicting the Arctic is less easily solved. At risk is the legacy of one of the great Soviet epics - the settlement of a huge, inhospitable territory stretching from the border with Finland to the Bering Strait.

Some 900,000 people have left what Russians call simply ``the North'' since the start of 1992, and the exodus will accelerate if Moscow fails to relieve potentially life-threatening shortages. Food supplies are dwindling in many remote outposts, while entire towns, including major industrial centres such as Norilsk, have been left without heating in a string of disasters hitting the region in the first month of winter.

Yesterday's power cuts, the most dramatic so far, were in the region of Archangel, 600 miles north of Moscow. The regional governor, Pavel Valashin, was reported by Russian television to have ordered the plug pulled on the Plesetsk space centre and factories in the town of Severodvinsk because a local power station has fuel for only two more days.

Plesetsk, according to Tass, has launched 40 per cent of the world's 4,000 satellites. The power cut came only a day after President Boris Yeltsin elevated it to the rank of ``state cosmodrome'' by Kremlin decree.