A gas pipeline project linking Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea that has already prompted an outcry in Poland is also raising environmental and national security concerns in the Nordic countries.
The project proposes the construction of a 1,200-kilometer (740-mile) pipeline off Finland's southern coast, passing to the east of the Swedish island of Gotland and to the south of the Danish island of Bornholm.
Denmark, Finland and in particular Sweden fear the pipeline construction could damage the ecologically sensitive Baltic Sea, the seabed of which is peppered with munitions dumped by the allies at the end of World War II.
Some 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, such as mustard gas, lie on the bottom, including 13,000 tonnes of active chemical agents, according to the Helsinki-based Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission.
The three Nordic countries have all said that they will not make any decision on the pipeline before the autumn and would only approve the project after seeing environmental studies on the project's expected impact.
Russian gas giant Gazprom and German firms BASF and E.ON agreed in 2005 to build the pipeline.
Sweden can impose conditions but not block the project entirely, but the issue is building into a national and diplomatic affair.
Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Monday during a visit to Warsaw, where the pipeline is also highly controversial for political reasons, that Sweden, Finland and Denmark felt strong "environmental responsibilities" for the Baltic.
"From our point of view it should take all the time required," he said.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had previously stated during a visit to Berlin in January that Sweden would remain vigilant in the matter.
Last week, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency urged North Stream, a subsidiary of Gazprom that is heading up the project, to carry out comprehensive tests on the possible impact on marine wildlife.
It called for studies to determine how the structure and its foundations would cope with the pipeline being taken out of use as well as the effects of all potential environmental conditions such as fire or collision with a ship.
Sweden has also expressed concerns for its national security.
The current plan calls for the installation of a maintenance platform in its maritime zone, which it fears could be used for intelligence purposes.
In November, Defense Minister Mikael Odenberg said that the platform could pose a threat to security.
"We would have a gas pipeline that requires a Russian navy presence in our economic zone and which the Russians could use, if they want, for intelligence operations. It is clear that this is a problem," he said.
On Thursday, Gazprom vice president Alexander Medvedev said Sweden's arguments were "absurd".
"They say the (maintenance) platform could be used for military and spy purposes, like in a James Bond film. But this is the real world, and it (spying) is not our business," he said.
But the public remains concerned.
A poll conducted by the Synovate Temo institute in Sweden, commissioned by the government and published on Tuesday, showed that almost 80 percent of 1,041 Swedes questioned over the age of 16 were aware of the project.
A majority, 51 percent, are opposed to it, while 24 percent are in favour and 25 percent had no opinion.
© 2007 AFP