Sweden’s Prime Minister, Goran Persson, has attacked an ambitious project to build a 750-mile gas pipeline beneath the Baltic Sea as a potential ecological disaster. Despite his comments the £3.4bn pipeline project –called the North European Gas Pipeline or NEPG – is going ahead. The scheme, a joint venture between Russia’s Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON, has the approval of President Vladimir Putin and the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is now chairman of the consortium’s shareholders’ committee.

Russia says the project is vital for Europe’s future energy needs. The pipeline is expected to carry billions of cubic metres of Siberian gas to Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, when it opens in 2010.

But Mr Persson said that construction would stir up a deadly cocktail of chemicals deposited after the Second World War. “When you build such a large pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, you stir up a lot of sediment at the bottom, where there are mines, poisons and other things that have been dumped over decades,” he said. “You risk setting off a major environmental disturbance on top of all the other environmental problems the Baltic Sea has.”

He wants the consortium building the NEGP to consider putting most of the pipeline on land instead.

Fat chance of that happening.