Peninsula in the far northwestern Russian Federation, between the Barents Sea and the White Sea. Administratively, it forms part of Murmansk oblast (region). Its total area is 129,500 sq km/50,000 sq mi; population (2010) 300,000 (of whom 2,000 are Saami). The port of Murmansk and the mining centre of Kirovsk are the chief cities. In the northeast are tundras; the southwest is forested. To the northwest the low-lying granite plateau adjoins Norway's thinly populated county of Finnmark. The peninsula has rich mineral deposits in the Khibiny mountains.
Near Murmansk is the ancient town of Kola, founded by Slavs from Novgorod in 1264. The discovery of a northern sea passage in the 16th century brought trade to the Kola Peninsula, formerly only occupied by fur trappers and reindeer herders. Mining of ore (apatite) deposits and nickel smelting in the 20th century brought industrial growth and pollution. The strategic importance of the peninsula led to the proliferation of military bases here during the Cold War.
Heavy pollution from nickel smelting has damaged a large area of forest. Acid rain (SO2) has caused deforestation as far away as neighbouring Finland. A 1997 study of drinking water, commissioned by the Barents Euro-Arctic Region (an organization of nine regional governments from northern Russian and Scandinavia) showed the water supply from the Kola River to be contaminated with raw sewage and heavy metals. Radioactive waste from about 80 scrapped military submarines was found to be leaking into the sea. According to research by the Russian Academy of Science Marine Biology Unit in 1998, contamination of the sediment around nuclear submarine bases on the peninsula rose eight-fold between 1995 and 1997.