- It is the first time a remotely operated submarine (ROV) arrived at the scene and shows the severe damage suffered by the Russian vessel.
- The radioactive leak found this week comes from a pipe near the reactor. But part of the water samples taken from the wreck did not show elevated levels of radiation.
- Russia had already examined the wreck with a manned submarine, and found radiation leaking in the same direction.
Norway has detected a radiation level 800,000 times greater than normal in the sinking of a Russian military submarine. The Soviet-era vessel sank in the Norwegian Sea in 1989, when a fire on board killed 42 sailors.
The Norwegian team’s analysis showed radioactive cesium leaking from a ventilation tube on the submarine, called Komsomolets. According to Hilde Elise Heldal researcher, the problem is not alarming for the time being, as Arctic waters rapidly dilute radioactive material. Komsomolets is also located in a very deep sea, at 1680m deep, and there are few fish in the area, says Heldal.
It is the first time a remotely operated submarine (ROV) arrived at the scene and documented the severe damage suffered by the Russian vessel. Also known as K-278 in Russia, the submarine sank carrying two nuclear torpedoes with plutonium warheads. Its front has six torpedo tubes, and the submarine was also capable of launching long-range missiles.
Curiously, the submarine’s finding comes just a week after a fire struck a Russian nuclear submarine in the Barents Sea, killing 14 naval officers. In this case, the survivors were able to bring the submersible back to its base in the Arctic.
The submarine wrecked in 1989 had a problem in the reactor before sinking. When the fire started in one of the compartments, the K-278’s pressurized water reactor shut down quickly, according to the Norwegian government’s Nuclear Security Agency. Twenty-seven crew survived and were eventually rescued by Soviet ships.
The radioactive leak found this week comes from a pipe near the reactor. But part of the water samples taken from the wreck did not show elevated levels of radiation. The 42 sailors who died succumbed to toxic smoke or froze in the icy waters of the Arctic after the K-278 quickly flew to the surface. The survivors were rescued by two Soviet ships.
During the incident, the commander of the submarine was able to send a distress call an hour after the start of the fire, but he and four other crew members died when the emergency capsule was shipwrecked. The submarine was compromised when the fire spread, fed by high-pressure air from a damaged pipe.
Russia had already examined the wreck with a manned submarine and found radiation leaking in the same direction. Radiation experts from Norway and researchers who did the new analysis were accompanied by scholars from the Russian Typhoon Research and Production Association.
“We took samples of water from within this specific pipeline because the Russians had already documented leaks in place in 1990 and 2007,” says researcher Heldal, who led the exhibition. “The levels (of radiation) we detected were clearly above what is normal in the ocean, but they were not alarmingly high,” she said. Norway and Russia have monitored radiation in the water regularly since the disaster, sometimes on joint expeditions.
The Komsomolets was launched in 1983. It was 117 meters long and could dive up to 1,250 meters deep. It’s maximum traveling speed was 30 knots (56km / h).