In an interview with Murmansk Radio, January 28, Vaycheslav Popov, vice-admiral in the Northern Fleet Head Quarters, stated that the crew was conducting routine tests on board one of the nuclear submarines based in Zapadnaya Litsa. During start up of the reactors, one of the pipes in the cooling system broke, leading to an ammoniac and nitrogen gas leak. Five crew members were injured, one of them seriously. According to official statements, the incident did not result in a release of radioactivity into the environment. The incident took place in the morning of January 26. Sergey Solovjov, captain of the 3-d rank, died from his injuries in the Northern Fleet hospital on January 28.
In spite of the statement from the high ranking Northern Fleet officer concerning the accident, the public affairs center of the Northern Fleet kept denying both the accident’s occurrence and the casualty until the afternoon of January 29. The information was finally released by Russias official ITAR-TASS news agency at 12:30 G.M.T.
According to a Northern Fleet press center spokesman, the submarine where the incident took place is a recently commissioned multipurpose nuclear powered submarine.
Presumably, this is the brand-new Oscar-II class nuclear-powered submarine "Tomsk" which arrived from Severodvinsk shipyard at Zapadnaya Litsa (Bolshaya Lopatka) on August 25, 1997. Oscar-II (pr.949 A) is a multipurpose nuclear-powered submarine with two pressurized water reactors. The submarine carries 24 Granit type SS-N-19 nuclear missiles.
Originally, "Tomsk" was scheduled to be commissioned by the end of 1996. Accordingly, the state supervising committee confirmed the readiness of the boat for active service in December 1996. But the Navy decided otherwise, apparently finding the vessel not operational. The supervising committee was compiled of representatives of the shipbuilding industry.
In the end of December 1996, the Severodvinsk yard was celebrating the commission of the new submarine "Tomsk" (Oscar-II class). The submarine is still in Severodvinsk pending its "final exams". In other words, the construction of the submarine is still not completed, said rear admiral Alexandr Smelkov at a meeting with Murmansk journalists in June last year.
By August 1997 it took 8 months "to examine and complete the particular systems and mechanisms of the boat, to complete the final testing cycle of the whole vessel", said an official statement by Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, which constructed "Tomsk".
Zapadnaya Litsa is the largest and most important submarine base of the Northern Fleet. It is located on the westernmost point of the Kola Peninsula, about 45 kilometers from the Norwegian border. There are four naval facilities at Zapadnaya Litsa: Malaya Lopatka, Bolshaya Lopatka, Nerpich’ya and Andreeva Bay. Nuclear-powered submarines are based at Bolshaya Lopatka and Nerpich’ya. More than 30 nuclear-powered submarines operate from Zapadnaya Litsa. Active service submarines of the Oscar, Victor, Sierra and Typhoon classes have their home base there.