On May 6, rumours about a nuclear accident on a submarine started to circulate in Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula, the home base of the Russian Northern Fleet. The next day, the rumours spread to Murmansk. Lacking official information, people started to take action on their own. Iodine sold out in drug stores in Severomorsk and Murmansk. On May 8, police officers in Murmansk were ordered to take three iodine tablets. Some schools where closed for the day, children sent home and instructed not to open windows in their apartments. The two cites were caught in a panic. Absent reliable information, some of the drugstores advised parents to give 25 drops of iodine to their children. In fact, only five drops are advisable, mixed in with a large quantity of milk.
On May 7, in the afternoon, Murmansk county Governor Yury Jevdokimov and high-ranking officers from the Northern Fleet assembled a press conference in Murmansk to explain the situation to reporters. According to the officers, the Northern Fleet units were engaged in a military exercise training for an emergency situation on a nuclear submarine. The exercise started on May 5 and ended on May 8 at 3 a.m. GMT. The officials assured the reporters that nothing but an exercise had occurred. The rumours about an accident had no grounds and there was no danger to the safety of the population.
What we have documented was a Delta-class submarine which surfaced and then went into one of the bays, – Knut Roar Bakken, lieutenant-colonel in the Norwegian General Headquarters, told the Norwegian daily VG in the afternoon of May 8. The available information suggested that the incident occurred near Rybachiy Peninsula on May 5. The cause of the incident was presumably an explosion in the submarine’s rocket shaft. The submarine then went to one of the bases on the Kola Peninsula, presumably Vidyaevo or Gadzhievo.
At 1 p.m. GMT, an official confirmation from the head of the Northern Fleet’s Committee on Emergency Situations was released, saying that the incident indeed had taken place. According to the official, the incident was not related to the nuclear power installation onboard the sub. No release of radioactivity occurred.
We are confident that there was an explosion or other kind of incident in the rocket shaft onboard a Russian nuclear-powered submarine, apparently a Delta-IV-class. We are getting more and more sure that the whole exercise was a cover-up operation for this incident, says Thomas Nilsen, a researcher at the Bellona Foundation.
There are several reasons to believe so, indeed. First of all, this type of military exercise is normally heavily advertised in the media beforehand. This one was kept in deep secrecy from the very beginning. Secondly, there were too many coincidences: During an exercise on handling an emergency situation in case of an accident onboard a nuclear submarine, a real incident occurred. If the whole "exercise" was a cover-up operation, it is likely it was designed to keep from public scrutiny a serious accident rather than a low-risk incident.
Navy behind the iron curtain
Each year, the Navy is cloaking itself tighter in secrecy. Just this January, there was an incident on board a nuclear submarine in Zapadnaya Litsa on the Kola Peninsula. One officer was killed by a gas leak. The information was discovered only accidentally by reporters four days after the fact.
This case demonstrates vividly how weak and disorganised the nuclear emergency alarm systems are on the Kola Peninsula, where the concentration of both civilian and military nuclear installations is the highest in the world.