Kursk lifting operation gaining pace

Publish date: July 23, 2001

Written by: Sergey Filippov

Divers finally start work on the submarine's hull, two environmental assessments to be presented this week – one in Moscow and one in Brussels.

The Mayo ship was loaded with cutting equipment for making holes in submarine hull for grappling devices in Kirkenes and left for the place of the Kursk accident in the Barents Sea on July 18th. This time the divers were onboard the ship. During the past days the divers went down to the submarine to survey the area around the bow part of the submarine and to start drilling holes in the hull. The first test drilling has been already conducted.

The divers also marked the spots where they intend to drill the holes in the area of compartments three, four, five and seven.

Environmental risk assessment

On July 24th, Russian nuclear scientists will hold a press conference in Moscow to tell the public how safe the Kursk reactors are. On July 27th, the Kursk Foundation will also have a presentation in Brussels of the risk assessment study for the Kursk lifting operation. Head of Rubin design bureau, Igor Spassky, was invited but he has not confirmed his participation so far. The Foundation, however, says that other Russians such as Admiral Mikhail Barskov, deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, will be present.

The chief of the lifting operation in the Barents Sea, Rear-Admiral Mikhail Motsak, said that the commandership of the operation had a meeting related to the possible risks and back up solutions in case something goes wrong. According to the Rear-Admiral, Mommoet representatives were not prepared for such discussion.

It is strange, however, that the risk assessment talks start days before the active part of the operation commences.

No torpedoes found

The new filming around the Kursk and the first survey conducted by the divers showed, according to official returns, that the submarine has not been moved from its position when it sank last year. More important, however, is the fact that the Russian officials claim they saw no unexploded torpedoes around the bow part of the Kursk.

The presence of torpedoes could complicate the cutting off the front part of the submarine, to the extent that the new possible explosions could damage both the equipment and the hull of the submarine, including the two reactors.

Russian officials said earlier that the torpedo section of the Kursk contained around 10 tonnes of TNT equivalent explosives.

Slicing off the torpedo section will reportedly start after August 8th. The AMT Carrier pontoon chartered by Mammoet & Smit International left Rotterdam on July 19th and headed towards the Barents Sea. The pontoon is loaded with all the sawing equipment for the Kursk lifting operation. The trip was to take about nine days.

It is unclear whether the Mayo will have to come back to Kirkenes to pick up the equipment.

Kursk decommissioning

40 Russian agencies gathered for a meeting in Rubin to discuss the decommissioning plan for the Kursk on July 18th. It was decided to work out the decommissioning plan until the end of 2001 and to scrap the submarine in the course of 2002.

The submarine will be placed into a dry-dock at shipyard N82, 10 kilometers north from Murmansk. Earlier this month Murmansk Shipping Company, which operates nuclear powered icebreakers, proposed to provide its nuclear service ship, Imandra, to defuel the Kursk. Last week Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk county, reported it was ready to scrap the submarine.

The reports are unclear for how long time the Kursk will remain in dry-dock before it is defuelled. It is also unclear how the submarine will be shipped all the way down to the White Sea and finally to Severodvinsk to be decommissioned at Sevmash shipyard.