Norway worries about the raising of Kursk

Publish date: July 2, 2001

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Norwegian officials have not yet been permitted to examine the plans for safety during the salvage operation of the Kursk submarine.

The salvage operation of the Kursk submarine, which sank on August 12 last year, will start next week when 16 divers are expected to arrive at the site in the Barents Sea. The divers will inspect the submarine and install equipment to haul the submarine, with its two nuclear reactors, to the surface around September 15.

At a press conference in Moscow last Friday, Vice Admiral Mikhail Barskov, the navy’s top official in the recovery effort said that the reactors aboard Kursk are safe and the lifting will not jeopardize the radiation safety.

But Norwegian officials are not convinced about the safety of the lifting operation. The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority says in a press release on Monday they are worried about the short time frame in preparing the lifting operation.

— We have asked for the risk assessments done by the Russian side, but despite the fact that the Russian and Norwegian authorities have agreed to cooperate we have not been permitted to examine the plans, says Per Strand, director of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities.

The two most critical stages in the operation are when the front part of the submarine, with several unexploded torpedoes are cut off, and secondly when the lifting of the submarine itself to the surface starts.

— When raising the wreck of a nuclear submarine, there is a possibility that something may go wrong, that for example the wreck may drop back to the seabed. This could further damage the nuclear reactors, causing emissions of radioactive material to the sea environment, says Per Strand.

He says it is unlikely that this might endanger the health of the population in the area, but that the Barents Sea might become polluted.

Also Vice Admiral Barskov admits that the unexploded torpedoes represent a risk.

— A careful inspection would have to be done to ensure that the torpedoes pose no hazard to the salvage effort, said Barskov at Friday’s press conferance. He said cutting of the bow with the torpedoes will be done by robots, and no one will be working under water at that moment.

Russian authorities have assured they are taking all possible precautions, including constant monitoring of the reactors.