Russian naval source: K-159 to be raised in 2005

Publish date: January 5, 2004

The ill-fated retired Russian nuclear submarine K-159, which sank in 204 metres during a towing operation last fall will be lifted in 2005, says a source in the Russian Navy, according to the Russian newspaper The Barents Observer.

The navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, had said in September that the navy was tentatively planning to raise the submarine in August 2004. Kuroyedov said at the time that the stricken submarine posed no immediate radiation hazard, but that there was a danger the radiation level could increase.

Russian officials have said radiation levels remained normal in the sinking area near the entrance to Kola Bay, some 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle where Finland and Norway abut Russia. Indepenpendent analyses carried out buy Bellona in September confirmed this.

But environmental experts, including Bellona, have warned that the submarine’s twin nuclear reactors could eventually leak deadly radiation, posing high risks of contamination in the area, which is located amid busy shipping routes and rich fishing grounds.

Planning of the now-2005 operation has started, the paper reported, citing an unidentified Naval source. The lifting will be complicated by the fact that the vessel sank in a location of high shipping traffic. Costs are estimated to $60m, the same as it cost to lift the Kursk submarine from 108 metres of water, which sank in 2000, killing all crew members aboard, the paper reported.

The cost figures for raising the K-159 reported in The Barents Observer are dubious given that the depth at which the K-159 lies is nearly twice that from which the Kursk was salvaged. Furthermore, the Russian government has only allocated $4.2m toward the salvage efffort, making the project seem even further out of reach.

Nine of the 10 crew members aboard the K-159 died when the boat sank —loaded with 800 kilograms of spent uranium fuel—while being towed from the Gremikha Naval Base to the Polyarny Shipyard on the northern Kola Peninsula for full dismantlement.

The Russian Navy blmed the K-159 incident on poor operational preparation and human error, which led to the firing of the head of the Gremikha Naval Base, Sergei Zhemchuzhnov and the suspension of the Northern Fleet ‘s commmander, Gennady Suchkov.