Radiation accident on Russian nuclear submarine

Victor III Tambov K-448

Publish date: July 26, 2006

UPDATED:One of the multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Russian Northern Fleet suffered a leakage in the first reactor circuit. The top Russian navy representatives contradict each other saying it was radioactive water and feeding non-radioactive water. The reactor’s condition is unknown. The submariners reportedly are delivered to the hospital.

According to Murmansk local media reports, the accident happened on 671 RTM Victor-III class submarine K-448 “Tambov” at Vidayevo base in Murmansk region on July 26.

A nuclear submarine of Russia’s Northern Fleet has leaked a small amount of feeding water during scheduled removal of the propulsion system, an aide to the Russian Navy Commander Igor Dygalo told Interfax news agency. A little later Dygalo’s boss the Russian navy commander Vladimir Masorin said to Interfax: “There is no radioactive contamination at the Northern Fleet Vidayevo base, where nuclear submarine with leakage of radioactive water is situated”. Feeding water, however, cannot be radioactive, so it was apparently the highly radioactive cooling water from the first reactor circuit.

The head of Northern Fleet press department Vladimir Navrotskiy did not mention feeding water at all and described the accident in more details to the Murmansk local TV channel Murman on July 26. He said that on the 10th minute of the reactor shutdown operation radiation level increased in the reactor compartment. It was preliminary determined that the reason for the accident had been the leakage of the first circuit of the left reactor. The reactor was shut down. The crew did not suffer and the radiation levels in the other compartments did not exceed the permitted levels, Navrotsky said. The special commission headed by Northern Fleet vice-admiral Nikolay Maximov was established to find out the reasons and eliminate the consequences of the failure, he concluded.

According to the latest reports, the first circuit is in order and it is likely that one of the reactor cooling maintenance valves caused the accident.

Commenting on the accident, former submariner, the first rank captain Alexander Nikitin who is today the chairman of Environmental Rights Centre Bellona in St Petersburg, said that a leakage from the first reactor circuit on the submarine is characterised as radiation accident. According to Nikitin such an accident could lead to radioactive contamination. “”It is hard to say whether contamination is local or not, it depends how much water leaked and to which place. It is also important to find out the condition of the reactor, which suffered the accident”. reported with the reference to the Northern Fleet headquarters that the crew members who had eliminated the leakage were sent to the hospital. The Northern Fleet representatives said to that their health condition did not raise concerns and that the health examination is necessary in such cases.

In 1989 the leakage in the first reactor circuit led to the serious accident onboard the Russian K-159 in the Norwegian Sea. The accident resulted in the partial reactor meltdown, radiation exposure of the crew and discharges of iodine-131 into the sea and atmosphere.