Zapadnaya Litsa is the largest and most important Russian naval base for nuclear-powered submarines. The base is located on the Litsa Fjord at the westernmost point of the Kola Peninsula, about 45 kilometres from the Norwegian border. The Litsa Fjord heads into the Kola interior from the Motovsky Fjord, just across from the south-eastern coast of the Rybachky Peninsula.
The residential city for the naval base facilities is called Zaozersk and is located six kilometres east of the inner reaches of the Litsa Fjord. Up until the beginning of the 1980s, the town was known as Severomorsk-7. It has also been called Murmansk-150 and Zaozerny. Zaozersk has a population of about 30,000, most of whom are navy personnel and their families. Construction of the town was started in 1959 at the same as the first naval facilities were built.
The road to Zapadnaya Litsa turns off from the highway between Murmansk and Nikel a few kilometres west of the River Litsa. Construction of a railroad track to the base was begun in the 1980s but never completed; however, the line does reach Nerpichya where the Typhoon class submarines are based.
There are four naval facilities at Zapadnaya Litsa: Malaya Lopatka, Bolshaya Lopatka, Nerpichya and Andreeva Bay. Zapadnaya Litsa was expanded considerably towards the end of the 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s. The total length of the base quays is 20,600 metres.
Traditionally, the newest submarines have been deployed to Zapadnaya Litsa as soon as they were commissioned. Included among them are attack submarines, strategic submarines and tactical submarines. Three Soviet research submarines — K-27, Papa class (K-162), and Mike class (K-278 Komsomolets) — have also been stationed here.
Malaya Lopatka was the first base facility to be built at Zapadnaya Litsa at the end of the 1950s. From the summer of 1958, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear submarine, K-3, was stationed here. During the following year, the first group of nuclear submarines consisting of K-5, K-8, and K-14 was based at Malaya Lopatka. At the end of the 1950s, Academician Aleksandrov was at Malaya Lopatka to personally direct the sea trials of the nuclear reactors for the first nuclear submarines.
Construction of the pier facilities was completed at Bolshaya Lopatka (another naval facility two kilometres further into the fjord) during the first half of the 1960s and nuclear submarines were subsequently transferred there. Malaya Lopatka was then used as a repair base. Today, there are also five piers and a floating repair workshop here.
Bolshaya Lopatka was the second base facility to be built at Zapadnaya Litsa and is situated two kilometres further down the fjord. Most of the present day nuclear-powered submarines are stationed here. There also used to be some first-generation nuclear submarines at this base, but now all of the vessels are of the second or third generation.
The operational submarines at the base include Oscar II class and Victor III class nuclear submarines. There is at least 10 laid-up submarines at the base point Bolshaya Lopatka.
Bolshaya Lopatka also has 8 piers and a floating dock to service and repair nuclear submarines. The radiation protection authorities take samples of the water in the submarine reactor’s primary circuit and there is also a storage facility for sources of ionising radiation at this base. There is an additional smaller storage facility for the solid and liquid radioactive waste that is generated during the process of checking the cooling water. Once this intermediate storage area is filled, the waste is transferred to the large storage facility in Andreeva Bay right across from Bolshaya Lopatka on the other side of the Litsa Fjord. At this storage there is about 2m³ solid radioactive waste.
Nerpichya, located at the inner reaches of the Litsa Fjord, is the newest of the Zapadnaya Litsa base facilities. The first pier facilities were ready for use by the end of the 1960s. When the base facility was opened, it served as a base for nuclear submarines of Echo-II class, and later for submarines of Hotel class. In 1977, all of the nuclear submarines were transferred to other naval bases on the Kola Peninsula, as Nerpichya was to be modified to become the naval base facility for the new giant 175 meter-long Typhoon class nuclear submarines.
Construction on the first submarine in this class was started in 1977. From 1977 to 1981, the base facilities at Nerpichya were expanded to include three large piers and a number of new facilities onshore. However, despite the fact that the new nuclear submarines were to be based at Nerpichya, many of the new facilities were never completed. For example, many of the parts necessary to complete a larger facility for external supply of energy to the submarines never arrived at Zapadnaya Litsa. Many of the cranes planned for the three new piers were never erected. The three piers at which the submarines are moored are located beneath a steep mountain. In the early 1980s, there was a rock slide here which destroyed a number of buildings all the way down to the piers.
In Nerpichya there is also a ship repair bay onshore and a large floating dock, as well as a landbased storage facility for radioactive sources and solid and liquid waste. Since the facility is quite small, the waste is transferred at regular intervals to Andreeva Bay.