Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nuclear submarine damaged, but reactors safe: Russia

RADIATING FEARS: In this video image from Ru-RTR Russian state television channel, firefighters spray water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in a dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard in the Murmansk region, Russia. Photo: AP

A Russian nuclear submarine got badly damaged in a shipyard fire, but its two reactors are safe and there has been no radiation leak, said the military.

The fire broke out on Thursday afternoon during welding repairs on the Yekaterinburg submarine in a dry dock at the Roslyakovo shipyard of the Russian Northern Fleet in Murmansk Region. From burning wooden scaffolding the blaze spread to the rubberised coating in the nose section.

A video taken by an eye witness showed huge flames and black smoke billowing into the night sky. Eleven fire brigades, two navy fire ships and several helicopters fought the blaze for more than 20 hours and the submarine had to be submerged to prevent the fire that slipped beneath the outer hull from breaking out again.

Seven seamen and two firemen were hospitalised with smoke poisoning, said law enforcement officials.

The submarine had its two reactors switched off and all its nuclear missiles and conventional ammunition removed before entering the dock, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told state television, adding that there was “no threat of nuclear radiation leak”.

Experts said it may take at least six months to repair the damaged submarine.

“I am afraid the consequences will be very bad,” said military analyst Igor Korotchenko. “The fire and high temperatures may have damaged metal structures between the outer and inner hulls of the submarine.”

Yekaterinburg is a Delta IV class submarine which can carry 16 ballistic missiles, each with four nuclear warheads. To allay international concerns, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a special statement on Friday saying radiation levels around the shipyard were normal and continued to be closely monitored.

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