A special commissiontold a news conference in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky yesterday thata decommissioned nuclear-powered submarine that sank alongsideits pier last week at a local naval base poses no health threatto the area’s population. (Itar-Tass, June 5) The submarine –identified only as having been built in the 1970’s — was probablya Yankee or Delta-1 class ballistic missile submarine. Both ofthese types have recently been retired from the 2nd Nuclear SubmarineFlotilla based at nearby Rybachy, which is believed to be thecountry’s largest submarine base. Decommissioned boats are movedover to the Gornyak shipyard, where they sometimes remain alongsidethe pier for years before they can be scrapped. Rybachy and Gornyaklie some 20 kilometers across Avachinskaya bay from the city ofPetropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
Reports did not make clear exactly what radioactive equipmentor material might have been aboard the submarine. Navy practicehas been first to remove the nuclear fuel from decommissionedsubmarines and then to cut out the highly contaminated reactorcompartments. These are sealed but left afloat until a permanentstorage site can be found. At best, only three or four submarinescan be processed in this manner each year, and Gornyak shipyardworkers — like most of their colleagues in other localities –have gone unpaid for months. One year ago a paper reported thatthe reactors had been removed from six decommissioned submarinesat Gornyak but that eight other subs still had theirs. (Trud,May 7, 1996)
A source at Pacific Fleet headquarters told a Japanese news agencyyesterday that the fleet has at least 48 decommissioned nuclear-poweredsubmarines rusting at their piers. (Itar-Tass, June 5) Environmentalorganizations like Greenpeace have said the number is much higher,and is rising rapidly. They have warned that these radioactivehulks are time bombs that could produce environmental disasters.Despite the investigating commission’s assurances, last week’ssinking must have sent shivers down many spines.
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