Russian authorities are belatedly providing information about an accident onboard a Northern Fleet nuclear submarine this past Monday. An officer on that vessel died from exposure to toxic gas. The incident occurred at a base on Zapadnaya Litsa, a fjord just 55 kilometers from the Norwegian border.
The Norwegians are particularly sensitive about the large concentration of nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered vessels on the Kola Peninsula, and the incident was first made public by Norway’s nuclear protection board. This and other Russian and foreign agencies confirmed that no radiation was released. The incident occurred as preparations were underway to start the nuclear reactor on a Northern Fleet submarine. Evidently a pipe burst in the reactor chamber. The officer, Captain (3rd grade) Sergei Solovev, was exposed to a fatal dose of nitric oxide gas. Four sailors were hospitalized in the incident but are said to be out of danger.
From the information released by the Russians yesterday, the submarine seems to have been what NATO calls a Victor-III — an attack submarine, first seen in the late 1970s. (Some foreign reports — all quoting Russian naval sources — suggested it might have been an Akula or Oscar submarine) The ship involved in the accident was said to have been commissioned in 1982 and overhauled in 1994. There are thought to be sixteen of this class in the Northern Fleet.
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