Radiation leak from Soviet submarine 800,000 times higher than normal

The Komsomolets (K-278) sank on April 7, 1989 after a fire broke out on board, killing 42 members of the crew.

July 12, 2019 03:46
1 minute read.
The K-278 Soviet submarine in 1986.

The K-278 Soviet submarine in 1986. . (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Norwegian researchers have documented how a Soviet submarine in the Norwegian Sea is still emitting radiation, 30 years after it sank.

The Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA) stated samples taken from a ventilation pipe on Komsomolets have shown levels of radioactive caesium 800,000 times higher than normal.

"This is of course a higher level than we would usually measure out at sea but the levels we have found now are not alarming," said expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research.

The Komsomolets (K-278) sank on April 7, 1989 after a fire broke out on board, killing 42 members of the crew. The wreckage now lies in the Norwegian Sea at a depth of about 1,700 meters (5,577 ft).

The submarine sank carrying two nuclear torpedoes with plutonium warheads.

Norwegian authorities have carried out regular expeditions to the sunken submarine, sometimes in coordination with their Russian counterparts, to monitor radiation levels in the sea, but this year's inspection was the first time a remotely operated vehicle - called Aegir 6000 - was used to film the wreckage and take samples which will be analyzed.

Seawater samples were specifically collected from this ventilation pipe as previous Russian expeditions to Komsomolets in the 1990s and 2007 had documented releases from the reactor at this location. The highest level researchers found was around 800Bq (Becquerel) per liter. Typical levels for seawater in the Norwegian Sea today are around 0.001 Bq per liter.

The DSA said the radiation released was not harmful to humans, nor marine life, as the Arctic conditions of the water diluted the radiation.

The news came a week after 14 Russian naval officers were killed in a fire on board a nuclear-powered submarine in the Barents Sea.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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