Russian Nuclear Sub in Trouble : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

(NB I've filed this under "explosions" because some reports are mentioning that as a possibility.)


Mon Aug 14, 7:12 am

Russian nuclear sub in trouble

A Russian nuclear submarine is sitting on the ocean floor waiting for help after it broke down during naval exercises.

The Oscar-class nuclear submarine, named the Kursk, was forced to ground itself in the Berents Sea after engine failure crippled it.

A Russian navy spokesman said the sub had no nuclear weapons on board and the malfunctions do not involve the ship's reactor plant.

No radiation leaks are reported from the sub, which is one of the fleet's newer submarines, having been built in 1994.

Rescue ships are in the area and contact has been made with the ship.

About 107 sailors are on board, and they are not thought to be in any immediate danger.

Russia's naval fleet is aging and its nuclear submarines have been involved in a string of accidents. About 500 submarine crewmen have died during the 40 years Russia has maintained a fleet of nuclear submarines.

The last major accident aboard a Russian sub was in 1989, when a fire killed 42 sailors.


Tuesday, August 15 1:14 AM SGT

Russian nuclear submarine stranded at bottom of Barents Sea

MOSCOW, Aug 14 (AFP) -

One of Russia's most prized nuclear-powered submarines was stranded Monday at the bottom of the Barents Sea with its crew of more than 100 in serious danger after a collision, the navy chief said.

The submarine was not carrying any nuclear weapons and radiation levels remained normal, said a navy press spokesman.

The Kursk vessel most likely crashed into a foreign submarine which could still be in the vicinity, a source at navy headquarters told ITAR-TASS news agency.

"There are signs of a major and serious collision," Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying.

"We have thrown all of our rescue forces (to help the Kursk submarine), but the situation there is serious. The chances of a favourable outcome are not very high," said the admiral.

A source at the Northern Fleet said later Monday that the authorities "cannot rule out casualties among the crew."

The source added that there was unconfirmed information that the submarine had suffered damage to its front and deck.

The vessel was starting to flood, putting in peril the lives of the crew members trapped in the Arctic waters off the northwest Russian coast, media reports said.

RTR television reported that the submarine was lying on one side with the front section already completed flooded, forcing the crew to seek refuge in the rear.

ORT television said the submarine -- carrying 24 non-nuclear ballistic missiles -- went down some 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the Russian port of Severomorsk, east of Norway.

Fears that the submarine may be slowly running out of air after it had to shut down all of its electricity eased as a rescue ship restored oxygen supplies, a source in Russia's Murmansk regional authority told Interfax.

The Russian rescue vessel Kolokol was supplying the submarine with fuel and oxygen and ventilating its systems, the source told the news agency.

Lying on the seabed at a depth of 100 metres (330 feet), it has been surrounded by three other submarines and five military ships, which were maintaining radio contact, NTV television reported.

Navy sources said that some 10 ships backed by up planes could begin an operation to rescue the crew as early as Monday evening.

The Kursk, one of the most modern submarines in the Russian navy, shut down the main nuclear reactor propelling its engines early Sunday, hours after it took part in military exercises organized by the Northern Fleet.

Radio communication from the submarine suddenly broke off and were reestablished shortly thereafter, but it took several hours for the vessel to be located.

An Oscar-class vessel under NATO specifications, it came into service in 1995 and has the capacity to function for 120 days at depths of up to 500 meters (1,650 feet), Interfax said.

Norway offered its help Monday in efforts to rescue the submarine's crew, but said it had so far received no request for assistance from Moscow.

The Russian navy has been carrying out regular naval maneuvers despite the financial crisis that the country's military has faced since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The number of nuclear-powered submarines in service has fallen by a third over the last 10 years.

According to the military chief-of-staff, the money allocated to the maintenance of the fleet comes to only 10 percent of what is needed.

Several nuclear-powered submarines have been involved in incidents over the past few years.

In May 1998, also in the Barents Sea, a serious disaster was narrowly avoided when a submarine carrying nuclear missiles suffered a major breakdown.

In January of the same year, a sailor was killed in an accident in a nuclear-powered submarine from the northern fleet.

On April 7, 1989, a Soviet nuclear-powered submarine, the Komsomolets, sank off the Norwegian coast with the loss of 42 lives.

-- Rachel Gibsofn (, August 15, 2000


Nando Times

Rescue chances at Russian submarine appear bleak, navy says

By BARRY RENFREW, Associated Press

MOSCOW (August 15, 2000 8:26 a.m. EDT - Frantic efforts to reach a Russian nuclear submarine trapped on the ocean floor failed Tuesday, officials said, and chances of rescuing 116 sailors on the vessel appeared bleak as a storm lashed the area.

Twelve-foot high waves and strong winds were buffeting rescue ships in the area above the Arctic Circle where the submarine was stranded, officials said. Weather forecasts said there would be no improvement for the next three days.

Efforts to connect air and power lines had not worked and there was no communication with the submarine, said navy spokesman Capt. Igor Babenko. Conditions inside the submarine, including how much air it had left, were not known, officials said.

"The projection of possible consequences of the accident in the Kursk for the lives of its crew remains extremely grave," Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov said in a statement Tuesday.

The submarine, one of the biggest and newest in the Russian navy, was trapped at a depth of 354 feet, the navy said.

There appeared to have been an explosion in the torpedo compartment in the nose of the submarine, sending it crashing to the sea bottom, said Kuroyedov, backing away from earlier statements that it had collided with something.

An explosion inside the torpedo chamber, which contains warheads, would probably have caused extensive casualties, analysts said. Navy officials said casualties could not be "ruled out," the Interfax news agency reported.

It appeared that several compartments inside the submarine were flooded, officials said. Submarines are divided into compartments that can be sealed off in case of flooding. It may be impossible to operate the submarine if several compartments, including the control center, are flooded.

"Further development depends not only on the rescue efforts, but also on the situation inside the hull," said navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo.

There were 116 officers and sailors on the submarine, Dygalo said, the first time the navy had revealed the size of the crew.

There was still hope that the crew could be rescued, Dygalo said. "We'll work with all our strength and means ... to the last moment," he said.

About 15 rescue vessels and warships were sent to the area in the Barents Sea where the submarine went down Sunday during naval exercises.

With no new ideas on how to reach the submarine, navy officials were consulting the submarine's builders for options, Babenko said. The Russian navy lacks sophisticated submarine rescue equipment.

"Something extraordinary beyond the imagination of an engineer" had happened, the chief designer of the submarine, Igor Baranov told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The government ruled out seeking foreign assistance to rescue the crew. The United States and Britain said they were willing to help if asked.

Navy officials had insisted repeatedly Monday that rescue efforts were going well and conditions aboard the submarine were not critical. But they later admitted that efforts to reach the submarine had failed.

Russian officials said the Kursk was not carrying nuclear weapons and its two nuclear reactors had been switched off, but the reports of serious damage raised concerns about a possible radioactive leak.

Russian and Western submarines sometimes play cat-and-mouse games in the area and have scraped each other in the past. The U.S. Navy said Monday it had a monitoring ship in the area, but there was no indication that an American vessel was involved in the incident.

Late Monday, a Clinton administration official said two U.S. Navy submarines were operating in the area and one reported having heard an explosion at the site Saturday. The Russian navy has been firing dozens of missiles and bombs in the area during the exercises and there was no indication the explosion heard by the U.S. submarine was linked to the Kursk.

The Kursk went down far above the Arctic Circle, though in an area free of icebergs, said meteorological officials in nearby Norway.

The navy said the Oscar-class submarine was not carrying any nuclear weapons. The Kursk is designed to carry 24 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles meant to knock out large surface vessels such as aircraft carriers.

Some Western military analysts, however, remained skeptical and said the Kursk could have nuclear weapons, while environmentalists raised fears of a radiation leak from the vessel's atomic reactors.

Russian nuclear submarines have been involved in a string of accidents in recent decades. The navy, like the rest of the Russian military, is desperately short of money and performs almost no maintenance on its ships.

-- Rachel Gibson (, August 15, 2000.

Officials: US Sub Heard Explosion Tuesday August 15, 2000 10:20 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) - A U.S. Navy submarine monitoring a major naval exercise in the Barents Sea detected the sound of an explosion believed to be related to the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, two U.S. government officials said Tuesday.

The Russian government says the accident was Sunday. U.S. officials say the sound was detected Saturday, and were not able to explain the time discrepancy.

Russian Navy chief Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov said in a statement Tuesday that there appeared to have been an explosion in the torpedo compartment in the nose of the submarine, sending it crashing to the sea bottom.

A Russian rescue effort was under way in hopes of saving some or all of the crew of 116 men aboard.

Although Russian officials on Monday turned down a U.S. offer to help in the rescue, the office of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, in Norfolk, Va., issued a statement Tuesday saying NATO officials offered assistance and that Russian officials expressed an interest in discussing possible options.

``No official Russian request is currently held'' by NATO, the statement said.

By coincidence, NATO naval planners in Norfolk are in the final stages of planning a submarine rescue exercise, called Sorbet Royal, which is scheduled to begin in the Mediterranean on Sept. 5. ``Preparations for this exercise have been very helpful in responding to the Russians' request for additional information on NATO naval capabilities for submarine rescue,'' the Norfolk statement said.

U.S. government officials, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. submarine detected an explosion in the area where the Oscar-class Russian nuclear sub went down. They said it was not the sound of a missile being fired, but they could not define the origin of the explosion.

It was a ``working assumption'' that the explosion - heard Saturday morning local time - was related to the sub's sinking, one official said. Another official said U.S. intelligence officials are quite certain that the explosion was what caused the Kursk to lose power and sink to the bottom of the Barents Sea.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley declined to say what, if anything, U.S. vessels may have heard in the Barents Sea.

Quigley said a Navy surveillance surface ship, the USNS Loyal, was ``a couple of hundred'' miles away from the site of the accident when it happened. He said he was not aware that the Loyal, which is equipped with sophisticated underwater listening devices, provided any information about the Russian submarine.

Quigley would not discuss a U.S. submarine presence in the area.

``We don't discuss submarine operations other than to say that our submarines operate throughout the waters of the world,'' he said, adding that the Pentagon has no independent information about the circumstances of the Russian sub accident or the fate of its crew.

``We are relying on the Russians as the best source of information about what happened to their own submarine,'' he said. ``We're certainly anxious to hear more and are very concerned for the safety of the crew. But we have no independent means of ascertaining. We don't know what was the cause of the accident.''

Quigley said there was no evidence that any U.S. vessel was involved in the accident.

U.S. submarines routinely shadow Russian submarines on deployment, although their cat-and-mouse game of attempting to avoid detection is played less often now than during the Cold War, when Russian subs were more active in the world's oceans.

Defense Secretary William Cohen notified Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev on Tuesday that the Pentagon was willing to help with the rescue effort. Quigley said the Russians had not replied. President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, made a similar offer Monday and was turned down, Quigley said.

``They felt that they had enough assets on hand, Russian assets on hand, to carry out the task at hand,'' the spokesman said.,3561, 358740,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, August 15, 2000.


Kursk sunk by funding shortfalls

Bellona Foundation specialists now believe that the Russian submarine Kursk, sunk at 100 - 150 meters in the Barents Sea, suffered an internal explosion in high-pressurised air tanks. The explosion was caused either by the lack of proper maintenance or error by inexperienced pilot.

Igor Kudrik, 2000.08.15 22:35

According to the available data, the Russian nuclear-powered Oscar-II class cruise missile submarine Kursk experienced malfunction and hit the seabed at the depth of 100 meters on Saturday, August 12. The position of the submarine is 69'40 N, 37'35 E, just outside the cost of the Kola Peninsula east of Murmansk.

The Operation Centre of the Northern Fleet failed to establish a scheduled contact with the submarine the same day. The position of the submarine was located in the evening of August 12. A team of surface vessels was dispatched to the area of the accident. Reinforcement consisting of rescue vessels was reportedly sent to the area in the evening on August 13. The same day, the Northern Fleet finalised the military exercise that started on August 9-10 and involved around 30 submarines and surface vessels, as well as aviation.

Thus, the information about the accident was kept secret for at least two days and was made public only on Monday, August 14, by the press centre of the Russian Navy.


Since Monday, the Russian Navy has provided the media with various versions of what happened to the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk (Oscar II-class). Analysing the information from the official channels, three definite facts can be established: the submarine is lying at the seabed around 100 meters deep, the bow part of the submarine and the superstructure (bridge) are damaged, a sound resembling an explosion was detected by American Navy vessels patrolling the area at the time of the accident.

The expert team of the Bellona Foundation suggests the following two scenarios:

The Oscar II-class submarine was off the coast of the Kola Peninsula at a depth of about 40 meters. That is the regular diving depth for a submarine in waters around 100 meters deep, to avoid collisions with surface vessels while at the same time keeping a safe distance from the seabed. The submarine was about to surface to take contact with headquarters as planned. (Another article says the periscope is up.)

Two different events may have triggered the accident:

1.The pilot shifted the controls to manual. The moment of shifting to manual operation is crucial, when a single mistake may lead to severe consequences. The mistake was made, the submarine was steered down. Once the submarine hit the ground damaging the bow part, the high-pressurised air tanks exploded destroying the superstructure. This would have happened in a matter of seconds. 2.Suddenly a tank containing high-pressurised air, located in the bow part of the submarine, explodes. It has happened in the past that high-pressurised tanks explode due to the penetration into the system of oil from the compressor that builds up the air pressure. Another possibility is a fraction in the high-pressured air tank that eventually led to explosion. Both reasons are the result of the lack of proper maintenance.

Neither the human error nor the technical malfunction mentioned above would be unexpected, given the current economical situation in the Russian Navy.

The Oscar II-class has two hulls; the ballast tanks and the high-pressurised air tanks are placed between them.

The explosion damages the ballast tanks located adjacent to the pressurised air tank. It is powerful enough to damage the superstructure. The captain of the submarine decides to surface. The crew starts the process of pushing the water out of the ballast tanks to execute an emergency surfacing operation. While the crew succeeds in emptying the ballast tanks in the rear part of the boat, the damage to the bow part does not allow to empty one of the ballast tanks there. At that time, the submarine moves at a regular speed of 5-6 knots. With the rear tanks emptied, the submarine bows 5-6 degrees down. In 20-25 seconds the submarine hits the seabed, damaging the bow section.

Submarine reactors

Once the submarine hits the ground, the automated system shuts down the two reactor installations. The system could react on various disturbances caused by meeting the ground.

The captain of the submarine cannot restart the reactors since the systems for taking seawater for cooling down the main condensation device in the nuclear installation are located at the bottom of the submarine and could be contaminated with sand from the seabed.

When the reactors are shut down in an emergency manner, the nuclear installation requires additional cooling. As is clear from the reports, the submarine has no electricity sources onboard: the reactors are shut down, while the batteries are not even capable of providing light. This means that there are no ways to provide the water circulation in the reactor installation to cool it down. Russian third-generation submarines are equipped, however, with a system called "battery-free cooling system" or "natural water circulation system." The system functions in a way that the water continues circulating in the reactor installation without electricity supply.

The exercise the Kursk participated in started on Wednesday or Thursday last week and continued until Sunday (for Kursk most probably until Saturday). If the submarine entered the training session directly from being idle in a base, its reactors would not have warmed up significantly by Saturday, when the submarine went down.

Given that the natural water circulation system operates without malfunction, there is no danger of pressure growing in the nuclear installation of the vessel, resulting in an explosion.

Other theories

During the past two days, a number of theories evolved with regards to the cause of the accident: (1) malfunction during launch of a torpedo; (2) torpedo explosion in the torpedo tube; and, finally, (3) collision with another submarine.

1.The malfunction during a torpedo launch resulting in water penetrating through the inner torpedo hatch is unlikely to ground a submarine with around 17,000 ton displacement when submerged. It neither explains the damage to the superstructure nor the sound of an explosion.

2.A torpedo explosion in the torpedo tube is a highly unlikely scenario, if at all possible. The reference to earlier explosions of missiles in the shafts are attributed to the fact that the earlier generations were using combustible liquid fuel (torpedoes do not use fuel at all; they are pushed out by pressure).

3.The collision with another submarine is a most unlikely scenario as well, because the other vessel would have suffered severe damage and most probably would have been grounded nearby.


Russia operates 11 Oscar-II class submarines. Oscar-II is the most advanced submarine the Russian Navy operates. Kursk was commissioned in 1994 and put into operation in 1995. The submarine's dimensions are 154 x 18,2 x 9 meters. Full complement consists of 135 men. The crew onboard Kursk was reportedly 107-115 men. The submarine is capable of carrying nuclear cruise missiles, torpedoes and mines.

-- Rachel Gibson (, August 16, 2000.

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