Radioactive leakage from the Soviet submarine over 1 million times the normal level: How to handle disaster? - Photo 1.


Soviet submarines K-278 Komsomolets was in distress in the Barents Sea during the first patrol on April 7, 1989, killing 42 sailors on board. This is a kind of nuclear powered vehicle and equipped with the most advanced nuclear weapons at the time.

30 years later, when investigating the wreck at a depth of 1.7 km on the seabed, a group of Norwegian scientists confirmed that the Komsomolets continued to cause adverse effects to the surrounding environment.

"We found an increase in the element of cesium more than 1 million times the normal level we found in seawater [không bị nhiễm phóng xạ], " Hilde Elise Heldal, a researcher from the Marine Research Institute, responded to Radio Free Europe (RFE) by phone.

The confirmation of a submarine was made a few weeks after a Russian top secret nuclear submarine burned in the Barents Sea, killing 14 sailors. This is the most horrific submarine accident ever happened to the Russian Navy since 2008 and sparked alarm about Moscow's transparency in this regard.

It is known that Norwegian scientists have been monitoring the Komsomolets wreck since the 1990s. This ship is located 180 km southwest of Norway's Bear Island and 350 km northwest of the main island.

Remote control device Aegir 600 is recording images of a Soviet submarine. Photo: Reuters

Every year, the investigation team comes to this area to collect water and specimens from the seabed. However, according to Heldal, the samples were very limited because they "didn't know how close they were to the wreck."

This year, for the first time, the Norwegian scientific team deployed an unmanned underwater vehicle – the ROV Aegir 600 vessel. Thanks to that, they were able to take photos, record videos and take specimens close to the wreck. . The results are considered to be excellent in terms of image and have great scientific significance.

The video released on July 8 shows a strange scene in the depths of the Arctic Sea: the metal on the hull is burnt and twisted by water pressure, distorting the Komsomolets – one the most advanced submarines of the time.

Nuclear torpedoes

Armed with a titanium shell, a water pressure nuclear reactor and six 533 mm torpedo tubes designed to fight submarines, the Komsomolets could reach a depth of 1,020 m in 1984 – a record at the time.

But after years of continuous development and testing, the lifespan of this Soviet submarine did not last for long.

When carrying out the first patrol mission at a depth of about 335 m, a fire in the engine room quickly spread and caused serious nuclear damage. The crew quickly carried out the emergency ship-up process and touched the water surface in just 11 minutes. Although most of the 69 sailors escaped, four died of fires. Many others also died from hypothermia while waiting for rescue.

Radioactive leakage from the Soviet submarine over 1 million times the normal level: How to handle disaster? - Photo 2.

Submarine Komsomolets operated in 1986.

The Komsomolets were on fire for hours before sinking into the sea, carrying two nuclear torpedoes. In total, 42 sailors died.

In their final efforts, the Soviet investigation team returned to the area with manned submarines in August 1991 to collect specimens and inspect the wreck. This mission provided some pictures and videos from inside the Komsomolets hull and showed that the explosion had occurred at the bow, where the nuclear torpedoes were kept.

In 1992, a second trip comprised of a Norwegian scientist who conducted many experiments on water, bottom sediments and marine life. According to documents published by the US Intelligence Research Center (CSI), this trip has identified some major losses at the bow but could not detect weakening in the hull or radio frequency too. at any rate.

It was not until 1993 that reports of radiation from cesium were synthesized. Experts from the Netherlands, Norway and the United States said they had discovered a big hole in the torpedo chamber and decided that it was necessary to keep the torpedoes being corroded at that location.

Continuous leakage occurs

At that time, Tengiz Borisov, head of Russia's Special Committee on Undersea Activities, replied to the reporter: "If there is a leak, it will not be possible to fish in the Norwegian Sea for about 600 years to 700 years".

The 1997 study by the Norwegian Defense Research Facility on the impact of the submarine on the environment also found that "both the hull and the reactor will not be destroyed by at least corrosion." 1,000 years ".

Close up of the Soviet submarine body under the Barents seabed

Heldal said the participants recently learned that from the 1990s and the end of 2007, scientists discovered leaks from a ventilation tube on the wreck.

After taking 5 water samples, Heldal discovered different levels of radioactive contamination. One sample showed that the radiation level did not exceed the normal threshold. Another sample showed radioactive 30,000 times higher than clean seawater.

The next two samples have a normal radiation threshold of 100,000 times. And the last sample is 1 million times higher than the permitted level. Meanwhile, the Norwegian Oceanographic Research Institute determined the highest radioactivity they obtained was 800,000 times normal.

Heldal described these findings "as comparable" to previous Russian investigations, and showed that the Komsomolets wrecks emitted continuous radioactivity since the accident.

"Absolutely safe"

Heldal said that although the results were "very scary", they were not alarming. Any leak would be dissolved by seawater, and not even able to find radiation where it was only half a meter from the ventilation duct.

Heldal said scientific models were set up to predict what would happen if all of the cesium in the Komsomolets wrecked. However, even in the worst-case scenario, "radiation cannot affect the fish in the Barents Sea because the wreck is too deep".

Research shows that radiation will disintegrate before reaching the main fishing grounds in the Barents Sea. In addition, Heldal said there was still a plan to bring the wreck out of the water and handle radioactivity on land.

"I can confirm that we are still monitoring the level of radioactive contamination and the fish from these areas are absolutely safe to make food," she said.


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