Russia 'puts out' nuclear sub fire

30th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian firefighters on Friday put out flames on a nuclear submarine undergoing repairs near Norway after almost a day-long blaze that raised concerns about the security of Russia's ageing fleet.

The rubberised coating on the Delta IV class submarine Yekaterinburg caught fire Thursday afternoon at a dock in the Far Northern Murmansk region, the latest serious accident to have struck Russia's navy in the past years.

"The fire has been liquidated. There is no burning," Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told a meeting of officials.

The emergencies ministry has repeatedly insisted that there was no sign of above normal radiation in the area and Shoigu said radiation monitoring would revert to normal.

"We are halting the increased monitoring of radiation and will move on to normal regime," he said.

Television pictures from the closed military Arctic Circle port of Roslyakovo, just over 100 kilometres east of Norway, had shown emergency workers firing jets of water onto the smoking hull of the Yekaterinburg.

Overnight, the smoke plume had been visible for kilometres around during the polar night, local media reports said.

A number of crew stayed on board to monitor security during the fire-fighting efforts which included partially submerging the submarine.

In a sign of the gravity of the incident, President Dmitry Medvedev dispatched Russia's military chief of staff Nikolai Makarov to the scene, the Kremlin said.

He also ordered a full inquiry to identify those responsible for the shipyard blaze, which was initially triggered when wooden structures next to the 11,740-tonne Yekaterinburg caught fire.

There had been a succession of contradictory reports after the fire broke out on Thursday afternoon, with several officials earlier quoted as saying the fire was put out even as firefighting was still continuing.

But Shoigu insisted that Russia was telling the full truth about the accident.

"Disinformation needs to be stopped. We have no secrets and there never were any. We need to give reliable information and we put it all online," he said.

"We need to stop any insinuations. There is no need to spoil people's moods before the New Year holidays."

The Russian foreign ministry took the unusual step of issuing an official statement on the incident in which it confirmed the defence ministry's information and promised to issue prompt updates.

"The radiation levels, which remain normal, are being analysed across the entire Murmansk region by 59 fixed sensor systems and 25 portable stations," it said.

The Yekaterinburg was commissioned in 1985 and along with five other such vessels forms the backbone of Russia's sea-based nuclear defences.

It comes equipped with 16 inter-continental nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and was last involved in a sea-based test launch in July.

The Northern Fleet has been hit by a series of small accidents and a deadly disaster in August 2000 that killed the 118 seamen when the Kursk nuclear submarine caught fire and exploded while at sea.

Analysts said the latest accident hurt not only Russia's pride but also its nuclear defences because the submarine was effectively lost.

"This is a very serious blow to Russia's nuclear deterrence capabilities," said independent political analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, predicting that it could take years to repair the submarine.

"The loss of a strategic nuclear submarine -- especially one that had been due to remain in service for at least another decade -- hurts a lot."

Felgenhauer said the accident was the first to involve a Russian strategic submarine whose primary aim is to launch weapons in case of war against the United States. The Kursk was designed to fire shorter-range cruise missiles.

© 2011 AFP

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