Russia says nuclear sub fire 'contained'

30th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Friday said firefighters contained a blaze on a nuclear submarine undergoing repairs near Norway after partially submerging the vessel, insisting there was no radiation threat.

Navy officials said some crew were still on board the Delta IV class Yekaterinburg after the fire on the submarine's rubberised coating, the latest serious accident to have struck Russia's navy in the last years.

Following a succession of contradictory reports after the fire broke out on Thursday afternoon, the defence ministry admitted the craft was still burning and that the salvage operation may not finish until 6:00 pm (1400 GMT).

"The fire has been mostly put out," the Investigative Committee said in a statement. "There are only some localised combustion sources that pose no threat."

President Dmitry Medvedev dispatched Russia's military chief of staff Nikolai Makarov to the scene and ordered a full inquiry to identify those responsible for the Northern Fleet shipyard blaze.

Information about the accident in the closed military city of Roslyakovo came out only sporadically and officials had insisted on Thursday evening that the situation was under full control.

But fire fighters were still reported to be battling the blaze on Friday morning and it emerged that at least some of the ship's crew remained on board.

"A part of the crew is on board the submarine and is monitoring the temperature and carbon dioxide parameters in all sections of the boat," the defence ministry added in a statement.

The 11,740-tonne Yekaterinburg -- one of Russia's most powerful nuclear submarines -- was undergoing repairs in the northern region of Murmansk, which borders Norway, when some wooden structures in the yard caught fire Thursday.

The emergencies ministry said seven firemen had been admitted to hospital after suffering smoke inhalation.

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 ballistic missiles and was last involved in a sea-based test launch in July.

The vessels is also capable of carrying up to 140 seamen and it was not immediately clear how many crew members were still aboard.

"Most of the crew has been evacuated, but some remain aboard the boat," Northern Fleet spokesman Alexander Grigoryev told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"These are servicemen tasked with ensuring the nuclear submarine's safety. Their lives are not under threat."

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

© 2011 AFP

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