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- Sunken nuclear subs will be lifted

These images of the dumped nuclear powered submarine K-27 were taken in 1994, last time a joint Norwegian, Russian expedition visited the Stepovogo bay in the Kara Sea. Photo: Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities.

The two sunken nuclear-powered submarines K-27 and K-159 will be lifted and scrapped, a source in Russia’s Ministry of Defense says. An international tender will held to get the job done.

Location

Lifting and scrapping of the two submarines from the bottom of the Kara Sea and the Barents Sea is included in a revised draft for strategic development of Russia’s Arctic zone.

“A broad range of measures for cleaning Arctic waters of pollution is specified [in the draft]. In addition to the sunken submarines particular attention is given to removal of dangerous waste left behind after the military units on Franz Josef Land, New Siberian Islands and Bely Island”, a source in the Ministry of Defense says to Izvestia.

The K-27 submarine was dumped in the Kara Sea in 1980 and is laying on 75 meters depth. Lifting of this vessel should not be any trouble, the military source says. The other submarine will probably be harder to lift. K-159 sank in the Barents Sea during towing in 2003 and could be laying up to 250 meters under the surface of the sea.

A joint Russian-Norwegian expedition to the K-27 earlier this autumn concluded that the submarine is not yet leaking radioactivity but that it is urgent to lift it for safe decommissioning. 

According to Izvestia’s source, Russia does not have the capacity to do this operation on its own: “We still don’t have the necessary vessels. After “Kursk” the fleet bought five unmanned deep-sea vehicles of the Venom-class from the UK, which now are being replaced by three new Icelandic Gavia underwater vehicles”. But this is equipment for search and rescue and not for lifting he says and adds that the Russian navy also lacks personnel that can operate on large depths. 

An international tender will have to be made to get the submarines lifted. Countries like USA, Netherland, France and South Korea all have companies able to do the challenging job. “Kursk” was raised in 2001 by a consortium formed by the Dutch companies Mammoet and Smit International. 

In November, the “K-27 case” will be discussed at an international conferance on nuclear safety in Moscow, arranged by Norway, Sweden and Russia.