Norway and Russia to study sunken nuclear sub

The nuclear submarine K-159 lies on 250 meters in the Barents Sea.

Norway and Russia launches a joint expedition to determine the condition of a sunken nuclear submarine and containers of radioactive waste dumped in the Barents Sea.


15 researchers from Norway and Russia on Tuesday leave from Arkhangelsk on the Russian research vessel “Ivan Petrov”. Their mission is to determine the radiological threat posted to the environment by the sunken K-159 submarine, which went down in the Barents Sea in 2003 while being towed for scrapping in Murmansk, Bellona writes, citing the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority (NRPA).

Ingar Amundsen from NRPA says to Bellona that “we believe is important is to make a risk and environmental impact assessment of a potential raising operation. The submarine contains a great deal of radioactive material and sooner or later it will leak, but we need to get a good picture of where things are at current in order to make an in depth environmental impact study of such an idea.” As to whether Norway would participate in any efforts to raise the vessel, Amundsen said ”this is a Russian submarine and it’s their responsibility.”

The K-159 went down in rough weather with 800 kilograms of spent uranium nuclear fuel in its two pressurized water reactors. Nine sailors were killed in the accident. It is considered to be one of the most radioactively dangerous objects on the bottom of the Arctic seas.

“The submarine was in very bad condition when it sank, and there have been unconfirmed rumors of Russians have measured radioactivity at the wreck,” Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s general director and nuclear physicists, said. “It is therefore important that  Norwegian authorities now make their own measurements,” he said, added, “The K-159 is just the mouth of the Murmansk Fjord, right next to some of the world’s most important fishing resources, he said, noting that even rumors of radioactive leaks could be damaging for Norway’s fishing industry.

Huge amounts of radioactive waste in Kara Sea
According to NRPA, a catalogue of waste in the Kara Sea released in 2012 includes 19 ships containing radioactive waste; 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery; 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, and two submarines, the K-159 and the K-27.

The last such joint mission took place in 2012, when 16 Russian and Norwegian scientists inspected the condition of the K-27 nuclear submarine, which was scuttled as nuclear waste just outside Novaya Zemlya in 1981. Data from the 2012 expedition show no rise in radiation releases, but Norwegian scientist said lifting the sub should be a priority.

In 2012 Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that both the two sunken nuclear-powered submarines will be lifted and scrapped.