Nuclear submarine on fire

Nerpa shipyard on Russia's Kola Peninsula Monday morning.

Nuclear powered submarine “Krasnodar” on fire during decommissioning work at the naval yard Nerpa north of Murmansk Monday morning. The submarine is the sistership of “Kursk” of the Oscar-II class and has two nuclear reactors.


Heavy black smoke rises to the sky from a dock where “Krasnodar” currently is undergoing decommissioning. Nerpa shipyard is located north of Murmansk inside the closed military area.

“Krasnodar” was one of the very last Cold War submarines to be taken out of operation for scrapping in 2012.

The 155 meter long submarine has been sailing for the Russian Northern fleet since 1986, and was under decommissioning at the Nerpa-yard when the fire started Monday morning. “Krasnodar” - K148 - was the first of the upgraded Oscar-II class submarines. The sub is similar to the ill-fated “Kursk” submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 while firing a torpedo. 

The press-service of the Nerpa shipyard says to RIA-Novosti that the spent nuclear fuel from the submarine’s two reactors are removed. The source also says there are no workers injured.

Burning garbage next to hull
Itar-Tass reports that it is some garbage near to the submarine that is on fire. This information was later changed as it become clear that it is the rubber on the outer hull of the submarine that is on fire.

A photo posted on the regional news-agency B-port shows the extent of the fire. Press spokeswoman at Nerpa, Irina Anzulatova, says to B-port that there is no radiation leakages or other threats connected with the fire. Eight brigades from the fire station are working with the fire extinction.

Radioactivity inside reactor compartment
In the process of decommissioning a nuclear powered submarine, the spent nuclear fuel is the first to be removed and transported away. The work continues with removing the rubber that covers the outer hull of the submarine. This is a process liable to catch fire as it has happened several times with nuclear powered submarines under decommissioning at the Zvezhdochka yard in Severodvinsk. It was also the rubber that catch fire on the “Yekaterinburg” submarine when repair was being done while in drydock at Roslyakova yard north of Murmansk in December 2011. After the rubber is removed, the work on cutting off the outer hull and later the superstructure of the hull starts. Finally, the reactor compartment will be cut off and prepared for long time storage at the central onshore site in Saida bay, just west of the Nerpa shipyard.

As long as the reactor compartment is not removed, there are still a substantial amount of radioactivity inside the submarine.

Nerpa shipyard is in addition to Severodvinsk in the White Sea the central location for decommissioning of nuclear powered submarines taken out of operation from the Northern fleet after the Cold War. The shipyard is located on the coast to the Barents Sea between the closed naval towns of Aleksandrovsk, Snezhnogorsk and Gadzhievo. The distance to the border to Norway is around 100 kilometers. 

No official information to Norway
Norway’s emergency preparedness authorities were not informed about the fire before contacted by BarentsObserver Monday morning. 

“We have not got any information from the Russian side or anyone else,” says County Governor of Finnmark, Gunnar Kjønnøy in a phone interview with BarentsObserver. He adds that such fire is a serious issue.

“We will now contact other authorities like the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities, the Police, the Directorate for Civil Protection and our cooperation partners in Murmansk,” says Gunnar Kjønnøy. 

Finnmark county administration coordinates regional nuclear emergency plans. The office is also active in ensuring that regional and local public agencies develop strategic plans for dealing with a possible nuclear disaster. 

No leakages of radioactivity
Around lunch-time, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities posted a short brief where the agency says that there are no leakages of radioactivity according to information from Russian authorities. 

Norway has a bi-lateral agreement with Russia about sharing information in case of accidents involving nuclear installations. Russia has also signed the international convention on informing neighboring countries about accidents. The convention says that warnings should be issued when there is a situation where: “A release of radioactive material occurs or is likely to occur and which has resulted or may result in an international transboundary release that could be of radiological safety significance for another State.”

The first photos of the fire in Nerpa was posted by Bloger51 in Murmansk. The blog-site has also posted an older photo showing the “Krasnodar” submarine in the drydock next to the Soviet Union’s very first nuclear powered submarine, the K-3 “Leninski Komsomol.”