by Daniel Russ on January 12, 2012

The Kursk, K-141, Soveit Nuclear Submarine

The K-141 Kursk After The Accident.


The nuclear powered submarine was the promise of the Cold War: a machine that is powered by a virtually inexhaustible source of power, is almost impossible to detect, yet packs a punch big enough to destroy the top 20 cities of any country. Of course the big players in this arena were the United States and the Soviet Union. Both countries developed massive submariner forces and patrolled the oceans of the world and provided a deadly imminent threat to each other in what was called MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction. This insanity was an integral part of the foreign policy of both countries.



The Soviets to their credit were willing to scrap a number of these submarines after they lived past their prime and lost their funding. The 1990s saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union and some 200 of these deadly behemoths began to rust in the cold salty water of Andreyev Bay near Murmansk, the world’s northern most city. The money set aside for the Soviet Northern Fleet wasn’t there because the Soviet Union wasn’t there because the paymasters didn’t exist, and what was left of Russia was bankrupt. The real threat to the world was not loose nukes from the cruise missiles and torpedoes. Rather the threat was a rotting nuclear engine core. The threat of a slow meltdown occurring in the shallow arctic waters off the fjords of Russia was so great that the general quiet and secretive Russian government had to enlist the help of German nuclear power plant engineers to help them go about the massive task of lifting Victor Class Nuclear submarines to the surface, cutting the football field long tubes into three sections, keeping the center section where the nuclear cores are in dry dock.



When Putin came to power, the Russian Northern Fleet wanted to make a show of strength and prove that they still packed the deadly punch and high technology needed for a post Soviet Union world. On August 12th, 2000, during a torpedo firing drill, two tremendous explosions obliterated the bow of the Kursk and it slipped beneath the waves in relatively shallow waters of the Barents Sea, only 300 feet deep. Putin turned down help offered by the British and the Norwegians. Most likely this was a way to keep Soviet technology secret.  Exactly 118 Soviet sailors survived for at least 24 hours. We know because the commander left a message. When the Norwegians made it to the submarine a week later they banged on the hull and received no answer. This disaster happened early in the Putin Presidency, and protests and a public bobbery aimed at the Soviet commanders by screaming mothers and wives made it to the airwaves.



The Russians experienced this disaster because the torpedoes had not been maintained and a hydrogen peroxide leak most likely corroded a propellant seal. The Russians could not reach their own sub because their own deep-sea equipment had also not been maintained. A nuclear submarine is not like an ax that quietly sits after usage. It is a complex machine seething with chemicals and warheads that have to be watched and maintained and carefully dismantled.



The operose task requires over a hundred men, arc welders, sailors, tugboats and mostly heavy lift equipment operators, all who have to labor quickly in the short window of Summer weather in the northern seas. There is also the lethal radiation that inundates pretty much every inch of the steel around the cores. Keep in mind that nuclear material is extremely heavy, and engineers must surround it with heavy shielding. So the core of an Oscar II Class nuclear submarine itself weighs about 1600 tons. Moving it requires skill and patience. And the luck of the weather.




The Kursk, like dozens of other former Soviet attack submarines has been reduced to scrap metal, much of which will have to sit quietly for decades waiting for the radio-active decay to slow. Putin pangyrized the lost hands and put the event behind him. He still rules today, and the Soviets still possess a robust submariner fleet.




The Kursk, K-141, Soviet Nuclear Powered Attack Submarine

The Kursk, In Better Days






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