Scientists discover Radiation leak from Sunken Nuclear Submarine at Levels 800,000 times normal

Scientists discover Radiation leak from Sunken Nuclear Submarine at Levels 800,000 times normal
A torpedo at the wreck site. (Institute of Marine Research Norway/Ægir 6000 )

Norway has found a radiation level 800,000 times higher than normal at the wreck of a Russian navy submarine.

The Komsomolets sank in the Norwegian Sea in 1989 after a fire on board killed 42 sailors. The submarine is also known as K-278 in Russia, and it sank carrying two nuclear torpedoes with plutonium warheads. It’s front section has six torpedo tubes, and the sub could also launch Granit cruise missiles.

A sample showed radioactive cesium leaking from a ventilation pipe, but researchers said it was “not alarming”, as the Arctic water quickly diluted it. The Soviet-era sub is also deep down, at 1,680m (5,512ft), and there are few fish in the area, they added.

For the first time, a Norwegian remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) examined and filmed the Komsomolets on 7 July, revealing severe damage.


The news comes just over a week after a fire swept through a Russian nuclear-powered submersible in the Barents Sea, killing 14 naval officers.

A joint Norwegian-Russian team of scientists has detected a possible radiation leak at the site where the Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine K-278 Komsomolets, the only Project 685 Plavnik nuclear-powered attack submarine, sank 30 years ago.

Several samples taken in and around a ventilation duct on the wreck of the K-278 Komsomolets submarine contained far higher levels of radioactive cesium than you would normally find in the Norwegian Sea, according to a report by the Institute of Marine Research (IMR).

The highest level measured in a sample was 800,000 times higher than normal.

Also was reported that radiation levels in the water around a sunken Soviet-era nuclear submarine are some 100,000 times higher than normal.

“We took water samples from inside this particular duct because the Russians had documented leaks here both in the 1990s and more recently in 2007”, says the expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal.

“So we weren’t surprised to find high levels here.”

The levels the researchers found in the sample were around 100 Bq per liter, as opposed to around 0.001 Bq per liter elsewhere in the Norwegian Sea.

“The levels we detected were clearly above what is normal in the oceans, but they weren’t alarmingly high”, explains the expedition leader.

“Over the past few days, we have also taken samples a few meters above the duct. We didn’t find any measurable levels of radioactive caesium there, unlike in the duct itself”, says Justin Gwynn, a researcher at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA).

Scientists discover Radiation leak from Sunken Nuclear Submarine at Levels 800,000 times normal
The submarine’s conning tower. (Institute of Marine Research Norway/Ægir 6000)

K-278 Komsomolets lies at a depth of about 1,700 meters (1 mile). It sank after a fire broke out on board on April 7, 1989, killing 42 of its 69 crew members.

Just before taking the first sample that gave a high reading, researchers noticed a kind of “cloud” rising up from the duct.

A “cloud” was also seen rising from a grille nearby, where the researchers again measured high levels.

The big question is whether this “cloud” may be related to the radioactivity the researchers observed inside the duct.

“It looks very dramatic on video, and it’s definitely interesting, but we don’t really know what we’re seeing and why this phenomenon occurs. It’s something we want to find out more about”, says Justin Gwynn of the DSA.

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