A nuclear submarine caught on fire in Russia on Tuesday during repairs. The vessel, dubbed the Orel, is one of three Oscar II class submarines in the Russian fleet. Reports state that the fire was caused while repairmen were welding and that the submarine was in dry dock. Pieces of rubber were ignited and the fire spread between the submarines’ different hulls. There was no fuel or weapons onboard at the time and the submarines’ nuclear reactor had been successfully shut down. As of yesterday evening the fire has been contained.
The Orel was due for an extensive overhaul in 2013 due to concerns over safety and sonar tracking issues. It was docked in the arctic city of Severodvinsk, which is a major station for the building and repair of Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet and has one of the country’s largest shipbuilding yards. Some of the nearly 200,000 citizens had to be evacuated during the fire due to the threat of a possible explosion and firefighters were forced to flood the dry dock with water in order to contain the flames.
While there were no injuries and the damage was not drastic, this is not the first time that Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet has had a severe accident.
In 2000 the Kursk, which shares the same design as the Orel, sunk with over one hundred crew and officers on board. It is believed that the explosion which sunk the Kursk was caused by bad welding. Due to security issues at the time, Russia declined to allow aid from various countries, including the United States.
In addition, this is one in a string of fire related incidents to plague the Russian nuclear submarine fleet. There have been at a minimum three other fires onboard or during repair, not included the Kursk. This is an ongoing issue for Russia, whose fleet is aging and in dire need of maintenance and updating. It is believed that the country has the largest number of nuclear warheads in the world, totaling 8000, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
The possibility of contamination poses a risk not just for Russia, but for its neighbors. The country has successfully contained this fire and reports that there is no worry for environmental contamination due to the incident.
For an arctic journey watch Eric Larsen’s visual story about his long-term travels in the harsh polar zones including the North Pole, the South Pole, and Mount Everest: