SINGLE-MISSION NAVY

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Irina Kedrova Tribuna, April 7, 2001, p. 2

Seamen state that every day something happens on nuclear submarines. They burn and sink because of designers’ mistakes.

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The commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy has announced April 7 the Memorial Day of the Komsomolsk submarine.

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The accident, which occurred 12 years ago, gives no rest to contemporaries. The Kursk tragedy, which happened before our eyes, has aggravated the questions linked with the crews’ security and the reliability of Russian nuclear submarines.

The chronicle of catastrophes begins in 1961 when ten people perished on board a Soviet submarine equipped with ballistic missiles. After that the K-129 nuclear submarine sank near the Hawaiian Islands (97 people perished). Similar accidents occurred in 1967, 1970, 1973, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986.

The majority of these involved fires and explosions, and not a “unique and fatal concourse of circumstances”. Seamen wrote a letter to a military newspaper about 15 years ago: “Every day something happens on nuclear submarines, something burns. Any fire will turn a submarine into a hell. This is not a mission, this is a madhouse!” The letter is a cry of despair.

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Lieutenant Commander Alexander Borodin, who was a junior navigator on the Komsomolets nuclear submarine, is sure that nuclear submarines are always dangerous. They are dangerous at sea, under water, and in the docks. Can anything be done in order to reduce the risk?

Unfortunately the Komsomolets was not as well prepared as the Kursk. The titanium hull was stuffed with cheap� obsolete electrical devices that sparked. The equipment contained plastic (not heat-resistant) gaskets, in addition to many other examples of careless engineering. These underwater cruisers required serious technical improvement.

(…) Up-to-date submarines break records, dive, and take part in exercises, but their security systems have not been changed for years. New engineering ideas reap a harvest of new victims. Alexander Borodin characterizes the Navy as follows: “A single-mission Navy!” In saying this, he did not mean a low viability of submarine compartments. The fact is that the life of seamen is totally disorganized. They have to recruit new servicemen, to repair barracks, to build baths, to clear roads… They have to find new periscopes – this is a very serious problem for the crews.

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Owing to such accidents, 10% of Russian nuclear submarines have perished, and five nuclear power plants are scattered all over the oceans’ seabed (the Kursk power plant is the sixth). Hundreds of seamen have perished, the majority of these because of mistakes made by designers, ship-builders and engineers.

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