Sergei Syrov, Nikolai Ivanov, Andrei Makarov Rossia, June 27, 2001, p. 5
If the Kursk salvage operation in the Barents Sea is a success it does not mean that Russia will not have any more problems. It turns out that the floating dock to which the Kursk will be towed is not designed for dismantling nuclear missiles or reactors
Representatives of the Mammoet company (Holland) said last week that preparations for the operation to raise the Kursk submarine from the seabed of the Barents Sea are progressing normally.
According to the schedule, the Kursk submarine is to be raised in September. The staff of the Russian Navy say the North Fleet has started preparing a special expedition which will consist of several warships: the Peter the Great heavy nuclear missile-carrying cruiser, the Marshal Ustinov missile-carrying cruiser, and the Admiral Kharlamov and Severomorsk anti-submarine vessels. In addition the fleet will send the Rudnitsky, the Altai and the Pamir rescue vessels, the Svir floating hospital, three tankers, floating cranes and nine support vessels which will carry pontoons and other lifting gear. Anti-submarine and rescue helicopters will fly over the place of the disaster.
The torpedo room, destroyed in the accident, will be cut away from the rest of the submarine. This compartment will be raised by the Russian Navy. The submarine will be cut open by a special robot. After cutting off the front compartment, the Dutch barge will pull down 20 rods with grapnels to the submarine. Apertures for grapnels will be cut by divers.
The submarine will be pulled up to the barge, and it will head for the docks in Roslyakovo. Near the docks support vessels will place pontoons under the submarine. After that the Kursk will be docked at the semi-submurged floating dock PD-50.
Here the contract with Mammoet ends. The most interesting thing is that the PD-50 is not designed for dismantling the Kursk’s nuclear reactors or weaponry. This floating dock is designed for repairing large warships, such as the Kuznetsov aircraft carrier or the Peter the Great heavy nuclear-powered cruiser. The displacement of this dock is 800,000 tons, its length is about 400 meters.
Specialists of the Roslyakovo plant are not experienced in scrapping nuclear submarines or nuclear reactors.
There are two other docks on the Kola Peninsula which could dismantle the submarine without any problems. These are the Shkval plant (Polyarinsk) and Nerpa (Snezhnogorsk). For instance, Snezhnogorsk has the most up-to-date equipment, and has been scrapping Delta submarines for several years successfully. However, these plants cannot dock the barge with the submarine – they lack depth. That’s why the Kursk will be towed to Roslyakovo. The press service of the Russian Navy says the PD-50 is not designed for scrapping cruise missiles or nuclear reactors – “it has nothing but rusty walls”. When asked how the Navy intends to destroy missiles and reactors which have spent a year on the seabed, representatives of the Navy said “this is a commercial secret”. The Nuclear Energy Ministry, which is responsible for all nuclear reactors in Russia, said there will not be any problem with the Kursk’s reactors.
The Navy is working on several alternatives for further action. According to one of them the Navy will sent a special ship equipped with the necessary hardware to Roslyakovo. Cartridges with nuclear fuel will be loaded onto this ship. After that the Kursk reactors will be safe. According to another plan the reactors will be transported to Shkval or Nerpa.
The Nuclear Energy Ministry promises that “in any case all necessary precautions will be taken, and nuclear fuel will not remain in Roslyakovo”.
However, it is possible that Russia will use a more traditional method. The Kursk will be tugged to Roslyakovo. After that the government will start seeking money for dismantling its missiles and reactors. No one knows how long this will take. All this time, the submarine will be kept in Roslyakovo and be a cause of concern for the residents of the Kola Peninsula, who will get an unpredictable nuclear sarcophagus.