By Dmitrii Safonov Izvestia, August 3, 2001, p. 4
Raising the nuclear submarine Kursk is likely to create many difficulties for Russia, among them radiation safety and the unclear fate of the submarine’s reactor. What will be done with the sub after it’s raised? This question remains unanswered, even in the mission control office.
One of priority issues remains murky against the background of a mission on preparations to raise Russia’s nuclear submarine Kursk from the floor of the Barents Sea and brave communiques that the work schedule is being fulfilled: what will be done with the sub after it’s raised? This question remains unanswered, even in the mission control office.
There is, in fact, a formal answer. According to Vladimir Kuroedov, Naval Commander-in-Chief, the nuclear submarine will be towed to a shipyard of the Northern Fleet, where it will undergo a complete decommissioning process. A shipyard at the Roslyakovo settlement in the suburbs of Murmansk has been chosen for that purpose. The Kursk will be docked with a barge and special pontoons in the vicinity of the shipyard – that’s the final stage of the operation. By means of the pontoons the submarine will be lifted 7.5 meters and driven into a PD-50 floating dock (with a tonnage of 80,000 tons, and length of 400 meters), which will keep the sub on the surface.
People in Murmansk are awaiting this moment with undisguised fear. The point is that the Roslyakovo shipyard was designed only to work on high-tonnage combat vessels – aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, heavy nuclear-powered guided-missile cruisers of the Pyotr Velikiy class, and also the largest submarine strategic missile-carriers of the Typhoon class. This is the only shipyard in northwestern Russia which has a PD-50 floating dock at its disposal. That’s where the advantages of the Roslyakovo shipyard end, and problems begin. Lack of experience in working with malfunctioning nuclear submarines, cutting out reactor compartments and unloading ammunition are the gravest of them. Yet in the Soviet era, it was planned to build a dry covered dock for the 21st century. It would be possible to do any kind of work there: from repairing ships of any class in dock, to aligning propeller shafts, replacing reactors on nuclear cruisers and submarines. However, in the era of unlimited funding, the personnel of the plant only managed to design the engineering specifications and develop the “zero stage”.
In the Northern Fleet there are two shipyards which are designed especially to execute work with radiation-hazard objects: Shkval in the town of Polyarny and Nerpa in Snezhnogorsk. Experience of work with such objects is estimated at decades. For this very reason it was decided to carry out a Russian-U.S. program of joint reduction of the nuclear threat at Nerpa. Delta, first-generation strategic nuclear submarine missile cruisers are recycled within the framework of this program. For that very purpose the shipyard is equipped with special imported equipment, its personnel was specially trained and possess experience of working with nuclear submarines. Unfortunately, the depth has let profile shipyards of the Russian Navy down. Only the shipyard situated in Roslyakovo has deep-water moorings, at which a ship of any tonnage can be berthed. Since the length of the link of the Dutch barge and Kursk will amount to 20 meters at least, this just wouldn’t pass the ship-repairing “gate” at either Polyarny or Snezhnogorsk.
According to experts, ammnition reserves stored at the nuclear submarine Kursk is another problem. At present the sub has on board 22 Granit cruise missiles, each of them equipped with a 250 kg demolition warhead and a solid-fuel booster engine of the same weight. Residents of Murmansk fear that the risk of dismantling them out of containers will increase owing to absence of special cranes to work with such items. Moreover, the shipyard is surrounded by residential blocks.
As it turned out, it’s also undecided which shipyard will be responsible for the reactor which will be cut out, if this operation is accepted at Roslyakovo. There’s an assumption that experts of Nerpa or Shkval will be entrusted with this mission. However, who will tow the reactor to these shipyards, and, more importantly, guarantee the safety of the entire operation? According to expert appraisals, the Northern Fleet has no technological equipment to execute this mission. Mammoet wouldn’t do that: the contract is limited to towing the submarine into a floating dock. Thus, “surfacing” the Kursk will bring more problems than the salvage itself.