REACTOR IN SHUTDOWN MODE: EXAMINATION TO REVEAL MORE

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Andrei Riskin Nezavisimaya Gazeta, September 20, 2001, p. 7

Only days remain before the Kursk is brought to the surface. Services of the Northern Fleet have done all necessary research but a lot of questions remain unanswered. No one knows the extent of destruction in the compartments adjacent to the reactor.

Question: An exercise was organized in Severomorsk the other day. Involved personnel were trained in emergencies that may occur when the Kursk is brought to the dock. Specialists rate the chances of an emergency as virtually nonexistent. Are they?

Sergei Zhavoronkin: No one knows the extent of destruction in the compartments adjacent to the reactor. The reactor compartment itself is a complex of engineering rooms. It is isolated from the rest of the submarine. Specialists played with the possibilities of all sorts of emergencies at our nuclear-powered icebreakers and, I assume, submarines. The worst that may happen is a breach in the parts of the first contour pipes, that cannot be cut off. It means the pipes through which “hot” water is running. That’s the worst thing that has been calculated. All other consequences were viewed hypothetically.

Question: Only residents of Roslyakovo are to be evacuated if something goes awry. We are told that the contamination zone will cover three kilometers only.

Zhavoronkin: There are no reasons to doubt our specialists’ calculations. Neither are there reasons for extreme apprehension. After all, personnel of the floating dock PD-50 are not going to handle solid fuel.

Question: What can you say about solid radioactive waste?

Zhavoronkin: I assume the Kursk left for its final exercise without any. Why would waste be carried out to sea? As for nuclear fuel, it will have to be offloaded. We already have almost 100 submarines with nuclear fuel withdrawn from active service.

Question: But it will be done at Nerpa in Snezhnogorsk, right?

Zhavoronkin: Yes. The technology of conversion in Severomorsk is worked out to the last detail. The compartment is cut off, sealed on both sides to ensure that it will float, and outfitted with special pontoons. Dock personnel in Roslyakovo lacks the experience, but I expect specialists from the Zvezdochka facility to come to their aid. After that the compartment will be towed to Nerpa and the fuel rods will be offloaded.

Question: This towing – is it dangerous?

Zhavoronkin: Atomflot of the Murmansk Steamship Company has classified all jobs involving radiation as hazardous or potentially hazardous. In the first case, we mean the danger of contamination of environment and radiation sickness for the involved personnel. In the second case, emergencies in fuel handling are meant. Towing a ship and putting it in dock is considered a potentially hazardous job. There is always the danger of overturning, collision, and so on. Avoiding an uncontrollable chain reaction is the main task here. The Kursk’s reactors are shut down, but we will classify the tugging as potentially hazardous all the same.

Question: We hear only of the danger of leaks. The Navy is not saying a word about the danger inherent in the dismantling of Granit and Rubin missile systems.

Zhavoronkin: It’s a purely technical matter. I have nothing to say. However, I think that the reactor itself is built to withstand the explosion of at least one missile. We made some calculations with regard to a fire or explosion on icebreakers whose reactors are similar to the ones used in nuclear submarines. Results of the calculations show that the reactors are highly reliable.

Question: Norway’s Ministry of Health is determined to examine everyone involved in the operation. Almost 1,000 blood tests will be done at the Kirkenes hospital soon…

Zhavoronkin: It’s all right. Insurance, you know. I don’t doubt that all foreigners involved in the operation are insured. It is easier to pay for a blood test now than get involved in lawsuits afterwards.

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