THE SINKING OF THE KURSK IS THE PRICE OF PROGRESS

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Victoria Voloshina Izvestia, October 12, 2001, p. 1

Valentin Pashin, director of the Krylov Research Institute, discusses the Kursk salvage operation. He says the radiation hazards are negligible, even if the sub’s reactor is not completely sealed off. The first compartment of the submarine will be brought to the surface piece by piece next year.

Academician Valentin Pashin, director of the Krylov Research Institute, flew back from the Kursk salvage operation yesterday in high spirits: “Everything’s worked, guys!” The basic stages of raising the submarine were worked out in St. Petersburg at the Krylov Institute. The idea of grabbing the sub from above, using holes drilled in the hull, also originated there. Specialists from the Krylov Institute have been monitoring radiation levels on and around the hull throughout the salvage operation, and are continuing to do so in dock at Roslyakovo. Valentin Pashin held a news conference yesterday.

Question: The compartment of the submarine which contains the nuclear reactor will be opened and examined within the next few days. No one knows the reactor’s condition as yet. How great are the radiation hazards at this stage of the operation?

Valentin Pashin: This is how I see it: there is no radiation hazard for the residents of Roslyakovo and surrounding areas. The media has really stirred up radiation phobia among the public these days. Even if the outer shell of the reactor turns out to be not fully sealed, this would still pose no risk to the public. It would only mean some localized radiation leaks within the dock itself, but I don’t think this will happen. All our measurements indicate that there is no danger – the reactor has not been damaged. The chief designer of that reactor, Igor Serov, is presently in Roslyakovo with a large team of specialists; as soon as the submarine is in dry-dock, work on dismantling the reactor will begin.

Question: The Kursk has been raised, but the first compartment – which holds the key to the mystery of why it sank – remains on the seabed. Will the Krylov Institute take part in raising the fragments of the first compartment, if they’re to be recovered at all?

Pashin: Yes, they will be recovered. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov and the Navy command have decided that the first compartment will be brought to the surface piece by piece next year. I don’t think our institute will be involved – it will be an operation on a different scale.

Question: Both you and Academician Spassky are openly delighted that the Kursk has finally been raised. So does this mean there were some fears that the operation would be a failure? Was the Mammoet plan really risky?

Pashin: The raising of the Kursk has been a unique operation: the weight of the sub being raised was quite unprecedented, there was a nuclear power source and live missiles on board, and the weather conditions in that area are hazardous. It’s not surprising that the Rubin Design Bureau and the Navy looked at over 500 various proposals and plans for the operation before making their decision. The Krylov Institute also took part in this undeclared tender. Our plan was rejected, as were the plans presented by Rubin and the 40th Institute of the Navy. And I can understand why: using our own resources alone, we would not have been able to raise the submarine this year.

Question: The technological cause of the Kursk disaster is clear: it was a torpedo explosion. But what might have been the initial cause – was it human error, mechanical failure, or something else?

Pashin: Over the past century of submarine navigation, there have been 1,762 cases of submarines sinking (according to one of this year’s issues of “Naval Forces” magazine). Of these, 313 sinkings were not casualties of war: 75 German submarines, 52 British submarines, 35 Russian submarines, 34 American submarines, and 29 French submarines. These sinkings represent around 0.2% of all submarines constructed over the past century. Look at the range of disasters these days: the sinking of the Estonia ferry, nuclear power plant accidents, plane crashes (not only Russian planes), lethal fires on oil platforms, and so on. The sinking of the Kursk – whatever the cause – is, in overall terms, part of the inevitable price of accelerated scientific and technological progress. In my view, modern technology is developing so rapidly that the specialists who operate it are simply unable to keep up with its progress.

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