By Alek Akhundov Izvestia, July 16, 2001, p. 2

Environmentalists claim experts of the Rubin Design Bureau are not qualified to tmper with the sunken submarine

(…) On the eve of the operation to lift the hull of the sunken Russian nuclear-powered submarine Kursk which crashed last August in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona attempted to restrain the ardor of the members of the Russian lifting expedition and their foreign colleagues.

Mere hours prior to the start of the lifting operation, the organization placed on its Internet site seven questions addressed to the experts of the St. Petersburg-based Rubin Design Bureau. Even if any of the expedition managers wanted to make amendments to the operation’s plan and technological details of work several hours ahead of its beginning, they would not have had time for this. On the other hand, the ideological backup worked perfectly: Rubin experts immediately posted answers to the environmentalists’ questions on the design bureau’s Internet site. However, not all the seven questions were answered.

According to the publication posted on the site of the Kursk lifting operation, the Rubin experts left two questions unanswered. The first question concerns security of transporting the submarine’s hull from the floating dock to the land, and the second one – the particulars of the plan to extract nuclear fuel from the sub’s reactor. He essence of the environmentalists’ arguments is that the craft’s hull lost firmness as a result of the crash and will lose even more after divers have drilled so-called technological apertures in it. In addition, the risk of detonation of torpedoes remaining in the bow compartment is fairly high. Finally, the submarine may fall apart during the lifting operation.

The environmentalists believe that the finishing phase of the operation poses a potential hazard to 400,000 residents of Murmansk. The Roslyakovo naval base, the planned destination of the Kursk’s hull, is located only ten kilometers away from Murmansk. The residents of the town should be warned about possible increase in the radiation background. Incidentally, in early July Murmansk Mayor Yury Yevdokimov sent a letter to the Rubin Design Bureau requesting that experts give the particulars of the security measures to be taken in connection with the lifting operation. The letter remained unanswered.

The Bellona members warn the expedition managers that extraction of nuclear fuel from any type of nuclear submarine is an extremely complicated and potentially hazardous process. In the case with the Kursk it may be further complicated by destruction of the craft’s hull. The presence of seawater may cause the reactor’s explosion. A similar incident took place at the Pacific Fleet back in 1985. At that time, a sufficient increase in radioactivity was registered within 30 kilometers of the explosion site.

Says Alexander Nikitin, a Bellona activist, “The Rubin experts have left certain questions regarding manipulations with the sub after its salvage unanswered; to all appearances, these problems are outside their scope. We also remain dissatisfied with their answers to the rest of the questions. However, that people in Moscow considered it necessary to answer these questions at all is a joyous event in its own right.”