A Sunken Russian Submarine Is Leaking Radiation 100K Times Higher Than Normal

The sunken Komsomolets, also known as K-278, is leaking high levels of radiation roughly a mile beneath the waves.

The wreck of The Komsomolets, a sunken Russian submarine that went down off the coast of Norway in 1989 after a fire, is emitting high levels of radiation.

A collaboration between Russian and Norwegian scientists is delving into the effects of the radiation leak lying beneath the waves.

RELATED: JOHN PHILIP HOLLAND: THE FATHER OF THE MODERN SUBMARINE

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A nuclear-powered deep-diving machine

Before it went down in the late 80s, Komsomolets was a nuclear-powered titanium-hulled attack submarine equipped with two torpedoes carrying nuclear warheads.

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The nuclear submarine sank after a fire on 7 April 1989 that began after a short circuit in the ship's engine room. Though the vessel was able to surface after the fire began, 42 of the 69 crew members were killed, mainly due to hypothermia from waiting for rescue in freezing waters.

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The wreckage now lies roughly a mile, 1,680 m, beneath the sea off Bear Island, in the western Barents Sea roughly 260 miles northwest of the Norwegian coast.

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Mini-sub radiation readings

On Monday this week, scientists sent a remote-controlled mini-sub to take water samples from the area surrounding a ventilation pipe on the submarine. One reading showed that the radiation levels are up to 100,000 times higher than the normal average readings in seawater.

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Low radiation levels have previously been recorded in the area by Russian and Norwegian scientists since the wreckage.

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A Sunken Russian Submarine Is Leaking Radiation 100K Times Higher Than Normal
Silhouette of soviet submarine K-278 "Komsomolets." Source: Mike1979 Russia/Wikimedia Commons

No immediate threat

One of the researchers, Hilde Elise Heldal of the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research told Norway’s TV2 broadcaster

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“The results are preliminary. We will examine the samples thoroughly when we get home.”

Despite the relatively high radiation levels, Heldal says they do not pose a large threat to fishing, sea life and the teams working on the investigation.

Though one observation does sound a little alarming - a cloud coming out of a ventilation pipe - that the researchers suggest leads to the reactor inside the wreck.

 

“We have observed a kind of cloud coming out of this hole once in a while. In connection with the test in which we measured pollution, a cloud came out of the hole. This may indicate that the pollution comes out in pulses,” Dr. Heldal said.

A Sunken Russian Submarine Is Leaking Radiation 100K Times Higher Than Normal
K-278 in 1986. Source: DoD/Wikimedia Commons

According to Norway's TV2, researchers will continue to monitor the cloud coming from the pipe as well as the general radiation levels in that area. The team suggests the cloud, that is only seen periodically, is likely caused by sea movements — possibly a shift in currents caused by the tides.

The research period finished this week on Thursday. The research vessel used was the Go Sars submersible, a Norwegian vessel that is capable of taking highly accurate readings, and has previously been deployed for research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

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