Russian Submarine Possible Radiation Risk

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

Some environmental activists say there could be a major radiation risk from a damaged nuclear submarine. The submarine sank in the Barents Sea almost two weeks ago. The activists say the submarine's nuclear reactors could leak radiation. This could threaten marine life in the fishing area where the submarine went down.

Greenpeace and some other environmental groups say nuclear reactors on the "Kursk" submarine should be removed as soon as possible. Russian officials have said the nuclear reactors should be safe for centuries.

The "Kursk" is about three-hundred kilometers east of Norway's Arctic coast. It went down in one-hundred meters of water during Russian military exercises in the Barents Sea. All one-hundred-eighteen sailors on the submarine died.

Russian officials are not sure what caused the submarine to sink. They say it may have hit a foreign submarine or another huge object. Other reports say it went down after an explosion on the submarine itself. The submarine was carrying several missiles.

Russian and Norwegian officials say no radiation leaks have been discovered so far. They say the automatic protection system designed to shut off the submarine's two nuclear power reactors appears to have worked correctly. But scientists say that any leak from the Kursk would be made worse by strong ocean currents that could spread nuclear radiation.

Russian environmental activist Alexander Nikitin says the risk of radiation still exists after the reactors are shut off. He says salt water, water pressure, and heat from the reactors could cause radioactive leaks in as little as one month. He says such leaks would pollute waters and fish in Barents Sea and could endanger human health.

There have been several accidents involving nuclear submarines. Only six, including the Kursk, have sunk. The five others have settled on the ocean floor in at least one-thousand-five hundred meters of water. No radiation has leaked from them. Experts are more concerned about the Kursk because it sank in a popular fishing area just one-hundred meters below the surface.

Russian officials have asked for international aid to help raise the submarine. But some experts say such an effort could cause the ship to break apart near the surface.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.

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