Norway Detects Big Radiation Leak From Russian Sub

Radiation detected in Norway

Norwegian authorities have detected radiation 800,000 times higher than normal near the location of a Russian submarine that sank in the Norwegian Sea thirty years ago.

Norway's Institute of Marine Research has discovered high levels of radiation from a sunken Russian submarine. Samples show radioactive caesium leaking from a ventilation pipe. A fire on board the nuclear-powered submarine killed 42 people in 1989.

The findings came as Norwegian remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) technology was used for the first time earlier this week. The ROV examined and filmed the damage on the submarine hull where the warheads are located.

ROV inspecting the submarine
The ROV in action. Photo: Norwegian Institute of Marine Research

No immediate concern

The highest level of radiation found was around 800 Bq per litre, compared to the typical Norwegian Sea levels of around 0.001 Bq per litre. However, lead researcher Hilde Elise Heldal said the findings were “not alarming”.

Read more: The Norway-Russia border

The Arctic water quickly diluted the radioactive particles, and there are few fish because the submarine is so deep down. The wreck is located at a depth of 1,680m (5,512ft), approximately half-way between Tromsø and the southern tip of Svalbard.

“We took water samples from inside this particular duct because the Russians had documented leaks here both in the 1990s and more recently in 2007,” she said. Other samples taken displayed less radiation, indicating that radioactivity is released dependent on ocean currents.

“Good documentation of the levels in both seawater, sediments, and not least in fish and seafood is needed. We will therefore continue checking both ‘Komsomolets' especially and Norwegian waters in general,” she added.

Fire at sea

The Komsomolets, also known in Russia as the K-278, sank in the Norwegian Sea with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads still on board.

After the fire began, the Komsomolets was able to reach the surface where it stayed for a couple of hours before sinking. Of the people who died, only four were of a direct result of the fire. Most of the others died in the cold water awaiting rescue. A total of 25 crew survived.

Experts are concerned about other sunken subs

A 2017 report from a collaborative effort between the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority and the Russian Energy Safety Analysis Centre stated that “The sunken Russian nuclear submarine K-159 is of great concern.”

The K-159 sank in storms in 2003, but came to rest just 248 metres below sea level in an area north of the Kola Bay that is an important fishing ground. The Barents Observer reports that the total load of uranium-235 in the two reactors is 50 to 60 kilograms.

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About the Author: David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a freelance writer for technology companies in Scandinavia.

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