10 die in mishap on French nuclear sub

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The Independent Online
PARIS - An accident on board a French nuclear-powered submarine killed 10 sailors as it was diving in the Mediterranean off Toulon yesterday, according to the French Defence Ministry, writes Julian Nundy.

The ministry said the accident on the Emeraude, which carried only conventional arms, did not damage its nuclear installations. The vessel had since surfaced and was expected back under its own power in its home port of Toulon yesterday evening, the ministry said.

All the casualties were in the compartment containing the submarine's two turbo-alternators, where electricity is generated by steam, sources in the Mediterranean port said. The precise nature of the accident was not clear. A naval officer said one of the alternators had exploded but 'we don't know why'.

'This accident does not in any way put in doubt the nuclear security of the vessel,' the Defence Ministry said in a statement. It added that two inquiries, one naval and one judicial, would be held into the circumstances of the accident. Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, and Admiral Alain Coatanea, the naval chief of staff, were flying to Toulon from Paris to meet the survivors, the ministry added.

The Emeraude, a nuclear attack submarine of the Rubis class, is one of six, all of which are based in Toulon. The 2,670-ton vessel, with a crew of 66, has been in service in the French navy since September 1988. Between two and four of them are constantly on patrol. The French navy also has nuclear-powered submarines with missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

While the accident, whatever its nature, will inevitably raise questions about nuclear security, it will probably have little serious impact in France because of a cross- party consensus - largely followed by public opinion - that, to maintain its independence, France needs modern defence forces to compete with those of the superpowers.

It was the third accident involving a Rubis class submarine in less than a year. The two earlier incidents caused no injuries.