Nine crew lost as Russian N-sub sinks

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The Independent Online

A Russian nuclear-powered submarine being towed to a scrapyard sank in a fierce storm in the Barents Sea yesterday, killing at least two of the 10-member crew and leaving another seven missing.

The Russian Navy immediately said the 40-year-old K-159 sub's two nuclear reactors were shut down when it sank about 5.5kms north-west of Kildin Island off the north-west coast of Russia. A spokesman said the reactors posed no danger to the environment, and measurements showed radiation levels in the area had remained normal.

The K-159 was being towed on four floating pontoons from its base in the town of Gremikha on the Kola Peninsula to a plant in the naval town of Polarnye for the nuclear fuel to be unloaded and the vessel scrapped. It sank in 170m-deep water in the early hours of Saturday. One sailor was rescued.

The Russians said the K-159, which had been decommissioned 14 years ago, will be lifted from the seabed for dismantling. Ironically, its sinking occurred as Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Sardinia to meet the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, in a visit aimed at boosting the image of the Russian navy, badly damaged by the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk just over three years ago.

Russia has decommissioned 189 nuclear-powered submarines since 1988 but officials say 126 are still at docks with nuclear fuel in their reactors, creating concern about leaks and the possibility of nuclear materials being obtained by terrorists.