For the oligarch who has everything: a nuclear sub

Andrew Osborn
Friday 18 August 2006 00:00
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No self-respecting Russian oligarch is without a super-yacht, but Vladimir Romanov, owner of Hearts football club, has gone one better and bought a Soviet-era nuclear submarine.

Nor has the 59-year old Russian-born tycoon bought just any old submarine; he has purchased the legendary K-19 ballistic missile boat, the star of a Hollywood film called K-19: The Widowmaker, featuring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.

Mr Romanov, estimated to be worth £1bn from his business empire in Lithuania, now has a piece of history at the centre of one of the most chilling nuclear accidents of the Cold War.

On 4 July 1961, large amounts of coolant leaked from the K-19's nuclear reactor after it overheated during a training exercise in the Atlantic. What has been described as a "Chernobyl-style" nuclear explosion was averted after crew repaired the reactor knowing they were absorbing fatal doses of radiation.

Eight of the 139-man crew died within a week, 14 died within two years, 20 others suffered long-term illnesses and cancers, and only 48 of the original crew are alive.

The accident was hushed up for 30 years and made public only in 1990 under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost. He has proposed the survivors be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, saying that the US could have seen an explosion as "a Soviet provocation", setting off a third world war.

Mr Romanov, famed in Scotland for his ownership of Edinburgh-based Hearts, plans to have the submarine restored and turned into a museum, possibly on the Moscow river.

The purchase was not made on impulse; Mr Romanov did his military service on K-19 from 1966 till 1969, and described the period as "character-building".

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