Thursday, December 29, 2011

Breaking: Russian nuclear sub fire - put out by sinking it.

MOSCOW (Reuters) —

After battling for hours to extinguish a blaze aboard a nuclear submarine, Russian firefighters finally gained control of it early Friday by submerging the stricken vessel at a navy shipyard.

Television showed a giant plume of smoke above the yard in the Murmansk region of northern Russia as more than 100 firefighters struggled to douse flames that witnesses said rose 30 feet above the submarine.

The firefighters tried for hours to douse the flames with water from helicopters and tugboats before trying another approach: partly sinking the submarine. The fire continued to burn, but the intensity was reduced. “The fire has been localized,” Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said from a control room in Moscow more than nine hours after the blaze began on Thursday.

Russia said that the vessel’s nuclear reactor had been shut down and that all weapons had been removed from the 550-foot Yekaterinburg, which launched an intercontinental ballistic missile from the Barents Sea at a firing range thousands of miles away in Kamchatka as recently as July.

“Radiation levels are normal,” a spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry said. “No one was injured.”

After hours of trying to put out the flames, officials decided to partly submerge the hull of the 18,200-ton submarine at the Roslyakovo dock, one of the main dockyards of Russia’s northern fleet, 900 miles north of Moscow.

Local media reports were vague, but the blaze was believed to have started when wooden scaffolding caught fire during welding repairs to the submarine, which had been hoisted into a dry dock.

The submarine can carry 16 ballistic missiles, each with four warheads. Its nuclear reactor was not damaged in the fire. Russian Navy submarine reactors are built to withstand enormous shocks and high temperatures.

“The reactor has been shut down and does not pose any danger,” an official at navy headquarters said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russia’s worst post-Soviet submarine disaster occurred in August 2000 when the Kursk nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 crewmen aboard.

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