Tuesday, July 2, 2002

MOSCOW Wrapping up nearly two years of sensitive investigation into one of the country’s worst post-Soviet disasters, the Russian government said yesterday that leaky torpedo fuel caused the explosions that destroyed the Kursk nuclear submarine.
The announcement that the vessel was destroyed by an internal malfunction and not a foreign submarine as had once been theorized was an uncomfortable admission for Russia’s struggling military. The Kursk was one of the navy’s most advanced submarines when it sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000, killing all 118 men aboard.
Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov, who led the commission investigating the disaster, said a leak of hydrogen peroxide used to fuel the 65-76 Kit (Whale) torpedo was at fault, according to the Interfax news agency. The conclusion was reached unanimously at the commission’s last meeting Saturday, Mr. Klebanov said.
“The reason for the accident was a thermal explosion of torpedo fuel components. It occurred as a result of a leak of hydrogen peroxide and the ignition of materials in the torpedo apparatus,” Mr. Klebanov was quoted as saying.
Another commission member, parliament member Vice Adm. Valery Dorogin, was quoted by Interfax as saying that the torpedo fuel caused one explosion that killed all crew members in the submarine’s first compartment and some in the next compartment.
Then the fire and increase in pressure caused other ammunition on the submarine to detonate, resulting in a huge, second explosion, signaling doom for the entire craft, he said.
Outside observers, including U.S. and Russian experts, had long ago reached the same conclusion about what destroyed the Kursk. But the Russian government investigation dragged on, and Russian officials refused to rule out the theory of a collision with a foreign submarine possibly American or British until recently.
Mr. Klebanov’s office refused to comment yesterday on the announcement, and calls to Adm. Dorogin’s office went unanswered.
“We knew this a long time ago,” said Igor Kudrin, a former submarine officer who heads the Submariners’ Club in St. Petersburg, a relief organization of mostly retired officers that has lobbied on behalf of the victims’ families.
While Mr. Kudrin said it was some comfort that the commission agreed with other experts’ findings, he added that the results “will not put an end to the Kursk story for the relatives.”
Russia has already pulled from service all torpedoes of the type that malfunctioned, which are propelled by highly volatile hydrogen peroxide and have reportedly been used since the early 1970s. The torpedoes have a higher speed and range than conventional torpedoes powered by electric engines advantages that, according to Russian news reports, prompted the Navy to neglect concerns about its unstable fuel.
The commission’s investigation was largely based on study of the bulk of the Kursk’s wreckage, which was lifted in an international operation last October.

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