- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

MOSCOW — A fire on board a Russian nuclear submarine Wednesday in the Barents Sea killed two crew members but there was no threat of a radiation leak, the navy said.

Russia’s navy chief said the submarine was overdue for scheduled repairs — raising fresh concerns about safety standards in the country’s aging submarine fleet. Submarine safety has been under scrutiny since the Kursk atomic submarine sank in the Barents Sea six years ago, killing all 118 crew members.

The navy commander in chief, Adm. Vladimir Masorin, said the fire broke out in an electricity control panel of the submarine, the St. Daniel of Moscow — away from the reactor — and was put out by the crew. The submarine has been towed back to port.

The victims, a 28-year-old sailor and a 35-year-old warrant officer, had been fighting the fire. They died of smoke inhalation.

“It seems likely our equipment has let us down again,” Adm. Masorin was shown saying on the Rossiya state television. “This boat is 16 years old, and it is overdue for an overhaul.”

He added, though, that periodic repairs had been carried out and that the vessel was in working order. He said the fire most likely was caused by a short circuit.

The submarine was north of the Rybachiy Peninsula near Russia’s border with Finland when it caught fire, Interfax news agency quoted navy sources as saying.

It is a Viktor-class attack submarine armed with torpedoes but not nuclear weapons, defense analysts said. It was not clear whether the St. Daniel of Moscow carried any weapons on mission.

It entered service in 1990, making it one of the fleet’s more modern submarines. It had a fire in its torpedo compartment in 1994, said Norwegian environmental group Bellona, which monitors Russia’s submarine fleet.

“This is a very serious incident,” said Alexander Nikitin, a former nuclear engineer in the Russian navy who now works as an environmental advocate.

A tug towed the vessel to Vidyayevo, a Russian submarine base on the Barents Sea about 30 miles north of the Russian city of Murmansk.

Norway’s radiation safety authority, which has measuring stations near the area, said it had not registered any radioactivity above normal.

But the fire may have damaged electrical systems vital for controlling the reactor, said Mr. Nikitin, who was briefly jailed on treason charges in the 1990s after writing a report on radioactive contamination from Russian submarines.

Russia has the world’s second-biggest submarine fleet after the United States and many of the vessels date to the Soviet era.

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