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Two submersibles set to monitor sunken Russian nuclear sub


Two Russian submersibles will monitor August 15 and 18 the environmental situation around the site where a Soviet nuclear submarine sank in 1989, the deputy director of an oceanography institute said Friday.

The K-278 Komsomolets sank in April 1989 with two nuclear-tipped torpedoes onboard, killing 42 crewmen, and despite repeated assurances Russia has never gotten around to recovering the vessel.

"Experts will gather water samples and check radiation levels at the site," Alexei Sokov said, adding that a research vessel would depart the port of Murmansk August 12 to transport the Mir-1 and Mir-2 submersibles to the location of the sunken submarine.

The Mir deep-sea vehicles have just returned from an eight-hour dive to the North Pole seabed as part of a symbolic Russian expedition to claim 1.2 million square kilometers (about 460,000 square miles) of resource-rich territory - the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev Ridges named after Russian scientists - which the country says is a continuation of its continental shelf.

Russian researchers in the Mir-1 and Mir-2 traveled 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) below the Pole, and planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed.

During the upcoming double-dive, the submersibles will check the Komsomolets hull for possible radioactive leaks that could have developed since the last monitoring of the sunken submarine in 1995.

The Komsomolets was the only Project 685 nuclear-powered attack submarine in the Soviet Navy. It sank April 7, 1989 in the Norwegian Sea, about 180 kilometers (100 nautical miles) southeast of Bjornoya in 1,500-1,700 meters (5,000 to 5,600 feet) of water, when a fire broke out in the aft compartment.

The site of the accident is one of the richest fishing areas in the world, and a possible radioactive leak could destroy local commercial fishing, costing billions of dollars annually. Soviet officials stated that any possible leaks were "insignificant" and were not a threat to the environment.

In 1995, a mission set out to seal fractures in the hull and was declared a success. The Russian government has declared the risk of radioactive contamination to the environment as negligible until 2015 or 2025.

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