It was the Kursk tragedy revisited as Russia lost another of its nuclear submarines to the Barents Sea. The incident, in which nine servicemen were killed, came just three years after the nuclear submarine Kursk went down with a crew of 118. This time it was the 40-year old nuclear-powered submarine, k-159, which sank as it was being towed to a scrapyard. The disaster has raised fears about the environmental fallout from possible radiation leak.
The authorities were quick to point out that the two nuclear reactors of the decommissioned submarine had been shut since 1989 and thus there was no ecological threat. Environmentalists, however, contest such claims. Alexander Nikitin, a retired Russian navy captain and head of the St Petersburg branch of the Bellona Foundation -- a Norwegian environmental group -- alleged that the uranium fuel loaded into the submarine's reactors about three decades back was highly radioactive and potentially disastrous. "The risks are very high," cautioned Nikitin.
Russia's aged nuclear submarine fleet has been the cause of considerable international concern. While official estimates put the cost of scrapping about 100 such obsolete vessels at us $3.9 billion, last year the Russian government allocated only us $70 million for improving overall nuclear safety in the country.
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