Submarine "KURSK" on the Barents Sea

So now we have the shattered hulk of Russia’s finest submarine, sitting on the bottom of the Barents Sea. Apart from the tragedy of losing 118 young men, what are the consequences for us?
-will the sub eventually leak radiation into the sea, and cause contamination of the marine environment?
-the Russians say there were no nuclear weapons aboard, but assuming there are, what dangers do these pose?
-what happens to the nuclear reactors-will the control rods eventually rust away (allowing the reactors to go critical) and heat up again?
Finally, the Russians say they want to raise the sub-but barring a miracle-how do you raise a 20,000 ton sub from 320 feet (in a stormy, arctic ocean)?
I can see a lot of bad things coming from this disaster-is it possible to bury the wreck in concrete on the bottom?

I don’t know about the radiation leakage, but I have heard a suggestion of how they intend to raise the sub. One expert on the news said that they intended to attach inflatable pontoons to the sub, inflate them, and raise it to the surface. The sub sank in somewhat shallow water, so that should make any recovery efforts easier.

Don’t know about radiation leakage either. On the salvage front, the Norwegians have said that it will take months of planning to do this correctly; it’s likely the attempt to raise the sub won’t happen until next spring, when the weather will be calmer anyway.

If you think that’s difficult, how about recovering someone else’s sub, without their knowledge, in 14,000 feet of water, in 1974? That’s what we did (sorta). We almost recovered an entire Soviet sub that way. Got it off the bottom and started lifting it up when something went wrong. Did recover some of it, though. Anyway, point being, we can do some pretty amazing things as human beings when motivated enough to do so. The US will probably pour millions upon millions for recovery ops (must save the environment, you know). Christ, we just gave them 70mil (?) to shut down Chernobyl(sp?) If it gets raised, we’ll probably be the ones doing the work.


Inflate them? Under several hundred feet of pressure? Why not:

  1. Inflate then at the surface
  2. Attach them to 20,000 tons of rocks
  3. Drop pontoons + rocks into the water
  4. Attach the pontoons to the sub
  5. Detach the pontoons from the rocks
  6. Let sub rise to the surface.

I believe the theory is very simple: Give the hulk enough ballast and it will rise.

The current proposal – the Ruskies are negotiating with a guy here who builds those round-the-world hot air balloons – to make huge, water operable balloons and attach them one by one and fill them with air. That way you use water to your advantage.

Read another thread here where a boat was raised in a similar fashion using ping-pong balls. Obviously, this is on a much larger scale but, in theory it’s supposed to work. Thats what they’re going with at the moment.

I believe the meaning is that you have the pontoons afloat and raise the sub from there. I do not think you can have a “submarine pontoon”.

If the Russians are willing to let the West in, it shouldn’t be impossible. That is, of course, a major “if”.

The Russian navy is apparently trying to shift the blame, and probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to have the British assisting with a salvage operation after their attempt to blame the disaster on a collision with a British sub. But if the political pressure is heavy enough (and apparently, the pressure is rather intense right now), they will in the end ask the West for help. The last place the Russians will ask is probably the US. Asking the old enemy for help, handing a ton of goodwill over in the process ? I don’t see that happening. So why not ask the Norwegians again ? They enjoy considerable popularity in Russia right now, they certainly have a vested interest in raising the Kursk and while they are Nato members, it’s not so humiliating as asking the US. Besides, they don’t have any nuclear subs of their own and will have a harder time smuggling a spook in among the salvage crew. Of course, all that’s just politics.

That aside, I believe the Norwegians would stand a decent chance of salvaging the Kursk. Thanks to their oil industry in the North Sea, they know a thing or two about deep sea operations in crappy weather - as they just demonstrated. If the Norwegians provided know-how, key technology and key personnel, Russia should be able to help out on the logistical side and supply manpower, shipping, helicopters, shipyards etc. It shouldn’t be impossible - 107 m isn’t that bad, divers can work for hours in those depths.

If I understand things correctly, the main problem isn’t so much providing the needed lift - given some time, you can build a simple pontoon to lift any number of tons (to lift 20.000 tons, you need to displace 20.000 cubic metres of water - two pontoons measuring 10 x 10 x 100 metres will do that, any shipyard can build those) - but more one of attaching the lifting bodies securely. And as the bow of the sub is crammed with damaged torpedoes (propelled by hydrogen peroxide), rocking the sub about could perhaps trigger more explosions…

Any deep-sea diving Dopers ?

The story is that it was an American sub, the Memphis. I read the theory on a website that’s devoted to the Russian military. The site seems to be down right now, but I’ll post the link if it comes back up. Supposedly, the Kursk was testing some kind of new missle or torpedo or something. The US sent a Los Angeles class submarine (the Memphis) to monitor the test. Apparently, this kind of observation happens all the time, so the Memphis being there was no big deal. However, through some act of gross incompetence, the Memphis ended up colliding with the Kursk. This caused an explosion inside the Kursk (presumably caused by whatever was being tested) and it sank quickly. Supposedly, the Memphis didn’t sink, but it had to limp into a Norwegian naval base for emergency repairs. The story says that Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin are agreeing to coverup the incident because there’s tons of anti-Western sentiment in Russia right now, and if it became known that America was responsible for the accident, it’s quite possible that it could lead to the hard-line Communists coming back into power. There’s no proof of the story, but it’s an interesting one all the same.

Interesting - the story I read was about a Russian paper whose sources in the Russian navy claimed that it was a British sub and the Brits sent their rescue vehicle to destroy the evidence.

Sounds interesting, though I doubt it could be kept a secret.

The sub was supposed to have been designed to withstand a direct torpedo hit…so it looks like the Russian Navy have a choice between:

(a) Admitting that the original ‘torpedo surviving’ design was so flawed the sub came off second best in a collision with another sub that wasn’t critically damaged, or

(b) Admitting that it was a weapons blunder by the crew.

Gee, I guess it must have been those dasterdly foreigners. Best increase the Navy budget.

The original theory I heard (that a torpedo exploded while readying it for firing) sounds very much like what happened to the U.S.S. Scorpion

Foreign drivers, man what are you going to do …

Here’s a CNN interview w/ an analyst from Jane’s which I found quite interesting - Jane’s thinks it was a torpedo accident.

  • it’s been on my mind a lot.

When a test firing is carried out of any weapons system it is incredibly difficult for any unauthorised persons to get within miles of the subject but there is hardly any need as test missiles, torpedoes etc send out plenty of telemetry which is recorded for later examination.

The Russians would have known to a nicety the position of the sub before the ill-fated attempt and anyone spying would have been excluded from the area to a distance of plenty of miles.They probably have the protocols that would allow them to enforce that with force.
The area will likely have an undersea monitoring grid so it would be incredibly difficult for a Nato sub to approach undetected.

Still in the world of spook v spook anything is possible but I think that this story is for home consumption rather than for us.

They could bring it up in pieces.

The sight where I heard the “American sub” theory is back up. The address is (Just type it in manually; I can’t get the url code to work right). It’s primarily a Russian aviation page, but it also has the aforementioned article on the sub accident. You can find info on Kosovo and the war in Chechnya from a Russian point of view, if you’re interested.

If they bring it up they probably will do it the same way the USN raised the Sculpin in 1939(?). Divers will close off what part of the boat they can, they will sink pontoons and attach them to the boat, and then they will blow all the water they can from inside the pressure hull and from the ballast tanks. Then they will blow the water (carefully) from the pontoons so that the ascent can be controlled. From there they will put it in a floating dry dock (if they have one that large) or they will tow it to port.

The Ryan Said "Inflate them? Under several hundred feet of pressure? "
At a depth of 350 feet the pressure is about 10.6 atmospheres or 10.6 X 14.7 psi = 156 psi. In terms of the tanks used to hold gases that’s not a high pressure. For example, scuba tanks are routinely filled to 3000 psi. I am sure there will be some major problems with salvaging the sub, but I don’t see why inflating any lifting devices would be a major factor - unless it would be the sheer volume of gas required.

Here’s a link on the Hughes Glomar Explorer, which actually recovered a chunk of a Soviet sub from over ten thousand feet down in the Pacific. The sub that Glomar attempted to recover was a non-nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine.

There are now at least seven sunken nuclear submarines around the world. All of the sunken Soviet nuclear submarines were from the Northern Fleet. The Kursk belonged to the Northern Fleet’s non-Soviet successor. Someday, the North Atlantic might be a warmer place than it is today.

The United States has had their share of mishaps, too.

The Navy has looked into the state of the reactors that have been lying around down there to see if anything has leaked. They say, "no, not yet. If and when one does, we’ll all have to update our calendars.