What Happens to Sunken Nuclear Submarines?

In total, humans have lost nine nuclear submarines since World War II. These ships were never recovered; all of them sank due to some strange accident on board or extensive damage that ultimately led to their destruction. The Soviet Union built four hundred nuclear-powered submarines during the Cold War, and some of these submarines are now trapped at the bottom of the sea with their uranium fuel supplies intact. BBC reports on efforts to protect two such ships, K-27 and K-159. Donors are discussing Russia's request to help finance the project, said Balthasar Lindauer, director of nuclear safety at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The Mayak reprocessing plant, which received spent fuel from Andreyev Bay by train, has a troubled history dating back to the world's worst nuclear disaster in 1957. Meanwhile, nuclear safety and environmental projects are making their way as the most promising open doors for joint cooperation of the Nordic countries countries and the EU have with Russia under the current international tensions. The Washington State Department of Ecology Nuclear Waste Program works to oversee all Hanford nuclear waste activities. Governments and environmental groups are concerned that a breakdown in nuclear fuel supply could cause a nuclear catastrophe affecting local fishing areas. The sum includes K-27 and K-159, but also the other reactors discharged from K-11, K-19 and K-140, as well as spent nuclear fuel from an older reactor that serves to break the ice “Lenin”. However, as in other countries, Soviet nuclear waste was also dumped into the sea, and now attention has shifted there. Ingar Amundsen, head of international nuclear safety at the Norwegian Nuclear Safety and Radiation Authority, agrees that it is a question of when, not if, sunken submarines will pollute waters if left as is.

With a draft decree published in March, President Vladimir Putin launched an initiative to lift two Soviet nuclear submarines and four reactor compartments from the silty bottom, reducing the amount of radioactive material in the Arctic Ocean by 90%. Oregon Department of Energy Works with Navy to Ensure Safe Passage of Barges Carrying Nuclear Waste. When Moscow held the presidency of the Arctic Council this spring, the need to lift hazardous nuclear materials from the seabed was highlighted as a priority. But also K-27, along with all the other nuclear waste dumped east of Novaya Zemlya, threatens future fisheries in Russia's Arctic waters. When nuclear reactors used to power submarines and aircraft carriers are eliminated, the Department of Defense maintains and monitors radioactive parts.

Nuclear submarines are weapons that must be used with great care due to their potential for causing damage to nature and personnel caused by their nuclear reactor. For more information on Naval Reactor Installation, visit the Naval Nuclear Laboratory website.