Find a Security Clearance Job!


Project 627 Engineering Casualties

Several units of this class suffered reactor accidents. The remaining Project 627 and 627A class submarines were decommissioned between 1988 and 1992. Although Soviet technology was comparable that of the West, Soviet doctrine and bureaucracy held the submariners from performing at their potential capabilities. Crew members did not reveal serious problems in a submarine, because of the fear of punishment. The construction of the K-3 took part the whole country, but most participants did not even know about it, and coordination of multi-enterprise projects was historically a major challenge under the Soviet system.

Originally the reliability of boats of the "627 Kit" and 627A was relatively low. The reason for this lay in the first place in low resources of the main power plant steam generators. After a few hundred hours of operations, there arose in the steam generators tube bundles microscopic cracks through which water from the primary circuit leaked into the second loop, increasing the level of radioactivity in it.

As a result, the whole burden of armed conflict at sea, including during the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, fell to diesel submarines. This has a negative impact on the reputation of the submarine fleet.

During the tests there were revealed various drawbacks, regarding the construction completion and finishing machinery. As a result, at the signing of the "Act of the government commission" opinion sailors and ship builders of submarine transmission order "K-3" fleet was divided. Navy representatives insisted on a version which provided for full testing of the equipment by industrial enterprises, replacing unreliable and defective assemblies and mechanisms, as well as conducting the first test replacement reactor cores, and only after this transfer of Navy submarines. Industry representatives, who supported A.P.Aleksandrov, believed that the submarine should be immediately transferred to the Navy in trial operation, during which the sailors have mastered the craft, and the disadvantages would be eliminated by the industry as they were identified.

The Soviet November-class was roughly contemporary with the U.S. Skipjack-class. The November was 352 feet long, had 26.1-foot beam, drew 21.1 feet, and displaced 4,069 tons submerged. Skipjack-class submarines were 251 feet long, 31.8 feet wide, drew 27 feet, and displaced 3,515 feet submerged. In addition, US reactor designs were safer: four of the fourteen November-class boats were lost due to reactor accidents. For comparison, only one of the six Skipjack-class submarines was lost due to an accident, and only two US nuclear subs (the Skipjack-class Scorpion with 99 aboard and the Permit-class Thresher with 125 aboard) have been lost - neither due to nuclear problems.

Francis Duncan wrote in "Rickover and the Nuclear Navy" " Over the years Quincy [shipyard] had gotten a poor reputation for its work, labor relations, material control, and management. He thought the cost of the work high and the accounting practices lax. Several times he had complained to the management about the shortage of competent engineers and the lack of aggressive supervisory personnel, but corrective actions had been sporadic and short-lived.... Quincy personnel appeared to be lower in caliber, competence, and potential than to those of other yards. The material control system was antiquated, responsibility was fragmented, and communication between levels of management was poor. It was hard to find anyone who had a complete picture of the work to be done.

"Management did not feel it was doing a bad job, but thought the unique demands of nuclear propulsion were the main source of the difficulties. To the Naval Reactors team the troubles lay elsewhere in such conventional areas as poor welding and brazing and inadequate planning.... too often technical specifications and standards were regarded by workmen and management as useful goals that need not actually be met. While this attitude might have been tolerated in the past, it was clearly not acceptable for the new technology.... Quincy had been plagued by inefficient management, poor supervision in the lower levels, bad labor relations, resistance to efforts to improve productivity, and a lack of pride in workmanship. "

On October 13, 1960, one of the most serious accidents involving a naval reactor occurred on a Northern Fleet vessel. The incident was caused by a loss of coolant to the reactor, and is classified accordingly. The Project 627 - November class submarine K-8 was on exercise in the Barents Sea when a leak developed in the steam generators and in a pipe leading to the compensator reception. The equipment for blocking these leaks was also damaged such that the crew itself began the work of stopping the leak. They mounted a provisional system for supplying water to the reactor to ensure cooling of the reactor and thereby avoid the risk of a core melt in the reactor.

Large amounts of radioactive gases leaked out which contaminated the entire vessel. The true activity of the gases could not be determined because the instrumentation only went to a certain level. Three of the crew suffered visible radiation injuries, and according to radiological experts in Moscow, certain crew members had been exposed to doses of up to 1.8 - 2 Sv (180 - 200 rem).

On July 17, 1962, K-3 was the first Soviet submarine to reach the North Pole. The reactors were seriously damaged in June 1962 as a result of a fire and subsequent problems in the cooling system. The submarine was towed to Severodvinsk where the decision was made not to deactivate the reactor. The reactor compartment of the ship (No. 258) was therefore cut out and transported away to be dumped in Abrosimova Bay in the Kara Sea. One of the reactors was dumped with its fuel. A new section with two reactors was then installed, but in 1967 another accident occurred affecting this section.

K-5,factory no. 260 was commissioned on August 17, 1960. The Reactor compartment was cut out and replaced with two new reactors.

K-8, factory no. 261 was commissioned on August 31, 1960. Two months later on October 13, 1960, there was an accident involving the power generator with a leak of radioactivity outside Great Britain.

The first major accident involving a Soviet nuclear submarine involved the Project 627 A - November class vessel K-8, which sank in the Bay of Biscay on April 8, 1970 while returning from the exercise OKEAN. The ship is not specifically prepared to participate in these exercises, he completed military service in the Mediterranean. Restock food and funds recovery from a surface ship, "K-8" under the original plan submerged passed Gibraltar strait and went out into the Atlantic, where he received orders to follow on April 7 in a given area to participate in the exercise.

Two fires started simultaneously in both the third (central) and eighth compartments. The submarine surfaced, but the crew was unable to extinguish the fires. The reactor emergency systems kicked in, leaving the submarine with virtually no power. The auxiliary diesel generators could not be started either. The control room and all the neighbouring compartments were filled with fumes from the fire. Air was pumped into the aft most main ballast tanks in an attempt to keep the vessel afloat.

By April 10, the air tanks had been emptied, and water began to flow into the seventh and eighth compartments. On the evening of April 10, part of the crew was evacuated to an escorting ship. On the morning of April 11 at 06:20, the submarine sank at a depth of 4680 metres following a loss of stability in pitch. Fifty two people died, including the captain of the vessel. Details of this accident were kept secret until 1991.

K-11, factory no. 285, was commissioned on December 23, 1961. During refuelling operations in Severodvinsk, an uncontrolled chain reaction occurred resulting in a fire on February 12, 1965. In February 1965 aboard the Project 627 - November class submarine K-11. The submarine lay in dock at the naval yard in Severodvinsk and work was underway to remove the reactor core (Operation No. 1). On February 6, the reactor lid was opened, and the following day, the lid was lifted without having first secured the control rods. Releases of radioactive steam were detected with an abrupt deterioration of conditions. Radiation monitors were going off scale, and all personnel were withdrawn. No work was done on the submarine over the course of the next five days while the specialists tried to discover the reason for the problem. The wrong conclusions were drawn, and the raising of the reactor lid was attempted again on February 12. Once again, the control rods had not been secured, and when the reactor lid was raised, there were releases of steam and a fire broke out. There are no data on radioactive contamination levels or radiation exposure of the personnel.

The reactor compartment (either no. 254 or no. 260 was considerably damaged and had to be cut out of the submarine. Later that same year or in 1966, both reactors were dumped into Abrosimova Bay in the Kara Sea while still containing their fuel, and a new reactor compartment was installed.

On 30 August 2003 nine crew members died when a nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea while being towed. The K-159 submarine was on its way to be stripped of its nuclear reactors when it began to sink during a storm. The submarine broke free from giant pontoons that were towing it to shore, to be dismantled. The K-159 was not filled with polysterol to improve floating opportunities, as it is done with military ships. Rescuers saved one crewman and recovered two of the bodies. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the submarine will be raised from the seabed "without fail." Ivanov suspended the captain who was in charge of towing the submarine and President Vladimir Putin said there will be a thorough investigation. The accident came three years after the nuclear submarine "Kursk" sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 on board. The "Kursk" had active reactors, but the K-159's nuclear reactors were shut down in 1989 when it was decommissioned.

Russia's defense minister said human error was to blame for the sinking of the submarine K-159. He and other officials said a failure to follow instructions was a large part of what happened. On Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov's recommendation, on 11 September 2003 Russian President Vladimir Putin temporarily dismissed Northern Fleet Commander Admiral Gennadiy Suchkov in connection with the deaths of the crew of the K-159 submarine.

Admiral Suchkov faced a court trial, accused of the accident with the K-159 sub. The chairman of the court Alexander Homyakov said 85 witnesses would be interrogated. However, court itself was a closed one. The MoD and the Ministry of Atomic Energy (MAE) could not decide between themselves who was the owner of the sub. In 2004 Suchkov was fired after the Northern Navy Admiral military court sentenced to four years' imprisonment with a probation period of two years in the case. The court found him guilty of negligence, negligently caused 9 people. Subsequently, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court left the sentence in force.

Since mid-April 2005 Suchkov was an adviser to Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Former commander of the Pacific and the Northern Fleet Admiral Gennady Suchkov Russia died 07 August 2013 after a long illness in a military hospital in Moscow.

Join the mailing list