Project 971 Shuka-B Bars-class Akula class
2008 K-152 Nerpa Accident
At least 20 shipbuilders and servicemen were killed Saturday 08 November 2008 when the fire-extinguishing system aboard a nuclear-powered submarine was accidentally activated. Local Russian news agencies were reporting that human error was likely to be the cause. The submarine was conducting sea trials off Russia's Pacific coast in the waters of the Sea of Japan when the accident occurred. The submarine was supposed to soon enter the Russia Fleet. The fire-extinguishing systems aboard many submarines use chemicals and foam.
Akula II class vessels are considered the quietest and deadliest of Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines. The construction of the Akula II class K-152 Nerpa nuclear attack submarine started in 1991 but has been suspended at 82% complete for fifteen years due to lack of funding. Funding for completing the boat was included in 2007 National Defense Procurement budget, and there was speculation that the submarine was probably intended for transfer to India. The Nerpa had started sea trials on 27 October 2008.
The deaths were caused by the release of the freon gas used to put out fires. There were 208 people onboard the vessel at the time, 81 of them servicemen. Technicians and specialists comprised the majority of the people aboard the vessel. Among those killed are 17 shipyard workers and 3 military servicemen by one account, and 6 sailors and 14 civilians by another account. Among the survivors were 20 people with light-degree poisoning and one person with medium degree poisoning.
A high-ranking source in the Pacific Fleet said the accident had occurred in the nose section of the submarine and confirmed that it had not damaged the submarine's reactor. The nuclear reactor that powers the submarine appears to have been unscathed in the accident, and radiation levels in the area were described as "normal," in the hours after the incident. The nuclear powered submarine was able to return to its base, on Russia's Pacific coast, using its own power. The submarine pulled into port at Bolshoi Kamen, a military shipyard not far from the eastern city of Vladivostok, escorted by the anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and a rescue vessel. The vessel was not damaged and there was no outbreak of radiation. However, further tests to be conducted on it had been cancelled for the time being.
The accident came amid Russian attempts to impress the world its military prowess. Russia's navy had recently taken to showing its might, with a naval squadron set to take part in joint exercises in Venezuela, not far from US shores.
It was the country's biggest loss of life at sea since 118 were killed in the 2000 Kursk fiasco, after an explosion sank the vessel. The deadliest Russian submarine accident occurred on August 12, 2000, in the Barents Sea when the Kursk sunk at a depth of 107 meters, killing 118 people. The nuclear sub was lifted from the seabed in June 2002. Three years later, on August 30, 2003, another nuclear submarine K-159 sunk in the Barents Sea. Of 10 crew members only one person was saved. The sub was deactivated and was going to be recycled.
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