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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Fire safety system 'not to blame for Russian nuclear sub deaths'

RIA Novosti

11/11/2008 18:52 (Recasts, adds Navy statement in paras. 6-7)

MOSCOW, November 11 (RIA Novosti) - The fire safety system that was thought to have malfunctioned and caused the deaths of 20 people on board a Russian nuclear submarine was in order, a source in the investigation commission said on Tuesday.

The source also said the submarine had the required amount of individual breathing kits on board, adding however that it was too soon "to make any final conclusions as to the cause of the deaths."

"The main question now is whether or not there was a fire on board the submarine in the first place," he said.

The tragedy occurred late on Saturday while the Nerpa nuclear-powered submarine was undergoing sea trials in the Sea of Japan. Three submariners and 17 shipyard workers died in the accident. There were 208 people, 81 of them submariners, on board the vessel at the time.

Investigators said the deaths were caused by suffocation after Freon gas was released following the activation of the submarine's fire safety system. It has been suggested that human error could have been a factor in the accident.

Russian Navy spokesman Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said on Tuesday that the navy would continue to use the type of fire safety system that was installed on the Nerpa.

Dygalo said the system was "currently the most effective for the prevention and extinguishing of fires in a closed space on submarines."

He also said that the submarine's reactor was not affected by the accident, which occurred in the nose of the vessel, and that radiation levels were normal.

The incident is the worst for the Russian Navy since the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000 when all 118 sailors died.

The construction of the Akula II class Nerpa nuclear attack submarine started in 1991, but was suspended for over a decade due to a lack of funding. Akula II class vessels are considered the quietest and deadliest of all Russian nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The Nerpa started sea trials on October 27.

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