Norwegian researchers claim to have detected radioactive leakage from the Soviet nuclear submarine Komsomolets, which sank in Arctic waters in 1989.
On Monday afternoon, water samples were taken from the submarine's ventilation pipe. While two samples found no leakage at all, a third one indicated a level of radioactivity 100,000 times higher than in ordinary seawater, national broadcaster NRK reported.
“The results are preliminary. We will examine the samples more thoroughly when we get home. The levels we have found here are 100 bq per litre”, Researcher Hilde Elise Heldal at the Institute of Marine Research explained.
The joint Russian-Norwegian expedition to measure radioactive leakage from the Komsomolets started on Saturday, when the Norwegian research vessel G.O. Sars departed from a quay in Tromsø.
As the submarine lies at the depth of 1,700 metres, collecting seawater and seabed samples is considered challenging. Therefore, researchers used the Norwegian-built remotely controlled mini-submarine Ægir 6000, which also took photographs of the spot, one of which was subsequently released by the Directorate for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (DSA).
Slik ser den sovjetiske atomubåten "Komsomolets" ut i dag – 30 år etter at den sank i Norskehavet. Forskerne fikk de første bildene av vraket sent søndag kveld. pic.twitter.com/4QBMB3svPv— Direktoratet for strålevern og atomsikkerhet (@Straalevernet) 8 июля 2019 г.
Heldal said she is not very surprised at the findings, since a 2007 Russian expedition also found radioactive emissions from the sunken submarine.
Previous Norwegian surveys also found elevated concentrations of the radioactive cesium-137 in the seawater around the wreck during the period 1991-1993. Norway has been surveying radioactivity around the Komsomolets every year since 1990.
“It is important that the monitoring continues, so that we have updated knowledge of the pollution situation in the area around the wreck. The surveillance helps to secure the consumer's confidence in the Norwegian fishing industry”, researcher Hilde Elise Heldal at the Institute of Marine Research explained.
The Soviet nuclear submarine Komsomolets sank on 7 April 1989 after a fire broke out in the machine room. The submarine sank southwest of Bjørnøya Island in the Norwegian Sea, and 42 of the crew of 69 died. The rest were picked up by fishing boats after a several hours' ordeal in the ice-cold water.
The Komsomolets rests at the depth of 1,700 metres with a nuclear reactor and two torpedoes.