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    Russian submersibles to monitor K-278 nuclear sub disaster area

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    Russian researchers involved in the North Pole dive will monitor the environmental situation around the site where a Soviet nuclear submarine sank in 1989, the deputy director of an oceanography institute said Friday.

    ST. PETERSBURG, August 3 (RIA Novosti) - Russian researchers involved in the North Pole dive will monitor the environmental situation around the site where a Soviet nuclear submarine sank in 1989, the deputy director of an oceanography institute said Friday.

    Alexei Sokov said the Akademik Fedorov research vessel will transport the Mir submersibles to Murmansk for transfer to the Norwegian Sea the site of the sinking of the K-278 Komsomolets nuclear-powered submarine, which killed 42 submariners.

    The submarine sank in April 1989, with two nuclear-tipped torpedoes on board, and despite repeated assurances, Russia has never got around to lifting the vessel.

    "Scientists will continue the environmental monitoring of the area, which was conducted throughout the 1990s, the last time in 1998," he said, adding that the expedition will last 11 days.

    Two Russian submersibles surfaced Thursday after more than an eight-hour dive to the North Pole seabed, in a symbolic Russian expedition to claim Arctic territory.

    Russian researchers in the Mir-1 and Mir-2 traveled 4,200 meters (14,000 feet) below the Pole, and planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed.

    The dive was designed to bolster Russia's claim to 1.2 million sq kilometers (about 460,000 sq miles) of resource-rich territory - the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev Ridges named after Russian scientists - which the country says is the continuation of its continental shelf.

    Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, whose country also has a large section of Arctic territorial waters, dismissed Russia's symbolic flag-planting as a meaningless gesture that does not strengthen its territorial claim.

    K-278 Komsomolets was the only Project 685 nuclear-powered attack submarine of the Soviet Navy. It sank April 7, 1989 about 180 kilometers (100 nautical miles) southeast of Bjornoya in 1,500-1,700 meters (5,000 to 5,600 ft) of water, when a fire broke out in the aft compartment.

    The site of the accident is one of the richest fishing areas in the world, and a possible radioactive leak could destroy local commercial fishing, costing billions of dollars annually. Soviet officials stated that any possible leaks were "insignificant" and no threat to the environment.

    In 1995 a mission set out to seal the fractures in the hull and was declared a success. The Russian government has declared the risk of radioactive contamination to the environment as negligible until 2015 or 2025.