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Magazine claims Russia came close to nuclear disaster in December

10 April 2012

Russia came close to nuclear disaster in late December when a blaze engulfed a nuclear-powered submarine carrying atomic weapons, a leading Russian magazine has reported. Russian officials said at the time that all nuclear weapons aboard the submarine Yekaterinburg had been unloaded well before a fire engulfed the 167-metre vessel and there had been no risk.

Eleven fire brigades, a navy fire boat and a helicopter battled the fire on the Yekaterinberg
Eleven fire brigades, a navy fire boat and a helicopter battled the fire on the Yekaterinberg

But the respected Vlast weekly magazine quoted sources in the Russian navy as saying that throughout the fire on December 29, the submarine was carrying 16 R-29 intercontinental ballistic missiles, each armed with four nuclear warheads.

The fire started when welding sparks ignited wooden scaffolding around the 18,200-tonne submarine at the Roslyakovo docks near Murmansk, 1,500 km north of Moscow, one of the main shipyards used by Russia's Northern Fleet.

The rubber covering of the submarine then caught fire, sending flames and smoke 10 metres above the stricken vessel. Firemen fought the blaze for a day and a night before partially sinking the submarine to douse the flames, according to media reports.

Vlast reported that immediately after the fire, the Yekaterinburg sailed to the navy's weapons store, an unusual trip for a damaged submarine supposedly carrying no weapons, and casting doubt on assurances that it was not armed.

The magazine said that apart from the nuclear weapons, the submarine was carrying torpedoes and mines as well as its two nuclear reactors, and claimed that if one of the torpedoes had exploded it could have threatened the nuclear missiles, leading to an extremely serious nuclear accident.

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