A joint Norwegian-Russian team of scientists has detected a possible radiation leak at the site where the Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine K-278 Komsomolets, the only Project 685 Plavnik nuclear-powered attack submarine, sank 30 years ago.
Several samples taken in and around a ventilation duct on the wreck of the K-278 Komsomolets submarine contained far higher levels of radioactive caesium than you would normally find in the Norwegian Sea, according to a report by the Institute of Marine Research (IMR).
The highest level measured in a sample was 800,000 times higher than normal.
Also was reported that radiation levels in the water around a sunken Soviet-era nuclear submarine are some 100,000 times higher than normal.
“We took water samples from inside this particular duct because the Russians had documented leaks here both in the 1990s and more recently in 2007”, says the expedition leader Hilde Elise Heldal.
“So we weren’t surprised to find high levels here.”
The levels the researchers found in the sample were around 100 Bq per litre, as opposed to around 0.001 Bq per litre elsewhere in the Norwegian Sea.
“The levels we detected were clearly above what is normal in the oceans, but they weren’t alarmingly high”, explains the expedition leader.
“Over the past few days we have also taken samples a few metres above the duct. We didn’t find any measurable levels of radioactive caesium there, unlike in the duct itself”, says Justin Gwynn, a researcher at the Norwegian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (DSA).
K-278 Komsomolets lies at a depth of about 1,700 meters (1 mile). It sank after a fire broke out on board on April 7, 1989, killing 42 of its 69 crew members.
Just before taking the first sample that gave a high reading, researchers noticed a kind of “cloud” rising up from the duct.
A “cloud” was also seen rising from a grille nearby, where the researchers again measured high levels.
The big question is whether this “cloud” may be related to the radioactivity the researchers observed inside the duct.
“It looks very dramatic on video, and it’s definitely interesting, but we don’t really know what we’re seeing and why this phenomenon occurs. It’s something we want to find out more about”, says Justin Gwynn of the DSA.