Sunday, May 25, 2008

Soviet Submarine Disaster of the Day

Forty years and a day ago, the November class nuclear attack submarine "K-27" suffered a reactor accident that killed five right away, more than half the crew since and left many of the rest invalids.

A most horrible nuclear accident occured on the nuclear submarine "K-27" on 24 May, 1968 at 1135.

Five sailors received lethal doses and died in the hospital, suffering horrible tortures. And after the nuclear accident, 10 more submariners died after discharge from military service. Half of the crew members are still alive today, most of them diagnosed as invalids.

The average age at death of a "K-27" crew member was 50.

The military saga of the "K-27" and its crew began in 1963 and made two unique deployments in the five years beforet the accident - to the South Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea. In its shakedown cruise, the crew of the boat under the command of Ivan Gulyayev set the world record for continuous submurgence - 52 days without surfacing. It was this legendary submarine that was the first Soviet nuclear submarine to sail in the Med.

The US Department of Energy determined that the cause of the accident in the experimental liquid metal reactor was

...[a] secondary to primary leak in the left board reactor led to fuel channel blockage and core damage, following which an estimated 20% of the fuel pins were transported to the steam generators.

The boat went on deployment several times despite a string of reactor accidents:
The first warning that the liquid cooled nuclear reactor had serious technical deficiencies let itself be known in 1959 in the Obninsk Submarine Training Center. Mazurenko says that "Then in the piping, through which coursed liquid metal, the hermetic seal broke resulting in microcracks. The sailors who were the first crew of the "K-27" arriving there for training didn't think anything of training on the mechanism. Each of them received a big dose of radiation. Some of these sailors were hospitalized and then quietly "retired". Nobody received any documentation of their injuries. Furthermore, each one signed a 25 year non-disclosure agreement about what happened to them. So they were silent as they slipped away from life, unaware of the reasons for their fatal illness."

The deployment to the South Atlantic with the world record 52 day submurgence did not pass without unplesantness - again there was a serious reactor accident. A similar story repeated itself in 1965 during "K-27"s deployment to the Med, which lasted 60 days. During resolution of the emergency situation, sailors Grigoriy Rain, Vasiliy Osyukov and the commander of the reactor compartment Sr. Lt. Vladislav Dombrovskiy displayed heroism.

But, despite this chain of reactor accidents, the crew prepared for their third deployment in the fall of 1967. The submariners had to set a new record: circumnavigation of the world without surfacing. The main task - testing the liquid metal reactor on an extended deployment in different ocean temperatures.

But this was not fated to be. In October 1967, there was a new reactor accident - there was a liquid lead leak from the loop and the crew again had to fix the leak by hand with chisels and hammers. "Not only was it radioactive," remembers Vyacheslav Mazurenko, "you had to add that it was really hot in the compartment where the lead spilled. It was simply Hell! There wasn't any sort of protection against radiation for the guys. Each guy could only work five minutes!"

The division commaner didn't listen to the warnings by the sailors that they couldn't go to sea with such an unreliable nuclear reactor, much less a round the world cruise. This became the end, not only of the story of "K-27", but also drove a stake through the heart of special project Soviet SSNs with liquid metal reactors...

Today the Project 645 November class "K-27" lays on the bottom of the Kara Sea with company:
The K-27 submarine did not sink after an accident but was scuttled in the Kara Sea in 1981 when necessary repairs were deemed impossible and decommissioning considered to be too expensive....In February 2003 a scientific expedition discovered 237 containers holding solid radioactive waste and the burial site of the K-27 in the Kara Sea in northern Russia...


celticdragon said...

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Russian Navy Blog said...

Thank you!

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