Nuclear Submarines

On August 12, 2000, an explosion in a torpedo tube sank the giant Russian nuclear submarine Kursk and its crew of 118 in the Barents Sea. Russian officials described the sinking as a "catastrophe that developed at lightning speed." A week later, divers opened the rear hatch of the sub but found no survivors. It took salvagers two years, but the Kursk and her two nuclear reactors was raised.

The Kursk was the sixth nuclear submarine to have sunk since 1963. The others all came to rest on the ocean floor at depths of more than 4,500 feet, far below where most marine life lives. They include two former Soviet submarines—one that sank east of Bermuda in 1986 and another that went down in the Bay of Biscay in 1970—and two U.S. nuclear submarines—the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion—which sank in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.

U.S. Navy officials report there is little likelihood of radioactive release from the U.S. ships. Reactor fuel elements in American submarines are made of materials that are extremely corrosion resistant, even in sea water. The protective cladding on the fuel elements corrodes only a few millionths of an inch per year, meaning the reactor core could remain submerged in sea water for centuries without releases of fission products while the radioactivity decays.

Comprehensive deep ocean radiological monitoring operations were conducted at the Thresher site in 1965, 1977, 1983, and again in 1986. None

Two cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. (©W. Cody/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

Central Nuclear

Two cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant. (©W. Cody/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

of the samples obtained showed any evidence of release of radioactivity from the reactor fuel elements.

Internet Resources

Nave, C.R. "Hyper Physics." Available from http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/ hbase/hframe.html.

Public Citizen. "Decades of Delay: The NRC's Failure to Stockpile Potassium Iodide & Protect the Public Health and Safety" Available from http://www.citizen.org/ cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/nuclear_power_plants/reactor_safety/articles.cfm? ID=4433.

Subnet. "USS Thresher (SSN-593)." Available from http://www.subnet.com/fleet/ ssn593.htm.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "Fact Sheet on the Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant." Available from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/ doc-collections/fact-sheets/fschernobyl.html.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "Fact Sheet on the Accident at Three Mile Island." Available from http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/ 3mile-isle.html.

Richard M. Stapleton

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment