Explosion on Russian Sub Leaves One Dead

An explosion on a decommissioned nuclear submarine being cut up for scrap metal at a northern Russian shipyard killed at least one person and seriously injured another, an emergency official said Monday.

The blast at the Zvyozdochka plant on the White Sea took place at 8:32 a.m. aboard a submarine which had already been stripped of its nuclear fuel and reactors, said Igor Grigoriyev, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry in the Arkhangelsk region.

Grigoriyev said a welding torch apparently ignited fuel vapors that had built up in one compartment of the submarine. One worker was killed and a second hospitalized and in intensive care, he said. The fire was extinguished about 30 minutes after it broke out, he also said.

Russian news reports said the submarine was a Victor-class vessel that normally has two reactors on board. Oleg Frolov, chief engineer for the shipyard, said in comments broadcast on NTV that there was no danger of radiation contamination from the incident.

Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov said "there was no nuclear reactor on the submarine." Sedov told NTV that the submarine had been decommissioned in 2000 and was being cut up for scrap, and the ship's hull was largely all that remained. Arkhangelsk is located about 600 miles north of Moscow.

Since the Soviet collapse, Russia's military has been plagued by funding problems. Nuclear submarines and other atomic-powered vessels have sat for years, rusting in their berths and raising fears of nuclear contamination or theft of nuclear materials.

In recent years, the United States, Norway, and other Western countries have helped fund Russian efforts to dismantle the submarines and to secure the nuclear materials.

In August, 2002, Russian officials unveiled a new U.S.-funded facility at Severodvinsk, enabling the Zvyozdochka plant to unload spent nuclear fuel from the reactors of four Delta and two Typhoon submarines each year.