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Official Suggests Nukes Were on Russian Submarine During Fire

Russian Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin on Monday hinted that nuclear-tipped missiles might have been on board a submarine when a fire broke out on the vessel in December, Reuters reported (see GSN, Feb. 13).

The incident occurred on Dec. 29 while the Yekaterinburg was in dock for maintenance work. At the time, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed the strategic missile submarine had been unarmed as is required for upkeep activities and that there was no danger of radiation exposure to the public.

Rogozin, though, noted that Soviet rules from 1986 do not mandate the unloading of weapons from submarines for small maintenance projects.

"Was the kind of repair that was being done on the Yekaterinburg such that it required the removal of torpedoes and ballistic missiles?" Rogozin said to journalists without providing a response.

He indicated that the December maintenance job was a lower-level effort: "It was not a medium-sized repair, when a boat goes in for a medium-sized repair, of course everything is removed; when a boat goes in and they say we have some small problem, it is never removed."

The incident began when sparks produced by welding work caused wooden support beams surrounding the submarine to catch fire at the Roslyakovo shipyard. It took 20 hours to extinguish the fire.

The prominent news magazine Vlast earlier this month reported that the blaze could have triggered the detonation of torpedoes, which would probably have led to explosions in the submarine's two atomic reactors and possible detonations of 16 nuclear-armed missiles stored in the middle part of the vessel. Had that occurred, it would have been the "biggest catastrophe since the time of Chernobyl," the magazine said.

The submarine traveled to the Russian navy's arms depot directly after the fire, which would be not be normal for an unarmed vessel that had just been through a fire, according to the magazine.

Rogozin said the results of a government investigation into the fire would be issued on Friday.

"We want there to be no doubt, in the future, about what kind of repair requires unloading of weapons and what kind of repair does not," the deputy prime minister said (Gleb Bryanski, Reuters, Feb. 20).

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