The Russian nuclear submarine Komsomolets sank as a result of a fire in the Barents Sea, to a depth of 1700 m In April 1989. After initial plans to raise the submarine using an SSCV. it was decided to leave it on the seabed and hermetise it. After expeditions in 1989, 1991. 1992 and 1993 to monitor the situation, it was decided to seal off a number of holes in the submarine hull to prevent leakage of radioactive elements into the environment. The 1994 expedition successfully carried out the first phase of this project, which will be completed during the 1995 summer season. The summary below describes background information and plans for the completion of the project.
In 1992, the Komsomolets Foundation was established. Represented among the Board Members were technology, industry, governments, environmentalists, military and politicians. The Foundation's major aim was and is to contribute to the prevention or elimination of notably nuclear and chemical threats to the marine environment, in particular in the Arctic and Baltic Seas. In coordination with authorities of the Russian Federation, the Russian submarine Komsomolets was chosen as a pilot project. There were at least three reasons to focus primarily on this titanium made submarine which sank in 1989, after fire broke out and explosions occurred. These were as follows:
Electrochemical reactions inside the vessel threatened to release several kilos of highly toxic plutonium from the warheads of the two nuclear weapons in the front side of the submarine within two to three years.
The challenging character of the problem (one nuclear reactor and two nuclear weapons at a depth of close to 1,800 m in the northern Atlantic) would provide ample opportunity to develop new concepts for international cooperation, new technology and techniques, and new materials, which could subsequently be used for the neutralisation of other, larger but, timewise, less pressing sources of radioactive or chemical contamination.
At the request of the then Soviet Government, Russian and non-Russian industries, including the firms Smit International and Heerema, had already gathered in-depth information concerning the vessel and its environment before a joint effort to lift the vessel (lifting was abolished when the integrity of the vessel appeared to be less than acceptable).
Following continued and intensive consultations with a variety of Russian institutions and organisations, the Foundation contributed to a major expedition to the Komsomolets in 1993. With the help of small submarines, the wreck was carefully checked. On the basis of scientific and technical reports, a follow-on expedition was launched in 1994. This expedition managed to close nine smaller holes in the front side of the vessel. Further research at a depth of 1,800 m formed the basis for a final follow-on project, focusing on the closing of a major hole in the top of the submarine. This effort is to be Implemented in 1995.