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Russian nuclear sub catches fire

The Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in Gadzhiyevo in the Murmansk region, Russia in 2010.

The Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine in Gadzhiyevo in the Murmansk region, Russia in 2010.

One of Russia’s biggest nuclear submarines caught fire yesterday while undergoing repairs in dock in the northern Murmansk region but no radiation leak was reported, officials said.

The 11,740-tonne Yekaterinburg had all of its nuclear missiles and conventional rockets removed before entering the Roslyakovo dock near Russia’s border with Norway, a defence ministry spokesman said.

The fire began during the repair work and quickly spread from the shipyard’s wooden structures to the submarine’s outer hull, Northern Fleet navy spokesman Vadim Serga told the Interfax news agency.

Emergency workers launched a massive salvage operation involving 11 fire brigades and a navy fire boat but television footage showed huge clouds off smoke billowing from the shipyard even after the flames had been contained.

A special helicopter was also dousing the flames with tonnes of water from above, the Murmansk region’s TV-21 channel reported.

“I would say the flames reached about 10 metres,” one unnamed witness told the station.

A defence ministry spokesman told Russian state TV that the submarine’s two reactors had been switched off well in advance and there was “no threat of a nuclear radiation leak”.

“The power unit was switched off and is now safe,” defence ministry spokesman Igor Kona­shenkov said.

The Delta IV class vessel was commissioned by the former Soviet Union in 1985 and can carry up to 16 inter-continental ballistic missiles, according to Russian press descriptions of the submarine.

Russia is believed to have six Delta IV class submarines, which form the backbone of its sea-based nuclear defences.

The Northern Fleet has been hit by a series of small accidents and a deadly disaster in August 2000, when 118 seamen died on board the Kursk nuclear submarine when it caught fire and exploded while at sea.

In a separate incident involving the military yesterday, an Sukhoi 24 fighter jet crashed on landing in the southern region of Volgograd, although both pilots managed to eject and were unharmed, the defence ministry said.

“The plane exploded during landing,” said a ministry spokes-man quoted by Interfax. “The crew ejected following orders.”

The accident occurred at the end of a routine training flight at the Marinovka aerodrome, 60 kilometres from the city of Volograd. Accidents involving military aircraft are fairly frequent in Russia.

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