A Sunken Soviet Sub Is Raising the Radioactivity of the Norwegian Sea 800,000-Fold. But Don’t Worry.


A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) takes samples from the sunken Soviet sub in the Norwegian Sea. Credit: Stine Hommedal/IMR

A Cold War Soviet nuclear submarine met disaster 30 years ago when it sank in the Norwegian Sea, leading to the deaths of 42 sailors. But instead of lying peacefully at the bottom of the sea, that sub, called the Komsomolets, is leaking radioactive material deep beneath the waves.

By Laura Geggel, Associate Editor | LiveScience

Several samples collected by an underwater robot from and around the sunken sub’s ventilation duct show that it’s leaking high levels of cesium, a radioactive element, according to the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR). Some of the cesium levels are 800,000 times higher than normal levels in the Norwegian Sea, according to the institute.

However, this radiation does not pose a risk to people or fish, the IMR noted. [Photos: WWII Shipwrecks Found Off NC Coast]

The Soviets launched the 400-foot-long (120 meters) Komsomolets, which means „member of the Young Communist League,“ in May 1983, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. While the Komsomolets was on patrol in April 1989, a fire broke out on board, leading to the sub’s eventual demise. As the Komsomolets sank, its two nuclear reactors and at least two torpedoes with plutonium-containing nuclear warheads fell to the bottom of the sea.

read more