Submarines: September 14, 2000

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The loss of the Russian submarine Kursk only hints at a much larger problem. There are 179 decommissioned Russian nuclear-powered submarines cluttering Russian ports. Of these, five have had the fuel removed and another 31 subs (17 in the Northern Fleet and 14 in the Pacific) are under US-paid contracts for defueling. The remainder all have reactor fuel on board. This presents a two major problems. One is ecological; the subs are corroded and deteriorating and there is some danger that one or more could suffer serious leaks. The other is the risk of proliferation, as the almost-unguarded subs could be pilfered by underpaid Russian guards more interested in cash than patriotism and the nuclear material sold abroad. Many have criticized the US for failing to provide enough funds to remove the fuel and convert it into safer commercial reactor fuel. Russia is thought to have 1,000 metric tons of Highly Enriched Uranium and 160 tons of Plutonium.--Stephen V Cole

 


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