August 17, 2017

Nuclear Emergency – Russian icebreaker in Arctic has reactor leak

File photo of the Russian icebreaker Taimyr.

Russia has launched an urgent rescue mission after the nuclear-powered icebreaker Taimyr is reported to have developed a nuclear leak in Arctic waters.

The Rosatomflot nuclear fleet said in a statement that an “insignificant increase in activity” had been detected on board the 21,000-tonne Taimyr, and it has been forced to abandon its mission.

Although the term “insignificant” has been used, it is serious enough that the Taimyr has started a five day lourney back to its home port of Murmansk, in north-west Russia.

It is planned that the Taimyr’s reactor will be shut down before it enters Murmansk as a precaution.

Russian officials say that their most immediate concern is the Taimyr’s ability to navigate back through the rough, icy, Arctic Ocean.

A Rosatomflot fleet official said another icebreaker was being dispatched to the region to help the Taimyr’s journey back to port. But it was not clear how far it remained from the stricken craft.

The incident was reported in the Kara Sea – a part of the Arctic Ocean about 2000km east of Norway’s border.

The Taimyr is equiped with a single 171-megawatt reactor.

Rosatomflot said the increased levels of radiation were first detected in the air ventilation system surrounding the icebreaker’s power unit and a subsequent check showed no further damage.

It attributed the higher readings to “a leak in the primary coolant system”.

Rosatomflot are playing down the incident and have stressed that it is still being registered as a zero on the seven-point International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. That level is officially defined as “bearing no safety significance”.

“The radiation parameters on all the open decks and indoor facilities of the icebreaker are at natural levels,” Rosatomflot General Director Vyacheslav Rukshi said in a statement.

While the Russian authorities are saying the recall of the Taimyr is no big deal, newswarped is concerned, given Russia’s long history of not being open with the facts regarding previous nuclear maritime disasters.

Even though the Taimyr’s problems were first reported in the morning, the story did not get mentioned in any of the afternoon or evening state television news programs. Some things never change.