Scientists have identified a radiation leak on the wreck of a Russian nuclear submarine that sank in Arctic waters in 1989.
The Soviet-era Komsomolets submarine sank off Norway’s Bear Island following a fire on board, which resulted in the loss of life of 42 of the 69 crewmen on board. Resting at a depth of 5,577 feet, the submarine’s nuclear reactor and two nuclear warheads are still on board.
Scientists recently recorded radiation at the wreck site 100,000 times the normal level for the Norwegian Sea.
“Several samples taken in and around a ventilation duct on the wreck of the submarine contained far higher levels of radioactive caesium than you would normally find in the Norwegian Sea,” explained Norway’s Institute of Marine Research in a statement.
The institute said that findings were around 100 Becquerel (Bq) per liter as opposed to around 0.001 Bq per liter elsewhere in the Norwegian Sea.
The highest level measured in a sample at the wreck site was 800,000 times higher than normal, according to the researchers.
However, scientists noted that other samples from the same duct did not contain elevated levels of radiation.
“We took water samples from inside this particular duct because the Russians had documented leaks here both in the 1990s and more recently in 2007,” said Expedition Leader Hilde Elise Heldal, in a statement. “So we weren’t surprised to find high levels here.”
Heldal said that the radiation levels are not dangerously high, citing the permitted limit for radioactive caesium in food. “After the Chernobyl accident in 1986, Norwegian authorities set this limit to 600 Bq/kg”, she explained. “The levels we detected were clearly above what is normal in the oceans, but they weren’t alarmingly high.”