Medvedev Orders Probe After Nuclear Submarine Fire Hurt Nine

Medvedev Orders Probe of Nuclear Submarine Fire
A grab from images released by Russia Today shows fire crew trying to extinguish a fire on board the Russian nuclear submarine Yekaterinburg docked in Murmansk. Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is probing the cause of a fire on a nuclear submarine in a dockyard near the border with Norway, the worst incident since 20 people died aboard a vessel during trials in the Sea of Japan three years ago.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who plans to earmark 20 trillion rubles ($620 billion) on defense spending through 2020, ordered two deputy prime ministers, Igor Sechin and Dmitry Rogozin, to conduct a thorough investigation and take “all necessary measures” to repair the vessel, according to an order published on the Kremlin website today.

The fire that started yesterday on the Yekaterinburg in the Murmansk region town of Roslyakovo near the Barents Sea has been fully extinguished, Emergency Minister Sergei Shoigu said in comments broadcast on state television. Firefighters continued to put out the blaze into the afternoon.

The Defense Ministry said some staff remained on board to monitor the situation. The submarine’s nuclear reactor was shut off during the repair work and there has been no sign of abnormal radioactivity aboard or in the surrounding region, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Investigators opened a criminal probe on charges of damaging military property through carelessness, the Investigative Committee said in a statement on its website. Detectives have already interviewed 50 witnesses.

The submarine was built in the early 1980s and became operational in December 1985, state television broadcaster Rossiya 24 reported. It was revamped and modernized in 2003.

Delays, Overrruns

Russia’s defense industry has suffered from delays in delivery of equipment and cost overruns, prompting the Defense Ministry to look for weapons in countries such as France. Rogozin, Russia’s former ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization who was appointed last week as the deputy premier in charge of the military, pledged to be “tough” in reviving the industry and “root out any attempts at corruption with an iron hand.”

The accident is one of several aboard Russian nuclear submarines in the past decade. Twenty people died on a vessel when a faulty firefighting system was accidentally activated during trials in the Sea of Japan in 2008. The Kursk sank in August 2000 after an onboard explosion in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 on board including 23 who survived the initial blast. A September 2006 fire on the Svyatoi Daniil Moskovskiy killed two crew members.

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