The remains of the Kursk submarine represent a potential nuclear accident if they are not salvaged soon, Russian ex-naval officer Aleksandr Nikitin said recently.

Addressing the American Chemical Society in Washington DC, Nikitin said that the damage done to the reactor hull when the ship struck the ocean bed would have ruptured some of the casing round the reactor in the vessel. The remaining protection offered by the hull would corrode soon in the conditions in the Barents sea, causing radioactive material to leak, he said.

The vessel, which sank on 12 August with loss of 118 crew, could leak as soon as four to six weeks after its collision with the sea bed, Nikitin said. “I think there is a danger of destruction of the safety systems on board the submarine.“ He said that the reactor containment and cooling systems were likely to have been damaged in the accident, and speculated: “After a short while the hull of the reactor will be destroyed, bringing about leakage into the sea.” This meant that the submarine had to be raised from the Barents Sea, he said, but Russia lacks the ships and equipment to do this. Further exacerbated by autumn’s violent storms with the onset of winter, salvaging the vessel will become more difficult as time goes by. He criticised the Russian government’s reluctance to ask for help in the aftermath of the incident: “Russia said they couldn’t do anything in ten days, yet Norwegian divers reached the sub in 24 hours.’ He indicated that a similar lack of decisiveness from the government is expected in its dealings around salvaging the vessel.