MOSCOW (AP) - The nuclear reactors aboard the sunken submarine Kursk are safe and won't jeopardize a Dutch company's effort to raise the sub from the Arctic seabed in September, the deputy head of the Russian navy said Friday.
"Regular radiation monitoring has shown that the reactors are safe," said Vice Adm. Mikhail Barskov, the navy's top official in the recovery effort.
He said ships from the Northern Fleet would keep track of radiation levels constantly during the salvage effort run by the Dutch company Mammoet. The operation will start around July 9 when 16 Russian and foreign divers are expected to arrive at the site in the Barents Sea. The
divers will inspect the submarine and install equipment needed to haul the submarine to the surface around Sept. 15.
The Kursk sank Aug. 12 after two explosions in its forward weapons bay, the second of which was comparable to a small earthquake. Unexploded torpedoes remain, and Barskov said that a careful inspection would have to be done to ensure they pose no hazard to the salvage effort.
"Cutting of the bow will be done by robots, and no one will be working under water at that moment," Barskov said.
Mammoet formed a joint venture with Smit International, a Rotterdam-based maritime company that specializes in salvage operations. The companies plan to lift the Kursk using hydraulic lifting devices mounted on a giant barge.
Mammoet's President Frans van Seumeren hailed the project as far more reliable than an earlier proposal by an international consortium which Moscow rejected. "We have solved all the technical problems," van Seumeren said.
Divers will cut 26 holes in the submarine's hull to anchor lifting cables connected to the hydraulic jacks on the barge. Mammoet said that its technology allows to precisely control every inch of lifting, unlike the crane technology proposed by the consortium.
Barskov hailed the Mammoet project as the "best existing today."
After the Kursk is raised to the surface and put in huge clamps under the barge, it will be brought to the Russian port of Murmansk and put in a dry dock, where the Russian Navy will remove its 22 Granit cruise missiles.
Barskov said the missiles, located in midsection of the ship in containers as strong as the submarine's hull, pose no danger to the raising effort.
The Kursk's front section will be left on the seabed, and the navy is planning to raise at least some elements of it next year. It's too dangerous to try to raise the entire Kursk, because "the front section may break away and
destabilize the raising."
The cause of the disaster, which killed all 118 crew, remains unknown. Barskov said officials hope to learn more after raising the Kursk, and also to recover more remains of the crew in addition to the 12 bodies raised during a
salvage operation last fall. He said the bodies must be removed quickly once the Kursk is put in a dry dock to preserve them for identification.
Officials said that the disaster had been triggered by a practice torpedo, but say that remain unsure whether it had been caused by an internal malfunction in the torpedo - the theory favored by most outside experts - or a collision.