MOSCOW, Russia (AP) - An unmanned deep-sea vessel has been measuring radiation levels on the floor of the Barents Sea around the sunken Kursk
nuclear submarine in preparation for a salvage operation, a Russian Navy spokesman said Monday.
The vessel from the Mayo, a Norwegian dive support ship, began radiation checks Sunday to make sure the area is safe for divers to begin the operation to raise the Kursk, Capt. Igor Dygalo said. The vessel was to continue the checks Monday, taking samples from the water and sea bed, he said.
The Kursk sank on Aug. 12, 2000, during a training exercise in the waters off northwestern Russia, killing all 118 crewmen aboard. The operation to raise the submarine, which has nuclear reactors and unexploded torpedoes aboard, is scheduled to last through mid-September.
Russia has maintained that no radiation has leaked from the wreck but says it is raising it to ensure it poses no future danger. But nuclear safety officials in nearby Norway have said the operation's tight schedule increases the risk of a nuclear accident in the Arctic.
So far, the data collected by the Mayo has shown no change in the radiation levels around the Kursk, Dygalo said.
"The radiation tests are showing that everything is normal," he said.
High winds and rain, expected to last until Tuesday afternoon, could hinder the preparations - as well as the view of dozens of journalists who are to arrive in the area by ship Tuesday for two hours of filming, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
In the first phase of the operation to bring up the Kursk, which lies under 108 meters (356 feet) of water, divers will examine the hull and then begin clearing away silt beneath the submarine, according to the Interfax news agency.
Later, Russian and foreign divers will drill holes in the hull and attach wires for lifting the vessel. The bow, which was damaged in the explosion that sank the Kursk, will be cut off so it can be raised separately.