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"Why do we learn only from catastrophes and people's Deaths'' ~V, Pogorelov

K-19 Nuclear Submarine Incident

Adam Teriaki - 02382896 Suhail Halaby - 023837303​ Callum Hickman - ​02385506​ Ved Badgi - 02385524​ Morven Hui - 02382485​ Keshav Ranjith - 02382830​

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Historical Background

In the height of the Cold war, America enveiled their first Nuclear powered submarine on the 17th January 1955, the USS Nautilus.

Nuclear submarines are important due to their ability to be independent of the air hence not needing to surface which increases their stealth and mission time. The Soviets had their own secret submarines which were under the name 'project 627 class'. These submarines were classified as 'Whale' in russian which were proposed in 1952 with the role of firing nuclear tipped torpeadoes at coastal cities in America. This proposal never included the idea of Nuclear powered until the Americans did it. This resulted in the Kremlin feeling behind the Americans thus resulting in the 'project 627 class' submarines to be built with nuclear power in mind. The first 'whale' submarine was the K-3 Submarine which was operational on the 4th June 1958, and reffered by NATO as November class Submarines. During its operational lifetime the submarine saw many incidents yet worked as intended. However, during October 17 1959 a new type of submarine was launched dubbed K-19. They were reffered to as the Hotel class submarines and were included in a revised version of project 627 called 'project 658'

Beginning of the troubles

Due to the rushed nature of the projects the K- class submarines faced various operational incidents and engineering issues throughout their lifetimes which can be seen with the K-3 which had 39 sailors killed due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Another indicent was also recorded with the K-27 submarine with the nuclear reactor causing for 144 sailors to experience radiation poisoning and 9 sailors to die. The most infamous of these incidents is the K-19 Submarine incident. However, before we discuss the incident allow us to give a bit of background into the differences between the November and Hotel class submarines since they are both within the K family of submarines.

Hotel Class

November Class

  • Equipped with SLBM launchers​
  • Equipped with two powerful Nuclear reactors (70 MW each)​
  • Electric (low noise) ‘auxiliary’ propulsion system
  • Cramped interior, crammed with new technologies

  • Torpedo tubes only (anti-ship)​
  • Outdated sensor suite ​
  • Twin reactors, turbines​
  • Auxiliary diesel system​
  • Issues with plumbing, specifically with the reactor circuit

Consequences of development and the K-19

The rushed development of the K submarines, as already stated, created many incidents during missions with the death of many sailors. However for the K-19 the development and construction saw multiple key areas rushed and in some cases ignored. The first case was a backup cooling system for the nuclear reactor which was highlighted by many of the mechanics yet were ignored by higher ups who wanted the construction of the submarine to be completed as soon as possible. This is further supported by the faulty pressure valves within the submarine. This is important to keep in mind as this would spell death for those in the submarine in the case of an emergency.The second case is during the construction 10 workers died with 2 due to an explosion during the manufacturing and soon after 6 died as a result of deadly fumes inhaled while glueing rubber lining to the water cistern. Another worker died due to being crushed by a missile tube cover and another fell between two compartments.

Nuclear reactor on the K-3

However this did not postpone the manufacturing of the K-19 resulting in it being in service on October 17 1959.

Mission overview and build-up to incident

The K-19 submarine had a mission in the north Atlantic off the south east coast of Greenland under the command of Captain First Rank Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. During this mission various mishaps occurred which would be major factors for the main incident. In December of 1960 a loss of coolant was caused due to the failure of the main circuit pump which was repaired within a week however cracks within the pressurising system could be attributed to this event. Between 1-3 July 1961 damage to radio aerials were suistained during surfacing under polar ice hampering communication with the remainder of Soviet fleet. A far weaker close proximity radio system was left. Late July 3- July 4 1961 a crack formed within the coolant system due to start up tests of one of the reactors wih the first pressure test recording a pressure of 400 atm when the design pressure was only 200 atm

The incident and your decisions

As of 4 July 1961 at 4:15 am the reactor emergency protection system turns on due to loop pressure dropping to zero. The coolant circulation had stopped. Nothing prepared them for this.A council meeting was conducted with the head of each department and all the engineers. A question was asked:Do we repair damaged cooling system?

If yes