Russia Dodged Nuclear Disaster in December
Submarine fire almost triggered biggest accident since Chernobyl
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Feb 14, 2012 5:30 PM CST
In this Friday, Dec. 30 frame-grab image, firefighters pour water on the Yekaterinburg nuclear submarine.   (AP Photo/Ru-RTR Russian state channel/ Via APTN)
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(Newser) – When a Russian submarine caught fire in December, officials said its nuclear weapons had been removed long before the fire—but now, Russian navy insiders tell a magazine that wasn't the case. In fact, during the fire, the Yekaterinburg submarine had 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles on board, and each held four nuclear warheads, the navy sources tell Vlast magazine. That means "Russia, for a day, was on the brink of the biggest catastrophe since the time of Chernobyl."

On December 29, welding sparks set fire to scaffolding surrounding the submarine at a major shipyard some 900 miles north of Moscow. That started a blaze that took firefighters a day to battle. Afterward, the submarine traveled to the navy weapons store, Vlast said, according to Reuters—odd for a sub that was supposedly weapon-free. Along with the nuclear weapons, the submarine had a pair of nuclear reactors and was carrying torpedoes and mines; had a torpedo exploded, it would have put the nuclear weapons at risk, the magazine reported.