Kursk Draws Near to Shipyard

The crippled Kursk nuclear submarine, clamped under a giant barge, made its final journey to shore, and if seas remained calm was expected to arrive at the port of Roslyakovo by midday Wednesday.

Before the submarine is moved too close to the port on the Kola Bay, the navy said it will carry out comprehensive radiation measurements to look for any leaks from its two nuclear reactors. Even if all goes well, it will take more than a week to put the Kursk into a dry dock.

The decision to bring the Kursk to the surface stirred panic among local residents and prompted local officials to draft contingency evacuation plans.

But Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov insisted Tuesday that the submarine's reactors pose no danger for the residents of Roslyakovo. "We are absolutely sure that nothing will happen to the reactors. Even if there had been million-to-one odds that something would happen we would never have carried out the operation in Roslyakovo," Klebanov said Tuesday before flying to Moscow. He had been on board the Peter the Great cruiser for the past week to oversee the most dramatic stage of the salvage operation.

The Kursk was lifted from 108 meters below water on Monday by the Dutch Mammoet-Smit International consortium and clamped under the Giant 4 barge. The submarine's protruding conning tower and tail fins fit into niches carved in the bottom of the barge.

Towed by a tugboat, the Giant 4 barge moved steadily Tuesday at a speed of 3 knots toward the Roslyakovo shipyard.

Northern Fleet Commander Vyacheslav Popov said that if the seas remain calm the barge will reach the mouth of the Kola Bay at 8 a.m. Wednesday and make a brief stop before moving to dock in Belokamennaya Bay, across the water from Roslyakovo, some five hours later.

Once the barge is set on four anchors, the navy will begin checking for any radiation leaks. During the raising operation, gauges showed no sign of any leaks.

Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin have said that concern over possible radiation contamination if the submarine were left where it sank in the Barents Sea was among the main reasons for conducting the $65 million lifting operation.

Once the navy is sure the reactors are secure, the next two days will be spent attaching giant pontoons to lift the barge seven meters, Popov said. The job of placing the Kursk into the dry dock is to begin Saturday afternoon during high tide and should be completed in five days, he said.

Klebanov said the successful lifting of the submarine made him more optimistic about the chances of finding the cause of the disaster when the Kursk is placed into the dry dock and examined by experts. Only a month ago, Klebanov said he doubted the hull of the submarine could provide enough clues.

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