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Russian Officer: Sub Collision Came Close to Disaster With AM-CIS-Russia-Politics, Bjt

April 2, 1993

MOSCOW (AP) _ A U.S. attack submarine that banged into a Russian missile sub last month nearly hit the Russian boat’s nuclear reactors, which could have spewed radioactivity into the sea, a Russian naval officer said.

However, a British military analyst said Thursday it was unlikely the reactors would have exploded or split open if the compartment had been rent open and flooded in the March 20 collision in the Barents Sea off Russia’s northern coast.

Both countries reported minor damage to the submarines after the accident.

Rear Adm. Alexei Ovcharenko, who investigated the incident, said the nuclear-powered USS Grayling struck the hull of the Russian submarine about 65 feet from the reactor compartment. In an interview published Thursday by the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta, he said that flooding in the compartment would have prevented the crew from shutting down its two nuclear reactors. The reactors would then overheat and eventually explode, releasing radiation into the ocean, he said.

″The calculation of the routes, speed and masses of the two vessels show that mere luck saved the subs from destruction,″ he said. ″Equally disastrous would have been a hit at the area housing our submarine’s ballistic missile launchers.″

Bob Hall, editor of the military publication Jane’s Intelligence Review in London, said he believed ″the chance of a reactor explosion would be very low.″

While noting he is not a nuclear engineer, Hall also said in a telephone interview that there was only ″a remote possibility″ of a reactor overheating in such circumstances.

The Russian submarine, identified only as a Delta III class vessel, was carrying 16 multiple warhead nuclear missiles, Ovcharenko said.

A Russian navy spokesman said last week the submarine had only a ″small dent″ on its hull. The U.S. vessel sustained little damage, a Pentagon statement said.

The Pentagon later said that monitoring the movements of Russian submarines is part of its defense policy.

The statement drew an angry response this week from the Russian navy, which said the Barents Sea was ″Russia’s coastal sea and zone of its economic and other interests.″

Rear Adm. Valery Alexin, who also investigated the collision, told Rossiiskaya Gazeta that ″the entire blame ... rests with the commander of the Grayling.″

Alexin said that instead of offering help after the collision, the U.S. commander ran away from the scene, ″like a boy who was caught stealing apples from a neighbor’s garden.″

In Washington, a Navy spokesman said there was ″very minor″ damage to the Grayling and the ship stayed in the area for more than an hour to make sure the Russian submarine was safe. The spokesman commented on condition of anonymity.

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