An aging Soviet submarine loaded with atomic weapons limped toward its base Tuesday after a burst pipe crippled one of its nuclear reactors off the Norwegian coast.
Officials in Moscow said the accident on the Echo-2 class submarine, dating from the early 1960s, did not result in the release of radioactivity because the submarine's nuclear missiles were well clear of the stricken reactor.Navy chief Vladimir Chernavin said, however, serious problems could arise if the weather took a turn for the worse during the three days it would take the submarine to reach port.
"If the weather worsens, then this can have an effect both on the crew and the submarine, but there is no indication so far," he told a television interviewer.
The accident was the second involving a Soviet craft off the Norwegian coast in three months.
Norwegian officials complained they had heard nothing about Monday's accident until eight hours after it happened.
Fresh water was being poured in to cool the reactor as the submarine, thought to have a crew of about 90, headed home on the surface, propelled by an auxiliary diesel engine.
"The crew was not hurt," Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov told the government newspaper Izvestia. "The accident presents no ecological danger."
Chernavin said water leaking out of the reactor pipe was being collected in a container.
Initial reports said a pipe in the reactor's primary circuit burst. The main power-generating unit was shut down and the craft, which was underwater some 210 miles south of Bear Island, quickly surfaced.
In April a Soviet nuclear submarine used to test advanced weapons systems caught fire and sank in the same area, killing the captain and 42 crew members.
Last week, the Norwegian coast guard rescued all the passengers and some of the crew on a Soviet cruise liner after it smashed into a belt of drift ice.