BRUSSELS — The captain and seven crew members of the Soviet Union's first nuclear-powered submarine died of radiation poisoning after one of its reactors overheated in a hushed-up 1961 accident, according to a Soviet scientist.
Georgy Kuznetsov, an engineer with the Vernadsky Research Institute of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, said he was aboard the submarine when the accident happened in the northwest Atlantic on July 4, 1961.
"This accident could have caused an ecological disaster comparable to Chernobyl," he said, referring to the explosion at a Soviet nuclear power plant in 1986, which killed scores and exposed thousands more to dangerously high doses of radiation.
Kuznetsov disclosed details of the incident at a European Community seminar on nuclear accidents in Luxembourg last week. A text of his speech was made available Tuesday.
He said the rupture of a pipe in the reactor control system caused the accident. The reactor automatically shut down but then caught fire. The fire was extinguished, but the reactor's cooling system failed. To prevent disaster, the crew rigged an emergency cooling system using the vessel's drinking water reserves, he said.