Gorbachev Proposes Soviet Sub Crew For Nobel Peace Prize

Wednesday, February 1, 2006
OSC Translated Text

Moscow, 1 February: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has proposed nominating the crew of the Soviet nuclear submarine K-19 for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The sailors contained a nuclear accident aboard the vessel on 4 July 1961.

Gorbachev has forwarded a request to this effect to the Nobel Committee, the press service of the Gorbachev Foundation has said.

As a result of a leakage of coolant from the primary contour of submarine's reactor, uncontrolled overheating of its active zone began.

The disaster occurred in the Norwegian Sea near the Norwegian Jan Mayen island, where a NATO base was located.

Gorbachev says in the letter that standard measures to normalize the situation did not help. Upon consulting the mechanics and other specialists, submarine commander Nikolay Zateyev gave his subordinates an immediate task "to assemble a pipeline, which was not envisaged by the submarine project, to feed drinking water from a reservoir for the cooling of the reactor".

"After two hours of work stretching human ability to the limit, as recorded in the ship log, the temperature in the reactor fell to the level that could be measured by the control equipment," Gorbachev wrote.

As the level of radiation in the reactor compartment was extremely high, eight members of the crew died of radiation sickness in the following days and weeks.

"Through the courage of the heroic sailors, a reactor explosion and a consequent environmental catastrophe in the ocean were averted. The nuclear contamination resulting from a blast aboard the K-19 would have exceeded that caused by the Chernobyl disaster many times over," Gorbachev wrote to the Nobel Committee.

Gorbachev noted that the emergency situation on board the K-19 had happened during the Cold War period, when US and Soviet nuclear submarines were on permanent alert in the Ocean, and almost coincided with the Caribbean crisis.

"An explosion on board the K-19 could have been taken for a military provocation or even an attempt to launch a nuclear strike on the North American coast. An immediate response by the United States and NATO could have triggered off a Third World War," Gorbachev wrote.

All information about the incident was kept secret in the USSR until 1990, Gorbachev went on to say. "Even those who replaced Zateyev's crew on the K-19 knew nothing about it and none of the sailors were honoured by the state. Moreover, those who died in cruel agony were secretly buried in special lead coffins without notification of the families," the former Soviet leader wrote to the Nobel Committee.

Fifty-six out of the K-19's 139-strong crew on the day of the disaster are still alive. Submarine commander Nikolay Zateyev died in 1998.

"All those who were on board the K-19 that morning and did their job deserve to be regarded by mankind as people who did their utmost to save peace on earth. Awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to the crew of the K-19 submarine would come as a fitting tribute to their exploit, the importance of which only grows with the passage of time," Gorbachev wrote.

Apart from this, "such an act would become a worthy symbol marking the irreversible end of the Cold War", he said.

(Description of Source: Moscow Interfax in Russian -- Nonofficial information agency known for its extensive and detailed reporting on domestic and international issues)