nuclear submarine, nuclear submarines, nuclear reactor submarine
Associated Press
A general view of Faslane Navy base on the Clyde, Scotland, where HMS Vanguard is currently
docked following a crash with French sub Le Triomphant in the middle of the

Nuclear Submarine Collision Stokes Fears of Atomic Disaster

February 17, 2009 01:04 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
French and British nuclear submarines collided in the Atlantic Ocean earlier in February, causing many to debate the event’s significance and question how it could happen.

Silent Submarines

British and French officials have said the HMS Vanguard and Le Triomphant were “conducting routine patrols” when they collided in the North Atlantic earlier in February, FOX News reported. Both submarines are equipped with nuclear missiles.

Officials are now assessing how the accident could have happened.

It’s possible that the two vessels were not aware of each other’s presence. John Pike, who directs, told FOX News that two types of sonar submarines could be used underwater: passive and active.

Submarines carrying nuclear weapons frequently use passive sonar to be as quiet as possible. Both the French and British navies said their ships were “running silently.”

The British military said the submarines hit at “very low speeds,” Bloomberg noted, and the vessels were still safe. A statement by the French military echoed that message: “Neither their missions nor their nuclear safety were affected.”

“Both the reactors and the missiles are built in such a way that they can withstand extreme shock,” Bruno Tertrais, a senior researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research, said. “I’d class this one as a fender bender.”

But Kate Hudson, chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, characterized the situation more seriously. “This is a nuclear nightmare of the highest order,” she said. “The collision of two submarines, both with nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons on board, could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabed.”

Opinion: How could the collision have occurred?

A former British submarine commander said that a lack of communication between France and NATO nations may have contributed to the problem, Time magazine reported. A French navy official has “partially corroborated” that claim.
To help avoid collisions like this one, NATO maintains a traffic control system to inform allied countries of the presence of “friendly submarines.” France is not currently part of NATO’s military command, and does not offer information about “the location of its mobile nuclear arms.”

Time noted that the country is set to rejoin the military structure in April, but “the French say they will not budge” on matters of nuclear arms secrecy.

Background: Past submarine collisions

Military experts have said that Western and Soviet submarines collided several times during the Cold War, according to The New York Times. The Baton Rouge, a U.S. submarine, was hit by a surfacing Russian submarine in the Barents Sea in 1992.

In 2001, the USS Greeneville surfaced and struck a Japanese ship near the Hawaiian coast, FOX News reported. The Greeneville’s commanding officer was found to be in “dereliction of duty.”

Historical Context: The first nuclear submarine

Construction of the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine was authorized by the United States Congress in 1951. By 1955, the USS Nautilus was ready to launch, and spent the next several years breaking “all submerged speed and distance records,” according to the U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum. After logging more than 500,000 miles, the Nautilus was decommissioned in 1980. The Nautilus was eventually declared a National Historic Landmark, and was placed on display at the Submarine Force Museum in 1986.

Reference: Nuclear submarines


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