Vladimir Putin confirmed for the first time that the top secret submarine that suffered a deadly fire this week was nuclear-powered, but the Russian Defense Minister said the nuclear unit had been shut down and was in "order of work".
The revelation occurred during a meeting between the Russian president and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on the incident, which resulted in the death of 14 Russian sailors, including seven high-ranking officers and two with the title Hero of Russia.
The Russian government was slow in revealing information about the accident because the submarine, which was thought to be a deep dive vessel used for research and reconnaissance, is one of Russia's most secret military projects.
The fire aboard the "Losharik" AS-31 submarine began in the battery compartment and spread through the ship, Shoigu told Putin during a meeting in the Kremlin, which was later broadcast on Russian television. It is thought that the ship is composed of a series of globe-shaped compartments, which increase the strength of the submarine and allow it to dive into the bottom of the ocean. Once there, it can perform topographical searches and participate in rescue missions. He may even be able to touch and cut the communication cables at the bottom of the sea.
Officials say the submariners sealed themselves in one of the compartments to fight fire and toxic fumes, sacrificing themselves to save other members of the crew. The fire survivors have not spoken publicly.
"And the unit of nuclear energy?" Putin asked Shoigu during the conversation, the first time an official confirmed that the ship is nuclear-powered.
"The nuclear power unit was sealed and all personnel were removed," Shoigu told Putin. "In addition, the crew took the necessary steps to save the unit, which is functioning."
A Norwegian official told Reuters that there was no "formal communication" from Russia about an accident aboard a nuclear-powered ship, but "we would have been happy to have been informed of such incidents."
While the Russian government controls the media coverage of the incident and seems unlikely to cause popular anger in the Kremlin, incidents aboard submarines invariably evoke comparisons with Putin's clumsy manipulation of the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in 2000, which caused 118 dead and desperate families for information on their loved ones.
The Russian government has committed to granting state prizes and providing salaries to sailors until their children become adults. The Russian military attended the funeral ceremony in the port city of Kronstadt, near St. Petersburg, in honor of the 14 dead submarines.
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