Antinuclear

Australian news, and some related international items

France’s submarine accident a reminder of the ever present danger of nuclear catastrophe

Why The Catastrophic Fire On A Nuclear Submarine Is Nothing To Gloat About https://www.forbes.com/sites/hisutton/2020/06/14/why-the-catastrophic-fire-on-a-nuclear-submarine-is-nothing-to-gloat-about/#ef9667d2ffd0

As details emerge of the fire aboard the French submarine Perle on Friday, it seems unlikely to me that the boat will be returned to service. Whichever way you look at it, the fire is a terrible blow for the French Navy (Marine Nationale). Their submarine fleet is already stretched. But France’s misfortune brings home a basic reality that it could happen to any navy.

The cause of the fire, which took most of Friday to extinguish, has yet to be determined. Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, was reported by Naval News as saying on June 13 that the “cause for such a strong (and rapid) fire is still unknown.” She also said that if the boat turns out to be fixable, everything will be done to repair it. Any hint of optimism in this statement may point to the terrible predicament that it will leave the French Navy in if it cannot be repaired.

No Reason To Gloat

You will not find many in the defense community laughing at France’s expense. When a Russian or Chinese warship suffers a similar accident, many casual observers are quick to make jokes. Less so the defense community.

For example on April 13 a Chinese Type-075 assault carrier caught fire in Shanghai. That ship, the first of its type, was being fitted out before delivery. The types of work done during refit are similar to the deep overhaul that Perle was being subject to. Or in December last year a Russian aircraft carrier caught fire.

But the Western defense community is very aware that these accidents could equally apply to their home navies. Overhauling ships and submarines is ‘hot work’ and fires can easily occur.

The fire took 14 hours to put out, from 10.35am until 00.50 am the next morning. This may sound like a long time, but the U.S. Navy had a similar experience dealing with a fire aboard the Los Angeles class submarine USS Miami in 2012. That fire, which was also during an overhaul, lasted 12 hours and caused so much damage that the boat had to be written off. In the American case it turned out that the fire had been started deliberately by a dockyard worker hoping that the alarm would get him off work early.

In general, fires aboard submarines can be harder to put out. This is because of the cramped spaces aboard, and also because there are very few openings into the submarine. And they can be more devastating than a similar fire aboard a surface vessel because the heat can deform the steel hull. On a surface vessel this can be repaired more easily, but with a submarine it can make the hull weaker so that it is no longer safe to dive. This is why I am not optimistic that she will be repairable.

The fire was not as bad as it could have been. Fortunately the nuclear reactor had apparently already been removed. So the fire has not been categorized as a nuclear accident. And the torpedoes and missiles had also been unloaded so there was no risk of them exploding.

Many core systems, such as the combat system and sonar, had also been removed. So if the hull can be saved, then returning her to service is at least feasible. But everything seems to depend on whether the hull itself has been weakened.

June 15, 2020 - Posted by | General News

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: