Database of radiological incidents and related events--Johnston's Archive

K-19 submarine reactor accident, 1961

compiled by Wm. Robert Johnston
last modified 10 May 2005

Date: 4 July 1961

Location: North Atlantic Ocean, aboard USSR ballistic missile submarine K-19

Type of event: submarine reactor accident


A reactor accident occurred on the USSR ballistic missile submarine K-19 while it was on exercises in the North Atlantic. The K-19 (hull number 901) was the lead ship of the Project 958 (Hotel I) class, launched 8 April 1959 and commissioned 12 November 1960; it carried three R-13 SLBMs. On 4 July 1961 a leak developed at an inaccessible part of the primary cooling circuit, causing a sudden pressure drop and triggering emergency systems. The crew improvised a system to supply coolant, involving prolonged exposure to radioactive steam and other gases in the reactor compartment. Eight crew members sustained doses of 5,000 to 6,000 rem; the rest of the crew sustained significant doses as well (at least 100 rem). A diesel submarine evacuated the crew, and the K-19 was towed back to the Kola Peninsula. For the eight crewmembers with fatal doses, time from exposure to death in days was 6, 6, 6, 8, 9, 11, 16, and 19. The remaining crew were hospitalized with radiation sickness until September. Replacement of the reactor compartment was completed from 1962 to 1964, and the two damaged reactors were dumped in Abrosimova Bay in the Kara Sea.

Consequences: 8 fatalities, at least 31 injuries.


© 2004, 2005 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 10 May 2005.
Return to Home. Return to Nuclear Weapons Resources. Return to Database of radiological incidents and related events.