K-19: Subs in Peril
K-19: The History
Major Sub Disasters
Evolution of Subs

Radiation Risk?
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K-19: The History

Epilogue: Tragedy Upon Tragedy

K-19 at port

The crew of K-19—and K-19 itself, under tow by the Soviet ship Aldan since July 7 or 8—arrived in Polyarnyy, near Murmansk, on July 9 and 10.

Within days eight veterans of K-19’s inaugural mission died of radiation poisoning. Fourteen more died within two years. The remaining 117 suffered varying degrees of radiation-related illness.

An investigation of the incident cleared the crew and Captain Zateyev of any wrongdoing. Some crew members were decorated for their actions, but because the accident was a state secret, the reasons for the decorations were vague. Many heroic crew members were never honored.

Surviving crewmen remembered an admiral belittling their awards. The admiral, it seemed, thought they were undeserved, stemming as they did from an accident. “In Leningrad,” he supposedly said, “we have streetcar accidents all the time.”

 The Fate of the Ship
When first docked in Polyarnyy, K-19 contaminated everything within about 700 meters (770 yards).

K-19 was decontaminated, repaired, and put back into service in 1964. In 1972 hydraulic fluid leaked onto a hot filter, leading to a massive, uncontrollable fire that killed 28 men. Two more fires broke out during later missions, though without casualties.

Having never lived down its reputation as “Hiroshima,” K-19 finally was decommissioned in 1991 at a ceremony that doubled as a reunion for Captain Zateyev and much of his K-19 crew.

K-19 spent its final years moored to a pier near Murmansk before it was finally scrapped in spring 2002.

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