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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kursk Salvage Operation Starts

Salvagers kicked off an $80 million, two-month operation to raise the Kursk nuclear submarine Monday by sending an underwater robot to the bottom of the Barents Sea to measure radiation levels around the sunken vessel.

The Norwegian ship Mayo, carrying a team of Russian and Norwegian divers and salvaging equipment, arrived at the Kursk site off the Arctic Kola Peninsula on Sunday.

Initial tests of the water and seabed around the wreckage, which were carried out to make sure the area is safe for divers, showed that radiation did not exceed normal levels, navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said in a statement.

Click here to read our special report on the Kursk Tragedy.

The Kursk sank during exercises on Aug. 12 after a series of powerful blasts went off inside the vessel. All 118 sailors aboard died. The 12,700-ton submarine, which lies 108 meters below the surface, has two nuclear reactors and about 22 missiles on board.

The salvaging operation is designed to lift all but the first torpedo compartment of the submarine, which was heavily damaged in the blasts, on 26 cables to just below the sea's surface. It will then be dragged to the Roslyakovo shipyard near the port of Murmansk.

Just days before the start of the operation, the Norwegian Bellona environmental group cautioned the Rubin design bureau, which is responsible for the technical part of the operation on the Russian side, saying more time should be taken to prepare for the lift.

Bellona researchers said raising the Kursk would risk a possible breakup of the vessel or rupture of the protective castings around the reactors.

While acknowledging that no major accident could possibly take place during the lift, Bellona said that if the operation fails the chances of recovering the Kursk would be slim to none. Bellona also said that if something goes wrong during the lift the likelihood of the seabed becoming contaminated with radiation was high.

In the first step of the operation, the Kursk's mangled first torpedo compartment will be cut away from the vessel and left on the sea floor. Authorities say this will minimize the possibility of further explosions.

But Igor Kudrik, a researcher with Bellona's Russian division, said by telephone from Oslo that the radio-controlled slicing device could hit a torpedo warhead and spark a new explosion.

Rubin officials said they share Bellona's concerns but ruled out the possibility of any malfunctions during the salvaging operation that could lead to radiation leaks, according to remarks posted on kursk.strana.ru, the official server of the lifting operation set up by the Kremlin's official web site Strana.ru, Interfax and ORT television.

"The fact that Rubin has responded to our concerns already is good, but they offered minimal explanations," Kudrik said.