Russian President Vladimir Putin has disclosed that a deep-sea submarine hit by a deadly fire earlier this week was nuclear-powered, and the defense minister assured him of the containment of the vessel’s reactor.
The Kremlin said on July 4 that Putin had discussed the matter with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu before heading to Italy.
During the Kremlin meeting, three days after the incident, Putin disclosed for the first time the fact that the top-secret military vessel had been nuclear-powered by asking Shoigu about its condition after a fire that killed 14 sailors.
“The nuclear reactor on the vessel is completely isolated and unmanned. All the necessary measures were taken by the crew to protect the reactor, which is in complete working order," Shoigu told Putin, according to a transcript issued by the Kremlin.
“This leads to us to hope that in quite a short time the vessel can be put back into service," he added.
Shoigu, who has been tasked by Putin with overseeing investigations into the incident, said the fire erupted in the submarine's battery compartment.
However, he did not say what caused the fire.
Citing sources close to the crew, the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reported that the investigation is considering a short circuit as a reason for the fire.
Russian officials have kept details about the incident confidential.
The Defense Ministry said the incident took place on July 1, but it was not officially disclosed until late the next day.
"There is information that is categorized as a state secret," Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters on July 3, adding it was classified "in the interest of the state and state security."
Speaking the same day in Severomorsk, the base of Russia's Northern Fleet where the vessel is currently docked, Shoigu said that some crew members and one civilian survived the accident in the Barents Sea involving what the Kremlin has described as a "research submersible."
The minister didn't specify how many people were rescued.
The Defense Ministry had previously said that 14 crew members died of smoke inhalation.
The ministry has not identified the type of vessel involved, but Russian media reported that it was an AS-12 nuclear-powered research submarine for sensitive missions at great depths, nicknamed Losharik, which was launched in the early 2000s.
Losharik is named after a Soviet-era cartoon horse made up of small spheres -- a reference to the design of the submarine's interior hull, reportedly made of a chain of titanium spheres capable of withstanding huge pressure at great depths.
Few images and details have emerged about Losharik, which took part in research intended to prove Russia's claim on the Arctic seabed in 2012, when it collected samples from a depth of 2,500 meters, according to official statements. Regular submarines reach depths of up to 600 meters.