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The Military Technology

Fire May Leave US Nuclear Sub Damaged Beyond Repair 228

Posted by Soulskill
from the captain-won't-order-a-hot-sub-for-lunch-again dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "AP reports that a fire that swept through a nuclear-powered submarine in dry dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has caused such extensive damage to its forward compartments that the 22-year-old Los Angeles-class attack submarine might have to be scrapped. 'These submarines were designed decades ago. So they're no longer state of the art,' says analyst Loren Thompson. 'If this vessel returns to service, I will be amazed.' The fire broke out while the Miami was on a 20-month stay at the shipyard for an overhaul, and it took firefighters from more than a dozen agencies twelve hours to put out the fire, described as intense, smoky, and a 'hot scary mess.' 'It takes a lot of guts to go into a burning building. But the idea of going into a submarine full of hot toxic smoke — that's real courage,' said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree after meeting with the shipyard commander. Firefighters isolated the flames so they would not spread to nuclear propulsion spaces at the rear of the submarine. There was nuclear fuel on board the sub, but the reactor has been shut down for two months and was unaffected. Rear Admiral Rick Breckenridge says an investigation has been launched into what caused the fire, but he expects that investigation to take a long time to complete and wouldn't say if human error has been ruled out as a cause of the fire, or if the focus is on mechanical issues."
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Fire May Leave US Nuclear Sub Damaged Beyond Repair

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:17PM (#40109775)

    Pardon my ignorance here. But I have a question.

    I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is (every crew-member is trained in fire suppression on a sub). But since this ship was presumably unmanned and in dry dock, and presumably also still air-tight, why didn't they just close all the hatches in the effected areas and shut off the oxygen? I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen.

    • by berashith (222128)

      that may have been what they did. The ship was probably not full of people, and it may have just taken time to get to the hatches to seal it off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      There's a few reasons. First off, there's no way to shut off the oxygen on a sub from the outside, so the fire had to be controlled for that to happen. Second, the sub may be old, and it may end up being scrapped, but those things are expensive as hell, and they had to try to save it. Third, the top priority was making sure the reactor was safe, it would be a bit dangerous to just shut the door on a burning nuclear reactor and just cross your fingers that it goes out before something catastrophic happens

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:24PM (#40109857) Journal
      Well after reading the article, I'm lead to believe that that is essentially what was done and that there were actually crew members hurt in the fire so the proposed strategy may have had to wait while they verified they weren't also trapping a human in there with the fire:

      Two crew members, three shipyard firefighters and two civilian firefighters were hurt, but their injuries were minor, officials said. Officials were waiting Thursday to begin venting smoke and noxious fumes so workers could go inside the submarine to assess the damage. Workers had to let fire-damaged compartments cool enough for fresh air to be safely introduced without risk of another fire.

    • by v1 (525388)

      I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is

      yep, fire is usually considered the #1 hazard aboard space ships and subs. Simply because the first thing you normally do when there's a fire is evacuate, something that's not such an easy option for them. And that's just compounded by the low availability of breathable air.

      I don't know on the hatches, I'd expect a sub to have the usual complement of watertight compartments, so as long as the fire didn't get hot enough to me

      • I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is

        yep, fire is usually considered the #1 hazard aboard space ships and subs. Simply because the first thing you normally do when there's a fire is evacuate, something that's not such an easy option for them.

        Evacuating ship is *not* the first thing submariners do. They attack fires with a vengeance. One, it's stealing our oxygen. Two, it's polluting our oxygen supply with *deadly* gases. Three, it can kill you fairly quickly. Some exhaust gases on board submarine cause damn near instant death.

        And that's just compounded by the low availability of breathable air.

        Actually, you're close. Underway (that means out to sea) subs purposefully keep their oxygen levels low - very low. So low that a cigarette will immediately extinguish when the smoker is not inhaling. It must be re-lit before each puff.

        But that's not important. The important part is that whatever is attempting to catch fire would smoulder for a bit before flaming up - thereby catching the eye/ear/nose of the watch or any other passing crew member.

        In port, oxygen levels are normal to the atmospheric oxygen levels of the surrounding city. (By the way, Norfolk, VA smells bad. - Norfolk sub sailors know what I'm talking about. ;P )

        I don't know on the hatches, I'd expect a sub to have the usual complement of watertight compartments, so as long as the fire didn't get hot enough to melt or deform bulkheads (which it may, which is why they stopped using aluminum for warship superstructure) they should have simply been able to close the doors.

        Let me address this. While in dry dock, the boats have all kinds of cabling in the way preventing hatches from being closed. Forgot about that in my first post on this topic. So, no, you typically cant just walk up and close the hatch - not that you'd want to. See my previous post, above.

        But maybe they had problems getting the people out first. Subs don't have too many doors on them, and if the fire is between 25 crew and the door and there's no other route, sealing off isn't an option.

        I find it hard to come to a conclusion where this would become a problem. There are multiple exits in most areas that are 'dead ends'. There'd have to be a pretty messed up situation that prevented ~25 people from escaping a location without them trying the emergency route *before* the emergency route became blocked.

        • I was surface, but I imagine like most extended drydock maintenance periods there were holes cut in the hull either for repair or to allow for certain maintenance to be performed. Since they were in the yards, I'm amazed an Oxygen or acetylene tank didn't explode. One thing I do wonder about is what is there for fuel? On the ships I was on, maybe a chair could burn or a desktop, but there really wasn't much else to fuel a fire unless it was an electrical fire or a liquid fuel fire.

          I thank God I was never s

        • I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is

          yep, fire is usually considered the #1 hazard aboard space ships and subs. Simply because the first thing you normally do when there's a fire is evacuate, something that's not such an easy option for them.

          Evacuating ship is *not* the first thing submariners do. They attack fires with a vengeance. One, it's stealing our oxygen. Two, it's polluting our oxygen supply with *deadly* gases. Three, it can kill you fairly quickly. Some exhaust gases on board submarine cause damn near instant death.

          He (fairly obviously) meant that when you're NOT on a sub or spaceship, the first thing you do is evacuate. Building on fire? Evacuate quickly. Sub on fire? Evacuating quickly isn't an option.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      They probably couldn't shut off the oxygen without access to the compartments themselves, especially if the control room was on fire (which apparently it was). Same with sealing the rooms: if they can't get to the rooms, it's hard to seal them off. Ideally, I suppose there would be automated systems capable of shutting off air and sealing specific sections, but these subs are a 40 year old design, and this one was in for a refit, so I don't imagine it has systems capable of that. You normally want a sub to

      • by Macgruder (127971)

        In the forward section of a 688-boat, there are 3 water-tight (and air tight) hatches. Forward escape trunk, weapons-loading hatch, and the hatch leading to the engine room. All of the internal doors are privacy / sound, not for water / air-tightness.

        (for all you other bubbleheads here, yes, I know there's actually 4 water-tight hatches in the forward compartment, but I don't think the washing machine is relevant to this topic)

    • Maybe the air inside was highly phlogisticated [wikipedia.org].
    • by IP_Troll (1097511)
      The ocean is freezing, the sub is well insulated, that traps heat. Even if you stop the rapid oxidation of the material in the compartment the heat does not dissipate instantly, so as soon as you open the compartment the fire will start again. Also the stored heat will continue to deform/ weaken the material that makes up the compartment.

      Look at the coal fires that have been raging underground in PA for decades.

      That is not to say that they did not seal off compartments, just that the whole situation is
    • by rabenja (919226)
      I doubt any person in charge of fighting such a fire would trust that sealing off the compartments would starve the fire. In the Stark incident, the ship's metal was burning. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/navy/nrtc/14057_ppr_ch4.pdf [globalsecurity.org] http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/051805/met_18768709.shtml [jacksonville.com]
    • by stewbee (1019450) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:56PM (#40110161)
      Hi there. Ex-submariner here. One reason was that they likely could not close the hatches. Being in one of these extended dry dock periods usually means that they have all sorts of hoses, wires, etc. going through the hatches making them neigh impossible to close without taking a hatchet to them all. Not to mention, if they were doing any sort of work on the sea water piping, which may be plausible since they were in dry dock, then the fire would still be supplied from the lack of piping that is normally there due to the repair.

      My first guess of how this fire happened is that someone had done some welding in a compartment and something caught fire. Usually the Navy is pretty good about removing flamables in the area. They even go so far to have a "fire watch" for several hours after the welding was done to ensure that nothing catches fire. it will be interesting to hear what the root cause is.

      Another interesting fact about L.A. class submarines, of which the Miami is included. There is only one water tight door interior to the sub, and that is the one that separates the forward part of the ship to the rear (ie engineering which was apparently not affected). Compare that to the submarine that I was on (Sturgeon Class), there were two water right doors for just the forward part of the ship, and two in the engine room. Basically, if you ever have flooding in an LA class sub, you are going down. At least in a Strugeon class, if 3 of the 5 compartments were completely flooded, you could still survive.
      • by ultranova (717540)

        My first guess of how this fire happened is that someone had done some welding in a compartment and something caught fire. Usually the Navy is pretty good about removing flamables in the area. They even go so far to have a "fire watch" for several hours after the welding was done to ensure that nothing catches fire. it will be interesting to hear what the root cause is.

        That's standard procedure for welding (mandated by the insurance companies). And welding could well still be the root cause: in one place

      • Also, additional holes are often cut into the sub hull, to access locations inaccessible from the interior, to bring large equipment in/out, and to provide convenient (horizontal) human access.
      • There is also the door to thew diesel room, which is air tight if not watertight. It would probably contain a fire.

        • by stewbee (1019450)
          If I recall correctly, the access to the diesel room was not much more than a deck plating segment that had hinges on it. Now this may not be true to all Sturgeon class submarines*, but I would think that it might do an ok job suffocating a fire, but I wouldn't count on it.

          * More interesting submarine trivia. The Sturgeon class submarine was horrible for 'configuration management'. If a chief wanted to add a sheet metal locker somewhere in the engine room, he could pretty much get it. However, on LA clas
      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Now, see it's responses like this (and many more in this thread) that make Slashdot great. And to think people say that there are no thoughtful or informative discussions still going on here.

    • by michael021689 (791941) on Friday May 25, 2012 @01:00PM (#40110203)
      Every ship is manned until it is decommissioned. One third of the crew is on board at all times to stand security watches and maintain the ship. For various reasons listed in other comments, just shutting the hatches was unacceptable - even if you had been able to stop the fire that way, the risk of reflash and the damage would be unacceptable. Submariners do not run from fires.
      • Every ship is manned until it is decommissioned. One third of the crew is on board at all times to stand security watches and maintain the ship.

        The third of the crew requirement is so they can man at least one watch fully and get underway. But they're not getting underway when completely shutdown, in the shipyard, in drydock, with the reactor de-fueled, at night... under those conditions, there would have been only a handful or so of crew onboard. Maybe three forward, four aft, and two topside. The balance of the duty section would have been asleep on the residence barge or in the barracks.
         
        For that matter, there's probably not even a full crew assigned or present at the moment. When a boat goes in the yards, they transfer non-essential and junior personnel away. Of the crew that remains, a fair portion will be away at schools or temporarily assigned to other boats either for experience or to keep their skills sharp.
         
        (Been there done that when we brought the 655 out of overhaul at Newport News.)

        • I just went through a thirty month ERO on an SSBN; I'm not speaking without experience. We maintained a third of the crew on board or, during the most extensive work(which the Miami had not yet reached) on a barge a hundred yards away to maintain watches and do work. Granted, SSBN/SSN have some differences, but overall we follow the same guidance. Anyway, my original point was to correct the claim that the ship was probably unmanned.
    • Well the fire could do a fair amount of damage before it used up all the Oxygen... These subs are designed to keep people alive for extended periods... I would expect there is enough oxygen for a wide spreading fire.

    • There's plenty of oxygen on board that you don't want a fire to get to: emergency oxygen bottles, and the oxygen supply in torpedos, for instance. If you abandon ship, you risk major explosions before the fire goes out.

    • by destiney (149922) on Friday May 25, 2012 @01:09PM (#40110293) Homepage

      When metal burns, depleting it's oxygen supply doesn't always help. When I was in, the SOP for burning metal was to push it overboard and let it sink to the bottom where it could burn out safely.

    • by plopez (54068)

      "I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen"

      That depends on what is burning. One material may serve as an oxidizer for another material. Thermite for example. If they were overhauling it it could have been from oxy-acetolyne or solvent. High explosive without a detonator will not explode but will burn. I.e. torpedoes. Modern torpedos also have engines driven by a variety of fuels. I'm not sure what they were using on the Miami but hydrogen peroxide torpedoe

    • by MikeMo (521697)
      Not knowing in this specific case, but subs in dry dock usually have their hatches stuffed with cables and pipes. The ship is not self-sustaining, so everything needed (like power and water) comes in through the hatches. They can't be shut easily.

      Also, there is usually crew on board, particularly in the reactor spaces. They don't just leave the reactor "unwatched", even it if is shut down.

      Closing the hatches and letting it burn itself out would be a lot like just giving up, too.
    • Pardon my ignorance here. But I have a question.

      I know that fire in a sub is considered one of the most dangerous threats there is (every crew-member is trained in fire suppression on a sub). But since this ship was presumably unmanned and in dry dock, and presumably also still air-tight, why didn't they just close all the hatches in the effected areas and shut off the oxygen? I can't imagine a fire in such an enclosed space would last very long without incoming oxygen.

      I am a former submariner.

      1 - A submarine in dry dock is basically a ship on ship. A problem on one constitutes a problem on the other.

      2 - There is a lot of piping throughout the boat. It contains either oxygen (@ 10's of PSI) or hydraulic fluid (@ thousands of PSI). If the piping burst, its source is a giant tank containing much more of the stuff in a different location of the boat. There are isolation valves, however, which may mitigate the problem for a while.

      3 - There's this thing called a nuclear reactor. It's shut-down while in dry-dock but still requires power to keep it safe.

      4 - Separating the reactor and the forward compartment is a giant tank containing thousands of gallons of diesel fuel oil. If it over heats, well, yeah, kiss your asses goodbye.

      5 - There's a HUGE battery on the boat for when the boat needs to run off of battery power. It contains an enormous amount of energy - so much so that if it caught fire and exploded, the sub, the dry-dock and the facilities surrounding it would be damn near vaporised. I think anything within a few miles would *easily* have its windows blown out if not flattened.

      6 - If the reactor has a problem, you'll basically have Fukushima on your hands.

      7 - Submarine fires (when the get large enough) dont stay a single class of fire for long. There is too much hydraulic fluid, electrical line and combustible materials for it to remain one class of fire for long - ergo, one can not simply spray water (seawater, btw) to extinguish it.

      So, no. Shuttering the place up and trying to starve the fire isn't exactly a proactive manner to extinguish a fire.

      Throw in skeleton crews (most systems shut down), lots of welding, oil and whatnot all over the deck and you have a recipe for disaster on your hands. I'm surprised there arn't more fires of this magnitude more often.

      More questions? Guess I'll read below and answer some there, too.

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Friday May 25, 2012 @02:56PM (#40111815)

        Former Navy Nuke

        3 - There's this thing called a nuclear reactor. It's shut-down while in dry-dock but still requires power to keep it safe.

        Not necessarily. Once the reactor has been shutdown long enough, it no longer requires power to cooling pumps to maintain temperature.

        6 - If the reactor has a problem, you'll basically have Fukushima on your hands.

        Umm, no.

        If you're underway, and things go so completely south that every failsafe in the system fails unsafe, then your boat is going to sink.

        If, on the other hand, you're in a drydock for an extended maintenance cycle, then the reactor has been shutdown long enough to be cold, and you won't even need the Main Cooling Pumps to keep things stable and safe.

        Note that, whatever other problems they may have, Navy nuclear powerplants don't keep spent fuel rods laying around to cause problems...

    • by treeves (963993)

      1. it's possible that it would NOT be air tight during a major overhaul (like this one). it's also likely that there were cables and hoses going through hatches preventing closure.
      2. the spaces are still pretty large and a fire could go quite a while doing a lot of damage, just relying on consuming all the oxygen to put it out, even if they could seal it off. The ops compartment, where this fire occurred, is one of the largest compartments. I believe it is the largest compartment on a 688 class boat.
      3. even

  • Cities... (Score:5, Funny)

    by khr (708262) <kevinrubin@gmail.com> on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:22PM (#40109823) Homepage

    Well, that's confusing... The article is from a newspaper in Seattle, about a Los Angeles class boat in Portsmouth, Maine named Miami...

  • is uncomfortably spinning in his grave...

    • by Like2Byte (542992)

      is uncomfortably spinning in his grave...

      IAAFS.

      Uh, no, he isn't. He's sitting high and mighty and it's because of his insight and dedication to his craft that the fire's threat to the reactor was minimal.

      What are you? 12?

    • by tsotha (720379)
      You would too if your name was Hyman.
  • Non-toxic smoke (Score:2, Insightful)

    by virgnarus (1949790)

    "It takes a lot of guts to go into a burning building. But the idea of going into a submarine full of hot toxic smoke — that's real courage."

    I wasn't aware burning buildings didn't involve hot toxic smoke, unlike submarines. Do burning buildings have warm aromatic vapors instead?

    • Not sure why you would be aware of it. I'm infering from your post that you have zero experience fighting fires at all.
      Shipboard firefighting is a different beast. The methods required to combat fires in an enclosed space with 10x less volume and a plethora of volitile and toxic materials is night and day. To worsen (better?) your odds, a shipboard firefighter is trained from day one to activley engage the fire and put it out - or die trying. Passivley supervising a controlled burn is usually not an o
  • From TFA: "Ships in the USS Miami's class cost about $900 million at the time to build. The newest attack submarines, the Virginia class, cost about $2.6 billion apiece." So yes I would be amazed if this vessel returns to service, but I would also if it is replaced with a new one...
    • by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Friday May 25, 2012 @01:08PM (#40110281) Homepage

      What will likely happen is what has happened before. The oldest LA class boats are the ones being replaced by the Virginia class, so they'll promote the Miami down the list to be written off against the next Virginia instead of whatever boat was scheduled for scrapping. That boat will then get an overhaul instead of being scrapped.

      Been done with destroyers, carriers and subs in the past if my history memory isn't full of holes.

  • ...I gues we'll have to scrap it then. So ... fire on a submarine, right? Can happen, can happen. New for nerds indeeed.

  • What the hell was burning? The subs are nuclear powered so it wasn't fuel. What are we talking about here? Bedding? I just don't understand.

    As other people pointed out, why weren't the hatches just closed? A fire won't last long if the hatches are closed.

    Finally, there has to be some kind of fire suppression system on these subs. Don't tell me all they've got are some hand held fire extinguishers.

    Anyway, this is of course very sad. But I find it more weird then anything else.

    • by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:48PM (#40110059) Homepage Journal

      What the hell was burning? The subs are nuclear powered so it wasn't fuel. What are we talking about here? Bedding? I just don't understand.

      As other people pointed out, why weren't the hatches just closed? A fire won't last long if the hatches are closed.

      Finally, there has to be some kind of fire suppression system on these subs. Don't tell me all they've got are some hand held fire extinguishers.

      Anyway, this is of course very sad. But I find it more weird then anything else.

      1) You would be shocked what burns once you get past about 500 degrees (hint: plastic, rubber, vinyl, paint) but I suppose you think a sub is nothing but metal on metal with some metal to insulate the electrical wires? 2) Hatches don't close themselves, especially in the right order to make sure that the nuclear fuel in the sub doesn't get licked by flames (pretty bad scenario). 3) Fires don't fight themselves in an enclosed space. Do you think they have sprinklers in there or what? Maybe a little Halon to put the fires out and kill any crewmen in that section of the ship?

      • exactly how do you get the fire that hot? What are we burning to get this inferno going?

        I'm assuming this was a freak electrical fire? Okay... what the hell did it touch off. electrical fires are a big spark but without a fuel source after that that is the end of it. what was the fuel source?

        Telling me plastic burns isn't helpful because you can't start a raging inferno with nothing but a spark and plastic. There has to be an intermediary fuel source unless this is especially combustible plastic.

        As to autom

        • So I don't know the material makeup of Los Angeles class submarines but there are plenty of metals that can burn once you get them hot enough. Aluminum and magnesium are popular candidates since they're very light weight for their strength -- I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of that in the boat. Also, since this was in retrofit, there's a good chance there was welding going on, which would easily be able to get the ignition temperatures necessary to start it up, especially if they were using any

          • by jeffmeden (135043)

            So I don't know the material makeup of Los Angeles class submarines but there are plenty of metals that can burn once you get them hot enough. Aluminum and magnesium are popular candidates since they're very light weight for their strength -- I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of that in the boat. Also, since this was in retrofit, there's a good chance there was welding going on, which would easily be able to get the ignition temperatures necessary to start it up, especially if they were using any oxyacetylene torches for the welding or cutting.

            However, if there were Halon suppression systems installed and active they should have fired them off because Halon isn't actually that dangerous, all things considered.

            Aside from being an asphyxiation hazard...

            • From Wikipedia, Halomethane, Fire extinguishing [wikipedia.org]

              Halon 1301 total flooding systems are typically used at concentrations no higher than 7% v/v in air, and can suppress many fires at 2.9% v/v. ... Halon 1301 causes only slight giddiness at its effective concentration of 5%, and even at 15% persons remain conscious but impaired and suffer no long term effects.

              However, I did ready why halon is /not/ in use on these boats in that same section:

              [Halon is] totally unsuitable for Class D (metal) fires, as they will not only produce toxic gas and fail to halt the fire, but in some cases pose a risk of explosion.

              TIL.

          • My understanding is that subs are mostly steel. I'm not comfortable with simply calling this a regrettable incident and writing "oops" on the headline. You're talking about a fire that destroyed a sub outright. That's not even remotely acceptable. If I say "oops" then I'm accepting that this can happen at any time again and again without anyone taking any responsibility or taking any action to make it less likely.

            I don't even begin to understand the mentality that views that acceptable. That bad things happ

            • by Andy Dodd (701)

              Based on the comments I've seen from an ex-submariner earlier in the comments on this story:

              Normally, a sub has multiple fire suppression and control systems that usually make fire control a situation of "close the hatches and deprive it of oxygen".

              However, during a retrofit effort, the sub's configuration is anything but normal - In many cases seawater piping that is normally sealed and full of water is empty, dry, and providing a perfect source of outside air. Many of the hatches have cables and wiring r

            • You present the quintessential dilemma. The philosophy of "all accidents are preventible" has been in place since Forrestall. Regrettably, several careers will be dead ended by this mishap as root causes are identified and responsibility (not blame) is appropriately assigned.
              I have never witnessed a more intense and rigorous system of checks and fail safes than the USN employs. I have no doubt every adequate regulation and procedure was in place to attempt to mitigate this episode. Yet it happened. It
            • I don't even begin to understand the mentality that views that acceptable. That bad things happen is something I accept but you have to then figure out what happened and take steps to avoid that situation in the future.

              Everyone seems to be saying there is no way to stop this from happening.

              You're assuming things not in evidence. I've seen no replies on this thread that indicate either of your statements.
              1. There's going to be hell to pay in the USN and its contractors once the cause of this incident has been found. A full analysis may take months, so don't hold your breath waiting for it. But acceptable? Nobody will be viewing it that way.
              2. Catastrophic fires on a sub are rare, and yes, impossible to prevent entirely. With millions of parts in confined spaces, it's impossible to fireproof ev

    • by Jaktar (975138) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:51PM (#40110093)

      The USS Miami was my first boat, 1998-2003.

      Yes, there is a possibility this was bedding. Usually though, when you go into an overhaul like this, all the bedding is removed. The mattresses may or may not have been removed.

      There is a lot of wiring that is bundled together around ships. There is also quite a bit of temporary equipment that is brought on the ships during overhauls like they were doing that could have been the source as well.

      There is no "fire suppression system" as you might imagine. Normally all firefighting would have been taken care of by the 130 man crew. Portable extinguishers only go so far, and it seems that this was far beyond a few extinguishers.

      I stood my fair share of watches in the engine room. I knew this day would come sooner or later. I'm sure that the nuclear operators stayed at their watch stations during all this. This is a hell of a way for the Miami to go out.

      Can do, will do, glad to.
      First to fire, twice to fire.
      SSN-755

      • I'm sure that the nuclear operators stayed at their watch stations during all this

        Why? The reactor's probably completely shutdown in drydock anyway, but....SCRAM the reactor, grab your jacket, and exit stage left like everyone else. It's a PWR reactor - not a liquid metal reactor that would be permanently damaged by shutdown.

        Is there really a point to sticking around? I'm genuinely curious.

    • Aren't these titanium? Titanium is a highly reactive combustible metal, which is the only thing to know to actually burn in pure nitrogen. Closing the hatches will only trap heat making it more dangerous.

      At normal temperature in air it quickly reacts with water to form a tough surface layer which makes it quite inert and resistant to corrosion. But get it hot enough it can start to burn, and there is only one fire extinguishing agent (FEM-12 SC) known to be effective against a titanium fire.

      The Russians had

      • Well that sounds unpleasant... but it still takes quiet a bit of heat to make that happen.

        I had no idea titanium reacted that way. My previous impression was that it was noted for being especially stable. In any case, I'm pretty sure these subs are mostly steel.

      • Nope, 688 class subs are made of high yield-strength steel. It's not the metal of the hull that burns, it's all the insulation that's glued onto the inside of the hull. There's plenty of flammable materials on a sub, most of which produces huge amounts of highly toxic fumes. Added to the danger is that in drydock periods, the hatches are fouled with hoses going to various systems. Many of these hoses are air hoses, pressurized to about 100psi. If the fire ruptures one of these hoses, there's a ready sou
    • There's plenty of flammable stuff on board. Torpedo fuel, hydraulic and other oils, cooking oil, fabrics, paint, etc.

      The hatches weren't just closed because you don't want to abandon a ship with a nuclear reactor and a bunch of torpedos on board (or any ship worth $900 M for that matter) unless there is absolutely no other choice.

      Also, according to TFA there were people on board in the aft compartments.

      Fire suppression on a sub is difficult because you can't just point a firehose at the fire: the extra weig

      • From what I've seen they're made up of different compartments. I don't see the problem with closing them. when people aren't inside. If you want to air the boat out, then do it through the ventilation system. If a temperature sensor starts reporting high temperature in a given compartment, why would I keep pouring air into it? I would have it automatically stop feeding air to that compartment and then of course flash a warning light or an alert to the bridge where they could override the automatic system or

        • There were people on board according to TFA. Repairs were being carried out at the time.

          It's possible that holes were cut in the hull for these repairs, which would make it impossible to seal compartments airtight.

          • hmmm... hadn't thought about that. Still, this shouldn't be possible. If conventional fire suppression is made impossible by cutting holes in the hull then they should add some temporary means of controlling possible outbreaks. I just don't want this happen again... about billion dollars just burned there.

            No one cares because it's the government's money but it's our f'ing money. 1 billion of your money just burned.

            Please care.

    • by Bork (115412)

      Spent about 4 years on a LA class sub (SSN-700)

      What can burn - There is a lot things that in a sub that can burn under the right conditions.
      There is a large diesel engine up front with oil and its day tank.
      The interior of the hull is insulated and if heated hot enough can start decomposing into some bad stuff.
      Bedding, plastics, title floors, electronics...

      Its in a ship yard for overhaul and the hull status is not indicated here. The hull might have huge sections removed to allow access for removal, install

  • Some sites put the cost of refueling and refitting a nuclear submarine at nearly a billion dollars so I would expect in current day dollars Seawolfs which is the class that followed LA class ships were North of two billion each.

    I would expect the costs to repair one have to be close a new one, the difference being it might be easier to fund a repair instead of a new ship. Still I would have expected a fire to cause damage to the hull to be sufficient enough that major sections would have to be replaced. Let

  • by Wells2k (107114) on Friday May 25, 2012 @12:50PM (#40110079)

    Some folks in the community are already bandying about the idea that this boat be turned into a moored training ship for nuclear propulsion training, the way they did with the MTS-626 and MTS-635.

    On those ships, you do not need to have all of the electronics gear, torpedo armaments, or anything else... you just need an operational reactor, which is all towards the aft end of the boat in the first place. As the fire occurred in the forward end of the boat, this is a very likely scenario. Since the MTS-626 and MTS-635 are getting older by the day (they are old Lafayette class boats built in the early 60's!) and there is a need for replacement anyway, this seems like a good way to go.

    • by stuboogie (900470)
      That would deprive the students of the pleasure of operating the knocker-style main steam valves on the MTS-626 and MTS-635. (Those things are not fun to open.)

      I think that would be a great use of the Miami though. Updating the training facilities would be beneficial to the Nukes in training.
    • Nope.

      Two old LA's are already positioned to become new MTS's. Don't need a third.

      This is a big shame. I can't wait for the safety bulletins to come out after this.

  • There's lots of "hot work" (welding, grinding) on a boat during overhaul. Starting a fire is easier than not. There's supposed to be a fire watch posted on station with fire extinguishers in hand during work, but with more nooks and crannies than an English muffin, it's not hard to imagine an ember falling behind some fixed-in-place furniture and starting some long-lost paper smoldering until eventually it flashed over long after the job was done. Just speculation, but fires are the number one enemy of b

  • Why scrap it? It sounds like something the Canadian navy would be interested in buying! http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20111111/w5-deep-sea-dud-111112/ [www.ctv.ca]
  • There is a 250 volt battery with a huge amount of potential energy. You have basically a medium size bedroom full of batteries that are 6 feet tall.

    The battery can keep the lights running for about 1.5 hours while also supplying power to move it through the water and power the reactor plant to do a restart.

    We calculated one time that if all the energy in the battery was released at once (not possible, we knew that), it would blow the sub 1.5 miles into the air.

One man's constant is another man's variable. -- A.J. Perlis

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