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Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK
Kursk salvage hit by cash hitch
The Kursk photographed by the Russian submersible Keldysh
The Kursk could remain on the sea bed for another year
By BBC News Online's Stephen Mulvey

Russia's intention, announced on Monday, to start lifting the Kursk nuclear submarine from the sea bed next month, could be scuppered by a combination of practical and financial problems.

Russia is reported to be ready to pay its share of the bill - but European funding depends on an agreement between the EU and the Russian authorities on a wider programme of nuclear environmental safety measures.

An EU-Russia summit on Thursday is expected to iron out some obstacles holding up the Multinational Nuclear Environment Programme in the Russian Federation (MNEPR), but agreement is not expected until summer.

Questions are also being asked about the chances of preparing the necessary specialist equipment in time to lift the wreck during the limited window of good weather in the Barents Sea this year.

No guarantees

The total cost of raising the Kursk - which sank with the loss of 118 lives in August, after a catastrophic explosion - is estimated at $70m.

The floating dock where the Kursk will taken once raised
The floating dock where the Kursk will be taken
Russia says it is ready to pay the full amount - including half up front - but hopes half of the total sum will be reimbursed by foreign donors, including European states.

The manager-in-chief of one of the Dutch companies participating in the operation said on Monday he was surprised by Russian officials' announcement that a contract would be signed in Russia this Sunday.

Lars Walder, of the company Smit Tak, was quoted by Interfax as saying that he had not been notified of the intended meeting, and had received no guarantees of financing so far, apart from verbal statements.

Nuclear pollution

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia would not be hurried into signing the MNEPR agreement.

With every day that passes, there is an increasing risk that you don't have the most adequate equipment

Rio Praaning, Kursk Foundation
"We dismissed attempts to link MNEPR with the Kursk from the very start," he said.

Problems remaining to be resolved include questions of legal liability and taxation of those involved in the project.

European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen said the MNEPR was designed to set up a legal basis for international donors wishing to work with Russia on projects to clean up the legacy of Soviet nuclear pollution.

"Everyone knows about the Kursk, and it is important that they should lift it... but the treaty is much more important," he said.

"We do not have an intention to contribute to the lifting of the Kursk unless it could be within the context of the MNEPR."

Fears expressed

The practical problems that remain to be resolved include the production of massive cables strong enough to lift the enormous submarine and carry it suspended from a barge to a Russian port.

Local people in Rostlyakovo are worred about possible radiation from the Kursk
People in Rostlyakovo are worred about possible radiation from the Kursk
"With every day that passes, there is an increasing risk that you don't have the most adequate equipment," said Rio Praaning, the secretary-general of the Kursk Foundation, which was set up to help Russia work with its foreign partners.

"The Russian Government insists that it should be done this year, but there is a clear fear, expressed from several sides, that if you start organising everything at this moment, the end product may not be of the quality that is to be desired," he added.

In Russia too, fears have been expressed about the operation coming unstuck because of problems of time and money.

A report on the NTV television station from the northern port of Rostlyakovo, near Murmansk, said work to repair a floating dock which is intended to receive the Kursk would take six months.

It also said the 38 million roubles needed to pay for the repairs had not yet been received.

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12 Jan 01 | Europe
Kursk salvage plan unveiled
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