Ed Schweppe (edschweppe) wrote,
Ed Schweppe

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Another sad day for submariners everywhere

An explosion on board HMS Tireless has killed two Royal Navy submariners and injured a third; oxygen generation equipment is suspected as the cause. From the BBC:
Two British sailors have died in an accident on a nuclear submarine.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed there had been an explosion on HMS Tireless during an exercise under the Arctic icecap at 0420 GMT on Wednesday.

One other member of the crew of the Devonport-based submarine was injured and is receiving medical treatment.

Failed air-purification equipment is thought to have caused the explosion. The MoD expressed its "deep regret" and said an inquiry would be carried out.
My first thought upon reading this was that they'd suffered an explosion in the electrolytic oxygen generator - a piece of equipment that takes in deionized water and splits the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. We called that particular piece of gear "the bomb" for obvious reasons.

However, an official US Navy press release stated that "a self contained oxygen generation candle" exploded. I'm not quite sure how one gets an oxygen candle to explode - they give off heat and oxygen, but it's a purely chemical reaction and I can't imagine how to speed it up enough to go boom. OTOH, if there was oil or grease on the candle when it was lit, the combination of heat, oxygen and fuel might have been enough for a flash fire. (Remember the ValuJet crash back in 1996? That one was caused by oxygen generators going off in the same cargo bay as a bunch of rubber tires.)

Worse still, this incident occurred while Tireless was under the ice. The crew was very fortunate that they were able to find a thin spot in the ice and surface quickly. Casualties under the ice are right up near the top of the Really Bad Things list.
Tags: submarines

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