$80 Million Plan To Raise
Kursk - Cause Of Sinking
Probe Continues
By Daniel McLaughlin
MOSCOW (Reuters) - An international team will in December hand the Kremlin an $80 million plan to raise the Kursk (news - web sites) next summer, but Russia was still in the dark over the cause of its worst submarine disaster, a top official said on Thursday.
Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said three theories were still being considered to explain the fate of the nuclear-powered vessel, which plunged to the bottom of Barents Sea in August, killing all 118 sailors on board.
``There are two projects at the final stage of consideration by the consortium,'' Klebanov said of plans to raise the submarine. ``I think by the end of December we will have final confirmation of the project.''
The Dutch government has given 500,000 guilders ($190,000) to fund a consortium's technical feasibility study, which is being coordinated by the Kursk Foundation -- a group of donors pledging to help finance the operation.
Rio Praaning, the foundation's secretary general, said one plan was to hoist the Kursk in two parts: the mangled and torpedo-packed bow separately from the less damaged stern.
Klebanov said foreign governments and companies would be asked to split the cost of the operation with Russia. He said it would not exceed $80 million.
The Kremlin has said experts are still considering as causes of the disaster an accident in the torpedo bay, a collision with a World War Two-era mine or a crash with a foreign submarine.
Top naval officers favor the theory of the foreign submarine. NATO (news - web sites) nations deny their subs were in the area.
``We have got quite detailed confirmation of the consequences after the start of the accident...each of the theories is explained in some detail,'' Klebanov said. ``But unfortunately there are three theories, not one. For now.''
Swirling Rumors, No Radiation
Klebanov quashed the latest rumor to swirl through Russia's press about what caused two explosions aboard the vessel.
Thursday's Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper quoted an ``expert'' saying a fuel leak from a torpedo triggered an explosive chain reaction which ripped a hole in the craft's bow.
``I want to tell you again that there is a government commission which I lead and until you hear its final decision I cannot call these theories but conjecture,'' Klebanov said.
Russian divers and colleagues from the Norwegian arm of U.S. oil firm Halliburton cut into the sub in October and brought up 12 bodies from the wreck, which lies in more than 100 meters (330 feet) of stormy Arctic waters.
Klebanov said Halliburton, Dutch firms Smit International and Heerema and Kursk's Russian designers the Rubin bureau were part of the consortium conducting the salvage feasibility study.
He said Russia was determined to raise the craft despite no signs of a radiation risk so far.
``Independent scientists have said...over the next 10 years it will be no threat,'' he said.
``But we should raise the submarine because we think the atomic reactors should not lie at that depth in middle of the Barents would be a constant source of international tension: ecological, political, all kinds.''
Praaming said the project was driven not only by ecological concerns but the opportunity for old rivals to work together.
``We think this is an international problem and so it should be solved with international cooperation...Now it's up to the international community to think how to take its fair share.''
He said former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was joining the foundation, which is chaired by two former Dutch and Russian ministers.

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