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Fire under control aboard the nuclear submarine "Pearl"

Colin Parkinson

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Fire under control aboard the nuclear submarine "Pearl" on the naval base of Toulon

The fire aboard the Pearl , a nuclear attack submarine (SNA) under review at the naval base of Toulon, was brought under control in the evening, Friday June 12, raising fears of important damage, possibly irreparable , for this strategic building of the French Navy.

After the intervention of some 150 people, including a hundred firefighters and submariners, "the fire is under control," announced the Maritime Prefecture of the Mediterranean. The "propulsion compartments were not affected,"

The maritime prefecture, which had announced the start of the fire, specifies that the SNA did not contain "any nuclear fuel on board, it having been removed as part of the technical shutdown" . "The submarine has been evacuated, there are no injuries," she added.

Quoted in Var-Matin , several technicians close to the shipyard express doubts about the possibility of saving the ship. What the information from the World confirms . The duration of the fire, which started at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning, raises fears that the hull and the structure of the ship will be damaged. If the Navy loses one of its six ANSs, the whole organization of nuclear deterrence will have to be rethought. And the navy will have to give up certain strategic missions.

The Minister for the Armed Forces must go on site
The fire took place, for an unknown reason at this stage, in the "lower parts" at the front of the submarine, in an area "difficult to access" , detailed a representative of the prime contractor Naval Group , the industrialist in charge of the site, describing the incident as "serious" . About forty people, working mainly for Naval Group, were on board when the incident started.

On the spot, a veil of smoke was still visible, escaping from a hangar around which many firefighters were busy with a water lance, noted a photographer from Agence France-Presse (AFP) at the end of the day .

"The seafarers of Toulon, Marseille and the firefighters are mobilized," said Captain Eric Lavault, spokesman for the navy. The Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, "is closely monitoring the development of the situation" and will go on the spot "as soon as conditions allow," the ministry told AFP.

The risks would be limited for the environment because, in addition to nuclear fuel, weapons, batteries and fuel for the diesel emergency engine had been removed from the ship for its maintenance period. The fire did not reach "the nuclear boiler room," added the spokeswoman for the prefecture.

The Pearl maintenance site , which started in January, had already been delayed due to health measures linked to the Covid-19 epidemic. The technical shutdown of the submarine was scheduled to end in February 2021.

This SNA, put into service in 1993, is the latest in the series of Ruby class submarines, which is reaching the end of its life and must be replaced, from 2021, by the Barracuda, the first copy of which, the Suffren , began its sea trials at the end of April.

Marc Vuillemot, mayor (PS) of La Seyne-sur-Mer (Var) and vice-president of the Toulon metropolitan area, expressed his side of the concern of his fellow citizens exposed to the smoke of the fire "on this day of east wind ” . The maritime prefect "assures me that there should not be any health impact on the populations exposed to the smoke, since the vessel had no weapons or nuclear fuel on board," he explains in a statement. "However, air quality measurements are made to confirm this," he adds.



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Colin P said:
... If the Navy loses one of its six ANSs, the whole organization of nuclear deterrence will have to be rethought. And the navy will have to give up certain strategic missions ...

That sounds a bit extreme. The Perle is one of six nuclear attack subs which are entering the end of their life cycle and appeared to be entering a maintenance cycle. She's not one of the ballistic missile subs. This shouldn't change anything in a major way.