Copper recycling and sustainability Back Ford
Page 10

Nuclear Submarine - Case Study
Russian submarine on patrol
Russian Oscar 1 class cruise missile submarine on patrol.

An example of large scale recycling of metals (including copper/copper alloys) is described following the dismantling of the Russian Oscar 1 class cruise missile submarine.

About Oscar
The submarine was built in 1980-82 and was in service from 1983-1997 and dismantled between 2003 and 2004. It was 345 metres long, 18 metres wide, carried 24 cruise missiles with 6 bow torpedo tubes. It had a displacement of 17,000 tonnes when submerged and carried a crew of 107.

An international agreement was reached to dismantle the submarine and, as part of this effort, a UK company, Keel Marine Ltd, provided marine expertise and support during the dismantling process.

The dismantling of a nuclear submarine is clearly a complex process. Although the spent nuclear fuel was removed before dismantling started, care had to be taken to remove toxic waste such as rubber acoustic tiles, lubricants, oils, glass, refrigerants, insulation and asbestos. Working temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade were not uncommon.

Dismantling of Russian submarine
Russian Oscar 1 class cruise missile submarine being dismantled (courtesy Keel Marine Ltd).

Metals and alloys recovered for recycling

  • Steel plate, used to construct the hull, from 10 to 40mm thick - 6,000 tonnes
  • Titanium - this is a lightweight and corrosion resistant alloy - 600 tonnes.
  • Copper alloys - tin bronze and aluminium bronze - 180 tonnes.
  • Components on the submarine such as pumps, pipes, valves and taps, which were exposed to seawater which causes metals to corrode, were made from these corrosion resistant copper alloys.
  • High purity copper wire - 72 tonnes.

The submarine had many kilometres of high purity electrical copper cable, vital for the communication, navigation and weapon systems and lighting. Oxygen and fresh water are both generated by electrical means, a vital facility when the submarine was submerged for long periods.

Copper granules
Granules of copper formed after chopping up the kilometres of copper cabling.

The insulation was stripped from the cable and the copper wire chopped into small pieces (about the size of coffee granules) About 72 tonnes of high purity copper was recovered, which could be re-melted and made into new copper wire without the need for any refining (purification). This clearly is a very valuable product and shows once again the sustainable nature of copper. It is interesting to speculate where this recycled copper would appear next, perhaps as part of your next mobile phone or computer.

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