A British nuclear submarine came "within a few minutes" of a reactor meltdown that would have spread radioactive pollution on a scale rivaling that of the Chernobyl disaster, the Sunday Times said here.
Quoting naval experts, the paper said the incident happened in May on board the HMS Tireless, which was on exercise in the Mediterranean sea.
A reactor meltdown would have led to a cloud of radioactive dust contaminating thousands of square miles of the Mediterranean -- pollution rivaling that following the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 in Ukraine, the paper said.
It said the revelations showed the hunter-killer submarine "came far closer to catastrophe than previously thought."
The incident has already led to rows between Britain and Spain -- the submarine is docked in Gibraltar -- with Britain refusing last month to let Spanish experts examine the vessel.
The Sunday Times said the problem arose from a crack in the submarine's cooling system, through which coolant escaped.
Safety systems detected the leak and the system was shut down, but had the plant remained active, "it would have heated uncontrollably," the paper said.
The defense ministry has played down the claims.
"I think it's an exaggeration... The reactor was shut down the minute they diagnosed (the incident)," a ministry spokeswoman told AFP, describing the report as "sensationalist" -- LONDON (AFP)
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