File photo of INS Arihant at its launch ceremony in 2009. | Photo courtesy Ministry of Defence
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Stationed in Visakhapatnam, the indigenous nuclear submarine was not operational for about a year after a water breach.

New Delhi: India’s indigenous nuclear-powered submarine INS Arihant is back in operation after being docked for about a year following fears of reactor contamination after an accidental breach and water ingress in late 2016.

The Arihant, which is stationed in Visakhapatnam, was repaired and made operational after extensive tests showed that the damage was not as bad as initially feared, sources told ThePrint.

The Arihant — armed with nuclear tipped B-05 missiles with a range of over 750 km — was quietly commissioned in August 2016 after almost two decades of a secret construction programme that saw India entering a select club of five nations with such technology.

As first reported by ThePrint, the INS Chakra, a nuclear-powered submarine leased from Russia, also suffered some damage in an accident last year.

The sources said that the Arihant, which has faced technological problems in the past had an incident in late-2016 after water ingress while it was stationed at Visakhapatnam.

An aft hatch of the submarine is learnt to have been left accidentally open, leading to ingress of sea water into the vessel. The water impacted the secondary loop which transfers power from the reactor to the vessel’s propulsion system.

Following the breach, extensive checks were carried out as per protocol to determine if the reactor had leaked contamination into the secondary loop.

However, it was determined after tests that the fears were unfounded and safety mechanisms on board the indigenous submarine had performed satisfactorily.

It took almost a year for the submarine to be put back into operational duty, as the breach required thorough repairs and critical parts that got damaged due to the salt water were to be replaced. The Arihant is believed to have been put back into operation in October 2017 following the repairs.

“The damage was thankfully not as bad as it could have been. This is not the first time that Arihant faced such a technological issue. These things happen in the developmental cycle of a new system. The problem has been taken care of,” the sources with direct knowledge of the incident told ThePrint.

India is now working to get its second nuclear armed submarine, the Arighat (earlier named Aridaman) into operational condition. The submarine has reached the crucial phase of a launch into water and is now being fitted.

The submarine was launched by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman last year, but unlike the launch of the INS Arihant which was a major media event by the UPA government, it was kept a low key affair.

While it took the Arihant seven years to go from launch to induction — a quiet commissioning was done in 2016 — the Navy is believed to be looking at an ambitious two-year target for the Arighat.

India has also cleared a project to construct a new line of nuclear-powered but conventionally armed submarines (SSNs). The mammoth plan, expected to cost over $12 billion, is for six modern vessels to be made in India. First official comments on the plan came in 2015 with a senior Navy officer revealing that the design work had started on the project and the aim is to come out with a new class of submarines within 15 years.

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