The sub languishing at the bottom of the Barents sea is not an anomaly. Nuclear submarines are plagued with trouble.

The Russians have lost subs before, though not with so many men on board as on the Kursk. According to Greenpeace, there have been around 120 incidents involving Soviet nuclear submarines in the 40 years since the fleet began.

Back in 1961, a ruptured pipe on Russia's first nuclear powered sub killed the captain and seven men. In 68, a diesel powered submarine sank, along with its three nuclear weapons. In 1970, a nuclear sub went down off the Atlantic coast of Spain. There was a bad accident at a repair dock in 1985, leaving many with radiation sickness, and in 86 a nuclear armed sub caught fire and sank. (one Russian scientist claimed that the warheads burst open, sending plutonium-239 into the ocean, 600 miles off Bermuda where the boat went down).

Things haven't got better since the U.S.S.R. was broken up: there's less money to service and maintain the fleet. There have been several incidents and accidents during exercises, with misfired torpedoes and near-misses at sea. A submarine being repaired off the North Russian coast in 92 suffered an explosion that killed four. In 93 a Russian submarine and a US one collided. The list goes on and on.

But the US and NATO have problems too.

In April 1963, the USS Thresher went down in 8,500 feet of water, 220 miles east of Boston. Five years later the USS Scorpion sank when a torpedo malfunctioned and all its crew were killed. The USS Nathaniel Greene ran aground in the Irish sea and was retired from service in March 1986,

HMS Tireless, a sadly misnamed British nuclear submarine broke down back in May 2000. With radioactive coolant leaking from the reactor when on patrol in the Mediterranean, the sub headed for Gibraltar, hoping for the chance to explore the problem and fix it. Gibraltar was not so keen on having a glowing boat hanging around in a populated area. (It was tied up just 400 metres from the shoreline).

A local opinion poll suggested that around 80 per cent of the population didn't wan't the submarine opened up and fixed locally.

The Ministry of Defence, back in London, looked into towing it back to the submarine docks in Scotland. Not a simple task: it would have had to come back, on the surface, at a maximum speed of 6 knots, with a heavy duty escort of warships. the risk of leaking radioactive material, though, all the way back to Britain was finally seen to be a bigger risk, and the work is taking place back in Gibraltar.

My brother-in-law is one of the crew of Tireless. And, whether or not the rumour that he glows in the dark is true, it's an interesting little quirk that of all the many many babies born in two (or was it three) years on the base, only 2 of them were girls.

Ah, go and watch Das Boot now, and get a glimpse of scary cramped submarine life.